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Faith

The year I said yes to Jesus

by | 29 December 2016, 1:35 PM

This story runs backwards. Stay with me.

APRIL 19, 2016. In the middle of Changi Airport, where I was bound for Boracay on my ad agency’s annual holiday, I stared at a Whatsapp message on my phone.

The chatter from the crowd queuing at the gate for the flight to Cebu suddenly became nothing more than a faint buzz, as though suddenly muted.

It’s time to talk about you and Thir.st.

My fingers responded on my behalf.

I’ve been waiting for this talk, actually.

APRIL 26, 2015. I was at a bench in church eating beehoon over breakfast with someone who had asked to meet me.

I didn’t know what the meeting would be about; I figured it had something to do with joining an upcoming media ministry. Another one of these church initiatives, I’d concluded. Coming from the creative line, I was used to such invites coming my way.

My breakfast companion, whom I had never spoken to before that day, shared about his idea for a website that would produce content tailored for young adults in Singapore, influenced by our faith and convictions. The project would be called Thir.st, after John 7:37.

What a great idea, I remember exclaiming.

Yes, he replied. Would you quit your job for it?

The beehoon lost its flavour.

DECEMBER 31, 2014. In Church, counting down to the New Year.

I had felt a stirring in my spirit as I prayed – that I was due for a season of transition. But even as I prayed, in my human heart, I was feeling the exhaustion of carrying the burden of having disappointed my parents with my choice of work.

I always felt I had a calling to creative communications. Even as a Business School graduate, I knew God had bigger plans for my gifts in writing and creative ideation, not just indulging in them as an extracurricular activity. My desire was to sink my hands and feet deep into that world, be professionally recognised for my abilities, spend the rest of my life serving the Kingdom of God as a legit creative director.

But entering the industry as a copywriter in a small creative agency right after college didn’t quite fall in line with what my parents envisioned for their bright, ambitious eldest child. So while I saw the hand of God guiding my steps into the place I would call my second home and family for the next four years, they feared for my future, something they reminded me regularly.

I loved my work, but the weight of their worry was enormous.

More than two years into the job, I was almost ready to raise my white flag as I presented them with my third agency Christmas card – we do one every year – and in it I had even declared that this would be the last time they would receive one.

I will be praying for God to show me where to go next, I wrote, hoping to appease them. But the real prayer I was making at the start of 2015 probably sounded more like this: Dear God, please show me where to go next and please make it a nice big agency that will make both my parents and I happy and proud.

And so I applied for a position in the advertising agency I had always wanted to join. I knew there was nowhere I really wanted to go if God wasn’t in it (Exodus 33:15), but if He wasn’t saying anything specific … well, then I’m going ahead.

The morning I woke up to discover I didn’t get the job – the deadline had closed without a word from the agency – my heart sank a little. Where do I go now, God? I wondered, and got up to prepare for a breakfast meeting I had agreed to in church.

ABRAHAM AT THE ALTAR

When the challenge to join Thir.st dropped into my lap (or plate of beehoon) that day, what scared me was that despite my head screaming “NO”, something in my heart resonated with a “YES”. No, this didn’t look like anything I’d imagined. But, yes, I did want to serve God and His Kingdom with my abilities.

Deep inside, I really wanted to say a final yes to Jesus. But I fought the call, of course, hoping my parents would be as horrified by this job prospect as they were with my existing career. They weren’t. I couldn’t believe it. That was my last defence. With great reluctance, I wrote my resignation letter for May 2015. At the time it felt like being hit by an arrow because I hadn’t run fast enough.

I’m resigning tomorrow, I said in a message after I printed the letter.

Wait, don’t, came the reply. The project wasn’t off the ground yet, I was told. All the other strands hadn’t yet fallen into place.

God was far from done. He had my yes, but he didn’t have my heart yet.

It was an Abraham and Isaac moment. Abraham, heartbroken but resolute at the altar where he had tied his only son, interrupted by the Angel of God just before he could slay him as he was instructed to. The relief must have been immense – as mine was.

Off I ran, hoping the worst was over and I had passed some divine test. Perhaps God will leave me alone now.

But He was far from done. He had my yes, but he didn’t have my heart yet. And over the next year, He would undo three of my biggest fears in saying yes wholeheartedly to Him, gently replacing them with His Truth.

Fear #1: I had been hit by a stray arrow I couldn’t outrun, that arrow being Thir.st.
Truth #1: My name was on that arrow, and He shot it purposefully at me. I was called by name.

Fear #2: I was leaving agency life for good.
Truth #2: I was joining the biggest agency in the world, to sit at the Creator’s meeting table.

Fear #3: I would never have the chance to win awards and be professionally acknowledged.
Truth #3: I already had God’s stamp of approval, I did not need Man to affirm it.

Slowly but surely, these truths sank into the depths of my heart even as I avoided the topic of Thir.st, throwing myself back into agency life. They popped up at the most random places – in conversations, in conferences, in shared articles on social media. Things were shifting inside me.

By the time I was told I was going to receive a promotion to Junior Creative Director, I wavered momentarily – You just had to make it even more difficult, God – but I knew my final answer. Saying “no” to Thir.st had become harder than saying “yes”. The cost of saying “no” had become greater than the cost of saying “yes”. I was ready. It was just a matter of time.

LAST CALL

Standing in the queue with my colleagues for the plane to the Philippines, almost a year after the challenge to join Thir.st, was the last place I thought the call would come again. It’s time to talk about you and Thir.st.

This time my heart was the one to respond: I’m ready to go whenever you want me on board.

It would be the last trip I would take with my agency.

"I've been waiting for this talk"

As I waited for takeoff, strangely seated away from the group, a prophecy someone had given me came to mind: “I see a plane in flight. God wants you to trust Him as He takes you from place to place.”

The engines started whirring faster. Acceleration kicked in, and I could feel us picking up speed down the runway. I closed my eyes, and the tears came.

Yes, God.

A thousand times, yes.

A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

/ joanne@thir.st

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.

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Learning about election: How can we be sure?

by | 25 September 2018, 5:57 PM

For the longest time, I’ve avoided thinking too hard about the inconvenient or uncomfortable aspects of the faith.

With “predestination” for instance, I simply packed it up in a box and wrote “God is sovereign” over the lid. And that was that. When it came to “election” – the Calvinist doctrine that believers are already chosen – I didn’t even approach that can of worms.

I settled for simple definitions of the terms that had little to do with me — little to change the way I thought or lived. Because, honestly, while there was a part of me that was just lazy to delve into the theology — there was a much larger part that was simply afraid.

What if I learnt something I couldn’t deal with or reconcile? What if God didn’t elect my loved ones?

Fear was what I felt about election when I first heard of it as a teenager. The notion that God picks some people and not all to be saved was deeply offensive to me. It seemed to go against everything I had been taught in Sunday school and still believed — surely God was supposed to love and save the whole wide world! 

So I lived with the convenience of quiet confusion, even as I did all the other Christian stuff I didn’t have to think too much about.

Is God fair to save some and not all?

My blissful ignorance to the larger cosmic workings of our existence continued until just recently, when someone asked a question at Bible Study Fellowship about Romans 9 that made my head hurt.

Well, surely. But just as I was about to lock in that thought, a thought came to mind, and I remembered how my father looked as he lay ruined from cancer. I had told God then that He wasn’t being fair. Why were other Christian healed, but my father wasn’t?

Accusations of God’s unfairness or injustice most frequently rear themselves in suffering, and are symptomatic of a certain entitlement and carnality. Our demands are damning: Do we even accept that His ways are higher? Are we willing to submit? And do we submit under our definition of fairness or God’s? They aren’t the same.

The difficult truth I had learnt to accept in life is that God doesn’t owe us anything. We just feel entitled. So what would be “fair” would be for all of us to be hurled into hellfire. Because that’s what we truly deserve — death — and yet Jesus has given us life instead.

Do we even accept that His ways are higher? Are we willing to submit? And do we submit under our definition of fairness or God’s?

But I squirmed in my seat as I listened to the teaching leader speak about election.

“God is fair. No one can say God is unfair: The offer of salvation is universal and excluded to none. ‘Jacob I loved, Esau I hated’ — Why? Both were sinners, both deserved judgment — neither deserved salvation.

“God chose who would respond in faith to His promise. We are so ruined by sin, we are unable to respond by faith — unless God is first at work in us to give us the ability to respond. Salvation is God’s work. It’s not human effort.”

As he spoke on, he challenged what I quickly realised was a very incomplete understanding of election. Maybe there was some remnant pain in my life from seeing my father not having been chosen for healing. But I found it hard to reconcile the fact that God predestines some for salvation and not others.

It’s just hard to swallow. Because fundamentally, most of us believe and feel that we should be saved. The way we see it, a good God shouldn’t send anyone to hell. The human view is that a good God would snap His fingers and save the day.

To be fair, He did save the day, but I hadn’t really internalised how much of a just God He is as well.

I tried to break it down for myself by imagining God was throwing a party.

Was it the case that God would invite some people, but not the rest? A bojio by God felt unfair to me. Here I was tempted to think of people off in some unreached jungle in the world, but even they have a shot at knowing Jesus and are without excuse (Romans 1:20).

Or was the party one where God graciously invited everyone, but only a few responded and showed up?

As I read the Bible, the Lord led me to Matthew 22. In this parable, a king had sent servants to invite guests to his son’s wedding banquet, but some of these guests “paid no attention”. Worse still, other invited guests “seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (Matthew 22:5-7).

What really caught my attention was verse 14: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

I really couldn’t wrap my head around being chosen, because I had told God in the past that I firmly wanted nothing to do with Him after my father passed on. So I was one of the first invited guests.

The way I see it, if God had drawn up some cosmic list of names which said “you can enter” or “you cannot enter” based on a moment of choice and free will — I wouldn’t be writing this article. After all, I’m inherently too much of a worm to pick God (Romans 3:11-12). Instead it is solely by His sovereign grace that I have been chosen.

God stands outside of time, omniscient, and I believe He sees and can confirm the great choices of our lives. So why didn’t He harden my heart like He did with Pharaoh’s (Exodus 7:3-4)? Why instead did He soften my heart, that the Spirit would quicken faith within me again, years later as a young adult?

It can only be mercy. Mercy I will never deserve. I rejected God, and yet I am chosen, when I too should have been buried under an ocean of sin. Now I see that at the end of it all, God stands sovereign. Just as He heals who He wants to heal, He saves who He wants to save.

 “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Romans 9:15)

But just a chapter on in Romans 10, the Bible also teaches the parallel truth that election does not exclude the offer of the gospel! Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Human choice is not discounted in the sight of a God with outstretched arms, waiting for us to call on Him. All are invited to the party, but only the chosen will want to repent from sin and become His friends.

In the time I’ve been chewing on this, my good friend shared something from RC Sproul which left me deeply moved.

“Another significant difference between the activity of God with respect to the elect and the reprobate concerns God’s justice. The decree and fulfilment of election provide mercy for the elect while the efficacy of reprobation provides justice for the reprobate.

God shows mercy sovereignly and unconditionally to some and gives justice to those passed over in election. That is to say, God grants the mercy of election to some and justice to others. No one is the victim of injustice.

To fail to receive mercy is not to be treated unjustly. God is under no obligation to grant mercy to all—in fact, He is under no obligation to grant mercy to any. He says, “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy” (Rom. 9).

The divine prerogative to grant mercy voluntarily cannot be faulted. If God is required by some cosmic law apart from Himself to be merciful to all men, then we would have to conclude that justice demands mercy. If that is so, then mercy is no longer voluntary, but required. If mercy is required, it is no longer mercy, but justice.

What God does not do is sin by visiting injustice upon the reprobate. Only by considering election and reprobation as being asymmetrical in terms of a positive-negative schema can God be exonerated from injustice.”

I see that I am the one who has been unjust. In truth, I have been unjust from conception. Yet I have wagged my finger in God’s face countless times, demanding things I will never deserve — all while He withheld wrath from me in mercy.

Honestly, it feels like the more I learn about the nature of my salvation, the less I really know of the infinite God. But what I’ve learnt about election is that He is merciful and just and I … I am just totally depraved.

But since I am totally depraved, I want to be totally humble about what I’ve learnt. Just as much as I am chosen, I am a beggar pointing other beggars to the banquet.


God I pray that even as I learn about the hows of faith, You would keep me looking at the so whats. Use me wholly, totally, sovereignly as Your humble and obedient vessel to do Your will. Let my deeds outweigh my words — make my life profit Your Kingdom. Thank You for choosing me, and for all You have done and will do. 

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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What does life want from me?

by | 25 September 2018, 3:06 PM

One of my favourite books is Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, a memoir he wrote about surviving the Holocaust in a concentration camp.

While Frankl goes into great detail of the abuse they received as Jews within the camp, he also expounds greatly on how he could keep his spirits up despite the depressing circumstances. His having a reason to live required a change of attitude towards life itself: “It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.”

I wonder how many of us have a why to live. And I wonder how many of us know why we live. 

Our generation is big on extremes, we either live life to its fullest or we live to survive. We contend as activists or remain apathetic. Some strive to give their lives and actions some focus and meaning, others are content to drift through life without much effort because nothing gained means nothing lost.

Bearing Frankl’s earlier question in mind: do you know what life expects of you? Frankl distils life as “taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.” Based on such a worldview, regardless of your attitude towards it, life still needs to be lived.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world

And as a Christian reading the book, I immediately see how Frankl’s definition for life can be taken as a metaphor for God’s will for our lives. This might not be Frankl’s original interpretation of life, but there must be Someone who has the sovereignty to allow the presence of “problems” and “tasks” in our lives.

So without delving into the arena of apologetics, let me push the thread of questioning even further: do you know what God expects of you?

Perhaps before we discover what God expects of us, let us delve into what we can expect of God.

Romans 12:2 puts it simply for us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

The Word assures us that everything in our life is ordained by God (Proverbs 16:33). With renewed minds, we are to test and approve what God’s will is in all the events of our lives.

Now, the only way for us to know these things is to live closely with Him daily. In the shadow of His wings, we will always see that at the end of the day, He is always good.

But before we can say “it is well” to everything that happens in our lives, we must learn how to live with Him. This is where His expectations come in.

And again, we can get this direction from looking at Romans 12:2. First, we are not to yield to the pressures of the world and conform to its pattern. Second, the spirit of our minds (Ephesians 4:23) must be renewed – bent away from the world and back towards God.

This only happens through disciplined devotion to God and genuine life change wrought by the Holy Spirit.

When we have these things in place, we will be able to exercise spiritual discernment. And in today’s combative and divisive society, we will be able to speak up and represent God in love.

Why does God have such expectations of us? Frankl also says that “the salvation of man is through love and in love.” Indeed, if not for the God who is love (1 John 4:16), we would have no chance at a life that is good, pleasing and acceptable in His eyes. We’d be dead without Him.

Because of love, God expects – commands – us to wholly love and fully obey Him. Because the Lord’s expectations of us are representative of a perfect (1 John 4:18) and unconditional love, we must live out the Romans 12:2.

There is a greater life just waiting to be lived.

/ samanthaloh@thir.st

Samantha is a creative who is inspired by the people and stories around her. She also loves striped tees and would love to pass her collection down to her future children. Currently level 1127 on Candy Crush.

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How important are Christian friends in university?

by Abigail Wee | 25 September 2018, 2:49 PM

A friend I met in university (who is now working overseas) shared that living the immigrant life means you’re forever questioning who you are and where you belong.

While spending four years in the UK as a university student might not necessarily be “living the immigrant life”, I could certainly relate to the struggles she mentioned. While studying overseas was very much my own choice, this did not mean that I was free from the worries and insecurities that came with leaving the comforts of Singapore and having to adjust to life overseas.

As with starting any new chapter in life – studying at a new school, working in a new place, living in a different city – the first few weeks were mostly spent making introductions to different people. Given my character, I naturally enjoy meeting new people and making new friends.

However, I felt like I was still searching for something. It was only after attending a Christian Fellowship (CF) with a Singaporean senior that I knew what I was looking for. So what made this group of people different from the other student communities I found in my university?

I believe the difference was the fact that we all shared a love for God and His Word, as well as a desire to serve and submit to Him.

In other words, this group of people – most of whom were also fellow international students – not only empathised with my emotional and mental needs, but understood my spiritual needs as well. While I have close university friends from various races, cultures, religions and backgrounds, studying abroad made me understand the importance of Christian friends in university.

In my prayers for finding a Christian community, God impressed upon my heart that I should not just find one – but root myself in one. I soon came to understand that this process of rooting myself was something that did not happen overnight but required much initiative on my part.

… these friends reminded and encouraged me that what I needed most was actually a who – God Himself.

Rooting myself in my Christian fellowship meant regular attendance and availing myself to serve.

In the midst of assignment deadlines and exams, it was tempting to just give up everything and go and study, but seeing my friends serving together and encouraging each other even while handling their own workloads inspired and pushed me on to do the same.

Their fellowship reminded again and again that God is my anchor. The familiar comforts of home that being overseas could not afford – I learned to find in Him. And when it was difficult to do so, these friends reminded and encouraged me that what I needed most was actually a who – God Himself.

Being plugged into a CF also gave me friends whom I could be kept accountable to. Living in a country very far away from home, I had the freedom to represent myself and live my life any way I wanted to. I could have made choices that everyone back home would not know of.

My friends pointed me heavenward time and time again.

So while it was important to be accountable to people about my life in the UK, it was more important that I found people to keep me accountable for my walk with God.

  • Am I glorifying Him with the opportunities I have been given to study and live in UK?
  • Would He be pleased with how I have spent my four years here?

Learning to constantly ask myself questions like these was a result of walking with like-minded friends who kept pushing me on to grow in my intimacy with the Father. Their physical presence in my life overseas also made it harder to hide or run away from being real. So, over time, it became easier to be open and vulnerable with them.

If you ask me, the main reason why Christian friends are important in our lives is because they are a means through which God draws us closer to Himself. Through the challenges of university life overseas, the godly friendships I have forged have been clear reflections of His generous love, His mercy and His far-reaching grace.

While plugging oneself into a Christian fellowship or community can be intimidating, do not let the fear of putting yourself out there prevent you from establishing godly friendships. Indeed, “Christian friendship is a treasure because it helps us cling to our greatest Treasure.”

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What should you do when facing uncertainties in life?

by Darius Leow | 24 September 2018, 2:31 PM

God, why?

Have you ever asked that question before? I certainly have. I ask it all the time: when outcomes fail to match my expectations, or when something that I want eludes me.

Sometimes when our prayers appear to go unanswered, we get tempted to think God has forgotten about us. We are quick label the Israelites as a bunch of stiff-necked and faithless grumblers, but we actually have more in common with them than we realise.

Because whenever something unexpected happens, we are quick to grumble. “Bring us back to Egypt”, we grumble in frustration towards the God we cannot see. Our understanding of who God is and our past experiences with Him become like distant dusty memories.

In troubles, even the clearest sign and promise from God can be easily clouded by our fears, frustrations and forgetfulness.

Consider King Jehoshaphat: 2 Chronicles 20 details King Jehoshaphat’s journey through a period of national crisis and how he responded when hemmed in by uncertainties.

“After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle. Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar” (that is, Engedi).” (2 Chronicles 20:1-2)

This chapter begins with the nation of Judah and King Jehoshaphat in a vulnerable position, outnumbered by surrounding enemies. Three-versus-one is a terrible situation to be in — even for the best military.

It’s not a stretch to say that we actually have so much in common with Israel. This life is a battle against sin and evil (Ephesians 6:12). We all have our own “great multitude” or “vast army” coming against us like having to grapple with the effects of sin, broken relationships or poor health.

But while we will face uncertainties and dangers like King Jehoshaphat, what is more important is knowing how to respond to life’s uncertainties.

In troubles, even the clearest sign and promise from God can be easily clouded by our fears, frustrations and forgetfulness.

Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord ... O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:3-4, 12)

Judah’s national security was at stake, yet the first thing King Jehoshaphat did was to set his face to seek the Lord. Instead of mobilising the army, he mobilised himself and his people to seek God for help.

God heard the cry of His people and granted Judah and King Jehoshaphat victory over their enemies as they obediently went in faith (2 Chronicles 20:20) and gave God worship and praise (2 Chronicles 20:18-19, 21-22).

Though things looked hopeless, they sought God, took up their positions, stood firm and fixed their eyes on Him. And they were victorious.

This passage offered me much comfort and encouragement during a difficult season in my life. For like King Jehoshaphat, I found myself in situations where I was forced to confront uncertainties.

Academically, I didn’t do too well for some of my papers and had to wrestle with the disappointment that my hard work wasn’t matched by good grades. Relationally, being someone who has not been in a relationship before, I struggled to navigate through uncharted waters with clarity. And physically, I’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition affecting my joints and spine that will likely stay with me for life.

Yet as I took stock of all that was happening around me and gave myself time and space to wrestle with God, He taught me to confront my inadequacies through my trials. I was humbled as I began to understand that even in the brevity and uncertainty of life — there was a solid rock I could depend on.

God’s thought and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Of course, given a choice, I would have wished for the disappointments and pain to go away. I would have hoped for different outcomes that matched my expectations and desires. But I saw how uncertainties are God’s ways to humble me and grow my dependence on Him.

I sensed God reminding me not to place my confidence and expectations in mere outcomes. Living life that way is unstable. Instead, I should hold on to God, my only anchor and certainty in life, surrendering the results to Him.

After all, in all things He works “for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

We can be certain that there will be uncertainty, but we need to learn to be okay living with it.

For all our human wisdom, we will never have life all figured out. It is easy to blame God when uncertainty hits us because no one likes to be out of control. But God uses uncertainty to teach us precious lessons which reveal our fallenness and need for Him as saviour.

Here are some lessons I learnt from 2 Chronicles 20 and from my wrestle with uncertainty.

3 ANCHORS AGAINST UNCERTAINTY

1. In moments of uncertainty, look to Christ as our only certainty in life

Jehoshaphat looked to God during a crisis of uncertainty, and God did not disappoint him. We learn to hold on to Christ, and not outcomes, and trust in His promises and deliverance.

The one we learn to hold on to has graciously and lovingly given us all things through Jesus Christ (Romans 8:32). May this enduring truth help us find our security and anchor in Him and Him alone.

For all our human wisdom, we will never have life all figured out.

2. When uncertain, grow in faith and dependency on Christ 

We are made to confront our inadequacies in circumstances where control is pried out of our hands. But in such moments we can clearly see our deep need for God.

God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses, and this truth gives us the confidence to boast in them and declare, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

3. Uncertainties are opportunities for the unexpected (2 Chronicles 20:22-23)

Victory was secured with prayer and praise. Judah prepared for war but didn’t have to lift a finger — only to loot the spoils of victory (2 Chronicles 20:24-26).

God’s thought and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), and He can take and turn all our situations — even dangerous ones — “for good” (Genesis 50:20).

To close, I’m leaving you with one of my favourite poems — The Tapestry by Corrie Ten Boom.

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.

Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned

He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.

Trust that God is weaving a beautiful story in and through your life. In times of uncertainty, may our eyes be fixed on the intended pattern and design God has for us. Even when life doesn’t make sense and we don’t have everything figured out, we can learn to trust His in character and promises.

The sovereign God is certain and eternal.

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Faith

How to really read your Bible

by Jonathan Pang, Tan Ai Luan and Goh Chong Tee | 21 September 2018, 2:03 PM

One of the challenges that new believers first encounter in reading the Bible is reading it in totality.

We tend to have the most trouble with the Old Testament (OT), where cultural and sociopolitical contexts differ greatly from the New Testament (NT) – let alone our postmodern society.

Nowadays, intellectual disparities form the primary barrier to spiritual insight. Yet as believers we are told to take God at His Word in Luke 21:33, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away”. We are told the same in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 as well: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

What then is the correct mindset and methodology for studying Scripture within BC times, in a way which is comprehensive yet authentic in relation to its historical and ecclesiastical roots? Here are 3 handles you may find beneficial to your reading.

3 WAYS TO READ THE WORD WELL 

1. Read between the lines

“Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth.  Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:5-7)

Reading between the lines is especially essential for seemingly awkward or outdated customs among God’s chosen race. Some examples include piercing servants’ ears as a sign of lifelong dedication to their masters (Deuteronomy 15:17) and the forbidden practice of seething (boiling) a young goat in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23:19).

It’s about pressing in for the meaning behind the verse. And admittedly, since we may not be theologians, it’s also useful to lean on doctrinally sound sources of secondary literature which give insight and clarity into the practices of the early Jews.

Analysing things like genre and writing style helps us read through the OT with clarity.

There are also multiple references within other OT sections involving history and prophecies which may mystify readers unless they look for key phrases or words within the original Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic translations.

These translations themselves borrow metaphors from nature or mythology to explain or corroborate principles, often making for awkward translations today. After all, reading the Bible in English, we are distanced from the original writers and their target audiences by language, time and context.

It helps to look up the nature of a biblical book before reading it. Analysing things like genre and writing style helps us read through the OT with clarity. It’s our responsibility to truly understand what we read (Romans 10:2-4).

2. Connect the dots

“For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

God’s Word doesn’t contradict itself or His character manifested on Earth through the life of Jesus Christ. Similarly, the NT does not make the OT irrelevant to Christians today.

The moral and ethical codes first commanded by God through the Torah have been perfected through the death and resurrection of His Son. Such was the theological foundation of the early Church in the days of the apostles. In relating OT laws, prophecies and history to the observances and character of early Christians, their significance and applications to our own spiritual walk can be made clearer.

The Word is timeless and transcends even history.

Consider especially the Book of Revelation. It possesses close parallels to the books of Daniel and Ezekiel in the imagery of the visions they received about God’s judgment of the Earth, calamities befalling man owing to sin, the Resurrection and New Jerusalem.

The central themes and messages conveyed through similarities in both OT and NT texts are consistent with each other, and should therefore be identified and analysed to determine its purpose and message for Christians – dispelling misconceptions or preconceived ideas of irrelevance between the two.

The Word is timeless and transcends history.

3. Watch and pray

“Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.” (Acts 9:18)

All Scripture, however translated across tribes and tongues, is God-breathed. Our human capacity is insufficient to access and live by it.

Intellectual humility – sadly lacking in a generation that has had greater access to education than previous ones – is something Christians must possess to internalise and act upon the Word of God. The Bible is more than a religious text that Christians blindly follow, it is the critical foundation for the heart and mind to be filled with the Spirit – producing love for the Lord with all we are.

We can and should ask for wisdom in the process of nourishing ourselves with the Word.

While any doubts that we have concerning our study of the Word should be brought to our clergy or peers within the Church community, they should first and foremost be addressed through prayer.

Sin has marred the vision of many and blinded them to the Truth. What better way then, than to request for wisdom from whom Scripture is breathed? For we have the Holy Spirit to guide and counsel us.

The tearing of the temple veil upon Christ’s crucifixion was a sign which indicated the beginning of this new and living way to God. Jesus’ sacrifice allowed for the remission of our sins, so we could renew our relationship and have communion with Him as children of God.

So our understanding of the Bible is highly intertwined with our spiritual walk with the Creator. We can and should ask for wisdom in the process of nourishing ourselves with the Word.

As you continue to study the Bible, you will undoubtedly face difficulties in both the intellectual and spiritual aspect of doing so. It is both a science (in terms of critical reading) and an art (putting it into practice).

But remember: your Christian walk should never be undertaken alone. You will undoubtedly need the support of your spiritual community in translating your faith into tangible action. Regardless of the obstacles encountered, always persevere in plunging deeper into the knowledge and love of God through understanding His Word.

Ask for wisdom, and it shall be given. Seek Him, and draw near to Him by faith, and let Him strengthen you and your walk with Him.

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How to really read your Bible