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Reimagining the Singaporean dream

by | 25 October 2016, 8:13 AM

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

– Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays

We worry. Because the average Joe is falling so far behind if he is unable to secure that prestigious scholarship, or seize that international business deal, or snag that desirable lady who will complete his life. There is an expected chronology of events to unfold, and if one thing doesn’t fall into place, life, if not put to a standstill, crumbles apart.

Tell me, Singaporean, are you happy?

Look beyond your last bonus, the day you got your hands on the latest iPhone (anything that doesn’t explode), or the booze that got you blissfully wasted last night. Go deeper.

Do you worry about the meaning of life, or the lack thereof? Are you quietly desperate for something more? Or for those who feel like you’re doing too much, something less? Does your blood boil as you slam on your car horn through rush-hour traffic? Do you repeatedly hammer the traffic light button at junctions, because waiting is such an unproductive waste of life?

We worry. Because there is an expected chronology of events to unfold, and if one thing doesn’t fall into place, life, if not put to a standstill, crumbles apart.

Ours can feel a cold and impersonal society, where everything is squeaky-clean, efficient, profit-maximising, and frustratingly soulless. Here it’s all about image. Like in other big cities, cheap love can so easily be glorified and romanticised, only to be packaged into bite-sized portions for our convenient consumption. For your next feast, do browse through our latest catalogue, and just swipe left if it’s not to your liking.

The battle cry of society rings strong and loud. We now dream of power, security, status, and the reality is that for many of us those dreams are coming to life before our eyes. Welcome to the Singaporean Dream.

IT COMES AT A COST

But I feel that this dream-come-true is falling well short of delivering on its promise.

While Singapore is among the world’s leaders in terms of GDP, healthcare and educational achievement, Singaporeans have on average the longest work hours of any country in the world.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong remarked a few years ago, “If you look at other countries…they’re not talking about work-life balance; they are hungry, anxious, about to steal your lunch. So I think I’d better guard my lunch.” So we slog long and hard, often unproductively, lest we be knocked off our pedestal of affluence and influence. That’s how we understand peace.

Our children are not spared. Ask any child about their holidays, and it’s typically burnt doing homework and tuition. Ask them about their dreams, and you’d find that apart from the lofty expectations of their parents, nothing beside remains. To fit them into the mould of society, we hammer and file what we deem their rough edges, inject them with performance enhancement drugs, and put lenses over their eyes (physically and metaphorically).

We start on them young, in the hope they’re able to be the ones to herald a new era of Singapore’s development. That’s progress.

And somehow, even though our employment numbers remain among the world’s highest, Singaporean workers are among the world’s most dissatisfied. In a 2014 survey, 75 per cent of the 5,670 employees surveyed in Singapore view their job only as nothing more than a way to make a living. That’s prosperity.

So it seems that despite considerable material gains, the Singaporean Dream isn’t quite working out for everybody. People are now awakening to the realities of this empty pursuit.

THE BITTER ROOT

Perhaps our path to the doldrums started with the Singapore Story passed down to us.

It is a familiar narrative: Nobody owes us a living; we must fight to make make our mark on the world stage; we are different from our neighbours – better. In those tumultuous days our forefathers, resolute and strong men with humble beginnings, stood against all odds, to lay the trusty foundations for the metropolis we now call home. We are now obliged to do likewise, and ensure that all countrymen follow suit. The legacy must continue with us.

But what if that which stands against is you? Your soul, your peace? What if your environment, your health, and your humanity is damaged in the pursuit of things we don’t actually need or want?

In our hunger for progress and prosperity, we have become missionaries of materialism, and anything blocking our surge forward must be removed.

But what if that which stands against is you? Your soul, your peace? What if your environment, your health, and your humanity is damaged in the pursuit of things we don’t actually need or want?

But what if that which stands against is you? Your soul, your peace? What if your environment, your health, and your humanity is damaged in the pursuit of things we don’t actually need or want?

Busyness has become society’s badge of honour, and wanting to rest suddenly feels like a betrayal. We pin these badges to ourselves, our friends and our children, hoping that they would bring us to a better place. But they don’t. The void remains.

IS GOD THE END-GOAL?

In the book “Death by Suburb”, David Goetz argues that the core of suburbia (such as Singapore) is about catering to “the overindulged self in an environment of security, efficiency, and opportunities”. This inevitably creeps into our faith. A faith that empowers us to indulge ourselves further becomes mainstream, while one that requires sacrifice is easily abandoned.

Instead of living with conviction for a higher purpose, we resign ourselves to the practice of damage-control. Practical faith takes the form of a petition.

It is so easy to reduce God to a tool in our toolbox of big dreams, and as a result, Christianity has lost its power for a wider societal transformation.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. (Matthew 23:27)

For those in the Singaporean church caught up in the wave of materialism and consumerism, the Seven Woes of Matthew 23 ring louder than ever. Intertwined with politics, and caught up with every battle of our day, some in the church have settled for counterfeit love. Here, salt loses its saltiness.

Many of us lose sight of the Gospel we are called to live out, becoming blind guides, hypocrites, whitewashed tombs – hardly different from the sinful world we claim to set ourselves apart from.

Instead of living with conviction for a higher purpose, we resign ourselves to the practice of damage-control. Practical faith takes the form of a petition.

RECAPTURING OUR SONG

The truth is that we cannot simply wait for God’s Presence to overtake the world while we watch from comfy sidelines. That’s like claiming we want His Presence in our lives, only to never let Him tear our walls down.

He calls us so much higher. As you surrender to His will, He empowers you to carry out the work of His kingdom. It’s time to pray!

When Jesus prayed to the Father before His arrest, He made clear that we would and should struggle to fit into society because we walk by the Word.

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (John 17:14)

That’s what we’re up against. But we have Him on our side. He promises His presence to those who actively make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20), to the end of all days.

So, raised from death to life just like Jesus, we become His hands and feet to heal a broken world. But most of all, our call is to reveal Jesus to people trapped in the rat race, to show them that there is truly a better way to live – neither by might nor by power, but by His Spirit (Zechariah 4:6). He who leads us towards the path to true life has a new redemptive dream for everyone and everything.

It starts with us. The old has passed, the new has come. Don’t just settle for a little life of comfort, material possessions, and empty indulgence. We have something so much more precious – a dream that is grand, beautiful and eternal. Let’s unite in God’s love song for hungry souls and start loving people as He loves – selflessly, truthfully, and unconditionally.

Let’s transform a generation.

/ kenneth@thir.st

Kenneth is best understood through his impassioned Instagram posts, composed in the deep of night when the tumultuous world finally lies silent. He probably prefers dogs to cats.

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How to get the rest you need

by | 16 October 2018, 6:37 PM

I am an ISFJ, which means I’m often a ball of contradictions.

Though introverted, I can be outgoing and I have good social skills. That explains my constant packed schedule – the last time I had some time alone was nearly a month ago!

Because of my introverted nature, an accumulation of social activities drains me out when I don’t get time to recharge. Now, whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, having enough time to rest and recalibrate is crucial for physical, mental and spiritual health.

But how do we do that in fast-paced society?

Source: SharperIron

If there was a “busiest person” competition in the Bible, Jesus would have won it hands-down.

Jesus taught in the synagogue in the morning, healed the sick in the afternoon and cast out demons at night! Yet despite his busy schedule, Jesus was never flustered.

“At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.” (Luke 4:42-44)

Already, you may have glimpsed some secrets to Jesus’ ministry. So how do we stay rested and composed amidst a hectic life? Here are some handles for doing so that I’ve learnt through my walk with God.

3 RULES FOR RESTING WELL

1. PROTECT YOUR TIME

The verse starts off with Jesus being by Himself. It wasn’t uncommon for Jesus to withdraw from people to be alone.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to give away my rest time when other things vie for my attention. One week it’s a friend who’s only free on this day. Another week it’s family commitments. On yet another it’s ministry work.

For a long time, I saw rest as less important and urgent in comparison to such activities. But this way of life quickly proved ineffective and unsustainable: I found myself extremely drained and moody. My relationships with people were affected badly, and I ended up complaining to God all the time.

God, why do I have so many people to meet? Why did you give me so many tasks and responsibilities?

But God isn’t responsible for how we handle the tasks we have been given – we are. And a good leader knows when to serve and when to rest.

In Mark 6:31-32, the disciples were so busy ministering that they did not even have a chance to eat. Jesus saw what was happening and invited them to get away with Him to a quiet place.

What about us? Do we know when to stop serving and start resting? Do we protect our time with God?

… a good leader knows when to serve and when to rest.

2. THE POWER OF SAYING NO

In the following verses we see that the crowd wanted Him to stay, but Jesus declined.

Matthew 14:23 tells us, “After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray.”

And this wasn’t just any crowd that Jesus dismissed. These were the first few people who accepted Him since His ministry began! In the previous town, where Jesus had demonstrated miracles, the people had actually wanted to throw Him off a cliff.

If you were a leader trying to start a following, this would have been a good opportunity. Why would anyone leave proven, fertile ground to grow a following elsewhere?

But this actually wasn’t a selfish decision. It was a deliberate choice based on Jesus’ priorities, which brings us to the next point.

3. PRIORITISE

Immediately after saying no, Jesus explained why He decided not to stay on: “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

It wouldn’t have been wrong for Jesus to stay on and minister to the people there. Thing is, He was very clear on what his priority was. His mission was not just to go to that particular town – but to the entire region. Jesus had to say no to the important in order to say yes to the vital.

Saying no is difficult when we have to choose between options which aren’t necessarily bad. In such times, it’s important that we know what our mission is because we have limited time, energy and effort.

And since we are called to be good stewards of our lives, we have to learn how to prioritise where we want to invest our resources. Without having a clear focus, we will be easily distracted.

Above all, we have to prioritise our rest time; God didn’t tell us to keep the Sabbath for nothing. Even the Lord Jesus thought it necessary to say no to the crowd’s demands in order to pray.

So don’t you think we should learn how to do the same?

/ siqi@thir.st

Siqi often loses her footwear in the office. She is also known for her loud sneezes, huge appetite, and weird sound effects. Happens to be a writer too.

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by JH Kwek | 16 October 2018, 11:53 AM

There is a certain kind of absurdism we bring to arguments with our parents.

Here’s an example: I remember fighting with them over my curfew, insisting that I should be allowed to stay out past 10pm. They said no, because they wanted me to stay at home to study. I replied, “Well, fine, I’m going to come home – but I’m not going to study.”

So much for your rules now! I knew it was stupid, but I wanted to push and press their buttons, proving to them that their rules couldn’t simply bend me to their will.

What I didn’t realise was that my parents didn’t want me to simply follow rules like a robot. They wanted me to learn obedience while trusting in their heart for me.

… flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness …

Hold this thought on obedience with me as we move on to the topic at hand: I’ve been battling lust for close to 11 years now, and one thing I’ve recently been convicted to do is to delete Instagram.

At this point in time, I can’t handle the constant stream of bikini, #OOTD and workout posts that flood my feed, so I decided to do away with it completely.

As expected, it wasn’t a magic pill. I still struggle with masturbation and lust – though I now face considerably less temptation – because the mind needs little in the way of stimulation for me to sin. I still have a lifetime of practice with that.

I remain convicted that this was what I needed to do, to flee from every possible source of temptation, even when it makes life inconvenient. Even when it means denying pleasures and activities I enjoyed.

For a long time, I refused to make an effort to kill my lust. I can handle it. And I ignored my brothers’ warnings. It isn’t a problem for me.

True enough, for many of us, it isn’t. But for many of us, it is – more than we’re willing to admit.

How do we respond to verses like 2 Timothy 2:22, where we are called to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart”?

How do we obey these verses? Do we tell God, “I will stop this, but I will continue to do that?” Do we tell God, “I will try this, but I will not change that?” Or the more common: “I will do this, but not with someone else?”

The Gospel death – dying to self – is going to be inconvenient (Luke 9:23).

Dying to self is taking up the cross and following Christ, no matter the inconvenience – no matter the cost! In calling us to die to ourselves, the Gospel has no boundaries, no limits, no realm it cannot penetrate.

Galatians 5:24 says that “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” The flesh doesn’t just refer to things that are obviously immoral, but every kind of worldly desire.

  • The desire to keep up with others’ social lives.
  • The desire to continually consume popular culture.
  • The desire to let others know how successful we are.

None of these “needs” define us anymore. The lives we now live are in Christ Jesus – bought by His Blood (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

So the way we go about obedience shows us what we really think about ourselves, and how we relate to God.

If I relate to God like how I related to my parents, then outward adherence to rules and regulations is what I would pursue. But if I relate to Him as a child transformed by the Gospel, then there is no desire, passion, habit, thought or fantasy that I would withhold from Gospel death.

The child of God is radically committed not just to obeying the rules, but trusting and loving the One who gave them. Our obedience was always designed to flow from a loving relationship with our Father.

Note that past tense is used in Galatians 5:24: the flesh has already been crucified. So Gospel living isn’t just about looking for ways to grow in holiness – a big part of it is also remembering who we are (1 Peter 2:9) and what was done for us (John 3:16).

I’ve already been adopted as a child of God – it was past time to act like one.

My desire to cut Instagram out of my life didn’t come about because I thought doing so would put me right before God. I cut it out because I am a child who is already right with God.

I’ve already been adopted as a child of God – it was past time to act like one.

So who are we? What do we do? Those deeds show who we truly think we are! In what ways do we need to die, that we might truly live?

Help us O God to die to ourselves every day. Help us remember the better and greater life we now have in You!

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A Christian’s take on privilege and class divides

by JH Kwek | 10 October 2018, 11:04 AM

Most of us would have no doubt seen the recent Channel News Asia video on class divides in Singapore.

For its many flaws the video is an admirable attempt at bridging the gap between social classes. The walls between the rich and the poor, the educated and uneducated – these walls should not exist in a nation that prides itself on meritocracy.

And neither should they exist in the church.

Yet as I think back to my own experiences in church, I am disappointed by my own inability to bring those walls torn down: I remember losing a football game played in the heartlands, and attributing my opponents’ success to all the time they spent playing instead of studying in school.

And I remember suggesting eating at a restaurant after cell, completely oblivious to the fact that there were brothers in my midst who simply couldn’t afford such a meal.

How I’ve failed to acknowledge my own privilege for the longest time!

We must take a look at our own churches.

How many of our cell groups contain people of a different race? How many of our cell groups are ready to accept someone of a different socio-economic status? Or someone who struggles with sexuality?

And sure, there might be other factors like geography that affect the kind of people that appear in our cell groups that have nothing to do with our own prejudices. Yet I suspect that within the church, we have divided people just as much as those outside the church do – if not more.

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptised into Christ has put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one on Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:25-28)

The church should be a model of unity. We have this unity because we are all in Christ Jesus and believe in the same Gospel. Jesus Himself has torn down every dividing wall of hostility between the Jew and the Gentile (Ephesians 2:14-16). In His presence, every social division must come down.

So what do we do when we see a church that is not so? I can’t help but feel hopeless when I notice that everyone around me just looks the same. I can’t help but despair when I hear racially insensitive jokes being made in cell. I can’t help but weep when I realise that my own heart is racist, classist, prejudiced in ways apart from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is the hope for a religious structure so historically entrenched in divides like class?

The church should be a model of unity.

The hope is Jesus. The hope has always been Jesus.

Whenever we are confronted with sin, be it personal or systemic, the solution has never been to run away – but to run towards. We must always remember that we as the church are united around a single thing – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Church is awkward conversations with the elderly lady you sit next to every week. Church is meeting middle-aged couples for lunch not just for advice or counselling – but to actually get to know them.

Church is welcoming people of all races into a community that is predominantly Chinese. Church is eating at a coffee shop instead of a restaurant so your friend can afford to join you.

This is the community God has grafted us into.

We must grow as a Church, not in conformance to the latest trends of inclusivity or tolerance – but in Gospel unity.

How amazing it is when an 86-year-old woman and a young teenager can sing the same worship song together and mean it together with all their heart!

And how incredible it is that someone who stays in a HDB and someone who stays in Sentosa Cove can covenant to keep each other accountable to walk in purity!

We must grow as a Church, not in conformance to the latest trends of inclusivity or tolerance – but in Gospel unity.

So how can we shape our cell groups to be places for both the poor and rich? How can we shape our conversations so as not to marginalise those of minority races? How can we better return to the Gospel?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-10)

These answers lie in Jesus. We need to keep looking to Him, the founder and perfecter of our faith.

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Stricken with PTSD and depression after my mum suddenly passed away, I thought my life was over

by Jeremy Chan | 9 October 2018, 6:04 PM

Jesus, don’t you care? Where are you? Please take the pain away. 

It was Mark 4:35-41 all over again, where Jesus was asleep in a boat with his disciples when a storm hit and threatened to engulf them.

An unexpected storm blew into my life towards the end of 2013, when my mom was suddenly taken ill. What we initially thought was just a fever and flu of sorts turned into seven months of our worst nightmare.

It had taken the doctors three months to diagnose a rare and incurable bone marrow disease; by then the sickness was so severe that we soon decided to take her off medication. Putting her into palliative care was the most complicated and painful decision we had to make as a family.

Within five days of taking her off treatment, she was called home to be with the Lord on the Good Friday of 2014. I have not attended a Good Friday service since.

I didn’t know then, but the shock, guilt, grief and great disappointment with God brought about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The intense emotional pain and anguish also led me down the path of severe clinical depression over the next two and a half years.

My relationships with family, friends, ministry and work broke down as my world sank into shades of grey. Because of the mental state I was in, I had a physical condition known as post-motor retardation (PMR), which slowed down my movement, especially walking.

Despite the medication and all the sleep I was getting, I was always exhausted and uninterested in anything in life. It took 16 months before my physicians got the prescribed medication and dosage right. I was like a walking zombie, dead on the inside but somehow still alive.

And no matter how I prayed or read the Bible, nothing changed. As the days passed by, I grew angry with God. Unbelief was slowly setting in, along with suicidal thoughts. Every day I prayed: “Lord, please stop the pain.”

Even smells could trigger a welling-up of emotions that would have exploded out of me if I hadn’t fought hard to contain them.

Formally serving in the worship team, I found myself unable to even worship amidst the congregation. How was I to worship God or give thanks for anything after what had happened?

The flashbacks that came with the PTSD were unpredictable and crippling. Seemingly random places such as the mall, MRT stations or certain bus routes … Even smells could trigger a welling-up of emotions that would have exploded out of me if I hadn’t fought hard to contain them.

There was one incident where the song “Amazing Grace” caused three major flashbacks over the following week. During one such similar episode in church service I actually ran and hid in a quiet corner until it was over.

I saw a psychiatrist regularly, and it helped. On days I felt as though I’d hit rock bottom, I learnt to tell myself there would always be the next day, and I just had to get through one at a time. Breathe and sleep it off. This gave the verse “His mercies are new every morning” a whole new meaning.

I know I could have given up on hope many times. But somewhere inside me, my spirit man was clinging on and crying out to Jesus. Whatever Scripture I could remember, I held onto. God, surely you saved my soul for more than this? You are making all things work together for good, right?

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Corinthians 1:1-5)

I believed that God could use this experience of mine to help people who were battling on the same front with depression and suicide, but the road to recovery turned out to be longer than I expected. It became so bad that I decided to stop working and enrol into Tung Ling Bible School‘s School of Ministry.

Tung Ling proved to be a place of rest and renewal, where I could experience the love of God again. During one of our ministry times, someone spoke a word over me: That Jesus was calling me as He did to Lazarus, to come out of the grave I was trapped in. Jesus was going to remove the veil of death over me and I would finally see the light.

I was greatly moved to hear this – Jesus was calling me out! This shroud of grave clothes that I had been walking in would be removed! I would rejoice again.

That was the beginning of two whole years of recovery. I remember meditating on Psalm 139 and feeling greatly comforted that all my days were written before one of them came to be, before the day I lost my mum. God was always in control. He was always looking after me.

It has been four years since the storm started. I haven’t returned to the working world for the past two years, which can be frustrating and disappointing at times. However, I remember His promises to provide for me and give me peace and rest throughout.

By His grace, I have been completely off all PTSD and depression medication since April this year. I still have intermittent flashbacks, but they are much more manageable now. I even registered to further my studies at Tung Ling Bible School and recently graduated from the School of Leadership.

In the years to come, I would like to help break the stigma of mental illness with my story. To anyone out there who might be in the midst of the storm, there is hope. Jesus is in that storm with you. Caregivers, I also appreciate all your work, prayers and support.

I believe that we, as believers, are often the only face of Jesus that the depressed and suicidal will see. We must share and give them that same hope of life that Jesus gave us. As it says in Luke 1:79, we as His children are called “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”


Whether life feels too tough, or you just need a listening ear, there is always help available for you when you call 1800 221 4444.

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Reimagining the Singaporean dream

How to get the rest you need

An inconvenient death: What does “dying to self” mean?

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A Christian’s take on privilege and class divides

Stricken with PTSD and depression after my mum suddenly passed away, I thought my life was over