Reading the Old Testament

Reading the Old Testament

I have to confess, I have never read all of the Old Testament. Until this year.

The New Testament I have probably read through a number of times. Paul’s letters are my favourites, along with John’s gospel. The NT is much more relatable, with less focus on tradition, fewer moments of head scratching confusion, its contents simpler to swallow. I never had much of a problem reading the NT.

The Old Testament, however, is a different story.

Dense, full of unfamiliar traditions, laws and regulation, judgement, war and suffering, lists upon lists of names, the OT makes for less palatable reading for the 21st century christian living in a city like Singapore. My experience with OT was something like this.

I think I’ve read Genesis and Exodus, I skipped past Leviticus, Numbers & most of Deuteronomy, then I read Joshua (strong & courageous!). I never really could reconcile my NT mind with Judges, I kinda liked Ruth. I love 1 Samuel, but 2 Samuel was a bit of a stretch because I couldn’t understand David in his later life (young underdog shepherd-boy David was more reader friendly).

1 & 2 Kings were fun, and then it got repetitive and soon I skip past the many kings & only remember Josiah (the good one)(did you know there were a number of kings who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord? I probably skipped past those tbh). 1 & 2 Chronicles felt like a rehash of Kings, so I never really bothered.

Ezra, Nehemiah rebuilt the wall so that was nice to read, but also a lot of names. Esther was #femalepower so I read that many times. Job was difficult & hard to accept. Psalms is everyone’s favourite, Proverbs the lesser brother(or son, since written by Solomon). Ecclesiastes is cynical and I enjoyed it for that reason. Song of Solomon is the couples’ book so I excluded myself from the reading of that. Isaiah is long and full of prophesies I didn’t understand.

Jeremiah was long and confusing. Lamentations, as the name suggests, was despondent. Ezekiel had so many different visions I often just read it through quickly. Daniel was fun because #marketplace. Hosea was my life’s book so I read that a number of times, and then everything else (the minor prophets) were often just quickly skimmed through.

The OT often felt alien, and laborious to read, so I never had the motivation to work through some of the books. My church hardly ever referenced the OT, except in the occasional Jeremiah 29, Isaiah 53 and the stories of the greats. No one explained the chronology of the OT, or paid attention to the difficult passages because they were probably difficult to preach on.

Now, I am convinced that The Old Testament is part of the same story. God’s story.

It is the same story as the NT. If we only read the NT and not the OT, we miss out on the riches that the bible gives to us. We forfeit the depth to which we can know God and the profundity of the gospel.

The difficulty of the OT adds to the joy of the freedom of the gospel. It reminds us that Jesus was a revolution, He transformed thousands of years of relationship with God. He brought newness to the people of God, and extended this invitation to non-Jews. The prophesies of Christ’s eventual coming build up in suspense through the OT, with each layer of hope, frustration, helplessness, awe finally culminating in the opening chapters of Matthew, where finally ‘unto us, a child is born’.

The more I read the OT, the more I’m in awe of God’s faithfulness, His mercy and compassion towards His people. People often say that the OT God is a judgemental one (I was one of them!). I think they have not read the OT thoroughly enough (Truth!). In light of our understanding of grace in the NT, the OT God, is the SAME God, extending grace and mercy relentlessly toward a stiff-necked people who again and again, turn from Him towards wickedness until finally God, after hundreds of years, would bring judgement.

It’s so easy to read the ‘judgement’ in the OT, and forget that between the chapters and kings could be hundreds of years. As Donald Miller puts it, “it takes God hundreds of years to finally get angry enough to lay any sort of punishment on His enemies. He’s like France in that way”.

Despite their fervent betrayal and forgetfulness, God makes a way for all to come back to Him, so that He may dwell amongst His people again. Everything in the OT points to Jesus. And how marvellous is it, that we live on this side of history, to be able to read through the story from its beginnings, to see the fulfilment of prophesy of the Messiah, to live a life where God dwells IN us through the Holy Spirit. Wow.

So, how? How do we approach the OT in a way that would help us see it in a new light?

1. Read it chronologically
This was the most helpful for me, to see God’s story as it happens, and not reading it in sections. The OT is organised in a particular way when it was canonised around the 5th century, and hence it isn’t entirely chronological. In order to make sense of what is happening, the prophesies made by prophets in their time, it is extremely helpful to read it in the context of what is happening historically. For example, right now I’m reading Ezekiel, which happened around the time of and after Jeremiah, during the judgement of Judah where the Babylonians conquered them in 2 Chronicles 36. Without this historical context, it can be confusing when Ezekiel goes on and on about idols and judgement and about the remnant.

This is the bible in a year plan that has transformed my OT reading.

2. Read it in light of the NT
The good thing about the above reading plan, is that it also goes through the NT, and so sometimes there are wonderful parallels from what goes on in the NT and with the OT. Reading the OT in light of our understanding of what Jesus has done, and the good news of the gospel, would help us get through the tough passages of the OT. Especially the ones about the Law and judgement.

3. Grapple with it.
Some passages, especially in Judges and Kings, we find a lack of value judgement from the author. We don’t exactly know if what the king/judge did was right or wrong. It’s just narrated as it is. Those passages I found particularly difficult but I find that when I spend time in it, and try to make connections with what I know of the NT, I have a peace about them.

Grappling with difficult concepts (like judgement and the killing of women & children) can be uncomfortable, but it grows us deeply in our faith. Our faith is one of tension, of seeming dichotomy, so grappling and working through difficult passages in the OT can grow us in our faith and to be anchored. It’s like moving from a diet of milk to meat. It may be uncomfortable for a while and requires effort to chew, but entirely worth it.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways”
James 1:5 – 8

As you grapple with the OT, if anything confuses or is difficult, ask God to help you. He will reveal new revelations to you about His character, about His plan for humanity. You will grow rooted in the truth of God’s word, and anchored in His Word.

Now, reading the OT is more like an adventure through history, drama and poetry.

I love the pattern of redemption vividly portrayed in the Old Testament, beginning with the powerful story of God’s kindness towards Adam & Eve by dressing them even after they had broken His heart. He raised up judges who would save His people, despite their wickedness. He heard every single one of their cries for deliverance. They called for a king, and He gave them a righteous man after God’s heart, David, who foreshadows a king who would one day rule eternally in justice and righteousness. Again and again the people of God turned against Him, and yet prophets would be sent to the people to turn their hearts back towards repentance and to remember the Lord. They disobeyed repeatedly, and yet His heart was to preserve a remnant so that they may again rebuild the city of God. The promise to His people was there would be one day be this city, and it would be called “The Lord Is There” (Ezekiel 48). The city of Jerusalem is built finally, towards the end of the OT, but again the people turned against God and judgement befell them.

Until the cry of a baby boy from the manger, born of a virgin, echoed through the dark night. A new time had come where the patterns of sin and judgement would be broken. The reconciliation of God and man was completed on the cross. The city of God is no longer a place, but a people, in whom God dwells. And one day, when His patient waiting comes to an end, a new heavens and a new earth will be formed, and His people will dwell with Him eternally, where His presence shall be light for all life.

I pray that we will grow rooted in the word, to “let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, teaching and admonishing one another in wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16) I pray that there will be new joy through the Holy Spirit, as we read the whole Bible and witness for ourselves the powerful redemptive narrative God has gifted to us. I ask for a revelation of God’s wondrous grace, His longsuffering patience, His sovereign and perfect plan.

Distracted and Deceived

Distracted and Deceived

In a sermon, Stef Liston spoke about the two main ways the enemy wages war. First, to turn our attention from God through DISTRACTIONS, and second, to make us doubt/quench our full potential through DECEPTION.

It struck me because so often those are the two things I struggle with the most in my faith. Since coming back to Singapore I have been bombarded with distractions. My mind can’t fully be still, even when I’m reading my bible in the morning my thoughts are racing about what’s next, life, lunch. Sometimes with the most facepalm worthy things.

Another battle is fighting the lies about my identity, and these lies become like weeds that wrap round the tree that is blossoming, and choke the life out of it slowly. (Luke 8:14)

In my journeys to and from work, I have observed that many (not all but a seeming majority) Singaporeans are glued to their screens. Some people are reading the news or a book, which is fine, but most are watching movies, playing games or scrolling on social media. Sometimes, by virtue of ‘everyone’s doing it’, I find myself gravitating to my phone as well, checking empty updates of people I don’t really know or care about. That, and reading articles that frankly, have little value on my life.

Why is this an issue?

D I S T R A C T I O N

The Lord speaks to us in the stillness of our hearts and minds, but when we fill our time with visual stimulation and mindless social media, I don’t know how we will actually be able to hear Him.

I call it the abyss of screen time: my mind and awareness darkens, and I delve deep into the lives of other people, of vicious comparison. Either that or I’m numbed to all other sensations because of the escapism of watching videos or scrolling social media.

How distracting it is, and unsatisfying for my soul. To quote a famous man, “But we can give Frodo his chance if we keep Sauron’s Eye fixed upon us. Keep him blind to all else that moves” (Aragorn, LOTR). Distractions keep us blind to other humans, oblivious to the voice of God.

What would it look like if, instead of waiting for that two hour session during a random church camp to go our treasure hunting to pray for people, all of us would open our eyes to see needs on the streets as we are travelling, to observe people and pray for our nation? How much more will God be able to move in our nation? Our cry that God will establish His kingdom here in our nation will turn into action!

What hope do we have against the enemy if we spend that 10 minutes in the morning on the Word of God, and the rest of the time at work or watching videos?

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:16 – 17

‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly’ – I’m convicted to allow my bible readings to dwell in me richly each day, by thinking about them, processing them, breaking them down into smaller phrases and really delving deep into them. Best time to do this? Every morning on the train/bus. Eating lunch alone.

When we are distracted, we leave ourselves open to

D E C E P T I O N

Lies start to creep in about my body image when I scroll the Insta-perfect models. Lies about the futility of my life start taking root little by little when I see all the powerful lives others seem to live. Bitterness and disappointment fight to the surface when I begin to compare myself to friends who are seeing breakthrough in their lives.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 
Ephesians 6: 10 – 13

Putting on the armour of God requires awareness, and focus. Often times the devil’s schemes are subtle, he creeps in like a thief to steal, kill and destroy. To steal our joy, kill our hopes and destroy our faith in Christ. They may start like little foxes, but if we do not remember that we are in a fight, we leave ourselves vulnerable to attacks and they may slowly tear down the good work that God has done in us.

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.
Grace be with you.
1 Timothy 6: 20-21

Paul exhorts Timothy to GUARD the truths, the gifts, the downloads, the faith given to him through the Spirit. Because the enemy will come, and will try to take them away.

“It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters

This is an exhortation to us as believers to be aware of what we let in to our lives, what we fill our time and minds with. It is something that comes up of personal conviction, and a desire to walk more closer with God. To live out the freedom that He has already won for us. Sometimes that takes a bit of uprooting, rock removing, rug pulling in order to free us from the chains that so easily entangles.

What are some of the little distractions that have crept into our daily lives, and keep us from the all-consuming, transformative power of God?

Have you noticed what happens when you engage with these distractions? What are you aware/not aware of?

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful” (1 Corinthians 6:12) What are some things that dominate your time and mind and emotions that are not helpful in encouraging your journey?

Authenticity and the necessity of unmasking.

Authenticity and the necessity of unmasking.

I was watching the second episode of Our Planet on Netflix, and decided that the wandering Albatross was my spirit animal. Not that spirit animals are biblical, but if there was a list of animals(there are a few) that I identified with, the albatross is definitely up there.

I concluded this during a particular scene where the albatross, with its impressive wingspan of three metres, attempted to land. From its graceful gliding in the wind, it crashed unglamorously into the ground because the albatross, with its impressive size and ability to spend most of its life in flight, has no reverse thrusters and landing is a real challenge.

Despite the many gifts that have been so graciously given to me, I have (as with all of us) challenges & struggles in life and sometimes crash to the ground so dramatically it seems almost impossible that moments before I was soaring high and majestically in the sky.

When faced with difficulties and struggles, it is of course easier to hide them away, and focus only on the glory of success. Being put together is something we naturally think is better than being open about the mess and dirt of struggles.

Especially in Chinese culture, we are often caught up with the need to ‘save face’. Face being a word to encapsulate our pride and reputation. It is a crisis when we ‘lose face’, a direct translation from the words ‘丢面’ which means to be disgraced, embarrassed.

And so we often wear a mask to ensure that our true struggles, or our true feelings are not revealed. We may take off our masks at the end of the day, or with close friends and family, but I think for most of us, wearing a mask is so innate that we actually don’t feel it on our faces anymore.

Sometimes, in those existentialist moments, we may question who we really are, or feel so deeply misunderstood. But these questions stop short of us taking off that mask so that people can understand us. As a result, we live inauthentically, and then struggle with feelings that no one really knows us for who we are.

In her book ‘Leading as Sons & Daughters‘, Wendy Mann describes that one key attribute of a leader who leads as a child of God is to lead without a mask. She recounts the experience of being so trapped and anxious because she believed the lie that a leader ‘should always have it together and show no signs of weakness.’ She writes that wearing a mask makes it easier sometimes because there is a distance between you and the people around you. There is a real fear that people will not accept you if they knew the real you.

But, Mann continues, the understanding of our position as children of God shifts this perception. Knowing how much we are loved by God, and that it is not what we do that ‘earns’ this love, will allow us to take off this mask we wear, and be real with the people around us.

Jesus modelled a life of authenticity. He never needed to please crowds, and would often travel distances just to speak to one person. He didn’t need to show that he had it together, demonstrated in the garden of Gethsemane where he brought three of his closest friends and wept before God under the weight of the task that was ahead of him. He didn’t hide that he was the Messiah, even if he knew that would cost him his life. Jesus wept, showed anger, expressed deep sorrow.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:16-7

King David, in his psalms, modelled this example of honesty & authenticity. His songs showed brokenness, disappointment, frustration, hope, love, joy, worship. He was not quick to jump to triumphant victory, but would express his sadness. He also freely expressed joy, dancing to the point of losing his clothes, singing songs of praise. Honesty is not just the openness of struggle and pain, but also the invitation to share in deep joy and freedom found in being confident in our identity in Christ, and known by people around us.

During her sermon about dealing with disappointment at the Sent Conference 2019, Wendy Mann shared that there is such a profound intimacy to be found in our pain and brokenness. In eternity there will be no more pain and suffering. But in this time, while we are in pain and struggle, there is such a beauty in our offering this to God. And indeed, God does not despise it. He treasures our heart.

Perhaps then, in order to reconcile our inner selves with the self we demonstrate to the world, we need to actually lose face. To throw off that mask that we put on. Especially in churches, we need to learn to be more real with our community and with our people. The size of our churches, the lights & sound that makes all of it seem more like a performance make it difficult to be authentic. But for a richer christian walk, and for the freedom to love and be loved, we need to learn to be real with one another.

How can we do this?

  1. We can be honest with God – until our hearts are free from all the disappointment and pain, we cannot receive God’s truth about who we are. Declaring victory and God’s truth without our hearts being receptive makes way for even more hurt. We have to be completely vulnerable and honest with God. God knows anyway. He sees behind the mask. What delights Him is not our proclamation of our belief in Him, but the honest intimate conversations we have with him about our troubles and pain.
  2. We can be honest with a few ‘safe people’ – being authentic doesn’t mean having to bare everything to everyone. That would be unwise and set us up for greater hurt. But Mann writes that we should have ‘safe people’ around us, that close three or four, who we can trust to walk alongside us. Who would love us, and speak the truth to us in love.

In these ways, we can slowly peel off the mask that have fused with our real faces. Perhaps we can, bit by bit, become less afraid of what people think of us, and more confident in who we are in Christ. We can be real about how much we struggle to live a Christian life, and in so doing, encourage others that they are not alone in the struggle.

Two weeks ago I was at a conference with some people from Revelation church. My mentor had mentioned to me previously that I get along with people really well, but I do tend to put my guard up. It’s not a really obvious thing, but it’s almost like I have unconscious inhibitors that filter what I say or how I behave. I don’t share deeply but just kind of the ‘need-to-know’.

During the conference though, there was so much that God was saying and doing, that I felt I needed people around me to pray and process. And I remember having to consciously make an effort to share more deeply than I usually do. On the way to coffee, a friend had asked “You okay?”. I just went “yeah, I’m fine” to which his response was “that’s not a lot to go on.” Previously, I might have just shared a brief overview of my encounter, but I decided that perhaps I need to be more real with what happened. Turned out he had a word for me while praying too, and it confirmed what I had shared with him, which encouraged him to share it too.

I had a few heart to heart conversations with people during the weekend, and the next day back at church, I felt this new uninhibited joy and a new love for people and talking to them. I could receive love from friends when they gave hugs and encouraged me without that initial hesitance of false modesty. I could give love and express excitement without holding back and feeling like they might think I’m weird.

There’s a real freedom to receive love and to love others when we take off our masks and choose to be authentic about the journeys we are on. Of course, it’s hard to find such safety in every circumstance to be real with people but I encourage us to build cultures in our communities and churches that people can be safe to share what is on their hearts. Their concerns, their struggles, their questions, their doubts, their love, their joys, their dreams. And that they will be met with acceptance and love. Not empty tolerance that the world gives, but the love of the gospel that loves despite and in spite of.

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 
1 John 6 – 9

Let us lose our masks and walk in the light. In this light we can find true deep fellowship with one another and so encourage one another in this journey. By God’s grace, when we are honest, we are met with acceptance and forgiveness.

Lord, we thank you that you know who we are, so deeply sinful and flawed. You patiently wait for us to take off our masks so that we can understand that we are fully known and loved. You already knew who we were when you died on the cross. Sorry that we are sometimes not honest with you and with people around us. It’s so difficult sometimes to be vulnerable. I pray you give us the courage to be honest with people, and bring people in our lives who we can be open with about our deepest struggles, pain. But not just in the bad stuff, but also the deep joy and love that comes from being known and accepted. I pray that our churches and communities can be places of safety for your people to be real, and be met with love and acceptance. Help us to see others the way you see us, through such unconditional love.

Teacher depression

Teacher depression

This one is for my fellow Christian teachers who struggle in the teaching profession as much as I did.

I think I was living in depression for the last three years but I didn’t actually recognise it. Maybe I denied that I was depressed because I felt like I needed to be in control and ‘on top of it’. Maybe it’s just one of those things you can really recognise it in retrospect. I just want to share a couple of reasons why I had slipped into that place, and then discuss what I think could change this to encourage those of us who are still in schools.

One. Overwork

The work of a teacher never ends. Lessons, lesson preparations, setting test papers & examination papers, marking papers, marking assignments and group projects, staff meetings, department meetings, level meetings, professional development courses, teacher mentoring meeting, EPMS meetings, parent-teaching meetings, student counselling sessions, form class duties, results tracking, CCA, CCA admin, CCA meetings, CCA outings, Committee meetings, Committee events/work, VIA planning and projects, festive events/award ceremonies, other civil service duties like voting and the list goes on…

Unfortunately, when working with people and trying to develop a holistic education, teachers bear the brunt of it all and are often not really considered in educational policy. When a new education policy rolls out, the teachers are left scrambling to try and figure out how to adapt and change to it all. In the end, the workload is never reviewed and more gets piled on.

It’s even worse if you show any competence/talent. You get MORE work on top of the huge pile, threatening to avalanche into the abyss.

Even with my ability to cope with stress, my meticulous organisational skills and ability to plan well, I spiralled into exhaustion. I was anxious that I couldn’t finish the work. I was not sleeping well because of the stress. I felt the responsibility of my 200 students on my shoulders at night. Insomnia became a familiar companion, and I find that I could not relax or forget about work. If I had a nice weekend, I would be lying awake on Sunday night anxious about the next morning and all the work I did not do over the weekend. I was so so so tired.

In 2018, I had a couple of days where I was at the doctor’s because I simply couldn’t put myself together to face people. I had to get medication for my lack of sleep. Another result of this overwork and exhaustion was that I was a complete emotional wreck. I felt like crying half the time, and the other half of the time I was angry.

Two. Never ending cycles of guilt.

Oh the guilt. The guilt of not finishing that stack of marking I promised my students. The guilt of not being energetic in class. The guilt of not enjoying such a ‘meaningful job’. The guilt of being tired. The guilt of being insufficient. The guilt of not being able to ‘sort it out’. The guilt of students’ learning. The guilt of not being able to change the system.

and then the guilt of being guilty.

I think because teaching is such an emotional investing job, and we work with people, it feels like the responsibility of it is a lot more. We can’t stop thinking about our students because we are on holiday. We can’t not answer a call after work hours because a student is struggling with home life and needs advice.

And the guilt of falling short is even harder to bear.

I can’t really say any more about this. I think teachers fully understand what I’m saying. It’s hard to rationally explain the guilt but it was so so heavy when I was teaching.

And I’m just going to throw this out there as well for christian teachers.

the guilt of not loving enough.

Oh wow, this one was particularly difficult for me. I get upset with my students, and then I hate myself so much because I had not been gracious with them. I want to tell them about Jesus, but I don’t. Why don’t I? i question over and over again and then feel so horrible.

Three. There’s no way out.

There is a fear and anxiety of not being able to voice out problems or find a job elsewhere in another school, another department or a completely other job.

This is often a symptom of depression – the sense that there is no way out.

I have often said, while in the pit of darkness, ‘even if I went to another school, I can’t be certain that it will be any better.’ I rationalise why this particular place I’m in now is ‘not that bad’. The fear of moving is crippling because it was unfamiliar.

In a way, I had grown so familiar with the exhaustion and the despair, that finding any way out felt so so impossible.

I also found myself strangely immobilised and voiceless. Although, unlike most Singaporeans, I speak and raise up issues and wouldn’t go down without a fight. But often, many teachers will tell me that there’s no use telling superiors about struggles, there’s no point going to Ministry to try and change things because as a small fry there is no way to alter deep-seated systemic issues. Most people told me to loosen up, to care less, to be more compliant.

This adds to the hopelessness and helplessness that I faced. A deep crippling sense that I cannot escape any of it.

But now that I have had some time to process and heal outside of the madness of teaching life, here are some of the perspectives I have gained.

Work is good but it should not overtake
God and personal well-being

Busyness is to be expected from work, but the kind of life-draining overwork that teachers face daily is not normal or healthy. We have to learn to say NO to work. Even if it feels like there’s no-one who can do the job, or that there’s such a responsibility to students/colleagues about the work.

I had to recognise that I am not the saviour. By completing that stack of marking after a long weekend of camps, I’m not going to change the world/change my students’ life. I’m also not going to cause destruction because I went into one lesson unprepared.

In fact, by allowing myself to be overwhelmed by work, it made even the things I enjoyed so joyless. By pushing myself to work I was angry and tired all the time, and that probably made all of it harder.

As a wise person once told me, before you can “love your neighbour” you need to “love yourself”. If I’m spread so thinly, how am I to treat people with love? Instead I treated them with bitterness and anger, often emotionally manipulating them because I was so tired.

As a Christian, my ultimate goal should be God.

If I were to be honest, I cared about what my bosses said, and my performance review.

I took on opportunities despite being overwhelmed because, well, I think at some deep level I wanted to live up to the name of being competent and efficient. I did not see God as my king and that my work as service to Him. I chased after validation from colleagues, bosses, students.

If I truly understood that God is Lord of my life, then there shouldn’t be any fear or anxiety to say no to things. Instead, I let work overtake my life. I said no to other life-giving things like church community, serving God in ministry, building discipling relationships.

There is ALWAYS hope in Jesus Christ.

Guilt and hopelessness are such a big sign of my self-reliance. I saw myself as saviour of the world, as competent worker who can ‘change things’. And when I was epically failing, it seemed like there’s no way anything could be different or better.

But God has such a larger plan for our lives that involves HIS kingdom, not our minute temporal plan for our lives. It would be too presumptuous and proud to think that I knew whether things would or would not be better.

Our hope should be in Jesus Christ, not in the government or the system. Of course the system is broken, like all things on earth! It would be important to remember that we aren’t primarily civil servants, we are God’s children. Our priority would be the government of Jesus Christ. And so, anything that pulls us away from that, we should not be too reluctant to leave or get out from.

God is good

Even in the difficulty of the season, the desert place, God is good. He uses the wilderness to point out to us our idols, our warped sense of identity, and draws us closer to Him.

Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
    and bring her into the wilderness,
    and speak tenderly to her.
 And there I will give her her vineyards
    and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
    as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

“And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband’, and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me for ever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.
And you shall know the Lord.
Hosea 2:14-21

He can make the ‘Valley of Achor’, of trouble, a door of hope.
He will remind you of his steadfast love and commitment to you as a Husband.
He will renew that covenant of His faithfulness and love in a betrothal.
You will KNOW the Lord more and more.

Whether or not you are a teacher, if you identify with these struggles, my prayer for you is to fling yourself unto the presence of God. Pursue Him. If the place you are at is causing you to run and you are in depression, don’t be afraid to ask for a new way. If God says ‘stay’, then stay knowing that He is working in you and through all your brokenness for your good.

To my fellow teachers, I feel you. All the frustration, the anger, the guilt, the struggle. I feel you. But I also know God is using you far beyond what you can actually see. I pray that you will be daily filled with the strength to get through each day, the grace to treat each person with love and humility, and the hope that comes from the salvation of Jesus.

A plausible life of singleness

A plausible life of singleness

Considering how many single people there are in church, why is it that the dominant discourse surrounding singleness is ‘it is good, but being married is better.’ For the younger single, singleness seems to be more like a place of limbo while you are being shaped for your purpose which is to be married. Concerning my last post, I talked about the goodness of marriage, and how God is teaching me and shaping me more in his image. I have greater clarity and I’m learning more about what marriage really is.

But I thought, how about those who never actually get married, or for reasons cannot be married? How do we justify this ‘limbo’? Do we constantly stay in this waiting-to-be-married state? Why doesn’t a life of singleness seem plausible but rather something we are subjected to?

Truth is, we live in a broken world. And while marriage is a reflection of that final wedding in Revelation between the church and Christ, it is not the ultimate picture, and not something that is promised to God’s people. Instead, his promises are more about life and our relationship with him. “those who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength”, “If you declare with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord, you will be saved” or “in this life you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world”.

This surely points to the importance of our heart and lives led as children of God, whether married or single.

So, two things I want to look at in this post. 1. Why does it seem so implausible to live a life of singleness? 2. What does the bible say about it and how can the church help singles live as fellow children of God completed only by Christ.

These thoughts and many of the ideas here are taken from/inspired by Ed Shaw’s book “The Plausibility Problem: the church and same-sex attraction”.

1. Our identity is grounded Christ, not in our relationship status.

While buying a bed, the salesperson at Ikea asked me ‘which size?’ to which I replied ‘super-single’. And then turned to my mom and said ‘not just my bed..’ and proceeded to laugh hysterically while crying on the inside. Social media is so filled with couples’ happy pictures, and touching reflection of how their partner has taught them so much, has loved them so unconditionally, has given them everything, has brought so much joy… you get the point. It is hard not to look at your feed and think “I am so single”. I find sometimes I choose not to go to dinners because I’ll be the only single person there. It is even harder when people ask “oh, why are you single?”

The world tells us that we are our relationship status. Maybe people aren’t quite as bothered as I am about this, but it gets increasingly jarring as you get older.

But what does the bible tell us about identity?

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
John 1:12-3

We are not single/married, hetero/homosexual. We are children of God. That has to be the way that I live my life as a christian, no matter my relationship status. What does God command me? How does he want me to live my life? I live it as such.

Because the tendency to focus on ‘singlehood’ becomes this toxic cyclical attack on my identity as a person. I begin to question why, I find reasons to explain. I often end up destroying myself, everything that God has redeemed when I became a child of God I undo by my self-criticism and deprecating words. Soon, I forget that I am loved by God and by people and become utterly bitter. Truth is, I have been so set free to be who I am. I’m learning more about myself each day as I walk with my Creator. In Him I find such freedom and joy. It would be unwise to turn to my relationship status to find my identity.

How can the church help? Well, Shaw believes that the church should not airbrush the reality of sin from the gospel, and to also empower their members to identify themselves as children of God. I find that in Singapore, we often focus so much on where we have failed to follow Christ (sin), and I would leave feeling more remorseful about my sin and less encouraged in my faith.

2. Family is my church, not just mom+dad+kids

I think the hardest part for a single is the idea that there will not be a chance to start a family. While I find having kids utterly terrifying, I also love children so much. And there is a physical aching in me when I see videos of my niece, or of friends’ children. It is common to associate singleness with loneliness. No one to go home to, no kids to love and to be loved. The weight of that is hard to bear.

But in Christ, the church is my family!

“[Jesus] replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Matthew 12:46-50

We have so many brothers, sisters, parents in the church. The life of a single in church is not a lonely one, but one that should be filled with love and noise and people.

But the problem then is in Singapore where we tend to be more family-oriented, the church can be an extremely cold place for the older single. When friends get attached/married, they have less time for spontaneous chilling or to just have dinner. Dinner plans have to be made months in advanced. Understandably. But what that means for me is that I feel constantly pushed to the outskirts of my friends’ life. That closeness of friendship is now a mere memory. It is hard not to feel utterly alone. As a 28 year old, I don’t necessarily find it helpful to be hanging out with younger singles. I want my friends to involve me in their lives, to be asked to their homes, to join in their family life.

How can the church help? Well, be family to your single friends. Take initiative to ask them out. Involve them so they don’t feel they are pushed to being an additional friendly feature in your life. Ask them out intentionally for dates. Have time with them alone. It would be nice to not be the one who has to organise meetups because for the single it is everything but to the married it is just another item on their shared google calendar.

3. True intimacy can be found outside of sex.

I don’t need to discuss how much we live in a sexualised culture. Just spend 10 minutes watching netflix and you will experience it for yourself. The world tells us that intimacy is found in a sexual relationship. And for the celibate christian single, we are constantly bombarded by glorified images and stories of sex.

But in the bible, intimacy is not just merely found in marriages, but in friendships as well. Ed Shaw talks about the friendship between David and Jonathan that today we would suspect something homoerotic about it. We are unable to conceive of a friendship that would be important and valuable as marriage. We often compare a marriage to friendship, but not a friendship to intimacy that can be found in marriage.

One of my favourite authors, Sarah Perry talked about this deep intimate friendship between William Gladstone and Arthur Hallam, and Hallam and Alfred Tennyson. Such a friendship seems near impossible today when sex seems so glorified over the joy and delight that comes with sharing your life with friends.

How can the church help? Promote friendship as much as you talk about marriage. Friendships are so important, even after marriage. And for the single person, friendship would be the main way to find intimacy, to not feel quite as alone as the world like to tell us. Make time for people, go for spontaneous meals, watch a film, have people over. I don’t know why but the busyness of Singapore makes all of this near impossible. But what if we valued building relationships as much as we valued work? Maybe we will find that we do have time after all.

Maybe if we work through some of these things, in our own lives and with the help of our church family, a life of singleness is plausible after all. I aspire to one day say with a heart full of joy and conviction what Paul preaches about marriage.

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.

To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

1 Corinthians 7:7-9

It is a work in progress, as with all things. I find that pursuing God and choosing Him over all else helps me gain better perspectives about life. I still want to be married, and I still pray each day that I will be able to share in the joys that marriage brings. But till then, I can trust and know that in God I am fully known and deeply loved. And in my church family, I can find friendships and love that would encourage me.

Singleness

Singleness

I have read countless articles on singleness, listened to sermons, podcasts, Q&As about singleness as a Christian to encourage and uplift my own journey. I thought long and hard about writing this, but always felt that it was cliched to add another blog post to the hundreds of articles written by others. 

But I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and thinking about it with more clarity and hope. I thought perhaps if anything, this is my way of solidifying what God has been speaking to me about and a reminder to myself in years to come. This comes from a place of true vulnerability, and I hope that in my honesty, you will be blessed in your own journey. 

It’s hard not to despair, being single at 28. I know I know, the many others who have been single for longer will tell me I know nothing about the hopelessness of singleness. But for the last 8 years of being of ‘dating age’, as church would have it, I have not yet had the joy/struggle of being in a committed relationship. My greatest fear which seems to be happening, I might be that spinster aunt that my cousins’ kids/brothers’ kids will love fondly, and have to awkwardly reject red packets(angbaos) well into my thirties. 

It’s hard not to think that something’s wrong with me. I see many friends getting attached, and then getting married and I look at myself and think up a million reasons why I am not able to experience that as well. I tell myself I’m too fat, too ugly, too manly, too domineering, too difficult, too critical… all sorts of reasons to rationalise my singleness. 

In my lack of wisdom, in 2017, I attended a whooping 13 weddings in the year. I felt poor, not only physically as ang baos were given away at each wedding, but spiritually as well. Coupled with the stress and despair of work, I grew cynical about relationships. 

“Marriage is not as beautiful as it sounds. It is full of struggles, full of conflict and discomfort. Look at so & so, she is struggling with her husband. Look at this brokenness, look at the pain of relationships”, I would tell myself over and over. For a period as well, I told myself what trouble having kids would be. They require so much sacrifice and pain and time. 

All of this, though true, was a mask of cynicism to hide my disappointment. I told God I have been faithful to His call over my life. I have turned down relationships in my teens because I knew I was too young, I kept away from non-christian relationships and here I am, sitting and nodding with my eyes glazed over as groups of friends discuss weddings, houses, and children. 

The loneliness became jarring and difficult. Though I had close friends, it never really quite felt like I was a part of something. It was as if being single at this age was wrong. As friends grew busier with their lives, understandably so with their partners & their new families & responsibilities, it felt like I was a book being pushed away into this corner shelf of the bookshop to sit and watch everyone’s lives moving on. I told myself to stop longing to be married, quoting all sorts of singleness articles on ‘pursuing God first’, ‘we are not promised marriage’ and ‘singleness is a gift’ as a wall to protect my hurting heart from loneliness. 

Coming to London, I felt that I had to read the book of Hosea again, being the key book that brought me back to Christ in 2011. Other than being a powerful reminder of God’s faithfulness and love to his people/me, it also redeemed marriage for me. 

What I’m learning is that in marriage there is a vulnerability, and a commitment that reflects God’s love and steadfast love towards us. The word ‘steadfast love’ in Hebrew,  “implies the love and loyalty which partners in marriage or in covenant owe to one another” as Derek Kidner writes in his commentary on Hosea. There is a consistency in that love, a love guarded by commitment and promise, to never leave nor forsake. That is the promise of marriage, to love one another exclusively and consistently, a steadfast love that is never broken. While we are sinful and broken and will probably hurt/be hurt in marriage, it is a glimpse of that lovingkindness that God has for us. It opens up a whole new understanding of God’s steadfast love to us, as we learn to love our husbands/wives in marriage.

In that commitment, then there’s a true vulnerability to know and be known. Your darkest places and deepest longings can be shared, knowing that the other person is committed to you. What a beautiful picture of life, and it is definitely something to be desired. 

So, what now? In light of this new revelation and truth about marriage, how do I view my singleness?

Singleness is a time of clarity

I’m understanding more of God’s truth about life’s purpose, and how marriage fits into all of that. I’m learning what I really truly want in a man, and my early twenties’ list of romantic ideals has been tossed out the window. I’m understanding more what God has placed on my heart as my life’s purpose and that the man I will/might marry will play an important part of that story. If God placed ministry on my heart, then this man I will marry will be a partner in that ministry. 

I also know so clearly that my marriage will be about other people. It will be to bless others and to love others who may not have a family of their own. To love singles, by choice or by circumstance, to love children who have no one else to love them. I am so excited by the thought of this. 

Singleness is a journey of intimacy 

Because I can be single-hearted in my pursuit of God, I’m learning so much about him. In my singleness, I am free to pursue God’s heart for me. I flew to London with little worry, I can say yes to serving and loving others. I have time to spend just being with God and praying. He is so near to me and my heart is focused on loving Him and loving others. And in drawing close to Him I am being transformed into more of His image, being less critical, learning to overcome my past hurts and learning to fight the spiritual battles in my life. I’m growing and learning so much that I think when I step into marriage I’d be so much more ready as a person to love unconditionally and to be less selfish.

I am so aware that in my years of singleness, I have been so greatly blessed. I know my heart is so vulnerable, my emotions so overwhelming that I think it is by His grace that I have not dated until I have developed an anchored, faithful relationship with God to ground all other relationships. I am almost certain now, that if I had started dating earlier it would have been a train-wreck of critical, selfish brokenness that would have caused so much hurt and would have made me calloused and difficult. 

Right now, I am learning to pray boldly again about marriage and to surrender to God completely. I trust that God, as the protector of my heart and lover of my soul, has the best for me and knows completely what I need even before I realise it myself. In my singleness He loves me, in my marriage He will love me and I know I can trust in his all-encompassing, steadfast love for me. Some days I get worried, some days I start comparing myself with others and destroy myself with self-criticism about everything. 

But His gentle voice reminds me that He loves me, and the greatest relationship that I could ever want or desire, is my relationship with my Creator. 

Reflections:

I don’t know what your journey in singleness is at this point. Perhaps like me, you feel tired of waiting, or self-critical. Maybe you feel that you are hopeless and no one could possibly love you. Perhaps you are still reeling from the brokenness of a past relationship. Perhaps singleness is forced upon you and you know you have to be single for the rest of your life.

My prayer for all of us is that we will know God’s deep and abundant love for us. Wherever we are in our faith, we would pursue that love. There is so much life to be found in God’s goodness. The lie of the devil is that we are incomplete if we are single. The truth of God is that nothing in this world can truly satisfy and God completes us. 

For those who are married, get around your single friends and love them. Invite them over for dinner, let them join in your family festivities. Love them so much so they know they are part of the family. That would be the greatest relief to people struggling with their singleness, to know that they have not ‘lost their friends to marriage’, but have gained a family. 

Fighting Cynicism | Finding Hope

Fighting Cynicism | Finding Hope

You have to move from being a cynical idealist to a hopeful realist” — advice from my mentor which has become a refrain.

Paul E. Miller talks about cynicism in his book “A Praying Life”. He calls it ‘the dominant spirit of our age’, where our adult-ness overtakes our childlike-ness. What it does, as he expounds, cynicism ‘question[s] the active goodness of God on our behalf’, and when not nipped in the bud, it opens up the door to a lot more doubt/disbelief.

Cynicism/Skepticism is glorified in today’s post-Enlightenment age. We are taught to question facts, even the news now require fact-checking because of increasing rhetoric and bias. In my classroom, I tell students to be critical about what they read, what they see on the Internet. It is an important skill to have, being cynical about our world, because our world is fallen. But the problem for us Christians is when that cynicism extends to our faith.

I think about the Alpha Course and how it encourages us to ask questions about our faith, but at a certain point in our journey, we had to put aside the questions and put our faith in Christ, Faith, defined in Hebrews 11, is the ‘confidence of what we hope for, and assurance about what we do not see.’ At the heart of our Christian walk, we had to trust God that he says he is, and believe him in spite of what we yet do not see. And it is in those moments that we begin to witness his grace acting upon our lives, our prayers answered.

When we are cynical about God, we become so trapped by the despair in this world, endlessly anxious about our lives. We lose that freedom that comes from being loved and held by a loving God. If we are saved by grace through faith, and that faith is attacked by cynicism, we begin to doubt God’s grace. The very heart of our Christian faith is questioned.

Other than causing us to doubt God’s goodness, it creates a great numbness towards life. I found that in the past six years, the unresolved hurt of being rejected/unmet expectation was unbearable and so in order to protect my heart from being hurt again, I chose to expect less, pray less, hope less. Miller talks about cynicism as a ‘double-edged sword’ that ‘protects [us] from crushing disappointment, but it paralyzes [us] from doing anything.’ 

In her Ted talk on ‘The Power of Vulnerability’, Brené Brown tells her audience that when we numb the bad emotions, we numb all other emotions as well. There is no isolation device when it comes to numbness. So, when we use cynicism to numb us from disappointment, we also numb our experience of joy and love. I see it now, that perpetual weight of despair and disappointment, the feeling of being trapped that permeated everything I did. Even after a great time with friends and family, I could never honestly feel joyful.

Cynicism also ‘creates distance’, Miller argues. It gives the facade of knowing and being aware, but in actual fact, it tears apart intimacy. It causes us to put up a wall between the good good Father, and eventually, we hide in our corner of bitterness and anger, unwilling to come before God and into his embrace. I treated others’ excitement with disdain, and spoke critically about everything, resisting the full presence of God because ‘I’ve got it together’ (I totally did not).

But how do we fight cynicism and find hope?

In 2017, God spoke to me about my relationship with him in the wilderness. He reminded me of his unending love, and his faithfulness despite my anger and bitterness. He was, first of all, redeeming our relationship, and the way I approached him. I believe the first thing is to come before God again, and learning that he is a good God. He loves us so unceasingly, despite what our cynicism says. We can come to the truth in the bible and read of the Israelites’ unfaithfulness, and God’s responses of love and mercy. He’s angry, and rightfully so, but he always always extends salvation and redemption to this proud people.

Next, cynicism finds its root in disordered optimism. As a younger person I had endlessly dreamt up how my life would be. I placed my hope in things, in education, in people and mostly in myself. The world tells me to ‘think positive thoughts’, that if I put my mind to it I can achieve anything. It tells me that optimism is the solution to a tough life, and I started to idolise hard work, my dreams even. But this narrative in a fallen world fails to be sufficient, and I’m faced with disappointment. God had to weed out/is still weeding out/will continue to weed out my disordered faiths, and to turn my heart back to his constant unchanging unconditional eternal sovereignty.

Then in 2018, once I have understood his goodness a bit more, and started to believe afresh that I am loved by him, he taught me to ask again. Applying for my year in London had been a dream, and while I fought so long and hard to not hope, he provided one thing after another in an assurance of his call to me. He spoke to me through people, some old friends, some complete strangers. He lavished his provision to make this year seem possible. While I had been so worried about rejection and that I was being silly for doing this, He pursued me endlessly to ask boldly. I look back at the last four months before I left for London, and saw that in every single moment had been so carefully orchestrated. Rejected leave, random emails, peace to resign, and then my professional development leave being so surprisingly approved again.

Some mornings, I awake still in disbelief that I am actually here. He answered every prayer about community, about my course. He is healing, redeeming, teaching and I’m learning to daily abide in him. It is as Ephesians 3:20 puts it, he is able to ‘do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us’

He is teaching me to ask boldly, firmly surrendered to him as the good Father. It is such a fine line to tread, and it frightens me endlessly when I begin to dream again. The past two months, with all the healing I have experienced, the dreams started growing again. I’m learning to walk in the delight of the Father, to dream dreams of his. But, the bigger the dreams, the more intimidating it gets. I fear the pain of disappointment, I fear going back into that deep pit of despair. I am absolutely terrified that it would all be ‘wishful thinking’, my ‘whimsical’ ideals. My cynical self looks at these dreams and mock them.

I can ‘put on the belt of truth’ (Ephesians 6) and stand firm on the complete assurance that I have as his child.

ASK BOLDLY — my loving Father loves to give good gifts, and gives me the desires of my heart as I delight in him. He delights in me, he pursues me, he wants to provide. This relationship is not transactional, it is father/child relationship. He wants to give!

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.’– Psalm 37:4

‘If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!’– Matthew 7:11

SURRENDER COMPLETELY — At the same time (not contradictory to asking boldly), because he is the good Father, I can fully trust him. He knows me more intricately than I do, he knows what I need before I even ask, he wants to mold me into his likeness. And so let his will be done. Whatever the response, yes/no/wait, I can fall back on his goodness and steadfast love for me.

‘Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.’ — Psalm 37:5

‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’ — Jeremiah 29: 11

‘So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord–who is the Spirit–makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.’ — 2 Corinthians 3:18

Reflections

Have you become cynical in your faith? What are some areas that you have been disappointed in? Lay it before Christ, and let him heal you.

Do you believe that God is good and He loves you, that he is for you and not against you? If not, ask! Like the father in Mark 9:24 — ‘Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”’, cry out to Jesus and ask him to help your unbelief!

What are some prayers you have stopped praying because you have not seen a change? What are some dreams for God you had shelved because life has been so overwhelming? Bring them before God again. Ask boldly, and surrender completely again.