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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.

Does My Denomination Matter To God?

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

“What? You are attending a Bible study in a Methodist church?” My husband expressed his surprise when I first told him that I was joining this particular Bible study. It was 10 minutes’ walk from my office, and would be held just after work hours, which worked out perfectly for me.

I am currently involved in four different churches and Christian organizations, all from different denominational backgrounds. It is no surprise that my husband might worry about me becoming theologically confused. But I am increasingly learning that God’s love is not limited to any one denomination.

My home church is a Pentecostal church under the Assemblies of God denomination. I started attending the church because of the help and support leaders and church members offered me during a period of trials I faced early in our marriage. These were the people who helped me see God in my darkest moments. This was where my theological foundations were laid, through Bible studies led by my mentor and other leaders of the church.

We are a charismatic church. It is common to hear people speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:3-5) and raising up holy hands in adoration during worship. We unabashedly sing modern worship songs. I enjoy being involved in such lively worship.

My husband’s family, however, prefers that I attend church with them. So for now, I spend more Sundays at their Anglican church than I do at my home church.

Initially this was a difficult transition. The traditional hymns and music at the Anglican church, as well as how quiet and conservative worshippers were, stuck me as rigid. I missed the livelier worship at my home church, and I quietly criticized the leaders and worshippers for their style of worship. It felt like they were just following the weekly routine of worship, and were not at all led by the Spirit.

Despite my initial misgiving, every time I attended the church, the sermons ministered to me—just like the sermons I heard back at my home church. I began to realize that despite our difference in worship styles or our approach towards spiritual gifts, we both believe in the infallible Word of God. Pastors in both churches preach sound teaching. Both churches stand firm on the Bible. And God uses both churches to speak into my heart and convict me of my sins.

Instead of judging the leaders and worshippers at the new church for not being charismatic, I realized that I should repent of being a judge myself. After all, who am I to judge someone else’s servant (Romans 14:4)? The members of my husband’s church are true believers of God. They cling to the same blessed hope and assurance that I have in Christ. The Holy Spirit who inspires the preachers and leaders of both churches is the same Spirit that works in my life.

As for that Bible study that led to my husband’s surprised reaction—it meets in a Methodist church, but is a non-denominational gathering. My group leader comes from a Presbyterian background, while friends in my small group come from different churches as well. Though we all come from different backgrounds, we are brought together by the love of Christ, as well as our longing to see more of God in our lives. I have definitely benefited from the group discussions and lectures here. Alongside these sisters in Christ, I am learning more about God’s Word and being corrected in some of my erroneous ways.

Through this Bible study, I came to know that the Methodist church conducts a midweek lunch-time service for office workers nearby. I started attending the lunch time service, which are short but traditional. I am learning that whatever denomination or style individual Christians prefer, as long as sound doctrine is preached, we can benefit.

Of course, there are certain topics that are handled differently by each church or Bible studies—such as tongues and prophecies, or whether or not infants could be baptized. But as I spent more time in each of these settings, I increasingly realized that while these issues can be important, often they are not worth getting into a debate over. After all, we all worship the same God. And despite minor differences in church tradition and teachings, we preach the same gospel and share the common goal of glorifying God.

Therefore, it would be wrong for me to judge other denominations for their worship style or minor doctrinal differences. Judging other Christians and churches causes division and is not pleasing to God. Who am I to judge faithful and God-fearing servants whom God is well-pleased with?

Speaking in tongues, singing worship songs, and raising hands does not make me better than any other Christian. God looks at our hearts, and by this measure, I have fallen. I had carelessly allowed pride to creep into me instead of walking carefully in the ways of the Lord. Even if I speak in tongues, I would just be a resounding gong or clanging chamber. I would be nothing if I do not show love (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).

Instead of focusing on the differences which may cause disputes or stumbling, the Bible commands that we are to love God first with all that we are, and secondly to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). We can show love by offering encouragement or helping a fellow Christian friend in need—whatever their church background. My Bible study leader, for example, once called me out when I was feeling down and spoke words of encouragement to me. She reminded me of God’s love and truth, and in this way she lifted my spirit.

Having experienced several different denominations, I realize that our common love for God and longing for Him unites us as one body of Christ—as the bride of Christ—with the common goal of waiting for His coming and our entry to our common heavenly home (Ephesians 5:25-27). As we wait, we must stay alert and vigilant as one common body of Christ by fixing our sight on Jesus, sharing our common love for Christ with one another, and watching to see how Christ works in our individual lives despite our backgrounds. How beautiful is God’s love and hope! It knows no boundaries.

When Family Conflicts Turned Us Into Enemies

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

Four years ago, I was staying with my husband’s family. I was a new mom to a baby boy, and there were many things I had to learn.

My in-laws, naturally, kept a close watch on their grandson. They would often correct me on how to carry the baby or hold his milk bottle. As a perfectionist, I hated being corrected. But at the same time, I felt pressured to perform well, even when I was tired.

This pressure, combined with lack of sleep due to the baby needing milk in the middle of the night, really put a toll on me. I snapped easily and became very temperamental. Behind closed doors, I tried to share my problems with my husband, but he suggested that I should try to be less temperamental and just go along with his parents’ suggestions. I didn’t feel very loved at that point. I tried to put up with the circumstances, but things eventually went from bad to worse.

After some time, I started shouting at my in-laws for putting pressure on me. I didn’t just lose my temper once, but very often during that time. And so I was labelled as a rude daughter-in-law. I felt like everyone in the home was against me. I walled myself in and hated talking to people, because it seemed like any talk easily led to quarrels. My in-laws were supposed to be family to me, but instead became like enemies. Home was supposed to be a place of comfort and warmth, but it felt like a war zone.

Eventually, a relative heard about my plight and shared the gospel with me, which really helped me to process what I was going through. This relative became my spiritual mentor, and when we talked about my situation, she pointed me to prayer and God’s Word. She first reminded me that God was in control in the midst of this mess, and I was not to blame my in-laws, since God was the one who allowed this mess for a greater purpose. Although I did not see the purpose at that time, I believed that God was sovereign. The family situation was messy and destructive at the time, and I knew that the only way to redeem the situation was to go to Jesus, who promises abundant life (John 10:10).

As I read more of the Bible, I realized that I was commanded to show respect to my parents and my elders (Ephesians 6:1, 1 Peter 5:5). Letting go of my bitterness, however, was not easy for me—the prolonged battle in the family had already left me drained, wounded, broken, and especially bitter. I did not marry to be wounded, to be mistreated, or to be without a voice in the family. I wanted revenge. I wanted the family to suffer like I suffered, so that they would know how I felt and so make things right for me.

But then I came across 2 Corinthians 10:5, which urges us to, “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”. So I decided that each time I had bitter thoughts in my head, I would do exactly that. I made it a habit to do so as often as I needed.

I tried to apologize to my in-laws. But every time I apologized, I would soon lose my temper again. Because of how I used to treat my in-laws, they were often stern with me, and it was very stressful. I often became bitter again and would accidentally offend my in-laws with the wrong choice of words when speaking in haste, causing further misunderstanding. As hard as I tried, I was often quick to lose my temper. Each time I met my family, I had to pray for courage and strength.

But these experiences have shown me my human weakness and taught me to rely on the Lord, who promises that His grace is sufficient for me and His strength is made prefect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I reminded myself that my identity is in Christ alone, and not defined by my circumstances. God’s Word gave me strength.

Though I moved out of the house after the first year, the struggle continued for four years before I was reconciled with my husband and in-laws. The four years where God allowed our strife turned out to be my maturing years, and I experienced real spiritual growth.

When I first hear the term “spiritual battle,” it frightened me. But my experience has taught me that God’s love for us is unchanging. A spiritual battle is not necessarily about casting out demons, but a battle for our hearts and our souls. God had a great purpose in allowing me to go through those difficult four years, and I saw His purpose for me at the end of it.

Through my spiritual battle, God has taught me that victory is through Him. I was reminded that even though we may face many challenges in this life, God who began a good work in us will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). When we rely only on God—reading the Bible and seeking Him in prayer—He will bring about His will in our lives and sanctify us in the process so that we will grow more and more in Christ-likeness.