When I Realized My Heart Was Divided

Being a mum to a toddler and a baby means you rarely have any time for yourself, much less for devotions, sermons, Christian literature, and the like. Or so I thought.

Three nights in a row, I stayed up until wee hours of the morning to finish a drama series a friend recommended. On the morning of the fourth, my husband woke up to a very grumpy wife, and my kids woke up to a snappy mother. I had finished the drama, receiving mild satisfaction from a romantic ending. But there was no coffee for my husband that morning, and the children had to walk on eggshells because every little thing they did annoyed me in my tiredness.

Later that afternoon, while putting the baby to sleep, the words of Psalm 86, hung up in a frame in the kids’ room, hit me like a bullet train. Verse 11 reads,

Teach me your way, LORD,
that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.

These words are part of baby Nathan’s life verse. We chose it because he was born with a hole in his heart, and so we pray this verse over him every day. For the hole to close naturally, for it not to affect his health or physical growth, as well as for his spiritual life—that he grows up fearing the Lord with his whole heart and being. We do this religiously day after day, in part because of the fear we have about possible heart surgery, but more so because this is something only God can do.

As I read those words over and over again with my baby in my arms, guilt swept over me. Why is it that I could be so driven to pray over a physical hole in the heart, but found it so easy to overlook my own emotionally divided heart?

For three whole nights, I willingly relinquished my wife and mum duties to pursue a fictitious drama. At the same time, however, I lament to girlfriends how motherhood has made consistent, committed spiritual disciplines so hard. No time to read the Bible, but time enough to scroll through social media. No time to sit through a sermon, but happily watching one episode after another of a drama which has zero bearing on my immediate life or eternal destiny.

Loving God wholeheartedly should easily translate into loving my husband better and being more patient with my young children. Loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, does not at all contradict my daily duties of cooking, cleaning, writing, and working. But the temporal obsession with a drama did. It distracted me from my responsibilities as a wife, as a mother, as a worker accountable to God. Most importantly, it took my eyes off Christ, my first love.

The world screams for our attention in every possible way, perhaps now more than ever before. Pop-up ads on our web browsers, prompters on our social media feed, and promotions constantly clogging up our emails. While the secular world tells us to “tap here”, “read more” and so on, no internet phishing or social media profiling can know us better than the One who created us for His specific purposes and glory. No wonder Deuteronomy 6:5 tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind. It is only in Him that we can find true fulfillment and eternal satisfaction.

Thankfully, through this episode, I am learning to guard my time with the Lord more intentionally. I have removed Facebook and drama apps from my phone, so as to avoid being lured in. I also set an alarm on my phone to remind me each day to read God’s word. My toddler helps remind me to have daily devotion and prayer times every night. My husband often spends the evening working on sermon preparations and Bible studies until late, and this inspires me to do the same. I also try to set aside an early morning each week to hear a sermon online, since I have to be with Nathan during church hours. It has only been a month of success thus far, but I pray these will continue. Not only for my sake, but so that my children will seek to do the same.

Don’t get me wrong, I have not given up entirely on “pleasures”. Instead, I am seeking to honor God by pursuing them in moderation and with greater variety. Watching dramas, but also reading, exercising, listening to music, and so on. Rather than allowing myself to be sucked into that same black hole again, I have enlisted the help of godly girlfriends to keep me accountable. I have asked them to check in on me now and then, recognizing that I cannot and will not be able to triumph on my own.

Now, each time I pray for Nathan’s heart condition, I remember also to pray for mine—one that is quick to wander, one that is oh-so-susceptible to temptation. That the Lord would also give me an undivided heart! Because it is only by the Holy Spirit’s aid that I can love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.

3 Tips for Those Overwhelmed by Brokenness

Written By Rebecca Krämer, Germany

The room was loud and busy . . . packed with over 150 students gathered for Bible school. My instinct was to observe. In situations like this, my keen senses allow me to see beyond the organized chaos and eager shouts—so as I looked around the room, I saw 150 individuals trying to fit in, desperate to be seen and heard. I saw brokenness, loneliness, and students not knowing what they’re worth.

As a result of being in tune to the needs around me, my genuine desire to do my job and love the students well quickly turned into an unhealthy (and unrealistic) desire to solve every problem and be a champion for all of their needs.

I find myself in this type of situation a lot. When I see needs, I hope to meet them. I want to see people walk in freedom through my efforts. This impossible expectation, however, often leads me down a painful road of disappointments because my attempts don’t produce the change I expect—I simply cannot fix all of the problems I see.

This is a reality that we all must face. As we become aware of the brokenness around us, we have to learn how to respond in a way that doesn’t exhaust us and that serves others well. As with any gift we have, we must shape and train it so we can use it in a God-honoring way.

On my path of learning to manage my emotional sensitivity, there were three specific truths which nourished me. I hope they will also encourage you to harness your own gift and learn to exercise it productively!

 

1. Embrace it for what it is—a gift!

Although emotional sensitivity can sometimes be perceived as a weakness or an over-dedication to feelings, I’ve learned that it isn’t helpful to brush it aside as a weakness, or to ignore it. In fact, I find comfort in seeing how often Scripture records Jesus being moved with compassion (Matthew 9:36, Matthew 14:14, Matthew 15:32, Matthew 20:34, Luke 7:13). I’ve learned to embrace that God has gifted me with perception and when I am moved by the needs of those around me, it reminds me that my heart is beating and I still care about people and ultimately, about the world being a better place.

If handled properly, emotional sensitivity can actually be a great help to walking alongside people and loving them well! By openly welcoming our gift to the table, we can give thanks for it, and then evaluate how to handle it in a healthy, God-honoring way.

 

2. Take time to pray

One of the pitfalls of my emotional sensitivity is trying to do too much. There are so many people around me who are hurting that I can quickly get overwhelmed. But I am encouraged to remember that even Jesus took calm moments away from the crowds (Mark 1:35). I believe these times helped Jesus to re-center and focus on doing what His father wanted Him to do (John 5:19). This is a helpful reminder that I must take quiet time to reflect on what God wants me to do with my gift of sensitivity.

To protect from overexerting myself, I have found that it helps to listen and observe needs, but to not react in the moment. While it can still be uncomfortable to not intervene in a situation when we feel like we could help, it’s important to realize that we simply cannot go after every single hurting person or situation. First, we must take time to pray to determine if and how we should act on any given need.

 

3. Remember that I’m not the Savior

In the past, I invested a lot of time into listening and counseling people instead of bringing them directly to Jesus in prayer. I gave them advice on what to do instead of letting them seek Jesus and discover it themselves.

I found that acting to fill the needs around me sometimes caused people to look to me rather than Jesus for help. In order to know what my responsibility is, I need new glasses of discernment. My feelings are not always trustworthy, but the voice of the Holy Spirit is. The Spirit of truth guides us into all truth (John 16:13). Often, I need to listen to a silent whisper rather than a loud emotional prompting.

Ultimately, I can be assured that God cares for those in need, and He can work in mighty ways to save them. It’s not up to me to save them, and it’s definitely not only up to those of us who have the gift of emotional sensitivity! We must focus instead on obeying when God leads us to help, and rest in knowing He is doing His work.

 

These three lessons helped me to take care of my gift of emotional sensitivity.

As I’ve reined in and learned to train my responses to my emotional sensitivity, it means I no longer jump at any and every opportunity that comes my way. Instead, I’m trying to be more prayerful and intentional with where I invest my time and effort.

Since I’ve started putting these three tips into action, I’ve also seen a lot of good come from it. So, when I find myself in a situation like I did at that Bible school, I’m more equipped to not be consumed by the overwhelming needs around me, but rather love the students better while maintaining my emotional health in the process. I’m now better able to keep a good balance between investing in a student’s life, but also directing them towards God and trusting Him to work in their lives in His perfect timing! Ultimately, a life-long commitment to Jesus is worth much more than a short-term emotionally charged conviction.

My Journey From Megachurch to Modest Church

As the darkened stage gave way to flashing lights and rousing music, the worship band emerged, urging the congregation to stand up to worship Jesus.

People rose to their feet, clapping and dancing along with the band. I stood among the worshippers, my hands lifted in the air. Ensconced inside a state-of-the-art auditorium equipped with advanced surround sound to absorb any outside noises, and music pulsating from the stage, I was immersed. By the time the auditorium lights dimmed, I felt like I had entered a sacred space.

My family and I had been attending this church for 17 years, watching its metamorphosis from a medium-sized church to the megachurch it is now, with various campuses operating locally and internationally.

I love the church’s modern building, complete with a trendy cafe serving barista-made coffee before and after services, and immaculately dressed volunteers welcoming guests with big smiles as they file past the church doors.

For the longest time, I was convinced modern megachurches were the best way to do church. Even more than electrifying Sunday praise music, delicious coffee and warm greetings, a large church meant that there was a large pool of volunteers to rely on to carry out community work. It meant there were also financial resources to host Christian conferences headed by renowned speakers, drawing in large crowds to hear the gospel and inviting staggering numbers of people to salvation.

Furthermore, I thought the church’s modern amenities was a great way to dissolve the stereotype non-Christians held about church life—that it was about kneeling at cold, hard pews, clutching onto weather-beaten Bibles and hymnals, and people mostly over the age of 60 holding narrow, outdated views on life.

I did not know it then, but I had subconsciously formed a specific view of how a church should feel and operate, and it would become an unhealthy standard I would hold other churches to.

 

Why Was I Attending Church?

A number of years ago, I moved to a smaller town for a job opportunity. Faced with limited options, I had no choice but to attend a small church that was close to my flat. The church had a modest band, and the worship was not accompanied by the throbbing lights I had grown accustomed to.

I remember feeling rather disillusioned when I discovered I was one of the youngest among the churchgoers. Refreshments after the service were instant coffee served in brown Pyrex mugs, and supermarket-variety biscuits laid out on a large white plate. The stark contrast between the refreshments available at my previous church and the current one was enough to make me yearn for the sophisticated, polished ways of my home church.

Before long, my attendance took a plunge as I was not motivated to attend church. Aside from the small music team, sermons, and refreshments, the town I had moved to was a strong farming community. Coming from a megachurch in a big city, I felt unable to connect with the other church attendees who were used to the rural life.

I did attend church occasionally, but most of the time, I stayed home and streamed videos of my favorite pastors. I missed my old church but due to work commitments, it was another two years before I made it back.

When I finally did make it back to my home church, it had grown even more over the time I was away, and as I was no longer serving in church, I had lost touch with the majority of the people. Very soon, I blended in with the furnishings; I was unseen and unheard, and it didn’t take me long to realize I felt invisible within the church.

The warm, welcoming ushers I had once loved felt a little practiced—smiles were too bright, handshakes too formal. Hanging around the bustling cafe with barista-made coffee after service is fine—if you have people to hang out with.

This little episode made me ponder on my real reason for attending church. Was I just looking to my weekly fix of coffee, bright lights, and thumping music? I have found experiences to be fleeting, where I would feel great during worship, but once the lights fade and the band packs up, I didn’t have anything concrete to hold on to get me through life’s difficulties. I wanted something more than an electrifying Sunday worship.

What Church Is Really All About

I’ve come to believe that God does not favor a church with a shiny auditorium more than He does a smaller church with its humble facilities.

The main purpose of church is for worshippers to gather and learn more about God, and to encourage one another. Acts 2:42 records that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).

In light of that verse, I reconsidered the small church I had reluctantly been a part of for the previous two years, and I realized that I had been discontented because I was superficially comparing it to larger churches. God brought to mind the times He was present at the Sunday lunches in the pastor’s home, and the evening visits with the pastor’s wife. I even remembered my cell group in a new light. At one meeting in particular, I found myself in tears, stressed from the pressures I faced at work. During these hard times, I didn’t need a posh building to find God, or His people. Because God is not found in a grand structure—but wherever worshippers gather.

After yet another move for work, a friend recently invited me to his church, and it’s a medium-sized one, with its service held out of a school hall. In the past, I would have immediately compared it to my old church. But this time, I appreciated the service for what it was, with its down-to-earth pastors and attendees who hung around after church to enjoy fellowship over lunch.

The difference this time was that I had come with a desire to genuinely worship God, with or without the flashy stage and the posh environment. I wanted to foster a strong relationship with church members. And on top of it all, I wanted to grow spiritually as a Christian. In the past, I was feeding off feel-good sermons, and I was coasting on relationships built on a veneer of polite smiles and hugs. But I wanted more than just a grand auditorium, an impressive band, and a host of well-dressed ushers.

I have come to look at a church based on healthier standards such as: are the pastors living up to God’s Word? Are their teachings biblically-sound? Are the sermons in line with Scripture? Importantly, are the sermons more than just a feel-good Sunday message—do they encourage me to grow and develop to be a mature Christian? What are the church’s small groups like? How is the church serving their community?

I know it can very easy to judge a church based on its building. For example, a big beautiful church could be seen as a healthy, growing one, and a church worshipping out of a rented community hall could be mistaken as a church that isn’t flourishing. But for me, I have learned to take a step back and think, if a church is to be stripped of all its furnishings, will their core still shine for God?

Focusing on trivial matters such as the auditoriums and the refreshments robbed me of the joy of truly seeking God, and helped me realize that I was in many ways, idolizing the lifestyle the church offered, when I should be putting God at the center of it. But thankfully, God has taught me to see that no matter the size of a church, what matters most is that a church is focused on Him and His teachings.

And that’s what church is really all about.

3 Things To Remember When Feeling Overwhelmed

Written By Rachel Tan, Malaysia, Originally in Simplified Chinese

Recently, I’ve been getting so overwhelmed by the demands of life that there are times I feel like I can’t breathe. I’m consumed with panic when I meet someone new at school and simply forget how to start a conversation. Or I freeze when I’m trying to lead a team in church. Even during class, I sometimes feel so anxious that it impacts my ability to understand the material.

When I find myself freezing up in these daily situations, it tends to make me even more nervous and frightened. My first instinct is to become paralyzed by a sudden fear, quickly followed by a desire to flee—from responsibility, from problems—to a place where I can hide from the world and the emotions that suffocate me.

As the burden of expectations grows heavy on my shoulders, it blinds me from seeing purpose in everything I do. I’m left feeling like all is meaningless—to the point where I feel as if there is nothing to look forward to in life. In an attempt to regain perspective, I have poured myself into searching for the meaning of life. After much journeying, God has begun to help me find some answers in His Word. Here are three truths about God that I hold on to when I’m feeling overwhelmed:

 

1. I have a God who gives purpose in fear

When I turned to the Book of Ecclesiastes, I found a relatable sentiment in the opening. It says,

“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

In context, the writer is lamenting the fact that our labor on earth, the search for earthly wisdom, entertainment, and wealth, are as meaningless as chasing after the wind. The closing of Ecclesiastes helps us understand this more by pointing us to what is truly worthwhile on this earth:

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

I realized that I had been living in pursuit of meeting worldly expectations that I set for myself in the various roles I held as a student, church leader and peer. If these continued to be my focus, then my life would ultimately be meaningless. But these words in Ecclesiastes gave me hope for new meaning in life. They were sweet words of assurance that I did not need to stress over how every situation would pan out, because my goal was not to overcome every problem.

I was created to focus on God—on following, glorifying, and fearing Him—and obeying His words. Understanding this helped me to shift my focus away from the weighty expectations of doing things right in various situations to resting in the promise that God created me to fear Him.

 

2. I have a God who is with me when I can’t breathe

As I further sought God through Scripture, I found great hope in this Psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. . . even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:1, 4)

Whenever I meditate on these two verses, my heart rests in the reminder that the Lord is my shepherd. I do not need to run away in fear, nor do I need to worry that I will be harmed. He is with me. His rod and His staff will comfort me and guide me in the right direction.

Furthermore, Jesus understands all that I experience—including the suffocating pressure I feel as I walk through dark valleys. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” I’m comforted to know that not only is Jesus with me as a guide and comforter, but he can empathize with my struggles and furthermore extend mercy and grace to help me when I am in need (Hebrews 4:16).

 

3. I have a God who invites me to bring my burdens before Him

When the pressure of what most consider a typical day overwhelms me, I am reminded of Jesus’ words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).

As I read this verse, I am reminded that if I am unwilling to dwell in God’s word and rely on Him, my burdens will remain as burdens. I will continue feeling suffocated by them. But something else happens when I willingly come before Jesus to learn from His gentleness and humility—I experience the rest He grants as I seek to learn from Him. I can have confidence to face challenges in ministry or problems in life, understanding that they are not my burdens to bear.

 

Sometimes I still find myself struggling to manage my life without feeling suffocated. But now, I remember that my shepherd calls me to His side and to rely on Him. When I can’t breathe, I hear a still voice prompting me to re-center my mind on Jesus instead of my circumstances. When I encounter problems, I do not flee, but can choose to entrust every struggle to God.

I am also learning to communicate and interact with my co-workers, and to not shy away from situations that have been stress-inducing in the past. None of the problems I faced before have changed—I am just learning (by God’s grace) to adapt and respond differently. I know that Jesus will be with me on the road ahead. I do not need to be afraid. Instead, I remember all that He has taught us, and walk forward while relying on Him.