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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 Challenges to Worshipping God in a World of Choices

Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany

I love worshipping God and spending time with Him.

Every morning, I try my best to set aside time to worship God through prayer, music, Bible study, and journaling. During this dedicated time, I give thanks to God and meditate on His Word. In turn, God’s presence—His answer to prayers, the mercy and comfort He shows me—fills me with strength, gives me peace, and reminds me that God is always looking after me. When l come out of my time with God, l am strengthened in the assurance of His love.

That being said, making time to worship God and commit myself to Him isn’t easy. The world offers distractions and pursuits that tempt me to take my eyes off God. Hence, l am constantly challenged to choose between spending time with God in worship and what the world offers.

Over time, I have come to recognize the things that are most likely to distract me from God. This helps me work on re-focusing my attention back to God.

Here are three of my most pressing challenges to worshipping God in a world full of choices. Perhaps you might be able to relate to them as well:

 

1. Caught Between Two Masters: Technology or God

I remember receiving my first mobile phone in the late 90s. Before that, l was hightailing it to a pay phone every time l wanted to ring someone when l was on the go. Similarly, l am grateful for the invention of the Internet. Teaching myself makeup application from YouTube tutorials jumpstarted my freelance career as a makeup and special-effects artist (makeup application using prosthetics, face paint and casts).

However, at some point, my life began to revolve around my devices, apps, and social media feeds. I began relying more and more on the Internet for information, as well as the endless possibilities for entertainment.

It is scary how easily we allow the digital world to rule our lives. God says that we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). When we can’t stop scrolling through social media feeds, or when we just have to play one more game of “Candy Crush” on our phones, then we’ve become too addicted to technology. Too often, we look to Google for answers to our problems instead of coming to our Father who created Heaven and earth—the God who says that when we seek Him, we will find Him (Matthew 7:7).

When it got to the point where l was tempted to check my WhatsApp messages during church services, l knew technology was becoming more attractive than being in God’s presence. It was time to cut the digital umbilical cord.

These days, instead of looking at my phone when l get up in the morning, l thank God for the day He has made (Psalm 118:24). During my worship time with God, l turn off all my devices. If someone wants to get in contact with me during this time, they can leave a message. In church, l switch my phone off before the service starts. Knowing my phone won’t vibrate or light up during church helps avoid distraction and keeps my focus on worshipping God.

 

2. FOMO—Fear Of Missing Out

Every day when l get up in the morning, my focus is to spend those first hours of the day with God.

However, more often than not, by the time l give my one-eared pussycat his breakfast and start brewing my first cup of coffee, my mind starts formulating a list of all the activities l want to do that day, such as my plans to exercise or meet up with friends. I start to get so nervous at the thought of not experiencing any of these events, that l become tempted to exchange my dedicated worship time for the pursuit of my other endeavors.

Today’s fast-paced society is a result of an oversaturation of choices. Our anxiety at missing out on an experience causes us to run from pillar to post. We’re suffering from FOMO—Fear Of Missing Out.

When I notice myself getting anxious from an abundance of choices and too little time to choose them all, l remind myself to go back to the Bible for guidance. Matthew 6:33 encourages us to seek God’s kingdom first above all things. After that, God will provide us with everything we need. l am learning to fear missing out on my daily encounter with God more than the pursuits of the world.

 

3. The Allure of the Things of this World

One of my favorite recreational pursuits is going to the gym. Although l work out to live a healthy lifestyle, a part of me is very aware of the “body goals” that are portrayed on Instagram and splashed across the pages of magazines. Sometimes, when l lift weights, l wonder whether I should be working toward these goals instead of being content with the body God has given me.

We all chase after different goals—whether it’s a perfect body, the latest iPhone, or exotic holidays. But too often, these “goals” can easily turn into objects of worship, drawing our attention away from God.

Romans 12:2 encourages us to not conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. When l find myself choosing to go down rabbit holes of superficial pursuits instead of spending time with God in His Word, l need to stop and remind myself that the only truly worthy pursuit is that of seeking God’s presence. Meditating on the Word keeps my eyes fixed on the unchanging nature of God in a fad-induced society. It reminds me that God’s opinion matters in my life, not the world’s.

Knowing that I am easily tempted by these goals, I have learned to prioritize my relationship with God. When I spend time regularly worshipping God, I can work out for the sake of being healthy, without worrying that it would eat into my time with God.

 

We are only temporary residents in this world, but our relationship with God is one that crosses into eternity. When we consider that Jesus made the ultimate choice to give His life for us at the cross to purchase our freedom, then making the decision to spend time with God in worship and praise becomes a lot easier, and the choices of the world begin to pale in comparison.

If you find your worship of God challenged by the choices and expectations of the world, l get it. Choosing to put my worship time ahead of my pursuits of this world is something l’m still working on every day.

This doesn’t mean we need to change our entire lifestyle, but can begin by taking small steps at a time. Perhaps we can get up earlier and dedicate that time to God, or maybe we can put aside 15 minutes a day to read the Bible. These small steps add up, daily drawing us closer to God. As we seek Him, He will also give us the desire and will to worship Him.

How Do I Stay Close to God in A World Full of Distractions?

Written By Julian Panga

Julian grew up in India and then lived in Australia for 12 years. While working in the banking and finance Industry in Melbourne, he also served as a church elder, missions trainer, and Bible teacher. In 2014, he returned to India in response to God’s calling and is currently involved in pastoral ministry and theological training. He is passionate about teaching and training as well as engaging the youth and those in the marketplace with the Gospel.

 

Life and all that it entails has become extremely complex today. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well as the real-time availability of entertainment on mobile devices are just a few examples of technological advances that—if not handled correctly—can consume our time and energy and become major distractions in our lives today.

Technology has to a large extent replaced the humanistic element in face-to-face, interpersonal communication with superficial, emotionless jibber-jabber. We have given up more demanding, but relationship-building methods of communication for the ease of video calls, phone calls, and instant messaging.

The incessant demands of the workplace and the tremendous pressure this puts on the workers to perform consistently have further opened up a plethora of stress-relieving distractions such as online gaming, recreational sports, expensive hobbies, and extracurricular activities. These have drawn many away from meaningful relationships.

With the many distractions around us, we also struggle to find a deep, satisfying relationship with God. We lose Him in the myriad of things that cloud our minds. Spiritual disciplines like Bible-reading, prayer and fasting take a back seat in our lives. Our treasure is no longer God, but those things that gather dust and rust and corrode (Matthew 6:19–20).

We are also constantly in danger of becoming superficial in our relationship with God. We are often content with skimming the surface, rather than putting in the time and effort necessary for a more satisfying and intimate relationship with Him. Oftentimes, we use God as a cosmic genie by calling on Him when we need something or when we are in trouble, and otherwise prefer to keep Him at a distance.

As a result we become isolated from God as well as from each other thereby becoming disillusioned with life overall. We do so much more, but find less meaning in our pursuits. In our rush to keep pace with all that is flying at us, we have neglected three fundamental areas of our lives. These three things anchor and orient our soul. If all is well, they quiet us before God and provide room for peace. There is no way we can enthrone Jesus in our lives if these three aspects are off-kilter. We have to closely guard our heart, devotion and our desires.

 

Guard Your Heart

Jeremiah 17:9–10 tells us that the human heart is deceitful and desperately sick. Yet everything we do flows from it. Whatever occupies our hearts governs our lives. Therefore, above all else, we have to guard our hearts for from it flows the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23).

In Matthew 6:21, Jesus pointed out that we set our hearts on whatever we value most. So if we consider God our greatest treasure, we would set our hearts on Him and guard that relationship zealously. We would saturate our hearts with His Word on a regular basis, so that the Word infuses life into us and brings about holistic transformation on the inside as well as on the outside.

Knowing His Word means more than just reading the Bible. The four soils in the parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) represent the condition and receptiveness of our hearts and the seed represents the Word of God. Some of us reject God’s Word outright, some stay in the faith for a while but eventually give up, and some go a bit further but are unfruitful because of other cares in their life. Then there are others who receive the Word and strive to understand it. The Word remains in them, and they gain a bountiful harvest.

In Matthew 4:1–11, the devil offered Jesus an easy, alternative way to the pleasure that would be His through submission to His Father’s plan. The devil even quoted Scripture, hoping to sway Jesus from His determination to do things God’s way. Jesus had no problem rebutting him. He was familiar with God’s will through a thorough understanding of God’s Word, and knew that Satan had quoted the scripture out of context.

The constant barrage of temptations on our senses and our minds might take root in our hearts and distract us from loving and serving God. However, if we have hidden God’s Word in our hearts, we would know what is pleasing to Him and what is not. We would be better equipped to decide whether it is beneficial to continue with certain activities or relationships, or to change our perspective on certain situations. Our hearts would have become shaped by God’s Word, and not by the world. When we stand firm in God’s Word, we can overcome distractions by its power instead of succumbing to temptations. This gives us confidence, boldness, and motivation to live life counter-culturally.

 

Guard Your Devotion

I live in India, where, like in many other places around the world, devotion to a deity is shown through one’s actions—fulfilling a vow or a penance or offerings or gifts to charity. The way of gaining favor or appeasement from that deity is merely shown by one’s actions on the outside—regardless of whether that impacts or transforms that person on the inside. The One True and Living God that we worship however, doesn’t delight in sacrifices or offerings or any external facade of devotion (Psalm 51:16, Isaiah 1:11). What He desires is a true worshipper who worships Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

What does true devotion and commitment to God look like? It means deciding to do whatever it takes to please God—not because we need to earn His favor, but because we love Him. It means full allegiance to the Master. Such unwavering devotion and commitment can only come from a grasp of God’s love and commitment to us first, shown supremely on the cross, and this will help us to pursue God in spite of distractions.

Devotion may start with pure discipline—waking up earlier to pray, setting aside time to read the Word, cutting off activities we know are harmful to our testimony of God’s truth. But, beyond that, when we remain committed to God, we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, and we begin to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control grow as evidence of and fuel our ongoing commitment to God. The more we are changed, the more we desire change.

Jesus said in Luke 14:26–27 that only if we elevate our relationship with God above earthly relationships then are we fit to be His disciples. But it is easy for us to have competing loyalties, robbing God of His rightful place in our lives.

Personally, I always thought that advancing my career prospects, achieving financial goals, and enjoying a luxurious lifestyle were of utmost importance and as a result those things clamoured for my devotion. Eventually I realized that none of them could bring about the true fulfilment which can only come from a personal relationship with God. When we make anything other than God of primary importance, it becomes our idol, demanding our worship and loyalty. God won’t tolerate such divided allegiance (Exodus 20:2,3).

 

Guard Your Desires

A desire is a deep longing that sets the direction for our hearts. Our world fell into sin when Adam and Eve reached for the forbidden fruit in their desire for the knowledge that only God can have (Genesis 3:6). In Deuteronomy 5, the Lord forbids us to covet what is not rightfully ours. James warned that “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:15).

There are good desires too. We who have been renewed and freed from the slavery to sin now live by the Spirit and gratify the Spirit’s desires for us (Galatians 5:16–24). The psalms are filled with the longing for God and His ways. Our heavenly Father knows what His children need. When we seek His Kingdom first, we will see his provision according to His will and prerogative (Matthew 6:33; 1 John 5:14).

Our desires, like our appetites, can be trained. We have to first wean ourselves off what is not beneficial, and develop a yearning for the things of God. When we begin to taste and see that He is good (Psalm 34), that His plan for us is indeed sweeter than honey (Psalm 19), and experience our sustenance through Jesus, the Bread of Life (John 6), we learn to hunger for God.

 

Guard Your Time with God

Spending time with God is necessary if we want to guard our hearts, devotion, and desires. An intimate relationship with God is foundational for every Christian. Without an ongoing connectedness with God, we die in our spirit. All meaningful relationships require time. We will never know the majesty, love, discipline, fellowship, and wisdom of the person of God if we do not spend time with Him. But if we do guard our time with God closely, we discover a deep sense of identity, belonging, and union with our Maker, and then life becomes fruitful, joyful and much more fulfilling.

My prayer and desire is that we earnestly seek God’s kingdom here on earth, identifying worldly distractions, and putting them in their rightful place—under the lordship of our King. A life that abides in God rises above all distractions. This doesn’t mean that we live an ascetic life, but rather even in the midst of distractions, we can live a life deeply rooted in God’s word, satisfied by His Spirit and graced by His presence.

Why I Abandoned My Bullet Journal

Photo by Lynn Tran

Written By Sam Ly, Singapore

In recent years, bullet journaling has taken the world (or at least my friends and me) by storm. The concept is simple. You use just one book for everything—scheduling appointments, recording tasks, journaling, drawing, you name it. There is a basic standard template to help you get started, but you’re basically free to customize it according to your own lifestyle.

If you’re wondering how the name came about, it’s because it involves writing down everyday plans and events in the form of bulleted lists.

As someone who has a weekly scheduler along with seven other journals for other things (expenses, dreams I remember, thoughts from quiet time with God, etc.), the concept of bullet journaling was enticing. Finally, I could combine everything into one!

That’s when I realized it wasn’t so simple in practice. Because bullet journaling involves starting with an empty notebook, one needs to create everything from scratch. Search “plan with me” on YouTube and you will see the sheer amount of effort it takes to create each month’s calendar and weekly spaces, which includes writing neatly and drawing amazing illustrations.

As it turned out, I ended up spending a lot of time researching and watching videos on how to create my bullet journal and spending money on materials I “needed” for it. Instead of spending time to do the things I wrote down, I was spending time decorating my bullet journal and fussing over my messy lines and ugly attempts at hand-lettering.

That’s when it dawned on me: this was happening in my Christian life too—I was letting the “good to haves” drown out what I really needed.

There are a lot of things a “good Christian” is supposed to have, which are present in my life. Perhaps you have them all too—cell group, youth ministry, church on Sundays, prayer group in school, volunteering at a para-church organization that reaches out to youth etc. While these are all good things to help me grow in the knowledge of God and relationship with other brothers and sisters-in-Christ, it reached a point where I started to miss the big picture: God himself.

I knew something was wrong when I would tell myself I had no time to sit down to read His word and pray because I was too busy preparing for the next Bible study I had to teach, too busy trying to coordinate and plan for my portion in ministry, too busy with “Christian things”. How was it that I was too busy for the very God I told others to trust and obey?

I realized the answer to this was simple: I had said “yes” to too many things without realizing that I had limited time and energy. Instead of guarding my time with God, I packed my schedule to the brim thinking it would work out in the end because I was doing all these in His name. As I struggled to fulfil all my commitments as well as my responsibilities as a student, I began to drown in all the work I had to do.

I know that the Lord can use difficult and trying times to reveal to me that His grace is sufficient for me, for His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I also know that the testing of our faith through trials produces steadfastness (James 1:2-3). But I also learned that I need to be discerning and wise in the way I manage my time and energy.

God does not need us to embellish and pack our lives to the brim to prove that we are His faithful servants. Friends, God loves us as His children—our identities are secure in Christ alone, and we are much more than ministry machines. When we abide in Him and He in us, we will naturally bear fruit and so prove that we are His disciples (John 15:4-11).

I am still learning to be a wise steward of my time and energy. While I remember to discharge the duties of my ministry (2 Timothy 4:5), I must also remember to watch my life closely (1 Timothy 4:16). Instead of embellishing my schedule with many good things that call for my attention, I have peace in my heart to say no to some of these, if they come at the expense of my own relationship with God.