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Landing in the Pig Pen Instead of My Dream Job

Written By Ellen Bargh, UK

As I walked into the farm yard in my pink-striped wellies and oversized farm gear, I was hopeful that this job would only be for a couple of weeks.

A friend and I had always joked about me going to work at his family farm in UK, my home country. It had always seemed ridiculous to me. I couldn’t work on a farm; I worked with people, not animals. I liked the comfort of being inside—not getting mucky and cold.

But here I was, working on a farm while waiting to fulfil my dream of living abroad. Over the past six years of studying in Canada, I had started to build my life there; I had friends and even my own apartment. When a job I had desired for a long time became vacant, it seemed like everything was coming together. The job involved working with students and doing administration. I loved the thrill of tasks and details as well as talking to people and helping them as they went through their years in college.

The week before I was due to fly back to the UK, I was interviewed for the position of Assistant to Dean of Students. All I needed was a visa to move to Canada to start my dream life.

But things didn’t work out as I wanted. Those couple of weeks on the farm turned into a couple of months, and my dream slowly slipped away. In the end, I did not qualify for the visa, and the job was filled by someone else.

Now, instead of my fun pink-striped wellies, I had proper green farm wellies. Reality had set in that I was going to be there for what seemed like the long haul. Instead of sitting in a nice lovely office, I was in a pig pen shovelling muck. Instead of listening to students talk excitedly about starting college, I was deafened by the squeals of piglets ringing constantly in my ears. This wasn’t what I dreamed my life would be after finishing my degree.

As I drove to work each day, often with tears streaming down my face, I would ask God why He had me working at a farm with pigs rather than with people who needed Jesus. What use was I in a pig pen? I wasn’t telling anyone about Jesus or working with children. How could this be what God wanted for me?

It was a daily battle to go to work and take my frustrations with the mundane to God. I wrestled with this for months. I was weary of what seemed like meaningless work. But the longer I stayed, the more honest I became with myself and God. God began to soften my heart and show me that He wanted me to talk to Him all day while I was working. He wanted me to love Him for Him—not because of what He does for me or because He could give me a better life.

I looked to the Bible for comfort, remembering that popular verse from Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

I started reading Jeremiah to find out more. I was shocked by the verses that came before verse 11. Jeremiah 29:5-7 says: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

God had sent the Israelites into exile. And while they were there, they were to build a life and do good to the place they were in, even though they didn’t want to be there or thought they shouldn’t be there.

As I went over these verses in my mind, I began to see the good things God had put before me in the place I was in. I was working with a wonderful family, and I had an amazing church family where I was asked to be involved in youth and children’s work. Of course, my desire to work with people was still there. And though my desire to be in a different job didn’t fade, I gave what I had to where I was at.

Recently, I read an Our Daily Bread booklet on contentment where the writer Gary Inrig writes, “Contentment, then, is not about self-sufficiency but Christ-sufficiency. It is not resignation but satisfaction. It is not acceptance of the status quo or surrender of ambition but submission to Christ and His purposes. Godly contentment isn’t about complacency or passivity or an otherworldly detachment from life . . . It is a deep-seated satisfaction that is the gift of Christ.”

A good job was never going to give me the contentment I wanted. It was only by looking to Jesus that I could find contentment and peace. The more time I dug into the things God gave me in the place I was at, I realised it was Him that I needed, and not a job.

Here’s three things that helped me to be content:

 

1. Give thanks

Give thanks daily for specific things God has given us each day—not just in the good times but all the time (1 Thessalonians 5:18). When we thank God, we focus on the good things, and soon envy and discontentment fade.

2. Give what you have in every situation

Even if we aren’t where we want to be, we can seek the good of the people or place we are in. Rather than tell ourselves we just need to get through this period of time till God takes us to the next thing, we can give ourselves fully to people or tasks during the time we are in “exile” (Jeremiah 29:5-6).

 

3. Seek godly characteristics rather than possessions or status

If we are always focusing on what is next—the next job, the next relationship or the next house—we aren’t focusing on becoming more like Christ. It doesn’t matter where we are, God’s will for us is to be like Jesus.

Behind Happy Social Media Posts

Written By M. Tiong, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

Whenever I scroll through Facebook or microblogging site Weibo, I will always look with envy at the lovely photos of my friends’ travelling escapades, their new branded products, and delicious food that they enjoy. Based on these photos, I have to conclude that their lives must be going swimmingly. And I can’t help but wonder: Why is my life so boring compared with theirs?

One day, however, a friend who frequently shares awe-inspiring photographs told me that she was in fact very stressed. Life, she said, had little meaning. It was only when I heard this, that I began to realize that the people I envied were no happier than I was. It led me to ask: “Are people really as happy as their social media posts suggest?”

Why does it seem that none of us are ever happy? The Bible notes that man will never be satisfied nor content with what we have; we will always pine for something better. “Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes,” says Proverbs 27:20. King Solomon, the wealthy and author of Ecclesiastes, had everything, yet understood this dissatisfaction. He said, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).

Why is this so? Perhaps it’s because our possessions cannot truly fill the emptiness in our hearts. Although we constantly seek to fill that void with different things—be it wealth, love, fame, or other people’s admiration—we will never find true contentment in them.

It is not necessarily wrong to desire achievements, success, and affirmation. However, it is more important to realize that these cannot be a measure of our worth. They do not have real substance, because they will not last.

Our fulfilment, worth, and meaning of life must come from God. Only our Creator God can fill the void in us, His created beings, because only He knows what we truly need.

So we do not need to envy what others have. Proverbs 14:30 says: “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” And Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

I thank God for reminding me about the things I ought to be paying attention to—the needs of people around me, obeying His will, and living a life that pleases Him. I pray that our lives will no longer revolve around how frequently we travel, how much we spend on branded goods, or how much our food costs. Rather, may our focus be on God.

May we all find and share the true joy that comes from being in God’s presence. And may we become followers of Christ who seek to please God.

Are We Really #Blessed?

Written By Eudora Chuah, Singapore

Recently, I was intrigued to learn that one of the hashtags that took social media by storm in the past few years wasn’t a new concept—or new word, for that matter. It was the word “blessed”.

A quick scroll through Instagram will show at least 72 million posts tagged with #blessed. They cover a variety of things, from prized possessions and luxurious holiday destinations to pictures of friends and family. They’re also commonly used with an image of an inspiring quote, some from the Bible.

Although I have not personally used the hashtag on social media, I’ve found myself using the word in my conversations—sometimes quite casually. For instance, I tend to say, “I’ve been blessed to be able to know certain people, do certain things, or have certain opportunities”.

So what’s the big deal? you may be thinking. Well, here’s why: More often than not, blessed does not mean what we think it does.

As Christians, we use this word all the time—and certainly not only where possessions or wealth are concerned. But it may be surprising to note that even in a secular context, the word “blessed” is not defined as being materially well-to-do or privileged. In fact, the Oxford dictionary defines “blessed” as “being made holy, consecrated”, or “to be endowed with divine favour or protection”. Other dictionary definitions of the word include “bringing happiness and thankfulness”, or being “worthy of reverence or worship”.

It was interesting to read several news columnists voicing their displeasure at the use of #blessed. These writers observed that overuse of the word has stripped it of its meaning. To them, using the hashtag actually disguises an attempt to humble-brag—to promote oneself rather than express genuine gratitude for what one has.

What, then, does the Bible say about being “#blessed”? Ephesians 1:3 (ESV) tells us that we have been given “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”. One might wonder if this suggests that God has promised us material possessions such as holidays and prized possessions, or the assurance of good friends and a loving family. Yet, while these may indeed be good gifts from a loving God (Matthew 7:11, James 1:17, Luke 11:13), they are certainly not what the Bible has in mind when discussing “every spiritual blessing”.

How do we know this? Just after Paul talks about it in Ephesians 1:3 (ESV), he immediately explains that we are blessed because we are chosen before the foundation of the world (v. 4) and redeemed from judgment of our sin (v. 7). After God has redeemed us from judgment, He reunites all things in Christ. This is seen in the establishment of the church, made up of both Jews and Gentiles (v. 10). Lastly, we are blessed because we are sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit (v. 13). God gives us these blessings “to the praise of His glory”—in other words, that He may be glorified in giving us these blessings.

How should we respond? For me, it’s about recognizing that being “blessed” is a status God the Father gives us because of what He has accomplished through His Son. Our focus should not be on the benefits we receive. Instead, in knowing that God alone is the author of our faith, our rightful response should be to ascribe greatness to Him—to take delight in God Himself and not just in His gifts.

Personally, this gives me great comfort and hope, because I know that being #blessed remains true regardless of circumstances and what I have done.

It is my desire that God will remind me of this truth constantly, that I may learn to be content with what I have—knowing that being #blessed has nothing to do with material wealth, but everything to do with having received the greatest gift of God Himself.

It wasn’t just excessive spending, it was more.

Written By Jacelyn Chia, Singapore

Ask any good Christian where their comfort comes from and their answer would be Christ. My source of comfort starts with C too, but I’m afraid it’s something else: Clothes.

It started when my peers started buying clothes online, and I was curious to try it out. I soon got hooked. Whenever I felt bored or stressed, I would scroll through websites like Zalora, Lazada, Ezbuy etc. almost instinctively, send images of what looked good to my friends for approval, then click on the “Add to cart” button.

When I was particularly stressed or frustrated, I would purchase items that caught my eye. I was just 16 years old then. Not being rich nor having my parents fund my shopping sprees, I would skimp on my meals in order to save enough money to go shopping. I also stopped tithing so that I could use the money for online shopping. Soon, I stopped going to church altogether, as I felt like a hypocrite—although my lips praised God, my heart was far away from Him.

I didn’t think that my spending habits were reflecting deeper underlying issues in me, and believed that it was common for teenagers to be obsessed with online shopping. It was only when some of the friends whom I sent screenshots of my purchases to started making comments like, “Eh, don’t shop so much lah”, that I started to evaluate my spending habits.

That’s when I noticed how guilty I would feel about my purchases: I would cut off the price tags to remove any evidence that they had just been bought. I kept my purchases in my bag before entering my house so that my parents would not question me about them. And I was aghast to realize that I did not even wear some of the new clothes I bought.

One day, I decided to start adding up my expenses. I got to just three items before I started cringing. Ashamed, I now realized that I had a real problem with excessive spending. And I knew I had to do something about it. I googled for tips on how to curb my spending habit, surrendered my credit and debit cards to my mother, and started to go out of the house without bringing any money. The first time I left the house penniless, I felt most anxious. I found myself evaluating the clothes of people I saw and thinking about whether or not to buy them.

I confided in a friend, who told me to think about the root causes of my habit of impulsive and excessive shopping. That’s when I came up with this list:

  1. I seek acceptance and approval from others through my possessions.
  2. The thrill of shopping removes negative feelings I experience, albeit temporarily.
  3. The ability to buy makes me feel powerful as I am able to make a decision or choice (to be in control).
  4. I believe that my purchases will make me happy.
  5. I believe that clothes make me look good.

With this list in mind, I then decided to try to find replacement behaviours that would meet the needs I had listed above (advice found on Google). I decided to paint, draw, sleep, and finally—start attending church again.

I went back to church the following Sunday. My Sunday school class was studying Romans 7, and Romans 7:4-8 struck me, as it mentioned the freedom Christians have from sin. I had been feeling like I was stuck and could never quit this shopping habit, but the verses reminded me that with God’s help, I could be set free from sin—in this case, excessive shopping, which hindered me from things like quiet time with God and fellowship with believers.

Slowly, I started to realize that all the needs that I was trying to meet through shopping could only be fully met by God. I decided that I wanted to change, as I did not want to be stuck in the vicious cycle of spending.

The Bible provided the solutions to all the needs I had; this time, I did not have to Google for solutions to my problem.

1. I seek acceptance and approval from others through my possessions. 
God accepts us as we are because Jesus died for us. (Colossians 1:21-22)

2. The thrill of shopping removes negative feelings I experience, albeit temporarily.
God grants us the peace that the world can never give. (John 14:27)

3. The ability to buy makes me feel powerful as I am able to make a decision or choice to (be in control).
No matter how much I try to be in control of things, God’s plan will always prevail. (Proverbs 19:21)

4. I believe that my purchases will make me happy.
Remembering God’s faithfulness to me can bring me greater joy. (Psalm 92:4-5)

5. I believe that clothes make me look good
I am a child of God, and that is independent of my appearance. (John 1:12)

Please pray for me as I am just beginning my journey of quitting my shopping addiction. Let’s be careful not to use any hobby or activity to meet our emotional and spiritual needs, as they will definitely fail. Only God can fulfill our greatest needs.