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When I Was Blinded By Success

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

There was a period when I had offered to write almost one article a week to help my ministry team meet deadlines.  Even though my command of English is ordinary, I love relating to God’s Word and began writing a lot of my experiences and thoughts.

After working late in the office, I would come home to my laptop and try to craft a new article. My team leader was concerned about whether I could manage, and told me there was no obligation. But so often, I would say “Yes, I can.”

I delighted in the positive feedback from my team leader. But as the months went by, I was not careful with my heart and took pride in the work that I was doing, trying to please the team. As I focused on delivering more and more articles, my heart began to stray. And with the good comments from my team leader, I unknowingly began to feel sufficient in my own strength. Times spent reading God’s Word was tinted with the motive of finding more content to write, not so much finding rest in God.

When I ran out of fresh experiences of my own to write about, I began writing very ordinary stories that were really not worth publishing. Eventually, more and more edits were required for my articles, and some were even rejected.

I began to feel ashamed. I was supposed to help lighten the workload of the ministry with my contributions, but was I causing more work for the team instead? Those days when my articles were so flawed finally broke my pride.

For weeks, my broken heart could not settle down, no matter how hard I tried to forget the edits and rejections of my articles. Eventually, I built up enough courage to speak to a trusted friend. She heard me out patiently and suggested that I should take a break from writing to realign and recharge. Perhaps that was what I really needed.

We did not plan out the specifics of the the break, but deep in my heart, I knew that it meant I had to stop writing for the time being and simply spend more time resting in God’s presence. This also meant surrendering everything in my path to Him.

When I did my morning devotion the next day, it was with a different attitude as I no longer felt the obligation to write. I was able to focus on seeking God with all my heart, and to rest in the presence of God—where I knew there was peace.

It became obvious to me that the times where I had focused on churning out articles, I did my morning devotions with the aim of finding more content to write and better words to use. But God wants His children to seek Him sincerely in spirit and in truth (John 14:2). As I repented before Him for my tinted motive of seeking Him, He began to search my heart.

In my brokenness that morning, God assured me that my strength comes from Him alone, and that He will give me a new song to praise Him (Psalm 28:7). My strength comes from the quiet place of communion with Him before a new day begins. Even if I had failed badly yesterday, He would give me strength to start afresh as His mercies are new morning. The glory of man or any form of self-sufficiency can never lead us to the unshakable strength that can come only from God.

At that moment, I realized that—whether in writing or any form of work—I can’t go far without the strength of God. In the presence of God, I can delight in my weaknesses even when I fail (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). My writing or work in any form does not define me, because I belong to the Father. Whether I succeed or fail in the world, nothing changes the fact that I am His beloved. In this truth, I can stand strong and confident.

Writing for ministry should be done with the true motive of glorifying God—as a reminder to myself of His faithfulness to me—and also with the hope of bringing others to Him. Instead of being His faithful servant and stewarding my gift for others to see His glory, I was writing for myself.

As I repented, I saw how my carelessness in guarding my heart had allowed pride to creep in. Blinded by my own success, I was deceiving myself in supposed self-sufficiency, and this had led me to stray from God’s grace.

The Lord’s delight is in us, and His love for us does not change whether we are successful or not. As I drew near to God, He showed me that He is the one who will continue to strengthen us even when our own strength fails. If I had not been stopped in my tracks of writing, I might have missed out on experiencing God’s goodness once again.

I remember times of anxiously waiting for replies from my team leader on the outcome of my submitted articles. But anxiety would not have crept in to affect me if I had simply trusted God whatever the outcome. Whether or not my articles were published is ultimately not important. What is important is that God’s name is glorified whatever the circumstance.

Even if I fail to write published articles again, I am satisfied. That morning, God brought me to a deep contentment in His presence. His love is unwavering, and our worth in His sight is not determined by our success. He is our maker. He knows how to lift us up when our own strength fails. In Him, I can delight even in my weakness and boast about it without fear (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

With that experience, I have continued taking a slower pace in writing, so as to rest more in God. In Him, I see a greater treasure than any success I might achieve. As He leads me by giving me fresh encounters in my journey, I will open up my laptop again and start typing, but it will no longer be a pressure that I impose on myself. It is simply more important to abide in His presence, where I have experienced the fullness of joy.

When Marriage Isn’t Quite What You Hoped For

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

I grew up with Ashley (not her real name) and we attended the same schools. We talked a lot about relationships when we were younger and the kind of married life we hoped for. Eventually Ashley started dating a guy who would surprise her with flowers and little treats. However, he could also be quite demanding and unreasonable at times, and Ashley wasn’t sure about continuing the relationship.

Eventually, his persistence won Ashley over and they got married. At the time I wished them a happy relationship, but was a little worried about how long their marriage would last. Yet while her marriage has never been quite what we dreamed about as young girls, I have learned so much from her.

Though Ashley hoped that marriage would lead to greater mutual understanding, she found herself quarrelling with her husband often. He seemed to expect to know her whereabouts all the time and wanted her to be there for him whenever he needed company. He even expected her to pay all the bills because she earned a higher salary. Whenever she protested, he asked her, “Don’t you love me?”

As a friend, I watched Ashley walk through those difficult days. I saw her find peace as she became active in church and fell back on the Bible. In the midst of her marriage, Ashley clearly took comfort in a God who healed the brokenhearted and abhorred evil.

Though well-meaning friends advised Ashley to divorce her husband, Ashley chose instead to keep the promises she made at the wedding. While her marriage was not a bed of roses, it did not endanger Ashley or her son in any way. So instead of walking away, she decided to trust that God’s grace is sufficient in even her weakest moments, and that God’s strength is perfect. Such trust is amazing to me.

When I talk to Ashley about her marriage, she makes it a point to avoid comparison with other marriages, and instead focuses on God as her protector and provider. She reminds me that even the best spouse cannot guarantee protection or provision. Ultimately, our help comes from God alone, and He is able to save us from falling into despair or self-pity. We are not alone in the marriage—we are not left to shoulder our burdens on our own—the Lord Himself will help us as we honor our marriage vows.

The Lord has been faithful to Ashley as she chooses faithfulness and obedience to His call in the marriage. Although her marriage is hard, she manifests God’s strength and shows a confidence in Him that cannot be shaken. She once said that she finds true love in God as she surrenders her loveless marriage to Him.

While some of our friends say that her marriage is “blind suffering,” I see how this marriage has brought her closer to her true love. I see her joy in the Lord deepened each day. As she goes through this marriage of long suffering, I can still see the smiles on her face as she anchors her hopes in her true love. She speaks of the joy of being in God’s presence, and willingly shares the hope of the gospel with anyone she meets.

I am reminded by Ashley that all our weaknesses—whether in marriage or other areas of life—are actually opportunities for us to surrender and grow in the Lord. Whatever difficulties we might face, they can point us to experience the deeper joy and hope found only in the sovereignty of our God, beyond anything the world can offer.

My own marriage is not exactly a bed of roses either. My husband and I sometimes have different views and ways of doing things. I have often quarreled with my husband when things were not going my way. But God reminded me through James 4:1 that quarrels are often due to conflicting desires of my own heart—on the one hand, I want to honor God in my marriage; but on the other hand, I tend to be impatient and easily frustrated and angered. But as I marvel at God’s faithfulness to Ashley, I am humbled to ask God to change my temper. I am reminded to place God as the first priority in my heart.

Marriage will always be imperfect. It is after all, the union of two imperfect beings. Yet it is continually preparing us for a higher glory. Ashley knows this, and awaits the coming of the Bridegroom who is her true love. As I walk with her, I am also encouraged to put my trust in God, who is able to keeps us from stumbling and to present us blameless before His glorious presence (Jude 1:24).

When Pursuing My Spiritual Gift Became My Idol

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

I used to wonder what my spiritual gift was. I thought it was ushering because someone suggested I help out as an usher.

Then one day, our pastor showed us a movie titled War Room. The main character was a faithful and God-loving woman who wrote down her prayers in a prayer closet and prayed about them daily. I was impressed by her faithfulness and started to question my own prayer life. As I was moved to pray more often, I started journaling my thoughts and prayers so that I could remember them and see how God has worked in my life. From there, it was not long before I started writing articles.

Having my articles published felt like an affirmation that I was on the right track with God. I have also received praise and encouragement from friends and others who read my articles. I felt good, special, and loved by God. I thanked God for giving me the gift of writing.

But God knew what was going on in secret in my heart, and He graciously showed me one day. I was reading a Christian article online, and it had over 1,000 “likes”. My articles were always way below this figure. I started envying the writer of this article. I wished I had her gift. I wished that my articles could garner as many “likes” as hers. I wished my articles could be more popular.

I felt discontented and unhappy. That was when the Lord led me to Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” Can I truly rejoice with this writer in her success? Can I rejoice in the fact that God had chosen to use her to spread His Word—in what seemed to be a more effective way than how He used me? Can I truly rejoice even if my writings go unnoticed or unrecognized? Where is the source of my joy?

The Bible warns again and again not to go chasing after idols. While I did not worship an actual idol, I had prided myself on the success of my writings—and it had become my idol. It was a terrible mistake to place my joy in such lesser things of the temporal world, instead of taking joy in the eternal and unshakeable glory of God.

God showed me how weak my flesh was and how my heart was prone to wander from what truly matters. Worldly measures of success had caused my pride to soar, and I was easily envious of the success of others. I had forgotten that I could do nothing apart from God (John 15:5). God is the true source of joy (Psalm 16:11), and He warns us away from idols so that we can enjoy the fullness of joy that only He can provide.

Loving my spiritual gift more than the Giver would not bring me any good. The purpose of my spiritual gift is to glorify God and to help others—myself included—discover the true joy of knowing Him. God has entrusted this gift to me. If I do not steward it well, I would render myself ineffective for God’s call for me.

I repented and asked God to give me a desire to please and pursue Him above all, and that I would never lose sight of Him. I prayed that my source of joy would flow only from Him as I fix my eyes on Him.

I now ask myself the following questions as I continue writing and using the gift God has given me:

  • Would I still find joy in the Lord even if one day I am no longer an effective writer?
  • Would I still worship Him even if He takes my gift away?
  • Is my identity rooted in Christ or my success?
  • Can I rejoice with those who are more successful?

Constantly asking myself these questions reminds me to strive for holiness, and guards my heart from temptation and ungodly desires as I try to steward my gift well. My fleshly desire is to glorify myself. But I have learned the importance of submitting my thoughts to the Lord and asking God to search my heart (Psalm 139:23-24).

I ask that the meditations of my heart would be pleasing to His sight (Psalm 19:14). I remind myself to give thanks and glory to Him: not only is my gift from Him, but He is the giver of true joy. After all, how can personal gains or glory compare to the rewards He has prepared for us in heaven, on that day when we finally get to see Him face to face?

4 Lessons From the Life of a Small Church Pastor

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

The church I became a Christian in is probably one of the smallest churches in Singapore. I started attending it because the pastor’s wife—who happens to be my husband’s aunt—reached out to me during a period of trials. Through her, I found comfort in God’s Word and a Christian community who really encouraged me.

There’s only one pastor in this church—the senior pastor. He originally served in another church, but then God led him to plant his own church over 20 years ago. Today, he and his wife continue to faithfully minister in this little church, where the congregation has rarely grown past 30 members at a time.

The small church has no building of its own. We used to rent a room at an old bungalow, but it was demolished to make way for new developments. Because of our small size and limited finances, we could not find a permanent place to meet in. We finally settled for renting a function room in a hotel every week. We hoped that the change of environment might bring in more people, especially since the hotel environment is cosy, and the hotel is centrally located. Two years have passed, however, and people come and go.

Most visitors are tourists staying in the hotel who return home at the end of their stay. Outreach efforts to non-Christians are limited because of our few resources. Initiatives to start a church website were futile as we eventually realized that we lacked the technological skills.

At a parachurch conference or mass prayer meeting, my pastor is known only to us and his pastor friends, but unknown to the masses. He never receives invitations to speak at conferences. He is just an unnoticed small church pastor. Through his life, I saw the struggles of a small church pastor.

Pastor is even looked down upon by his own relatives, who have yet to believe in Christ. They criticize him as an unsuccessful small church pastor, and antagonize him for feeding on church member’s money instead of finding work. I tried putting myself in his shoes and mulled over these comments—they sounded so hurtful.

Despite all these difficulties, Pastor has never lost sight of God. His faithfulness and passion really inspire me to look at my own life and ask how I can better live for God. Here are a few things I have learned from my pastor.

 

1. Be faithful in ministry

In the face of a seemingly small ministry harvest, disappointments, and persecution from relatives, our pastor holds firm to the call of God to shepherd his flock. Pastor showed us what it means to be faithful to one’s calling even when that calling is tough. He has chosen to persevere and anchor his faith in the unchanging love of our faithful God in the toughest time. From his life, I am learning that ministry is not about popularity, fame, or success. Ministry is about trusting the Lord with obedience even in the unknown and barren times.

 

2. Glorify God in all we do

Pastor knows that God is sovereign over all our successes. God’s delight is not in the strength of horses, nor in the legs of a warrior, but it is in those who fear Him and put their trust in His unfailing love (Psalm 147:10-11). In everything that he does, I have seen Pastor ask himself whether his work will glorify God. This really encourages me to take the same attitude. After all, we are created for God’s glory (Isaiah 43:7), and we will not find our purpose apart from God.

 

3. Live out the Gospel

Even though there are only so few people in the congregation, Pastor takes his responsibility to preach edifying sermons seriously. He prays through each and every message he shares, and so speaks words that convict our hearts and transform our thoughts, that we may walk in the light of Christ.

Because Pastor demonstrates deep trust in God in all situations; he does not just preach the gospel, but lives it out and makes it real to us. This has reminded me that God’s Word is not to be taken lightly. Despite the size of our congregation, I see the power of God’s Word ministering to the hearts of people. Often members of the congregation will go forward to the altar when our pastor closes his message with a challenge or invitation. As I continue to listen to God’s Word preached and continue to study it on my own, my interest as well as my discernment increases.

 

4. God always provides

Because the majority of our congregation are old and retired, tithes and offerings are small. But our pastor never seeks after wealth, and instead gives generously to missions. He continues to show us that we can be content in every situation (Philippians 4:11-13). He shows us God’s sustaining grace. He makes God’s power real to us.

God has always provided for our pastor and his family, sometimes even through our church members, who are generous in supporting them whenever they can. The pastor’s wife has been offered many different job opportunities, which enabled her to provide for their daughter. Pastor has also learned to be handy with tools, and can often fix anything broken. In short, God has not allowed the family to suffer lack. From their example, I am reminded to remember and trust in God’s goodness, and to be hardworking when God provides various opportunities for us to sustain ourselves.

 

Though his ministry is small, this faithful pastor has really taught me a lot. I am inspired by his faith and hope to share with him how he has made faith real to me. I have learned that no ministry is too small to impact lives, and that when we are committed to living godly lives, God will display His glory and power in our lives. He never puts to shame those who walk rightly with Him. This encourages me as I continue using my gift to write and co-labor with ministries to share the gospel and impact lives.