Letter to my early twenties

Letter to my early twenties

Thank you for relevant art @nathanwpyle

All the grand ideals of financial independence and beginning your career after 17 years of studying have come crashing down into exhaustion and cynicism. Most days you lie in your bed curled up in a ball too tired to process the emotions of the day, but too bothered by them to fall asleep.

No one around you seem to talk about how confusing these few years have been. People younger than you seem to think you are living the dream, while people older than you have all these expectations on you to be energetic and passionate. Yet the dominant feeling inside is ‘What am I doing with my life?’

Everything you learnt in university has faded away into a romantic dream of fantasy and ‘making a difference’. The job that you have dreamt of, has become the very thing that keeps you up at night with anxiety.

Meanwhile, on social media your friends seem to be powering ahead with achieving life milestones. Wedding invitations flood your inbox, and what started out as fun gatherings to celebrate friends slowly turn into life & money sucking events filled with eye-rolling cliches.

You feel a strong paradoxical need to both have a social life and to isolate yourself. The rare ‘planned 3-months in advance’ dinners with friends you used to see 2-3 times a week now become talk about bosses, holidays and house renovations. And you feel so isolated.

And it seems at times no one understands you, and no one has time for you. Friends appear to move on better than you do while you still hold on to the intimacy you shared with them like sand between your hands.

Most times your emotions come out as tears. You want to be understood, but you can’t find the words to express how you feel. Your thoughts are overwhelmingly loud, and they don’t stop, so you throw yourself into all sorts to try and stop it. You work out extremely hard, you sleep less, you eat less and then you eat more, you pour yourself out into relationships around you that aren’t the healthiest, trying to feel loved.

My dear, trust me when I say I know exactly how you feel, with all the complexities and grey around what is supposed to be the ‘time of your life’. You want to do so much more but there’s so little of you left, yet you feel that there’s so much more you can give and should give so you beat yourself down and yell at yourself for being useless.

Love, listen to me.

be patient.

Things are confusing, they don’t necessarily make sense in the future either but the intensity of the confusion of life will slowly fade. You learn to take one thing at a time, you learn you are not the saviour of the world, you learn that you cannot give unless you first be loved.

Your old friends move on, but God gives you new ones for the season you are in. You have no idea how beautiful these friendships would be. They would have all the depth you crave for in relationships, you would feel safe and secure with them. You would learn to bare your heart to them, knowing your sisters hold your heart close. Some old friends come back, older and wiser with life and they give you incredible perspectives. Some friends stick around through the seasons.

You learn to let go of sentimentality and ‘the good ol’ times’. You learn to struggle to be present even if everything seems bleak. You receive such revelation of God’s goodness.

You learn to embrace your tears and let them freely flow. You realise that your crying is a gift on this side of heaven that is worship to the Father. He loves your tears, as silent prayers of dependence and joyous overcoming. Your tears are like a language between Him and you, a secret conversation of His work in your life. You see His hand on every part of your life, past, present and continuing in the future.

You learn that it’s okay to not know what is going to happen, but you can trust in your loving Father. Most importantly, you grow into the woman He wants you to be, and every moment of struggle and pain and confusion now, has made you so much more sensitive to His heart, ready to receive Him and His story for your life.

be praying.

Some days you forget to pray and seek His heart. It’s okay, but do it as much as you are able. Seek His face, and His presence. Turn from the unhealthy relationships the one that you are don’t feel safe in but feels the addiction of validation. Turn to the Father, the good good father who loves you and knows you.

He will give you the language to make sense of your confusion. He will silence the lies of the devil which tells you again and again you are ugly and not worthy of love. God will show you His deep love. He will tell you to return again to His love letter that brought you back to Him all those years ago. He will say “I speak to you tenderly. I’m pursuing you”

be pursued.

Lastly, be pursued. Let God pursue your heart. Stop fighting on your own strength, and telling yourself you are not enough. Because you are not, but you are deeply loved and He is more than enough.

Let people love you. You may feel so lonely, but people are trying to love you the best way they can. Reach out to people for difficult conversations even if just to cry. They have time, and you are not a burden.

Don’t isolate yourself, but run to His people. There are a few friends you can rely on. Your family are silently watching but they can’t speak into your life unless you first invite them to.

Take that day off, say no to that thing at work, rest over the weekend. It’s all good. People won’t die, you won’t die, you aren’t being irresponsible.

Let yourself be loved.

As you move closer to your 30s, it’s like colours are injected into life again. You find clarity, you find good community to run with, you find purpose. Most of all, you find God.

He is so close, He is so good, He is so there. All the time. And while the future becomes even more unclear, you are so assured of the certainty of God’s promises. You will dream again, and you dream harder. You make those crazy prayers you shelved away in those early years. And He is materialising them, in powerful ways you couldn’t have orchestrated it in anyway.

So take heart my dear, you’ll be fine. He is with you.

Christ or Comfort?

Christ or Comfort?

“We’re busy reassuring one another that God wants us to do what’s safest for our families and to pursue God in a way that looks suspiciously similar to what we’d naturally do if our only concern was our own comfort and happiness.”
Letters to the Church, Francis Chan

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to live a story that God writes, rather than one that I construct for myself.

Over Christmas, the abundance and excess of this season made me wonder if this is what God truly wants for us. I wonder if all this abundance in our lives actually obstructs the sound of God’s voice in our lives. That our middle-class dreams of comfort are more the chapters of the story we are writing for ourselves than the one that God is writing for our lives.

In the last six months I have been having conversations with people about leaving my stable job to pursue what I feel God is calling me to. I know He’s placed young people, ministry, teaching the Word and the nations on my heart.

I understand that it is important to be responsible for ourselves financially, but I wonder if we have been wired to pursue a life of stability and comfort so much so that it has overtaken a life filled with Gospel dreams.

The church of the New Testament was wrought with persecution and suffering. It was a staple, an expected occurrence if we followed Jesus Christ. Francis Chan elaborates on a theology of suffering that frankly, is quite alien to our Singaporean church. I will not go into this too much, so do read his book “Letters to the Church” as he reflects on his journey from megachurch pastor to his current theology on what it means to do church.

And I don’t mean that all of us should quit our jobs now and pursue suffering. I believe that all good things come from God and should be enjoyed. But I guess the question is, are we pursuing God wholeheartedly? His heart for the broken, the poor, the marginalised? Or are our choices more about ourselves and our own comfort?

Chan writes, “Part of the reason we have created a culture of non-committal Christianity that avoids suffering is that we don’t treasure Him enough. We want Jesus, but there are limits to what we will sacrifice for Him. We want Him, but there are lots of things we want in life.”

How sobering! Do we truly want Jesus? Can we sing ‘Christ is enough for me’ with all our hearts knowing that if in the next day, like Job, we lose everything, we will still worship the Eternal God?

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 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:7-11

the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord

I feel sometimes the reason why I don’t live a life of abandon for Him is because I don’t know the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. As I meditate and marinate in His Word and know Him and His promises more, the more I count things as loss. My job, sure, have it. My stability, sure, have it. My status, sure, have it. My reputation, sure, have it.

Paul writes that a life of counting all as loss, helps us to know Christ. And unless we die to ourselves, face trouble and suffering, how else would we experience the power of his resurrection?

There’s a sense of wariness sometimes when people say they are leaving their jobs, moving and giving up things to pursue what God is calling them to. I’m not a proponent of reckless abandon and non-commitment to our season.

But as I move closer to making this decision about pursuing God’s story for my life instead of my own, I’m starting to celebrate when people tell me “this is what God is calling me to do, so I’m going”. It’s becoming a normal thing. As Christians, being called to do the counter-cultural thing, to give up a stable job, to move towards financial instability, to risk our own families on the frontline of missions, should be the norm!

Instead, the abnormal Christian life of comfort and ease has become the norm. Instead of gospel conversations, we talk about work and bosses and paydays and bonuses. The next holiday we are going on, the holiday we’ve been on, where we’re eating, what car to buy, house renovations, house buying.

When I asked friends at my birthday party what I should do more of, a resounding response was ‘date more!’ I don’t understand that. I mean, I understand it, they want me to find someone get married settle down. But Like Chan says, ‘Other kinds of good news stir more emotion than the gospel’ I wonder if this desire for me to settle down is more of a worldly desire than one fuelled by the gospel (Sorry guys! I love you!).

But the story that God is writing for my life is far bigger than that. As I sat in Seoul listening to the guest speaker from YWAM talk about unity of the Korean church (North & South), the passion of the Mongolian church to reach North Asia, my heart burned with God’s heart for the nations. As I sat and saw youths at FOPx crying out with such desire for God to transform their lives and their country, the pastors praying for the unity of the church in Singapore, I wept for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

His version of my life story is far greater than what I can even imagine. And my life story is only but a snippet of an incredible blockbuster film that He is writing.

And I don’t believe that it is for a select few. I believe that God’s heart for all of us are equally big. His dreams for us so massive. If only we would open our ears to hear His heart, and to seek Him with all our hearts and find that He has incredible things in store for us. More than financial stability, more than accolades, than promotions, more than family happiness.

He is inviting us to be a part of the Kingdom blockbuster He is writing. To be an invaluable part of His story. To live the adventure that He is calling us to.

Comfort is such a blessing from God, but it can also be the devil’s distraction to keep us from stepping into the story that God is writing for our lives. What does your heart burn for? What are you hoping to see done in your lifetime? What are the gifts He has given you? Has He been speaking to you about pursuing something radically different from what you are doing now?

A note to those who already have something on your heart, and God is calling you to go.
There’s obvious provision and opportunity to go but there is apprehension, and pushback from people around you. My advice is pray, draw close to Him, hear His heart, be near Him, stay in good spiritual community, seek the wisdom of those who’ve gone before you. If God is calling you to missions, speak to missionaries. If God is calling you to social work, speak to those doing social work especially those with a gospel-filled life.

Then do it. And watch the adventure unfold as God leads you into some of your most exciting days. If you’re choosing to walk into God’s story, there will be resistance. Steel your heart for potential persecution/suffering & stand firm in light of the devil’s attacks throwing doubt and deception your way.

For some of us, we have a dream but it just does not feel like the right time.
God is preparing you, much like the training season of the protagonist in a story. Maybe it is not time yet to go, but there is something on your heart. I would say, keep at it! Keep seeking God, laying your desires at His feet. Trust Him that in this wilderness season of waiting, He is growing you in your character. He is also weeding out things in your life that obstruct the Holy Spirit working in you. Trust and trust and trust! Seek His heart always, that He is in the end, your ultimate goal. So even if He never calls you out to that thing you feel strongly for, you are deeply known and loved. And that has to be sufficient for you.

Maybe you’ve never considered a life sold out to Christ. But reading this post has stirred something in you. There has to be something more!
Well, the beauty of a life walking with Christ is, there is always more. He has a beautiful and perfect plan for your life. Instead of just reading the stories of those who have done great things for God, seek God and ask Him what His story for you is. What is He calling you to? It could be something simple like serving the local church. It could be pastoring the young friends in your congregation. It could be being a light in your marketplace for the gospel and telling your colleagues/employees/employers about Jesus.

It doesn’t have to be in the world’s terms ‘spectacular’, like a Watchman Nee or a Francis Chan. Whatever it is God has called you to do/be, it would be an adventure. Like a black and white picture coming to life with colour, or like a wild animal enclosed in a cage for years finally stepping out into the wild again. And it would be massive for the kingdom of God, because His economy is different. He doesn’t look at the number of people you brought to His kingdom, He sees how you have stewarded what He has given you, your heart for Him. I believe that in heaven, the widow who gave those two coins and lived a simple life of loving & fearing God, would be side by side Billy Graham, the incredible evangelist.

What an adventure we can live with God if we would let Him author our stories, if we joined Him in the writing of the chapters.

In this next season of my life, I’m excited to see what He has in store. I honestly have no idea what is coming my way. I just have little puzzle pieces that God has given me to steward. Connections with people, random deep conversations about life, God’s heart for His church. But His assurance is so overwhelming. Last night as I prayed and conversed with Him, again and again He said to me “You’re on the right track”.

There is so much doubt and uncertainty, but nothing beats the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. One thing I am certain, is that I’m right in the middle of a story that the Creator God is writing, and I can trust His authorship, and enjoy the adventure of a lifetime.

I pray the same for you. ❤

"they left everything and followed him"

"they left everything and followed him"

I had the privilege of joining some friends in Seoul for bible study last week. They had been reading through the book of Luke together, and we looked at Luke 4 & 5 on the two days I joined them.

I was so struck by the charisma of Jesus, his power and confidence. It is so amazing how even after reading Luke many times, the character of Jesus is so compelling. There’s always something different about him I notice when I read the accounts again, new perspectives on who he is, how he loved people, how he spoke.

This passage from Luke 5 stood out. I inserted it here for easy reading, and would make references to certain verses as I go along.

 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret,  and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
Luke 5: 1 – 11

I have read this passage many times, but there is a new depth this time we studied it and as I pondered about it over the weekend in Korea.

1. Jesus wants to get in with us in our jobs.
Whatever careers we have, Jesus wants to be in the boat with us.
Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat (v3).

I love this. The carpenter turned Rabbi, getting into the boat with a random fisherman. Simon Peter at this point had not yet become a disciple, he was just minding his own business, doing what he had always done. And here comes Jesus, who gets in the boat with him.

2. Jesus wants to transform our marketplace.
I love that Jesus cares about our jobs. He saw the fishermen, and he comes in to transform their work.

And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” (v4).
A friend pointed out that when you fish, you stay in the shallower parts of the waters but Jesus told these fishermen to throw the nets into the deep. They were professional fishermen, fishing in these same waters for generations (probably their fathers and grandfathers did the same!). But here’s a carpenter who told them to do something contrary to what they already know!

And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” (v5)
I love this response from Simon, so honest. Like “look, carpenter teacher person, we have worked our butts off all night and there was nothing” And then he goes “but because you have proven yourself someone different and special from getting in the boat with me, and teaching powerfully, I’ll do it.”

Simon obeyed Jesus’ words, even if it was unusual and different. This resonated with me because sometimes Jesus asks us to do the most unconventional things. Like talking to a person we never spoken to before, or choosing to be honest even if others were cheating a system. But with obedience, there will be fruit!

And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking (v6).
They had toiled all night, nothing. They did something unusual based on this Rabbi’s words, and now their boat is sinking and nets are breaking from their catch.

I love this so much. Jesus transforms our jobs and circumstances when we choose to listen and obey Him. Sometimes we think that we know better, we do things in a particular way because we are the ‘professionals’ at our jobs. But Jesus comes into our lives, gets into our boats, teaches us, and then tells us what to do and how to do something. We can either choose to say ‘no thank you, that’s too weird’ and row the boat back to shore and never experience incredible breakthrough, or we can say ‘right, I’ve tried again and again, but because you are Lord, I’ll do as you say’.

3. Jesus wants us.
At the end of this miraculous encounter, it wasn’t the fish & the money that mattered to the fishermen. It was Jesus.

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (v8)
This particular verse stood out the most when we were reading this chapter. Simon Peter, instead of being overwhelmed by the fish & the resulting money that it provides, turns to Jesus and falls down at his feet, aware of His holiness and power, and his own sinfulness.

So often I find that when God brings fruit or miracles or growth or breakthrough, I get so caught up with all of it that I abandon Him. I stop spending time and pursing His heart. Instead of turning to the incredible catch that Jesus brought, Simon Peter focused on Jesus. The same thing happened with another person in the bible

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10: 41-2

Simon Peter chose what is better too. In the end God wants us. He wants our hearts and our lives.

And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. (v10-1)
Jesus wants us as His disciples. He wants us to work for His kingdom, to be willing to leave everything behind to follow him. If it means continuing in our jobs, then we are in those jobs as disciples. We learn to hold on to things loosely, because He may call us at anytime to somewhere else.

I pray today that we will know Jesus in our work, anywhere we are. That we would let Him get in the boat with us. That when he calls us to do something different/unconventional (with testing & within community!) we would obey. That above all, we would be His disciples and follow Him anywhere He calls us. What a challenge! What an adventure it would be!

Most recently God has been bringing a lot of favour and interesting connections in my life. In many ways, I feel like my nets are breaking from what God is showing me. Yet, I was so caught up with these things, resulting in a confusion about my future. God stopped me one morning and said “will you enjoy this with me?” I laughed at myself because I was so caught up with the cool stories and trying to make them make sense, when actually what is most beautiful about everything is that God is so kind, and He is walking closely with me.

I wanna choose the better thing.

Dealing with Defeat

Dealing with Defeat

They were the crowd favourites, with a track record that other countries can only dream to attain, with more playmakers than other teams. Yet, the All Blacks, after two consecutive Rugby World Cup wins, lost in the semi-finals to England. It was a defeat no one could have foreseen. My hands covered my face during the relentless English phases against the AB and the slippery-finger syndrome that had befallen the all-star team. After the second half began, my hopes soared as new players, different playmakers took to the field and the speed of the All Blacks offense picked up.

When the full time whistle was blown, England had undoubtedly proven that they were the better team. The All Blacks were out of the running for the world cup, and the post-match interviews proved too difficult for me to watch so I went back to my room with sadness.

I mean, I don’t even watch sports regularly. I watch the Rugby World Cup (which happens once every four years), or maybe the Olympics. I most definitely watched the 100m butterfly swimming event in 2016 in support of national pride Joseph Schooling at 8am in the morning at Mcdonald’s after an overnight prayer session, shouting loudly and flailing my arms wildly to the disdain of customers desiring a quiet Saturday morning breakfast.

I was surprised I felt this much sadness (to be fair it wasn’t a lot, I’m over it now) when I had not actually invested much into the All Blacks. I mean, I made it a point to wear black on days they were playing in the quarter/semi-finals (which adds up to a total of two Saturdays). It wasn’t much of an effort either because the predominant colour of my clothing is black. I also once spent $100 on an All Blacks jumper in 2007, but that was more as a souvenir of my trip to NZ with my family than an act of a real All Blacks fan.

My point is, defeat is a natural phenomenon in our lives and is something we need to learn to deal with. It’s simple when the defeat is something inconsequential – as proven by my total lack of real investment in the All Blacks.

But there are some defeats in life that can really rock our entire foundations.

Some defeats make us question our existence and worth. They make us doubt our abilities and gifts. They can even cause us to question God’s goodness.

I don’t know about you but there’s sometimes an undercurrent, a sense that I work hard in life so I don’t lose. However you want to use that verb phrase, I don’t want to lose out to, lose to, or just lose anything. I work hard at my job sometimes so I don’t lose my sense of worth. I studied hard at school and university so I didn’t lose out to my classmates. I exercised hard (used to anyway) so I didn’t lose my fitness, or lose to the new girl who just joined the gym.

Of course I don’t do everything just so I don’t lose, because I don’t see everything as a competition. Yet it can so easily become an unconscious reality in our ‘kiasu’ & ‘kiasi’ culture.

But not all defeats are bad. In fact, as those who have been set free from slavery to the world through Christ, defeats often bring us to the valley where God can speak to us.

It is necessary to deal with our defeats. Otherwise, the disappointment can become bitterness and resentment, and rock our foundations in the wrong way, leading us to draw negative conclusions and forget the character of God and our worth in Him. While the generic approach to defeat and disappointment is a ‘just toughen up’ mentality, before getting to that point of standing up again, we need to process the disappointment.

I turn to a very prominent passage of defeat in the bible in 1 Kings 19. Elijah experienced a season of defeat after a supernatural victory over the prophets of Baal. In the chapter before, Elijah faced off with the prophets of Baal, challenging them to a battle to prove whose god was true . The false prophets called down fire but nothing happened to the sacrifice. Elijah, in quite a dramatic set up (including pouring water over the wood for effect), called down the fire of God to burn up the sacrifices. And He did. Everyone who watched fell on their faces. Elijah victoriously demonstrated who the real God of Israel was. Every false prophet of Baal that day was seized and slaughtered.

But in a turn of events, Jezebel wanted revenge and demanded for Elijah’s life and he fled in defeat.

Defeat exposes the wrong foundations we have built upon.

Sometimes in the eagerness to achieve a goal (even God-given ones), we may lose sight of the Creator and His larger plan for His kingdom. We begin to build on false foundations of self-worth and achievement.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
1 Kings 19:4

Elijah, at this moment, had despaired because he felt he had failed. He believed that he would lose his life, and like his fathers and other prophets before him, be killed and fail to turn the people of God back to their Redeemer.

Elijah, under the threat of death, suffered a huge defeat after an astounding supernatural breakthrough in the chapter just before. Elijah lost sight of the powerful God he had just shown so many was the one true God.

And who would blame him? His mountaintop success became a threat to his very life. He bent under the pressure and his spirit was defeated.

Defeat can show us the wrong foundations we have built our lives upon. Certain fundamental beliefs through which we had operated innately and out of habit. Perhaps it is the belief that we have to earn our worth through achievements, or that God is a judgemental god, or that I am unworthy of God’s love, or I am only loved if I am useful.

What are some wrong foundations you have built your dreams upon? What is God revealing to you about certain beliefs you have? What is He showing you about the way you are responding to defeat?

Defeat helps us hear God.

The shame and disappointment of defeat bring us to a place where we are looking for answers, desperate for God, helpless in our circumstances. It is deeply humbling to go through defeat, but sometimes in my brash reckless prideful nature, it’s the only way that God can break through and make me stop and hear him.

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
2 Kings 19: 11-14

Elijah fled to the wilderness. The wilderness in the Bible is often a place where God moulds and grows and disciplines his people. The Israelites had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years because of their disobedience. In Hosea, the imagery of the wilderness is a place where God draws His people in so that they might grow in intimacy with Him. Jesus began his ministry in the wilderness.

The life of a believer often involves seasons of the wilderness, yet I often find myself doing all I can to avoid it. I love seasons of obvious fruitfulness and growth and conquest. But the seasons of wilderness, desert and seeming barrenness often throw my faith into disarray and confusion.

Defeat does that. It pushes us into the wilderness. It forces us into the cave that Elijah hid in, and brings us to our knees in humility to hear and see God.

In this dramatic unfolding of God’s glory and power, the wind, the earthquake, the fire, God revealed to Elijah that He is not just in the spectacular, He is in the stillness, smallness and quiet too. He speaks softly, to draw us closer to Him. Elijah, upon hearing the still voice of God, is drawn out of the cave, into the presence of God.

I find that as humans, we love the dramatic. The spectacle. The big stuff that God does. I mean, just assign your own meaning to the metaphors of ‘wind, earthquake & fire’ (not to be confused with the band Earth, Wind, Fire). Maybe it’s that miraculous sudden gangster turned pastor, or the salvation of your entire family, or the unprecedented favour to shape and disciple a social issue through your company.

But the small, still, quiet, gentle moments of God’s pursuit of us that occur through the difficult times are more difficult to pay attention to. I ask “God, why isn’t there breakthrough?” but God says to me “Hi love, I’m here waiting to speak to you in the secret place”.

When Elijah stands in the stillness of God’s presence, he hears God clearly. He receives new direction, clarity of what God wants. He is now aligned again with God’s plans for him.

Perhaps in the wilderness and valleys of defeat, we can hear God’s heart for us again. His love for His people, His plans for the salvation of man, His beautiful heart that endlessly pursues His people.

Defeat reminds us of God’s grace

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.
1 Kings 19: 4 – 8

Tim Keller preached about this passage, and pointed out the lovingkindness of God in Elijah’s despair. God did not jump in and ask Elijah “What are you doing here?!” first. He sent an angel to take care of Elijah. God saw Elijah’s brokenness, and His first response was to satisfy his physical needs for food and water. To provide him strength.

In some strange warped christian way, we flagellate ourselves (not literally, of course. I hope.) when we encounter defeat or failure. We force ourselves into odd ‘self-discipline’ routines like reading the bible more, or throwing ourselves into some other christian ministry even more, working tirelessly. All in an attempt to deal with the defeat.

Yet, God’s response to us isn’t condemnation. It’s grace.

He sees our despair, our disappointment, our self-criticism. And He, first and foremost, wants to meet us with His grace.

Yes, the defeat could be because we got so caught up with achieving something that we forgot God. But that’s not deserving of punishment. Discipline yes, but God has the perfect solution for that. And that is pouring out His love and grace on you.

So if you feel defeated, don’t beat yourself up over it. Don’t starve yourself, or deny yourself happiness. God loves you, and He has more grace for you than you have for yourself. Take some time out, go on a short retreat to pray and seek God. Care for yourself.

As a community we can also love those who are feeling defeated. As Singaporeans we are so good at feeding people, we can literally be angels in disguise in the way we love others when they are feeling defeated. Not jumping in with the christianese criticism of ‘you shouldn’t have done that’, or ‘orh hor why you sin again?’

Jesus himself faced defeat. As He hung on the cross, chest heaving from asphyxiation, each breath excruciating as his wounds are dragged upon the rough wood of the cross and his entire weight pivoted on the nails in his bones. People mocked him, ‘Save yourself’, and He couldn’t.

He wouldn’t.

Not when defeat could bring eternal victory over sin and grave. Not when defeat could bring freedom to those enslaved to the world. Not when defeat could completely and utterly fulfil what He wanted in the first place. To be in communion with His people without the barrier of sin.

Defeat, in this life, is not the final verdict. It does not define our existence or our worth. It points us to the ultimate victory we have in Christ. He has won the victory, death is defeated, we are children of God, co-heirs with Christ. We are set free from slavery to sin, and new creations through the cross.

What are defeats in this life except God’s grace, to remind us of the real battle. The real fight. The fight that has already been won.

What freedom we have when we receive this! If today you are suffering a humiliating defeat, or that you still feel like you are living under the banner of defeat, I pray that you will allow God to work in you, to let Him uncover the wrong foundations we have built our lives on. He will speak with us and draw us close to Him. And most importantly, I pray that you will receive the freedom that comes from believing that the victory has already been won. The ultimate battle has already been won.

“If I was going to make Betsy happy, I’d have to trust that my flaws were the ways through which I would receive grace. We don’t think of our flaws as the glue that binds us to the people we love, but they are. Grace only sticks to our imperfections. Those who can’t accept their imperfections can’t accept grace either.”

Donald Miller, ‘Scary Close’ 

New Creations in Christ

New Creations in Christ

“In the crushing, in the pressing
You are making new wine
In the soil, I now surrender
You are breaking new ground

So I yield to You and to Your careful hand
When I trust You I don’t need to understand”

I made this song by Hillsong my prayer two years ago, in a season of ‘crushing’ & ‘pressing’. In His mercy, He brought newness in the last year. He restored me, and healed me of so much brokenness.

He exposed the strangling tendrils of control, the destructive hold of self-criticism and hate. He showed me how I had driven myself into the ground with my need to be in control. He softened my calloused but broken heart and readied me to receive a newness I have never experienced. I can’t think of a time when I felt like a new creation more than now. He answered my prayer to bring the new wine out of my life.

But what a struggle it is to live in the newness that God has brought.

The healing, the restoration, the resulting transformation were exciting and fresh. But the newness is threatened when faced again with the oldness of my habits and circumstances.

Since moving back to Singapore, I have found myself confronted by some habitual psychological positions and behavioural patterns towards people in my life and my job. It’s difficult to believe that the past year in London actually happened.

An example of this would be the natural mindless way I am critical of people here in Singapore. There’s this moral high ground that I often climb when I’m here. I comment on people’s public behaviour, I tell my mom what to do, I criticise people’s decisions. I mean, what is all of this?

Living as new creations in Christ is a daily battle when we live in this world.

Let me just clarify. When we come to Christ, when He brings the breakthroughs in our life, we ARE new creations.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  
2 Corinthians 5:16-19

Paul writes about the certainty of our newness in Christ when He reconciled us to God. If ANYONE is in Christ, he IS a new creation. The old is DEAD, and the new IS here (that’s why grammar is useful: present tense, present participle!)

But Paul also talks about this life being a battle – we are in a spiritual fight. It is naive to think coming home as a new person to face the daily onslaught of a world that is broken and sinful would be easy. The drug addict set free from his addictions has to continue living in a society which promotes the use of drugs as something to be glorified. The alcoholic has to go back to work where drinking is the only way they cope with the stress. The burn-out teacher set free from the need to control everything has to work in an education system that works its teachers to the bone.

What then? I often think about forming a christian agricultural community isolated from the world where there are no smartphones or Internet and we live as one with nature. Ha. That would solve everything wouldn’t it?

Then I remember that we are called to be salt and light to the world, and the church is God’s salvation plan for the broken world. Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 5:20 to call us “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”

So how can we continue to be the new creations in Christ? Here are some of my reflections.

REMEMBER.

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.  
Deuteronomy 8: 2

Literally, the whole passage of Deuteronomy 8 is Moses’ exhortation to the people of Israel to REMEMBER (I suggest reading it, such a powerful passage). They, as the rest of the OT would reveal, would soon forget(again and again), and turn to other gods(basically the whole of the OT). Some of the laments that God has towards the people is their forgetfulness, and in Jeremiah He passes judgement on their belief in their own works, forgetting He is the Creator God who had called them His own.

The single most powerful way of living as new creations in Christ, is to REMEMBER what God has done for us. Remember the ‘Egypt’ that He delivered us from, remember the brokenness that we were in when He met with us, remember the freedom that we experience when we learnt of His grace. Remember the cross.

I often listen to songs that have spoken to me deeply in those seasons of brokenness and hopelessness, to remind myself of how He has delivered me. The other thing I started doing is to be in the habit of recording prayers, and when I’m feeling frustrated or on the edge of slipping back into old ways of thinking, I listen to those prayers of faith and prophetic declarations that people prayed over me. And I find that my spirit is lifted again.

WALK.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6: 1 – 4

Walk IN the newness. Do not let ourselves be swept away by the usual things, by culture, by what people say. Paul says in Ephesians 6 to STAND FIRM, to stay strong in the currents of life and society.

As new creations in Christ, we have to make conscious choices that would honour Him, to turn our backs on our sinful ways so that we can continue to walk in the newness of life.

Choosing to do things differently is difficult. Some of these decisions I had to make lately are painful. I’m dealing with the grief of having to surrender certain friendships I have held on to so tightly for the last few years. Some decisions are difficult. Choosing to stay silent instead of commenting on my parents is proving to be a real battle sometimes I can’t help but laugh at myself in disbelief.

and YET, there is such peace and assurance in choosing Him, and choosing to walk in the newness of life.

On Tuesday night, I felt the Spirit’s nudging to open my bible and to process some of these emotions I have been bottling up inside. And He met with me.

And the hand of the Lord was upon me there. And he said to me, “Arise, go out into the valley, and there I will speak with you.”
Ezekiel 3:22

In the valley, in the quiet, in the difficult decisions that we have to make to honour God and to be holy, He will speak with us. He is a God who loves so unconditionally, so powerfully. He overwhelms us with His grace.

He is good.

He is the loving Father who cares, who knows, who sees, who calls you by name. He loves the big decisions you make to surrender more of yourself to Him. He loves the tiny acts to draw yourself a little closer to Him. He loves the unique way you worship Him. He does not despise your simplicity and He is greater than the complexities of life. He is good, and He is Lord over all.

Remember the finished work of the cross, the certainty of our newness in Him. Remember His great power, His great faithfulness. We do not walk in this newness because of our own strength, but because of who we are in Christ. We are His. He says to us “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

As we continue to live as new creations in Christ, to contend with the forces of this world, to struggle against the old, to run this race with our eyes fixed on the right reward, to find new wineskins for the new wine, I pray that we will know the immeasurable worth of knowing Christ Jesus.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3: 14 – 21

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?

Lord of my schedule.

Lord of my schedule.

Lord of my life, Lord of my finances, Lord of my family, Lord of my job. How about Lord of my schedule?

I love planning my life so much I have it down to by the hour segments. Even without the intense workload of teaching, I still love to plan what I do with my time.

When people ask me out, the first thing I consult is my scheduler. I look at the time, and the date, and if it’s open, I’d often agree.

My reflection about this has been that often, I find that I am so exhausted, or do not have the mental capacity to cope with the people I’m meeting. In those situation, I would fall back on one of two options.

1. I flake. This is the option is dislike the most, because I do not keep to my word. This leads to guilt sometimes, when I know I haven’t seen someone in a while, or I know that the person needs some encouragement.

2. I go anyway and bear with it. Sometimes it turns out to be an incredible time, sometimes I leave utterly spent and now have to schedule in time to rest.

I’ve been thinking recently: What if it doesn’t have to be this way?

Why isn’t God the Lord of my schedule? What if I involved Him in the decisions regarding my time?

Truth is, we like to think that we can have a five-year plan, with all our holidays decided upon months in advance. By God’s grace, our holidays go according to plan, but it only takes a simple hiccup to throw everything into disarray. We’ve all had that experience, when a flu, or a bad stomach disrupts our holiday plans. Or a work thing going all wrong and we have to change our schedule for the week.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Matthew 6: 34

At the heart of this is the idea that there is no way I can know what is going to happen tomorrow. Involving the Holy Spirit in decisions about my schedule gives a certain confidence and faith that it is all in God’s hands. It is the act of humility and accepting that I can’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, but I can, in submitting to God, make certain plans and trust that whatever happens will happen, and He will be in it.

And can we also talk about FOMO for a mo?

Fear of missing out can sometimes drive my choices in time management. When people organise parties, or movie outings, even church events, sometimes the fear that I would be left out would lead me to agree to things without really praying about it.

What I’m learning is to love God wholeheartedly, and this means surrendering my time to Him as well. I’m starting to understand the beauty and freedom that comes from inviting the Holy Spirit into my day, and wanting Him to be centre of how I spend my time.

I’m also learning the power of words, and how when God speaks, He does not speak in vain. His words create, and He is not flippant in His words. When He makes a covenant with His people, He does not go back on them. He is, in His character, bound by the words He speaks.

I want to be that person of character and integrity. I want my word to count for something. That when I say ‘yes’ to meeting people, it is my pledge and commitment to spending the time with them. I want my ‘no’s to be honest as well, to be kind to both myself and the people in my life.

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
James 5:12

By asking God to be Lord over my schedule I’m learning to be driven by Him, not by fear or my schedule. And I’m learning a new steadfastness and integrity in my word.

In a fast-paced world, so rapidly changing all the time, it makes most sense to place my trust on the unchanging God, the Rock of Ages. Especially in people-heavy work, where it can seem like everybody wants/needs a piece of you, remembering that God is your boss can be the most liberating thing.

If I can learn to let everything flow from Him, then I can remain unfazed by circumstances and difficulties.

I pray today that we will want God to be Lord over all of our lives. And to increasing measure. I pray that we will learn to involve Him in all our decisions, however big or small. And to be driven only by His love and His will. Not by the world or people in our lives. Above all, I pray we will learn what it means to anchor ourselves on the Rock.