with all my heart.

with all my heart.

I have been feeling quite chaotic in the past few weeks. There’s nothing particularly that has happened to trigger this inner chaos. How can I describe it? Perhaps a restlessness in my soul, and yearning for something more. I’m easily distracted, bored, occasionally fractious.

I wrote the last piece about rest, and this feels different from the need to rest. God is so kind and loving, extending his peace and rest to me in this last week when I felt so burdened and broken. And yet now, there’s this sense that there is something God is dealing with.

This morning I asked him finally what all of this inner chaos is about, what He’s trying to say.

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22:34-40

ALL your heart, with ALL your soul, and with ALL your mind.

He’s uncovering my divided heart.

He’s showing me the many ways I find validation in relationships. He’s showing me the habitual way I have learnt to relate to people so that I feel needed by them. He’s showing me the ways my heart yearns for desires that go unchecked and I don’t bring them before him, but grip on to them so tightly. But they only brought bitterness. He showed me that I crave for recognition and I have so much pride. Even in my occasional self-deprecating ways, pride drives so much of what I do.

“Just give me Jesus” — This song by Unspoken Music captures the desire of my heart. But at the same time, I’m so aware of the many other things I want and I go after instead of coming to the Father and enjoying His love.

Psalm 119 (the most epic of the psalms) repeats ‘all of my heart’ or ‘my whole heart’. Here are just some of the verses:

Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
    who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
    but walk in his ways!
v 2-3

With my whole heart I seek you;
    let me not wander from your commandments!
v 10

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
    and observe it with my whole heart.
v 34

I entreat your favor with all my heart;
    be gracious to me according to your promise.
v 58

The insolent smear me with lies,
    but with my whole heart I keep your precepts;
v 69

With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord!
    I will keep your statutes.
v 145

All of these, I believe, flow from the promises given to the people in the Old Testament.

‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
Jeremiah 29:13

“But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.
Deuteronomy 4:29

Wow, it’s incredible to see how many promises God gives to His people when they turn to seek Him with all their hearts. God showed me today that when he wants us, He wants our whole hearts. All of us. There is no more worthy an offering than to give up our whole hearts.

Perhaps in my cries for God to breakthrough in circumstances in my life, or that I say I don’t feel Him, or I can’t hear from the Holy Spirit. Maybe it is actually because in my divided heart, I don’t actually seek Him. I ask for Him, but I don’t look, I don’t drop everything I come back to God to look for Him.

Ahh, so much of me is divided. My attention is turned towards so many things, my loves directed towards other people & to myself. The beautiful thing is that God already knows. When He spoke to me today, it was like a child coming to the Father crying about how silly she had been for not listening. Instead of accusation or an “I told you so”, He opened His arms wide and embraced me as I laid bare all the chaos in my heart, all the frustration at my own divided-ness.

Jesus prayed for us:

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
John 17:22-23

Speaking about the unity in the church, I received it today as an intercession for my heart (our hearts) to be one, to be united to fear Him and love Him (Psalm 86:11-12). Just as Father, Son & Holy Spirit are one, help us to be wholeheartedly in Jesus.

Wow, Lord. Thank you that You are before all things, and in you all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). Where our hearts are divided, we ask that in your Holy Spirit you will unite our hearts towards you. It is our deep desire to worship and love you, help us to wholeheartedly. Thank you that you do not condemn us, but extend your grace to us in all our chaos. Help us to want to seek you wholeheartedly. And when we do, we know you are faithful, and we will find you. Transform our hearts Lord.

Why fast?

Why fast?

Not everyone or every church follows the tradition of Lent. It is not in the bible, and my friend jokingly said to me yesterday “Jesus never did Lent, don’t be more spiritual than Jesus”

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Colossians 2: 20-23

Paul says to the Colossians that they should not be slave to the regulations and rituals of their time. Like Jesus said in Mark 2 ‘And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”‘ Instead, we should know that only through Christ and grace, are we saved. And only the Spirit can help us overcome the sinful flesh.

Why then do we still fast? What is the value of Lent?

Paul goes on to say the following to the church in Colossae:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
Colossians 3:1-5

I think in light of this, fasting is a spiritual discipline that can help us turn our eyes to Jesus. It is a way of ‘putting to death what is earthly’ in us so that instead of turning to fleshly desires to satisfy us, we turn to Him instead.

Lord, we thank you that we are set free from the laws and regulation of fasting and sacrifice, and everything that we were bondage to before Christ paid the price for us. We thank you that no one can disqualify us from the kingdom of God because of grace. We bring before you this season of fasting and reflection. I pray that it will not be a time of self-punishment that sometimes certain religious groups tend to make it, but a time of being close to you. When it gets difficult, I pray we will draw closer to you. Teach us to put to death the things that get in the way of our relationship with you, and help us to put on instead the things that please you.

“compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”
Colossians 3: 12-15

Changing Appetites

Changing Appetites

I have a rather complex relationship with food. I swing between absolutely having no interest in eating, to overeating because of habit. Food doesn’t excite me as it does other people. I mean, I watch Mukbangs and I’m just more interested in people’s reactions to the food rather than the food. I know it’s an odd indifference. On the other hand, I consume so much food that sometimes I don’t quite know why I’m eating when I’m not hungry.

‘Why do I eat so badly?’ is the question I’ve been asking myself recently. I knew it was a ‘problem’ because I was consuming rubbish, and the health-related issues arise because of my diet. But I had to ask the deeper question about why.

The answer is simple. It’s a habit of turning to food when I’m sad or stressed. It’s something I chose to turn to for immediate relief from my dissatisfied state. Nothing wrong with ‘eating your sorrows’, but if it occurs so much that it affects my well-being it is worth looking into. More importantly, the question I had for myself is, ‘why don’t I turn to God instead of food?’

We all have something we turn to, a certain appetite for something when we are upset, tired, lonely, pms-y, stressed. Maybe it’s food and sugar like me, maybe it’s endless Youtube videos, or binge-watching Netflix with a pint of ice cream. Maybe it’s the endless hours spent at the gym trying to get your mind off work stress or relationship issues. Perhaps it’s more sinister like pornography, alcohol or drugs. Maybe it’s relationships because we can’t stand the feeling of being alone.

The funny thing about appetites for these things is that they never do quite satisfy. Often after eating, I felt worse because now I am full, but I don’t feel any different. After a good time travelling, I come back yearning for more. And if I were to be honest, my appetite for stress-eating, for netflix are all ways of escapism. But instead of helping me, they create a deeper chasm inside of emptiness.

They also take the place of God. If I say I’m a child of God, but fill my life with all sorts of ungodly and unholy videos and thoughts. If I say I love Jesus, but actually my behaviour demonstrates that maybe I love food more. Then those appetites should definitely be questioned.

“You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them. But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.
Leviticus 20: 22-26

What does it mean to be set apart for the Lord? What does it mean to be ‘chosen by God’? Leviticus shows us that when God established His chosen people, He gave them a set of laws to keep, not out of judgement, but in order to keep them in relationship with Him. And to separate them from the rest of the world. 

‘that you should be mine’ – is a declaration of God’s ownership over us, and holiness is the outcome.

An obvious declaration that we are God’s people, is in the way we live our lives and how it is different from the world.

Which is why Jesus went on and on about being hated by the world. When we choose to support anti-abortion laws, the world hates us. When we choose to stand by celibacy before marriage, the world thinks we’re crazy. When we choose to fight for traditional marriage, the world goes insane on us.

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
John 15:19

But on those matters, sometimes it is easier to make a stand because the rest of our church family are making the stand. Or maybe because they are ‘real issues’ that are unshakeable truths in our theology.

What about our appetites?

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.
1 Corinthian 6:12

Watching Game of Thrones, or Korean dramas, is lawful – the bible never said ‘thou shalt not watch tv’. But when it dominates our hearts, that’s where we have to be careful.

Personally, I find that I spend more time watching tv and eating, than I do eating of the bread of life, and reading the Word of God.

And in order to change our appetites for kingdom things, we have to ask why. Why do I gravitate towards those things? What about it do I like so much? How do they make me feel?

And then compare them to the truth of God’s promises. Then perhaps we can come to a better conclusion about what should matter to us. What appetites do we feed and what do we change?

That’s the rational way to do it, and changing the behaviour alone doesn’t last long. I wrote previously about looking at the heart of the matter.

Isn’t it beautiful then, that we have a great high priest who sits at the right hand of our Father and intercedes for us?

But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
John 17:13-18

Jesus prays for his disciples before he returns to the Father. It is the most beautiful thing about faith in Jesus. That we are weak and He is interceding for us. He is strong and powerful, and able to break any chains of darkness, of strongholds, of things that dominate our heart so that we can be free to be His.

I hope that this has caused you to think about some appetites that dominate your heart(and time) more than they should. Whatever they are, I pray that you will be filled with the Holy Spirit, to hunger and thirst more for God, His word, and the joy that comes from walking with Him closely every day. I pray for a deeper hunger for the word of God. That you will, like David, love God’s law and proclaim “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Psalm 119:97). And when you are feeling weak and your flesh longs to turn to those appetites, I pray that in your weakness you’ll turn to the One who gives life and satisfies.

Lent begins this year on March 6. It is a time of fasting and reflection on Jesus as we remember Good Friday and Easter. I was never taught to abide by Lent growing up, but in recent years learnt the joy and peace that comes from fasting and praying. There is a real intimacy and dependence on God when we strip ourselves of the things that we normally depend on for emotional, physical support.

If God convicts you of an appetite that dominates your heart, maybe it would be a good time to learn discipline and give it up for the 40 days. Maybe it is Netflix/youtube, or sugar, or the gym, or social media.

I will attempt to write a short reflection from my prayers and devotions each day and hope you will be blessed/encouraged to join me!

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.

The heart of the matter

The heart of the matter

S.A.F.E – Seated, Awake, Focused & Engaged.

This is the acronym used in my school as an expectation of students’ behaviour in class. Behaviour is such an important reflection of a person. We are often told to judge people not by their appearance, and so we discern them by their behaviour. How they speak, how they act towards others.

As a teacher, I was in the business of controlling students’ behaviour. And I prided myself in being able to ‘solve’ behavioural issues. Sadly, I find myself trying to change the behaviour of myself and of others in my personal life. Some of these thoughts seem a little like this:

  • I need to eat fewer sweets so I don’t feel so horrible all the time.
  • I should stop harping on the negative thoughts, and try and be thankful.
  • I should read the bible more
  • Worry less about money and trust God more!
  • You should try to rest more
  • Just stop trying to do so much!

We all know these thoughts or have told ourselves or others these things before. On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with this right? Afterall, I want to improve myself, and I love the people around me so I want to offer advice for how I/they can behave differently.

Perhaps you could think about a few habits, patterns of thought, actions that you know are not edifying, or not what God has intended for you. Maybe you are struggling with uncontrollable anger, or deep depression. Maybe you are standing alongside some people who are facing some of these issues.

But that crippling sense of failure when I can’t change my behaviour, or the anger that I feel when I can’t ‘be more thankful’ or the frustration at others when they can’t just ‘get their act together’ leaves me feeling so helpless, so confused, so despondent.

In Singapore (possibly Asia), we focus a lot on the actions. We expect respect from younger people, there are certain said or unsaid rules about behaviour, we generally expect people to follow a certain progression of actions in life – study, graduate, find job, find partner, find house, get married, have kids, work, retire, holiday. This is a gross generalisation but I think to some degree, we can sense an expectation of behaviour, and when people don’t behave in a certain way we are disturbed.

I want us to stop for a moment to give this a little more thought. What if we dug a little deeper? What if actions are merely the little bit of the iceberg prodding out from the surface of the water, and there is a gigantic chunk of ice beneath it? What if we pushed past the facades and got to the heart of the issues?

We often refer to the heart as emotions and feeling. But in the Bible, the heart is ‘a person’s centre for both physical and emotional-intellectual-moral activities.’ In other words, it extends beyond just feelings but often to what is perhaps less accessible, less seen. Your actions are visible to others, but your heart, thoughts, feelings, intentions, these are hidden.

So much of what we do is driven by the invisible. The need for survival, the anxiety of being unliked, the excitement of pursuing your passion.

It is unfortunate that we often try to control the behaviour of others or ourselves without pushing past to get to the heart of it. So much healing and transformation can take place if the root of it is addressed.

But what can we do, if all we really have access to is the external, the physical existence?

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”

— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

1 Corinthians 2:6-13

What a relief to hear that the Holy Spirit has the power to search the hearts of man, and to give revelation about what are some of the roots beneath our own actions or patterns of thinking.

Honestly, I’m still learning to not react to people’s actions, but to ask God why and what is going on in their hearts so I can be a better listener, and to love them better.

Just to share my personal journey. I found that I hesitate when people say ‘you are beautiful’ or ‘you are so amazing’. I find that I cannot fully receive these words. At first, it seemed like nothing much, maybe I’m just modest or perhaps it’s just an Asian humility. But the Holy Spirit revealed to me about my heart.

I didn’t believe that I deserved to be loved. I find it hard to believe that I’m valued or important.

‘I mean, that’s just ridiculous’ – I told God. Of course, I know people loved me, of course, I knew Jesus loved me. I knew, but I did not receive it in my heart. The years of putting up a guard, a wall, a callous layer around my heart to protect it meant that it is so hard to receive anything other than what I have taught myself to believe.

Heart work is hard work. It requires so much vulnerability, to lower those guards to allow yourself to feel what you have numbed for so long. It is a frightening thing, to look at the pain head-on, and acknowledge that you’ve been hurt by those incidents, those words. To go back to that place of pain again to allow God to heal and to receive/release forgiveness.

Hallelujah that God is a LOVING father, who is gentle as He is strong. He gently nudges us to that place of vulnerability, and when we allow Him, He moves towards us and heals those painful places. And when we allow Him to work in and on our hearts, we find that we are no longer chained to the pain. We find that we can love a little better, we can receive goodness a little better, we can be joyful a little better.

I found the roots, the heart of my inability to receive, and I asked God to work on that, to heal my past hurts and disappointment. To release forgiveness and to ask for forgiveness for the harmful things I do to myself. And I actively pursue God’s love for me. Again and again, I speaking over myself these words

But now thus says the LORD,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
Isaiah 43:1

A wise lady said to me, ‘keep speaking these truth, marinate yourself in it. Years even, because it is not long compared to the years you have lived in the lies’.

I come back to my inclinations to alter people’s behaviour. When I remember the work that God has to do in and on my heart, that the Holy Spirit can change the heart, I remind myself of two things.

1.to never despair/give up on others.
2. Pray pray and pray in my helpless to change people – it’s not me, it will never be me. It is only by the Holy Spirit that hearts can be changed.

My prayer for you is simple: that you will know that you don’t have to live in fear or in pain – let go of the guards you put up and come before Him vulnerable. He will love you and heal you and there will be so much joy waiting for you.

If you have friends/family that you are helpless about, I want to encourage you to pray pray pray! Ask God for a change of heart, ask the Lord to soften their hearts and then watch and see transformation take place!

Promises promises promises

Promises promises promises

“Language opens up the non-present to our present”

My lecture on the philosophy of language ended with this statement. How beautiful that humans get to share language, and through language, or the word, we have the ability to reflect on the past, speak about the present, and hope for the future.

Promises are, in this sense, a language of the non-present. The language of the future. I love that God makes promises to His people, and that His promises are unchanging. He never fails, and never backs out of any promise He makes.

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations
Deuteronomy 7:9

The difficulty of promises, however, is in holding on to them in surrender. Sometimes, when God had deposited a dream in us or a certain calling, and nothing really happens, it can feel like God had forgotten about it. Or that maybe we grow skeptical about whether we had actually heard it right. We are called to live by faith, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” but as humans, not seeing could sometimes lead to disbelief, especially when we are battered by the storms of life.

God made a promise to Abram when he was 75 years old.

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15: 1-6

There’s a sense of frustration in Abram, ‘I continue childless’. ‘continue’ – Lord, you promise to make me a nation, but how would that be possible when I continually, again and again, have no child? Abram believed it here, but as years went by, it got harder to sit by and do nothing. So, Abram and Sarai decide to make a son, through Hagar when Abram was 86 years old. (11 years later from when the promise had been given).

And then again, in chapter 17, when Abram was 99, God reminded him of His covenant to make him the father of multitudes. He renames him Abraham, ‘for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful’ (Genesis 17:5-6). How difficult it must have been for Abraham to believe God. His very name reminds him daily of the unfulfilled promise, his fruitlessness.

And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will givee you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”
Genesis 17:15-17 

Sarah and Abraham both respond cynically to this promise, simply because biologically and logically, it was impossible that the promise could be fulfilled. But as we find out later, Isaac is born to the couple finally, when Abraham was 100 years old, a good 25 years after the covenant was first spoken to him.

Two things I want to draw our attention to.

God is sovereign and most importantly, GOOD.

No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.
Genesis 17:5-6

Interestingly though, God’s word to Abraham spoke as if the promise had already been fulfilled. “for I have made you” suggests that it is already done. He gives the assurance of His promise to Abraham in the act of renaming him. He sees the fulfilment of the promise before Abraham is able to comprehend it.

An analogy could help us understand this. Your tap had exploded while you were at work, and your neighbour called to tell you that there was water leaking out of the flat. You were stuck in an important meeting, and there was no way to leave the place so you call your father to help you sort it out. Two hours later, while you were panicking and worrying about everything being ruined in your house, you get a text from your dad saying it’s sorted, everything has been cleaned up.

That relief.

Why relief? Your dad is someone who loves you and is trustworthy. When he says he has sorted something out, it means it has been done, even though you can’t technically see the situation being sorted.

When God says “for I have made you”, it is an assurance. He’s telling Abraham, don’t panic, don’t doubt. I have already sorted it. And why will we feel assured/relieved? Because our God is a good God, and a loving Father. He works things out for our good. He is unchanging and forever. He doesn’t go back on His word. We can trust Him when He makes promises.

Learn to trust His promises for you, ESPECIALLY when it seems so impossible.

It is precisely in the impossibility that God likes to operate. Look at Abraham and Sarah, look at the mess of Jacob and his wives. Most importantly, look at the life of Jesus, from conception to death on the cross. God is always doing the unexpected, the impossible. If He operated merely in what is natural (of course He does), then how do we understand and experience the supernatural nature of God? How do we trust and follow a God if He merely did what was rationally possible? How can His name be glorified if He only chose the logical, the strong, the competent?

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

Wow. How much more will we understand how utterly dependent we are on God, and how infinitely good He is when He does the impossible in our lives? When the dreams and promises he deposits in our lives surpasses our expectations, or seem so implausible, that’s when we have to press in and believe Him for it. It is an opportunity to learn to pray in surrender and to learn about His greatness.

What an incredibly rich life it would be if we lived in constant expectation of God’s promises being fulfilled. When we ask bigger when we look to Him for the promises that seem impossible. How exciting life would be!

Reflection
Are there dreams and promises that God has given you that you have brushed aside simply because it seems so impossible? Bring it before Him today again, and pray into it. Pray for wisdom to discern if they are indeed dreams from Him.

Are there dreams that you have stopped praying about because nothing seems to be happening? Hold on to His goodness, and ask again for His assurance. Often times we are so blinded by our own expectations that we don’t see how God is already working in us to fulfil those promises. Pray that He opens our eyes to see how He is working, and for faith to believe in what we do not yet see.

Lord, we thank you so much that you are good God. You are the God of the past, present and the future. And you see all of it from your sovereign perspective. You see the fulfilment of your promises to us as you are giving those promises to us. You are working in us and through us toward that fulfilment. We are sorry for doubting you, and not seeing your goodness in our lives. We bring these promises and dreams before you again, and pray you breathe new life into them. Give us a hope for the future. If we have any human expectation that blind us to see how you are fulfilling your promises, tear those down and show us clarity. Fill us with godly hope and expectation as we surrender to you. Amen.

A Beautiful Exchange

A Beautiful Exchange

I love it that I plan out all these blog posts, and one morning while reading the bible and having my new favourite black tea with lemon and honey trying to be comfortable, He speaks a new message into an old passage and tells me ‘Write this’. Something additionally tender and beautiful about a relationship like this. Constantly new and yet familiar.

I digress. I was reading Mark 15, on Christ’s journey to the cross from Pilate to the tomb. There were two exchanges that took place in that chapter.

First, the exchange of Jesus for Barabbas.

Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them.  And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”  For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.  But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead.  And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?”  And they cried out again, “Crucify him.”  And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.”  So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.

Mark 15:6-15

I didn’t know what I thought about this, it seems so ridiculous that the crowd should choose a murderer over Jesus, a man who had been healing and delivering their very friends and family.

Oh! How often we trade Jesus up for other things. We give up his promises and his goodness for things that seem, in our worldly eyes, better. I can think of a couple of instances in my life where I had given Jesus up for my despair and depression. It was as if in front of Pilate I was given a choice, do I accept Jesus and his freedom & faith to live an abundant life, or do I choose my depression and sadness to continue moping about because I was too blind to see that this was not a state that I had to be in?

Have I not experienced the joy that is in Christ? Have I not seen the miracles of healing that he has brought? Have I not read and received his promises of forgiveness and life? Like the crowds, I have seen and received so much of Jesus. But when faced with the choice, I chose to give Jesus up instead.

The second exchange in Mark 15 occurs in the death of Jesus.

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”  And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

Mark 15: 33-39

Wow. Imagine being in darkness for three hours, standing and watching this man breathe with difficulty, his life slowly draining from the wounds, his chest heaving, each time having to push himself up against the nails in his hands and feet, back scraping on the wood, tearing open further his wounds. And after an agonising three hours, suffocates to death because he no longer had the strength to breathe. What for?

For the curtain, that tall, heavy, immense, thick curtain that hid God’s presence from the people, to tear in half.

For us, those watching, those who have in the next two thousand years heard the gospel and received it, to be able to stand in God’s presence.

For us to be able to call him ‘Abba! Father!’ instead of running away in fear because of his incredible holiness.

For the divine exchange for our lives. That while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

While we trade him up for things of this world, He died so that we can come back to that moment where we choose Him instead.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
 For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
 Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
    peoples in exchange for your life.


Isaiah 43: 1-4

In that divine exchange, He called me his own. I am His and He is mine. I am precious in God’s eyes and honoured, and He loves me. It’s one of those moments where words fail, and all I can say in response to this is ‘Thank you, Father.’

Abba, Father, thank you so much that you exchanged our life for ours. You call us precious and loved. You claim us as your own even though in this world we often feel like we are left alone and misunderstood. You say to us “You are mine”. Wow. Each time we are faced with that choice to choose between the things of the world, and Jesus, help us to choose You. Forgive us in areas where we have chosen to chase after our own desires our own plans, and have forgotten that You are standing there with your arms open waiting for us to realise that You are there. And all we have to do is to run to you and be met with such embrace. Forgiveness, healing, salvation, peace, love, mercy, steadfastness, assurance, joy — all we really need are found in you. I love you Jesus.

Reflection questions:
1. What are some areas in my life where I trade Jesus up for other things?

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
Philippians 3:8

2. Have you received fully, that divine exchange? The love of Christ that we had completely no contribution to? Do you still hold on to that need to ‘perform’ in order for Jesus to love you? He says to you today ‘You are mine! I had given up my life for you because you are so precious and honoured.’