How-A-Preacher-I-Didnt-like-Convicted-me(2)

How A Preacher I Didn’t like Convicted me

“But if not for the grace of God, I am finished!” said the speaker at my church one Sunday.

I couldn’t agree more.

I knew the speaker (let’s name him Dan) on a personal level; he was someone who had a rather abrasive personality. Having had a few run-ins with him in the past, I didn’t always look up to him as a Christian example. When he uttered those words at the pulpit, memories of all my past unpleasant encounters with him resurfaced. I couldn’t help but think how right he was—about himself.

So I began to listen carefully to every word he preached—and found myself going “yup, that’s you!” at various points of his sermon. It seemed like a message he was preaching to himself, and I even wondered how much he would change after his message.

In my church, it is a practice to share with the person seated beside us our reflection on the message and to spend time praying for one another. When it came to sharing time that Sunday, a sister-in-Christ shared with me how Dan’s message resonated with her. She had recounted all the times in her life when God had saved her from the messes she made, and realised how, if it hadn’t been for the grace of God, she would indeed be finished.

Listening to her, I felt overwhelmed by guilt. Instead of focusing and reflecting on what the Bible had to teach me that Sunday morning, I had allowed my judgmental feelings towards Dan to get in the way. As I reflected on this incident, I felt the Lord leading me to remember three things:

1. We are all in need of God’s grace.

There were many times when I, too, had been ensnared by sin and God had been gracious to me. I’ve lost count of the number of times I had sought the Lord’s forgiveness for my sin, only to eventually plunge right back into a sin-filled life.

Despite the many times I lived as though I had given up on Him, God never gave up on me. Who was I, then, to assume that God could not have also worked in Dan’s life? At least he was honest about his struggles. We are all in need of God’s grace.

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; (Romans 3:10)

 

2. We need to focus on removing the plank in our own eye.

I was so focused on Dan’s faults and shortcomings that I failed to allow God’s Word to examine my own life and to change my heart that morning. Focusing on how others ought to behave or change without first considering what I need to do with my own sin-filled life is, as the Scriptures describe, hypocrisy.

I have come to acknowledge that despite being saved, all of us are still very much work-in-progress.

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:5)

 

3. We need to remember God’s grace and mercy for us.

Over the recent Easter weekend, I was reminded of the disastrous state my life would have been in if not for Jesus. Jesus’s death and resurrection was God’s ultimate display of both His grace and mercy for mankind.

Remembering that truth helps me to firstly recognize my deep need for a Savior. Being a recipient of God’s grace and mercy should then lead me to extend it to another—like Dan.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

 

Among the many things I may disagree with Dan over, I do agree with him that if not for the grace of God in my life, I would be finished.

When-Good-Friday-doesnt-feel-so-good

When Good Friday doesn’t seem so good

For most of my life, Good Friday primarily served as a heads-up for a nice candy-gorge. I glossed over what it really represented, anticipating instead the large egg-hunts with my cousins around my grandparents’ farm on Easter Sunday.

It was only a few years ago that I gained a painful understanding of the true significance of Good Friday. That happened when one of my closest friends from middle school, Erica, died suddenly in a car accident. All throughout late elementary and middle school, Erica and I had been joined at the hip. We attended summer camps together, were pairs for science-class projects, and even had our 15 minutes of fame at a statewide jump rope competition (yes, you read correctly: jump rope).

We communicated less as we went through college and pursued separate ways after graduating, but we never lost our mutual respect and affection. I had planned to contact her after the Easter holiday to reconnect before she moved overseas for missions work.

But in the late night hours of Good Friday, I learned that Erica had died in a car accident while driving home that day. It was inconceivable. In the wake of her death, I was confronted with the reality of how wrong and intrusive death could feel.

Yes, death is wrong. We weren’t designed to experience the sudden separation of death. But because of the Fall of man, death became part and parcel of life. Suddenly, I had a glimpse of the confusion, anger, and sadness that the disciples of Jesus experienced when He died.

But then, I also saw hope. The day I had previously ignored—Good Friday—commemorates two things. One, the torture and wrongful murder of the one who claimed to be the world’s Savior; two, the “good” result His death achieved: a way out of death for us! His resurrection three days later, which we commemorate on Easter Sunday, gives us hope for a lasting solution to death.

Thanks to what was accomplished that first Easter, I could rest in the fact of Erica experiencing paradise right now even as I grieved her unfathomable death and the depth of our earthly separation.

What has been of immense encouragement to me are the words that Jesus gave His disciples in John 16:33 before His crucifixion, which summarize the incomparably low moments of Good Friday and the unsurpassed high of Easter. Jesus told them, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Today, we still experience effects of the fall. The emotions and pain that Jesus’ disciples felt still exist in this life. But even when we experience these extreme lows, we have the truth of Easter to hold on to. Jesus has already overcome the wrong by taking our place on the cross, and, accrediting His righteousness to us, declared, “it is finished” (John 19:30).

Knowing that Erica had fully accepted Jesus as her Savior, I look forward to seeing her again one day. And hey, for old time’s sake, maybe we’ll go ahead and earn another ribbon with our old jump rope routine!

4-Questions-God-Asked-Me-When-I-Got-Attached

4 Questions God Asked Me When I Got Attached

Photo taken by Rebecca Roberts

For some seven years of my life, I longed to be in a romantic relationship almost every single day.

I imagined that a relationship would bring me someone who truly knew and loved me, and vice versa. We’d be so happy sharing our life, joys and fears, and helping each other grow closer to God. We’d understand each other all the time and weather the storms of life together. Our love would bring us both self-fulfillment and fullness of life.

When I got into a relationship around two years ago however, I found that the reality was quite different from my ideals. God had to lead me to confront many unhealthy defense mechanisms I never knew I had.

 

1. “Do you trust Me?”

There were many times—especially during moments of misunderstanding and conflict between my girlfriend and I—when I strongly felt the need to defend myself. I did whatever it took to prove my point to her, to defend my position so that I didn’t have to apologize, to manipulatively use what she said to me before against her, to withdraw from her emotionally when I didn’t want to get hurt further, and to undermine her in a passive-aggressive way, among other things.

Over time, God helped me to understand that these defense tactics arose from my underlying fear of being hurt. Furthermore, He led me to realize that this boiled down to the fact that I didn’t trust God enough to protect me from hurts. I eventually learned to apologize to my girlfriend and repent before God.

God brought to mind that my best role model comes in the person of Jesus. When He was arrested, beaten, spat on, mocked, whipped, and crucified, He kept silent throughout this ordeal and chose not to retaliate even though He was never in the wrong and could have called upon legions of angels to crush those who were mistreating Him (Matthew 26:53). Jesus trusted the Father totally. He knew that God would vindicate Him and right the wrongs done to Him.

So when God asked me, “Do you trust Me?”, He was asking me if I would trust Him, just as Jesus did—enough to give up my “rights” and to let Him work in me and my relationship in the midst of my fears and wounds.

 

2.“Why don’t you live out what you want to see?”

Another major defense mechanism I’ve had to come face to face with was blaming. When God asked Adam why he ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam blamed Eve for giving it to him, and Eve blamed the serpent for deceiving her (Genesis 3:8-13). Whenever issues arose, I too found myself blaming my girlfriend. “If only she’d change,” I’d think, “then things would be fine.”

This was something God wanted me to die to as well. He convicted me to take ownership of my own issues and to work on changing myself first. One day, as I was grappling internally over some issues between us, God asked me, “Why don’t you live out what you want to see?” Instead of me expecting her to change to fit me, God challenged me to set the tone for what I’d like to see in our relationship.

He brought to my mind the picture of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. When Jesus served His disciples in this manner, He modelled for them what the full extent of love looked like, and told them to do likewise (John 13:1-17). In the same way, I am to take leadership by role modelling the kind of behavior I would like to see in my relationship with my girlfriend.

 

3. “If she doesn’t change, would you still love her?”

Another time when I was wrestling with an issue that I perceived as a problem with my girlfriend, God asked me, “If she doesn’t change, would you still love her?” That question caused me to search my heart and ask myself if I really loved her as unconditionally as I claimed.

God was reminding me to accept and love her—unconditionally.

 

4. “How does Jesus love you?”

One night, after an argument with my girlfriend, I lapsed into another one of my unhealthy thought patterns: comparing and complaining. I thought of how I would do certain things for her, but she didn’t seem to do the same for me. As I began comparing, I began complaining about things I felt were unfair in our relationship.

In the midst of this, it occurred to me that since my girlfriend and I were journeying towards marriage—in which the husband is to love his wife as Jesus loves the Church and the wife is to love her husband as the Church loves Jesus (Ephesians 5:22-33)—I had to prepare for that by learning how to love her in a Christ-like way.

That’s when God asked me, “How does Jesus love you?” It stopped me in my tracks, because I realized that Jesus’ relationship with me is very unfair. He reached out to me in love even when I was God’s enemy (Romans 5:10). Now that I am a Christian, He still loves me more lavishly than I can ever love Him, He gives me more than I can ever give back to Him, He forgives me much more than I deserved to be forgiven, and He gives me more grace than I should ever dare to ask.

I understood at that point that I was to love my girlfriend in this way. Instead of complaining about any perceived unfairness between us, I was to commit to out-give and out-forgive her, and to always give her more love and grace, because that’s how Jesus loves me. The Holy Spirit was reminding me to be like Jesus and to love like Jesus.

 

It’s really about how much I love Jesus

One year ago, when I was telling a pastor about the various difficulties I was facing in my relationship with my girlfriend, he said, “Your relationship with her is actually about your relationship with Jesus.” I didn’t fully understand what he meant back then, but I now see his point: Unless I know Jesus and grow in living and loving like Him, I cannot love my girlfriend well. American writer Liz Wann, addressing women, wrote, “If you want your boyfriend to turn into a husband who loves you like Christ, make sure he is walking with Christ. How else can he love you like Him?”

So, in order for me to be more Christ-like, I need to first know Jesus and walk with Him so closely that, as I’m more and more transformed into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18), it becomes clear to others that I have been with Him (Acts 4:13). This involves me being willing to die to myself, so that Jesus can live in me (John 12:24-25).

 

Dying to myself, loving like Jesus

To be sure, my girlfriend and I are very happy together and we do share our joys and fears with each other. We’re growing in knowing and loving each other better over time and in drawing each other closer to God. But the intimacy and understanding we have now didn’t just occur easily, but came through a hard-won process of learning to be more Christ-like.

Throughout this time, God has taught me that giving up the self is the way to true self-fulfillment, and that dying is the way to fullness of life. I don’t get it right all the time, but I am committed to dying to myself, so that I can love my girlfriend—and, God willing, future wife—with the love that our Bridegroom Jesus has for His Bride, the Church.

 

3-Things-I-Never-Knew-About-Prayer

3 Things I Never Knew About Prayer

Photo by Ian Tan

Despite being Christian for almost 22 years, I never liked nor knew how to pray for the better part of those two decades. I’d always think, “Why do I need to pray when God already knows everything?”

It was really only in recent years that I began to understand more about prayer.

1. I Can Pray About Everything

For a long time, I thought God would be more willing to hear and answer my prayers only when it came to “Christian” things. You know, like praying for the salvation of others, petitioning Him to help my family or friends when they’re in need, or asking Him to give me the desire to do His will, among other things.

In case you get the wrong idea, these are all very good and biblical things to ask God for—and He will surely answer! What I’m saying is that aside from these things, I didn’t think I could ask Him for “little” things—like if He could provide a cab for me when I was running late or hold the rain until I could find shelter—much less tell Him about my day.

So God had to tell me through different experiences that He does care about these things as well. He wants to hear me tell Him my needs or simply, how my day went. A few years ago, a godly couple I had come to know shared with me that they would regularly talk to Him about their day over a cup of coffee, as though they were talking to a friend. What they said reminded me of Exodus 33:11: “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend . . .” They encouraged me to do the same because God likes to connect with me in this way, too.

A few weeks ago, God assured me of this again with a dream, in which “Psalm 18:6” came up. I didn’t know what the verse was, so I decided to look it up:

“In my distress I called to the Lord;
I cried to my God for help.
From His temple He heard my voice;
my cry came before Him, into His ears.”

I’m thankful that God isn’t a God who is far away and doesn’t hear my prayers. Rather, He is a God who will hear my voice when I pray to Him. And when He does, He listens intently, for my cry goes into His ears.

The Bible also tells us to “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6; emphasis added). When we do that, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

Imagine a son who talks to his father only about the “important” things, like wanting to learn the ropes in his father’s company or asking his father to help his friends out when they’re in trouble. While these are good things for the son to ask his father about, that would be quite odd, wouldn’t it? In fact, it’d likely make his father rather sad. Which father wouldn’t like to know how his son’s day went, what things his son is excited about, and what are the concerns that weigh his son down?

In the same way, as much as our Abba Father loves it when we pray about the “important” stuff, He also loves hearing from us about the “little” stuff. When we spend quality time with Him, He listens attentively to us, as a loving father listens intently to his child’s voice.

 

2. I Can Pray to Partner with God

I also used to think that my role in prayer was quite passive. If something is part of God’s will, I thought, He’d do it even if I don’t ask Him to, wouldn’t He? As a result, prayer felt rather redundant and boring.

However, God led me to understand that prayer is one of the main ways He uses to work out His will. I was astonished when I found out that Jesus is always interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25, Romans 8:34) and the Holy Spirit is also constantly interceding for God’s people (Romans 8:26-27). Why does the Son of God and the Spirit of God, being Persons of the Godhead, need to pray to the Father? I don’t have the answer to this question, but it made me realize that if Jesus and the Holy Spirit are praying, shouldn’t I do the same?

While it is true that God already knows everything, I’ve learned that prayer is one of the important means God has instituted for His purposes to be accomplished. In fact, He invites us to partner with Him to let His kingdom come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-10).

I now pray more actively with a sense of purpose, being fully aware that I am actually working alongside the Father to realize the plans He has. When I pray according to His will, He hears me and I have what I ask of Him (1 John 5:14-15).

 

3. I Can Pray to Have God Himself

Recently, I heard a pastor share a message on God’s power being made perfect in the Apostle Paul’s weaknesses. Even though Paul would have liked for God to take the thorn in his flesh away, God told the apostle that His grace would be sufficient for him (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).

As I was listening to this, a thought—that I believe was a revelation from God—formed in my spirit: “Do I want God to answer my prayer or do I want God’s answer to my prayer?”

That was a hard-hitting, soul-searching question. When I pray to God about a certain matter or need, do I want Him to answer my prayer in the exact way that I ask or do I want His answer to my prayer, regardless of what the answer may be—“Yes”, “No”, “Wait”, “I’ve something better”, or “I’ve something entirely different in mind?” Do I trust that because God knows best, His ways are better than mine? (Isaiah 55:8-9)

If I were to distill the essence of the question, it is this: When I pray, do I pray wanting God to fulfill my heart’s desires, or do I pray wanting God Himself as my heart’s desire?

There’s a wonderful perspective on prayer from Mother Teresa that captured my heart the moment I heard it. She said, “Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of Himself. Ask and seek and your heart will grow big enough to receive Him and keep Him as your own.”

I’ve seen that a way for me to start caring for things I didn’t initially care about—but I know I should—is to pray about them. Because when I do, I find myself beginning to be more aligned with God’s heart on the matter. This happened when I started praying for Singapore, and again when I prayed for my cell group. The more I prayed, the more my heart’s burden and love for my country and my cell group grew.

I know now that prayer is something God can use to enlarge my heart until it can contain more and more of His heart. Ultimately, I’ve learned that the purpose of prayer is for God to keep breaking my heart for what breaks His, so that more of God can come in. Prayer is about having more of God and less of me, so that He becomes greater and I become less (John 3:30).

 

Prayer can be generally understood as talking to God. I’m so thankful that my Heavenly Father welcomes me to go to Him like a little child and tell Him my needs and concerns as well as my joys and passions. He lovingly listens to my voice and cares about what’s in my heart.

But as His son, what excites me even more is that my Father invites me to know His heart and to care about what He cares about. Nothing brings me more satisfaction and gladness than knowing that my Father is willing to confide in me what His concerns are (Amos 3:7) and that He invites me to work alongside Him to accomplish His purposes (Mark 16:20).

To me, that is what becoming a son of Abba Father is—to share Daddy’s burdens and to have a part in what He’s working on, and in so doing, to become more and more like my Daddy (2 Corinthians 3:18).

That, to me, is the heart of sonship—and the heart of prayer.