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Step Outside Your Box

Title: Step Outside Your Box
Materials: Illustration
Artwork by: Lara Sim
Description: Are you boxed up in a situation that you can’t seem to get out of? Sometimes, taking the first step out of our comfort zone to tackle issues can be a difficult choice to make. But when we call out to God in the midst of all our troubles, He reveals to us the freedom we can receive by trusting. Will you obey Him to take that first step?

 

Are you trapped in perfectionism?

Many of us are trapped in the habit of comparing ourselves to others. If she’s not prettier than me, she has a more exciting job as compared to me or has more friends than I do. Instead of trying to be the perfect person, focus your eyes on the Perfect God that we have. He wants to free us from being stuck in the middle of all of these doubts and negativity we surround ourselves with.

 

Are you trapped in fear?

Is fear a monster in your life, waiting to pounce and eat you whole? Are you unable to be vulnerable before others for fear of being judged? Do you find yourself always needing the approval of man? The easiest thing to do in such situations is to hide ourselves in the box. However, after hiding for too long, we can become trapped. He calls us into His loving arms—a safe place where there’s no need to hide before Him.

 

Are you trapped in anxiety and worry?

Are you worried about your future? Will I be able to find a good job? Will I be married one day? These thoughts can consume us from time to time, leaving us in despair or panic. However, when we allow these anxieties and worries to grip us, it prevents us from being able to move forward in life. Although we may still be afraid, we can trust in the One who is in full control of every situation.

 

Are you trapped in materialism?

Do you find great satisfaction when you shop for material things? Do you find it hard to be generous in giving to others? Even after buying all that you want, you know deep inside you that these will never satisfy. Take heart, you are not alone in such troubles. Perhaps it’s time to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) and know for yourself the true satisfaction we can have in Christ alone.

 

Are you trapped in work pressures?

Another meeting? More deadlines? Got to get this done by today? Does this sound like you? Oftentimes, we are trapped under the overwhelming amount of work and are unable to escape. Some of us respond by being more driven by the fact that we are recognised for our ability to achieve the daily requirements, while the rest of us succumb to the stress of work. Either way, we fail to recognise that God calls us to rely on His strength daily and our calling to be a living testimony at work and beyond.

When I Let Fear Rule Me

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

Everyone has their own irrational fears. Sometimes, they affect us so much that we are imprisoned by them. For me, it escalated from a common cold.

I woke up one day with a sore throat, which turned into a cough. I eventually went to the doctor’s. His diagnosis? A common cold. I was given two days of medical leave to rest at home.

Just when I thought I was getting better, my cough worsened. In fact, I coughed so much that I felt nauseous. I lost all my appetite and could hardly eat anything—I had to force myself to eat just so that I could take my medicine. I was drowsy the entire day and sometimes feverish. I spent most of my days sleeping, but could not sleep well since coughing often woke me up.

To make matters worse, I was worried about the work waiting to be done in the office. My boss was away and there was no else trained to liaise with our vendor.

I remember the day I decided to return to office to complete some of my work. As I took the train to work, I started to cough. The people around me on the train started distancing themselves from me.

I hated that moment—I wish I wasn’t sick. I wish I could hide from the other commuters. People were shunning me as if I had some strange and serious infectious disease. It was so embarrassing.

How could a common cold cause so much discomfort to me? When would I recover? It had been five days. Surely it wasn’t just a common cold? The doctor must have got the diagnosis wrong!

What if I had lung cancer? What if I was suffering from tuberculosis? I knew someone who had tuberculosis and her recovery period was very agonizing, full of needles, different medications, hospitalization and multiple doctor visits. It all escalated from common cold symptoms too.

I tried to distract myself from the irrational thoughts within me by turning my attention to songs. I came across a song by Casting Crowns titled Oh My Soul. The songwriter Mark Hall sang: “There is a place where fear has to face the God you know,” and hearing that liberated me.

God was telling me not to be afraid. He was using the song to assure me to lay my fears before Him because He knows our fears as much as we do. When we bring our fears before God, He shoulders them for us and frees us.

When I researched about the song, I learned that the songwriter had written the song at his lowest point—on the night that he was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his kidney.

I was inspired by the songwriter’s faith. Indeed, I worship a God who has stayed by my side throughout all seasons and has never left me. Why didn’t I lay my fears down? I was so caught up with my fears that I had forgotten that I could actually give them to God.

In fact, my overthinking felt rather silly since all my fears were probably unfounded. The more I focused on my fears, the more afraid I was. Instead, I told myself to focus on God. Soon, I found peace knowing that I can surrender all my fears to the God that I know.

I said a silent prayer of repentance. I had allowed my preoccupation with my own fears to rob my peace away when I should have entrusted my fears to Him. That night, I worshiped, prayed and slept.

In the middle of the night, I woke up coughing again. But strangely, I started weeping, I felt touched as I felt the presence of God surrounding me when I needed comfort most. At that moment, I sensed a divine peace in my heart. I remembered John 14:27, where Jesus tells his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” This flooded my mind and I was comforted by God’s Word. The verse reminded me that He gives us His peace even when we are facing trouble. We need not be afraid because He is present with us.

Within minutes, I felt something lifted off my throat and I was miraculously healed. My throat no longer felt as itchy and dry as before, and my cough became more manageable from that instant onwards. The cough was completely gone by the end of the week.

It was God’s way of reminding me that there is a place we can surrender our fears, a place we can feel safe. After all, He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep (John 10:11). Hence, with God by my side, I need not be afraid of losing my health and comfort. Even when I’m not in control of what happens to me, God is.

Should Christians be Afraid of Spirits?

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

As someone who is relatively timid, I tend to get jittery and fearful whenever the seventh-month comes around.

Some people believe that on the first day of the month, spirits of the dead are released from hell to come back to earth to visit their loved ones. During this period, commonly known around Asia as the Hungry Ghost Festival, some families burn paper money, effigies, candles, and joss sticks along the streets and at void decks to appease the returning ghosts.  Food offerings would also be left for the wandering ghosts who are hungry. Temples would also organize stage performances, with the rows in front left empty for the spirits.

When I was growing up, my parents would burn offerings to my late grandparents. As a kid, I helped with the burning too. My mother, a non-believer at the time, would tell me to avoid walking at void decks where a funeral had just been held in case the spirit of the deceased has not left. I was also warned to avoid kicking or stepping on the offerings in case the spirits got offended.

Frightened that the spirits would follow or harm me, I obeyed my mother’s instructions religiously. Although I never had any encounter with spirits, the fears that I had since childhood stayed with me even after I became a Christian.

During the Hungry Ghost Festival a few years ago, I remember walking home alone past midnight one day and having to take a 10-minute walk through a dimly-lit park. There were burnt offerings on the ground and the sight reminded me of the supposed spirits of the deceased lurking nearby. My thoughts immediately ran wild and I felt the furious thumping of my fearful heart. Even the slightest noise of a rat scurrying into a drain startled me.

I picked up my pace, making it home in just six minutes. As I lay on my bed that night, my mind was filled with my earlier fears. Why was I so afraid?

That’s when Psalm 27:1-2 came to mind. The psalmist, who described the Lord as the stronghold of his life, wrote: “He is our light and salvation, whom shall I fear?” David had absolute confidence in God and knew that his enemies and foes would stumble and fall. I was immediately comforted by the verse. Indeed, He can be my refuge and there is nothing to fear.

As I continued to read, I came across Hebrews 9:27, which confirmed that people die once and after death, face God’s judgement. Since the Bible made it clear that the dead do not return to earth, my fears started to seem illogical in light of the gospel truth. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit within us is greater than Satan (1 John 4:4). God is living in us, is always with us, and is greater than any other spirits.

As I write this piece, the Hungry Ghost Festival season has come around again. However, I no longer subscribe to the superstitions surrounding the festival or feel the fear that used to keep me captive. Instead, this annual event now reminds me of how my mind has been continually transformed and renewed by the Word of God.

Today, I can walk through the same park at night without fear. Instead of fearing spirits of the dead, the only fear I have is for the One who holds the power of eternal life and death (Matthew 10:28).

When Fear Stops You in Your Tracks

Written By Emily Anne Hall, USA

“What an opportunity!” I said to myself, after happily accepting an invitation to my neighbor’s home for dinner that evening. Six months ago, the family had emigrated to the United States from a predominantly Muslim country; this was the first time I had gotten an invitation from them.

I felt excited at the chance to share Jesus’ love with them and make them feel welcome. I was also grateful for an opportunity to make friends with my neighbors—something I learned was more challenging as an adult in an apartment complex than as a student in a college dorm. Back then, it seemed as though we all craved relationships so making friends with other young college students was a natural and easy affair. Now, with everyone busy with their own families, building relationships definitely took more effort.

This dinner invitation was indeed a rare opportunity. It also seemed like something God might have organized. Knowing, serving, and loving my neighbors well were the things I wanted my life to be about. I wanted God’s command, “love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22:39) to be the consistent theme in my life’s story.

But while I knew the dinner was a great opportunity to get to know people from a diverse background, anxiety, fear, and insecurity filled my heart throughout the day. By evening, I had worked myself up into a frenzy, pacing around the living room.

One hour before our scheduled dinner appointment at 5:30 p.m., I began to wonder: Is it too late to cancel? Maybe it’s not too late. People cancel plans—it’s a normal part of life, right?

Though I am struck with compassion for those on the margins, who feel lonely and are in need of community, I was afraid to be the good neighbor God called me to be. I felt afraid I would say the wrong thing and turn the family away from engaging with Christians and Christ forever. I felt afraid that I might not say enough about the gospel and that my disobedience would grieve the Holy Spirit. I worried that my neighbors would ultimately reject me.

For years, fear kept me from relationships and kept me blind to the subtle shift from enjoying being alone to being stuck in loneliness. As a child, I had a good family and access to friendships, but always avoided wading too deep into relationships. I felt pressure to do and say the “right” Christian things so others would think well of me. I found it difficult to share things from my heart (like my faith) with people who thought differently from me. These fears caused me to hesitate to love and let people love me back because the risk of judgement—real or imagined—was just too big. As I entered adulthood, my desire for deep relationships and understanding grew but I was still fearful of rejection.

But over time, God showed me stories in the Bible of how He lifted those paralyzed by fear and set them onward. Moses held a conviction for justice, having witnessed the treatment of enslaved people while growing up. But he was afraid to lead them away to freedom like he was called to do. And God patiently confronted Moses’ fears with undeniable truth (Exodus 3:1-4:17). When Moses expressed doubt in his own ability, God said, “I will be with you,” (3:12). When Moses shared his anxiety about what to say, God replied, “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say,” (4:12). Moses’ fear did not vanish, but he followed God’s command to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. And sure enough, God was with him and taught him what to say.

“Lord, send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13) I found myself repeating the same words Moses had said, thousands of years later in my living room. Afraid of failure and rejection, I prayed to God. I told Him about all the fears that held me back from leaving my front door. Then God reminded me of His constant, close presence. He reminded me of the beautiful life I could be living if I would keep following Him, step by step. One foot in front of the other. One faithful yes after another.

My fear did not magically melt away after praying. But because God reminded me of who He was and who I was, my perspective shifted from magnifying my fears to magnifying Christ. At 6:30 p.m., I opened my door and walked downstairs to my neighbor’s apartment.

That evening’s dinner with my neighbors turned out to be a wonderful time of eating delicious food and getting to know kind people. My neighbors accepted me right away and listened closely to my stories about Jesus and Christianity. Now, many dinners later, I have friends whom I love and who love me too.

Fear almost won that evening. But God’s love for me encouraged me to go out and love my neighbors by spending time with them and sharing my faith with them.

When God leads you to do something and a sea of fear starts filling your heart one drop at a time, choose to follow Him anyway. Be mindful that the story you’re living shouldn’t be dictated by fear, but rather motivated by love.