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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?

I Found Contentment In My Financial Limitation

Photo by Andrew Koay and Joyce Lim
Written by Agnes Lee, Singapore

One Sunday at church, my five-year-old niece and her family sat in the row in front of me. All of a sudden, she turned back and asked me innocently, “Aunty Agnes, how did you come to church today?”

I replied quietly, “By train.”

“Why don’t you have a car? My daddy has a car.”

I felt conflicted when I heard her question. Do I tell her that I really cannot afford one?

I didn’t want to sound poor, so I finally replied, “A car is not the only mode of transportation.” I’m not sure if she understood me, but her mom hushed her and she turned back to the service.

Her question about the car stayed in my mind. Although having a car would be more convenient and comfortable for family outings—especially with my little son—my husband and I just simply cannot afford one.

For a long time, I resented the fact that both my husband and myself are average salaried workers, earning enough only to make ends meet every month. It was unfair. Why did God withhold financial freedom and good things from us? Didn’t He say that He would give us good gifts (Matthew 7:11) and the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4)?

But as I came to know God better, I realized that He is the greatest treasure I could ever have. I would rather lose all my worldly wealth before losing sight of God and my salvation.

 

God’s Comfort Is More Valuable Than Wealth

When I was young and single, I had a lot of financial freedom. I enjoyed shopping and good food. Whenever I was stressed from work, those were the things I reached for to distract me from my problems. I thought I was coping well, and after a bit of indulgence, I would feel temporarily better and resume my life.

Even though I attended church, I did not turn to the Bible for comfort. Perhaps having financial freedom and living comfortably made me feel self-contented. Perhaps my heart was too hardened to allow the Word of God to grow within me and help me mature in the faith. Like the seed falling among thorns in the parable of the sower, my heart was choked by the deceitfulness of wealth (Matthew 13:22).

But four years ago, I went through a devastating time in my marriage. Shopping, food, and any amount of money would not have solved our family quarrels. I could see no way out. This was when God pointed me back to His Word.

Though my situation worsened day by day, I found comfort and peace in God’s Word even as I came to the end of myself. I realized that God was really all that I needed. As I waited and put my hope in the Lord, He helped me and my husband resolve our marriage troubles.

As my passion for the Lord grew and I read more of the Bible, I began to develop a different view towards wealth. I no longer viewed it as the answer to my problems. Instead, I realized that God is my sole source of comfort in times of trouble. And because of that, I can be content in all situations, whether rich or poor, because my salvation is not dependent on my wealth.

However, after me and my husband reconciled, I had to contribute more towards family expenses, and finances became tighter. Tithing became an act of faith, but God continued to show me His providence and sustaining grace. And more importantly, God taught me what it means to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Regardless of our income levels, we have a responsibility to steward our finances well. When I was in school, I was once asked to help raise funds for a charity organization. I was not yet a believer then, but I donated a considerable portion of my pocket money because I wanted to please the teacher. After that, my heart ached for the money which I would have liked to spend on something else for myself. While I could afford to spare the money, my heart was not pure in my giving.

 

Living in Contentment

Now that I’m a Christian and have a deeper understanding of what it means to give to God, I am challenged to give more generously and with a pure heart. Just as Matthew 19:28-30 says, if we leave behind our earthly pleasures to follow God, then at the renewal of all things, we will gain more and inherit eternal life. This reminds me not to seek only temporal comfort, but to live and give with a view towards eternity.

But while I’m still living on this earth, I am not spared from temptation. Whenever I see others seemingly able to buy anything they want, I inevitably feel a little jealous. Because I work in the Central Business District, I often see people driving pass in luxury cars. Sometimes I wish I could be one of them. But when I submit my desires to God, I realize that His plans are different for all of us. He makes some wealthy, and others average earners like myself. But regardless of our financial status, as long as we choose to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, God calls us His children.

Knowing this, I am satisfied with my financial limitations. Like Paul, I know the secret to being content in any and every situation, whether I am well fed or in hunger (Philippians 4:12). I can give thanks to God always because He will take care of my every need (Matthew 6:26).

I’ve Arrived. Now What?

It’s been a year since I graduated college, and so much has happened already! I’ve been blessed with a fun and challenging job in my field of study. I live at a wonderful house with two friends. My life is overflowing with healthy, exciting, good things—most people would say that I’ve “arrived”.

But some days, I’m ashamed to admit that I still struggle with discontentment. Despite all the good things that fill my life, there are moments when it’s just not enough and these thoughts fill my mind: Am I so greedy that all of these blessings can’t fulfill me? What’s missing from my life? And the worst question: Where am I going?

Without a clear goal to strive towards, my life now seems stagnant instead of stable. There are so many possible paths for my life, but now that I’ve finished college and chosen a career and a city to live in, I wonder if I’ve made the right choices. The trajectory of my life seems to be heading somewhere pretty mundane—a normal, middle-class existence in America. Anxiously, I wonder if I was meant to be doing something more extraordinary or important or. . . meaningful?

The writer of Ecclesiastes faced a similar situation. Even though he had wisdom, status, wealth, and influence, he still felt at times that “everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

So what should we do when, like me, we’ve “arrived”, and find ourselves feeling empty?

 

1. Go back to our first love

I saw a commercial recently that proclaimed, “Experiences are the true riches in life.” I love experiences. I enjoy travel, concerts, and new activities. But some of the most wise and godly people I know collect very few experiences—yet their lives are still rich. They have learned that the true riches of life are found in the person named Jesus.

“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you,” exclaims the psalmist. “I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods. . . I cling to you” (Psalm 63:3-8, emphasis added).

When I feel anxious, it always comforts me to read my Bible, especially the Psalms, where the authors cry out with raw joy and pain. Through scripture, God tells us a story of mankind’s fall and redemption that is so grand and beautiful that it puts all of our worldly experiences to shame.

Our experiences may be good, but in the end the dissatisfaction that we feel with these experiences points us to the best—the God who created them. It is He who gives meaning to all we do. And when we are grounded in His story, we do not need to fill our time chasing experiences.

 

2. Give up the driver’s seat

Part of my anxiety during this period of stability is due to thinking that maybe I should be moving on to something better instead of staying put. Most of my college friends are getting jobs in other cities and moving away. Some are going overseas to be missionaries, or starting families of their own. Perhaps I should be seeking a new job, house, or dream?

I am in control of my life, which means I can steer it in the wrong direction. What if I’m missing something by staying here?

But these anxious thoughts are easily quieted when I remember that I’m not actually in control. We all have the power to make decisions, but the Christian’s challenge is to release that control. Let God determine where you are going—He should be in the driver’s seat!

I need to surrender my life to God by confessing that I can’t do this on my own. I need to regularly choose to dwell on God’s promises instead of my fears. Surrendering to God does not make me feel powerless. Instead, it brings immense comfort. If God is in control—not me—then all I need to do is listen to His voice and follow His direction.

Psalm 37:23 reminds us that, “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him.” If I’m supposed to move, or if I’m supposed to stay, God will let me know. That doesn’t mean He will always make it clear when I want Him to. I remember how long I agonized over the decision of where to attend college; I was angry with God for not being more clear. But at just the right time, God helped me see what made one school a better fit than the other, and I had such peace about the decision. He made my steps firm.

 

3. Relax and enjoy the view

There’s a scene in the movie The Shack (2017) where the main character Mack is walking with God through a gently rolling meadow dotted with trees. The sun is setting and the landscape is peaceful and beautiful.

Mack has been walking alongside God for a while, and it’s unclear if they’re nearing the final destination. He’s feeling a little anxious and a little uncertain. “Is someone going to tell me where we’re going?” Mack asks.

“Look around, Mack,” God says in answer, gesturing to the beautiful landscape. “Don’t forget to enjoy the journey.”

Those are powerful words. It’s as if God was saying, Can you simply enjoy each step of the journey with Me? That is very difficult for me to do. I like control, knowledge, and preparation. I want a complete view of the map before we start the trip. But that’s not usually how God works. He asks us to trust Him for every step.

I’ve learned it’s easier to find joy in the beautiful things of this life when I trust God for the final destination. When I do so, the blessings that I mentioned earlier—a great job, a good home, kind friends—come fully alive. I feel free to cherish them for this season of life, instead of feeling anxious about what changes the next season might bring.

 

So when I’m feeling anxious or restless, I remind myself to stop, look around, and enjoy the journey. Even the author of Ecclesiastes recognized that, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There is a time to move forward, and there is a time to remain right where we are. Let’s go back to our first love, give up the driver’s seat, and enjoy the view for however long it lasts.

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.