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Lisa Anderson: A Story of Grace

At 17, Lisa found herself throwing up in her bathtub, not knowing that she was pregnant. Feeling alone and angry at God, Lisa could never have imagined what plans He had for her. Watch this poignant testimony of God’s grace at work in Lisa’s life as she learns to use her life experiences to bless others.

 

God Is Fair Even When Your Workplace Isn’t

Written By Lee Yune Yee, Malaysia

We experience God’s grace in our lives in so many ways—His redemptive work on the cross, His healing work in our lives, His protection in our comings and goings . . . But sometimes I feel like I’m a failure, unworthy to accept His grace. Yet, God doesn’t keep my “failures” in His check-and-balance book. Instead, as Max Lucado puts it in his book, Come Thirsty, God beckons me to come “drink deeper in grace.”

Someone in my small group once mentioned that going deeper into God’s grace is like training for deep sea diving. Every time a professional diver trains, he tries to go deeper and longer into the unknown. In time, the diver develops the skill and endurance he needs to discover more of the ocean.

Applying the analogy to my life, how can I know the full power of grace if I only know how to receive it? The essence of relationship is two-way. The Bible clearly says “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded” (Luke 12:48). Usually we think of giving our wealth, time, talents and actions, but this time, I saw that this included giving grace to others.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

 A few years ago, I started working in a food-and-beverage business. I knew nothing about the job, but my superior was very helpful. One day, my supervisor’s boss handed me a project to manage. Being naïve of corporate culture, I thought that I only needed to report to the top boss without having to check in with my immediate supervisor.

My supervisor was offended that I didn’t consult her, and after that began leaving me irrelevant tasks, telling others I was incapable, and she even stopped talking to me. She denied being offended, but I apologized nonetheless. One night, in a roomful of staff and interns, she berated me loudly for my supposed errors. This was followed by the boss himself removing me from our messaging groups. The message was clear: Leave.

I wanted so badly to just disappear and not come back. But that wouldn’t be right, so I waited a week to meet the boss and inform him of my leaving.

God’s grace was with me throughout that week. He gave me strength to get to work and to work well. He reminded me that I had done my best to amend the situation. And I truly felt grace enveloping me as I announced my departure. I was able to speak calmly, thanking the boss for the opportunity. I went to thank every colleague, including my superior, though she responded coldly. It was God’s grace that carried me through that week.

More recently, I was again leaving another position, but had to serve a three-month notice period. All was going well until a couple of missteps. I did some things that had been acceptable before my resignation, but according to unspoken company culture, now were not.

My supervisor at this job took the opportunity to get me to leave earlier, perhaps because he had already hired my replacement. He used harsh words and pushed me into a corner: leave that same day (almost seven weeks early), or leave his department and go upstairs. He hoped that I’d be too embarrassed and leave on my own, but instead I chose to go upstairs, reported to the Managing Director, and worked in a different position for the remainder of my time.

Again, grace never failed. I had feared that my colleagues would give me the cold shoulder for the sake of self-preservation, but they did not. My supervisor, however, acted as though I was invisible when I bumped into him, but I asked the Holy Spirit to keep me from gossiping about him.

I also asked for God’s grace in avoiding gossip when my colleagues complained, since I was in a position where I often had to pick up other people’s messes. Instead, I tried to simply acknowledge my colleague’s frustrations and suggest possible solutions.

God’s grace showed itself in many ways those last couple of weeks. When I worked hard to help put a project together, but was left out of its celebration, God’s grace reminded me that I do not work for the glory of man. Instead, I do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). So although it felt like I was relegated to an intern-level job, I was determined to do the best research possible.

In the new position, I was also able to leave punctually, and could go for regular evening walks, spending more time with God without my phone, taking in the greenery, and many beautiful dusky skies. And on my last day, I thanked everyone including my superior, and it ended on a civil note.

It is easy to say “hallelujah” when God graciously provides for our needs and wants. But when we’re in a difficult position or dealing with difficult people, the struggle becomes so real. Yet when we extend grace to others, God’s grace will carry us through. We can either choose to carry the burdens of hurt, or to leave our egos at the door and walk into freedom by the power of grace.

What I Got Wrong About Grace

Some time in my early 20s, I sat across the table from my mentor and pleaded with her to explain how grace worked. Life wasn’t quite going the way I wanted and I’d subconsciously been trying to “live right” in the hope that I could wrangle some blessings out of God. I’d exhausted myself, and still my attempts weren’t working.

In contrast, people around me kept talking about this condemnation-free, striving-free, anxiety-free way of becoming a person who would please God (and ergo, enjoy all the perks)—and it sounded fantastic. But no one was able to explain how to get there; it felt like I was constantly hearing about a delicious, free buffet without being given directions to get to it.

I understood some of grace. I knew that it was receiving something that I did not deserve. I believed and gratefully accepted that Jesus swapped my sinful nature with His righteous one on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21), took the punishment that was actually mine to pay for being of that sinful nature (Romans 6:23), so that I could stand blameless before God now and at the end of my life (Colossians 1:22). That was grace; a gift I did and could do nothing to merit.

But that, perhaps, was grace for the after life.

At present, there was still life on this earth to finish living. And for these trials of daily living, there seemed to be another form of grace that the writers of Scripture enjoyed.

Paul received grace that was sufficient to cover his weaknesses when he couldn’t shake off a trying situation (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul also knew that if he walked by the Spirit, he would not gratify the desires of his flesh (Galatians 5:16). The writer of Hebrews knew that he could approach the throne of grace and receive help in his time of need (Hebrews 4:16). And the writer of Lamentations found grace every morning to move through his suffering and anguish (Lamentations 3:22-23).

This was the kind of grace I couldn’t seem to access.

Yet, when my mentor succinctly explained that grace was simply receiving something from God that would be sufficient for my need of the moment, it still felt incomprehensible. As much as I wanted to believe her, my upbringing and culture had shaped me to believe that if I wanted to achieve something, it was my responsibility to work hard to make it happen (and if I asked for help, it meant I was being spoilt). Although exhausting to upkeep, this ethos had served me well in school and in the few life experiences I’d encountered. It was all I knew, and grace felt uncomfortably counterintuitive.

Up to that point in my early 20s, my life had been sheltered enough to make the illusion of being self-sufficient tenable. I couldn’t conceive of what it meant to encounter a situation that I could not work myself out of. This was an arrogance that emerged not so much from delusions of grandeur, but from sheer inexperience about what real hardship or need was.

There wasn’t anything I hadn’t yet solved without rallying my brain and willpower, exercising my strong moral code, or relying on my abilities and education to pull through. So how could my pool of resources be insufficient for anything? Perhaps asking for grace was wanting the easy way out and making excuses for my laziness.

Also, I couldn’t imagine relying solely on the Holy Spirit to guide my life. Did He not need my input? Was I really supposed to wait for Him to prompt me if I was going awry? But . . . what if I missed the prompt? Or what if He was silent and I stayed in need?

I wanted all the blessings that came with walking right with God; what if He didn’t deal with my weaknesses quickly enough and delayed my ability to experience the abundant life? No, no, surely it was better if I got a head start on my self-improvement based on my self-assessment. And if He spoke, I’d just add that to the pile of things to work on. After all, how could I be certain that help would really come, if I didn’t know when it would arrive, what it would look like if it did and how exactly it would help?

I didn’t know it then, but my fierce independence stemmed from a deep mistrust that anyone, even God, would be there for me when it counted in a way that mattered. The autocratic parenting style that I grew up under made it hard for me to believe that any figure of authority would care about, much less meet, my emotional needs. Relying on grace and depending on someone else for things that I really wanted felt far too risky.

Caught in this tension between exhaustion from self-effort and disbelief in grace, I settled for what I thought was a good compromise. My initiative and willpower would primarily drive my life, and grace could be a kind of tonic or supplement to give me an edge or an energy boost. Not really necessary—just in case it didn’t show up—but nice to have.

But my 20s turned out to be nothing like the tidy life I had anticipated. The equation (hard work = success) that I thought would be a cover-all hadn’t prepared me for life’s wild, unpredictable variables torching my carefully constructed plans.

My “rich resources” were as good as ashes. Life proved impervious to my attempts to control it. Producing work to the best of my ability didn’t guarantee me the job I wanted. Doing my best to make godly choices didn’t protect me from suffering the consequences of another person’s actions. And choosing God was impossible when my own brokenness kept me in a relationship that I knew wasn’t meant for me.

Chronically mistrusting God and taking full charge of my own life meant that I had managed to drive it into a dead end by the time I was 29.

Fast-forward a near decade from that first conversation about grace, my mentor sat across from me again. This time my heart was well and truly beaten to finally receive the wisdom of her words. God knows what you need better than you do, she said, and He is good and will give it to you.

With nothing to lose, and with no internal resources left, I decided to “give God a go” and began each day saying, “God, please give me the grace to get through this day.” I tossed the words up to God with no back-up plan, no expectations as to what this grace would look like, and no energy to speculate.

And as I hobbled through this year—grieving the loss of the person I’d loved most, losing my job, and going through the inquiry for the sexual assault I’d suffered in church—God has met every single one of my needs with grace that was in no way superfluous or abstract.

At my loneliest points, sometimes within half an hour of crying out to God, close friends would suddenly send a hilarious or engaging text message and I’d have a good conversation with them out of the blue.

God also started to deepen my delight in the time that I spent with Him, journaling and reading Scripture. He gave me innumerable timely words of comfort and hope from His Word that addressed the fears in my heart perfectly.

He pulled out work for me from the most unexpected of places, without even needing me to send out a single résumé. He gave me justice beyond what I had expected out of the inquiry and assembled the best support from my family and friends to help me survive the process. He has even healed my relationship with my parents.

He also attended to the restoring of my character. In the years that I had depended on my willpower to be a morally upright person, I ended up losing the very traits I was working so hard to keep: my sense of security, integrity, self-control, selflessness, and a clear and discerning mind. I’d never known that God had been giving me the grace to be this moral person in the first place.

This character had emerged naturally as I spent my youth seeking Him that I’d made the mistake of assuming it was an immutable part of my own nature. But as I wilfully drew away from God for a few years, what emerged from me was everything pertaining to selfishness instead.

Now, with a daily prayer for grace, I became keenly aware of the firm, quiet voice in my heart that really did prompt me every time I needed a nudge in the right direction. All I needed to do then was just obey. He had been enough all along! And I was humbled—and rather embarrassed—to have thought that I knew better than God about how to grow in Christlikeness.

I’ve turned 30 a few days ago, and it’s been a year since I decided to ask God for His grace. I’ve realised that I couldn’t understand grace—the receiving of something that perfectly meets the need of the hour—because I didn’t know the true goodness of the God from whom grace came. I didn’t know how astute He was about my real needs, how creative He could be in meeting them, and, most importantly, how deeply He loved me to want to give me good things.

If my 20s was about seeing the foolishness of thinking myself the authority on who I am, and realising the limitations of my human nature, it has been, mercifully, redeemed by discovering just how good God is at loving me. Now, with my 30s ahead of me, I’m looking forward to experiencing life from a posture of dependence.

4 Ways Your Pastor Might Be Struggling More Than You Think

Written By Jacob Ng, Singapore

Jacob is husband to Yvonne, dad (and playmate) to Jed and Justus, and a pastor of Redemption Hill Church, Singapore. He still wakes up amazed and grateful that God would consider him worthy of all these roles. He strives to make much of God by enjoying and giving thanks for the daily grace of life in the mundane and ordinary.

When news broke on the suicide of Pastor Andrew Stoecklein from Inland Hills Church, California, a concerned friend sent me a message to appreciate my work and to find out how I was doing. It was a nice gesture triggered by a sense of shock that was shared by many others in the world. How could it be that a pastor who seemed to “have it all together,” was so overwhelmed by the pressures of pastoral ministry and personal struggles that he took his own life?

In our age of celebrity culture, we all have a tendency to make much of people who are talented, well-known, and influential. In the church context, Christians are guilty of it too. We respect leaders who are dedicated and gifted, but this respect often develops into unrealistic ideas about them. The truth is, pastors are broken people—weak and fallible just like any other human.

The gospel of grace they preach is the same gospel of grace they need and depend on daily. No matter how long you have been a Christian, all of us—pastors or not—will never outgrow our need for support from the body of Christ until the day we enter into God’s glory.

You may be surprised, but these are four common ways that your pastor is probably struggling more than you would imagine.

 

1. Pride and self-reliance

If you have ever been put on the pedestal by others before, you know it is not a bad feeling at all! That is, until you are honest enough to realize the person on that pedestal does not exist, but is simply a figment of your imagination.

Many pastors struggle with the expectations of those who look up to them—and strive hard to live up to these expectations. Deep down, they could be driven by a need for approval, or a fear of disappointing others. Unfortunately, it can be hard for pastors to realize that this insecurity is rooted in a form of pride and self-reliance. What started as a sincere desire to serve the church selflessly, can over time become what we rely on to validate our worth. The weight of thinking “it all depends on me” can be utterly crushing.

As church members, it is crucial that we see our pastors simply as those who are called “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.” (Ephesians 4:12-13) While it is not wrong for us to honor and respect pastors, we must be clear that their ministry is not to point us to themselves, but to Christ.

 

2. Marriage and family

The first time someone suggested to my wife that it must be an amazing blessing for her to be married to a pastor, we both laughed. If only they knew how flawed we really are, and how much we struggle with the daily grinds of our marriage like everyone else.

I have had conversations with enough pastors to know that it can be easier to lead a church than to pastor our own families well. I can apply active listening skills well when I am attending to someone in my office, but at the end of the day I struggle to do that properly for my wife. While I am 100 per cent certain in my heart that my wife and children are the dearest to me, my actions have often shown them otherwise. For example, there have been times when I have sacrificed family time for ministry. Even when I am physically present with my family, my mind can be ruminating on a different planet.

Over the past years, I am grateful that my wife has graciously put up with the worst in me that I was not even aware of. We have cried, prayed, confided in others, repented of our sins, and put our faith in Christ again and again as we worked through different difficult issues. We testify to the covenant-keeping love of God that has faithfully held our marriage by grace, and will continue to rely on that.

Instead of assuming that our pastor and his family “have it all together,” perhaps we should take time to offer the pastor encouragements and reminders to prioritize and love his wife well. Perhaps we should take initiative and speak into the lives of the pastor’s children, and point them to Jesus with our words and deeds. Our pastors and their families need our grace, love, support, and practical help as much as any other member in the church.

 

3. Emotional fatigue

Most preachers preach truths better than they apply them, and “cast all your anxiety on him” (1 Peter 5:7) is a classic example. My anxieties and emotional burdens often feel glued to my palm no matter how hard I try to fling them to God.

At age 37, I still feel physically well and strong. What wears me down is not physical tiredness, but the emotional fatigue that comes from pastoring and preaching. My job description does not reflect things that I often find myself doing—such as struggling with words to comfort those who have suffered unthinkable pains, bearing the burdens of those who are struggling with deep brokenness, composing myself to respond with grace to those who are difficult and hurtful (whether intentionally or not), and beating myself up for the many blunders I have made. On a really challenging day, I could feel so burdened by waves of different emotions and thoughts that I have no idea what to do or pray. When I tell people that God chose the weak and the clueless like me to do His work, I really mean it from the bottom of my heart.

Having said all this, please don’t stop coming to us with your burdens! Loving and caring for the flock well is a load that all good pastors gladly bear. However, do remind us to rest well, and be gracious to us when we are unavailable.

Understand that your pastor does not necessarily have all the answers to the many difficult questions in life. Understand also that he will not meet all your expectations. Sometimes, he may take a day or two to reply your email or text. In moments when you see your pastor struggling to keep up, your best gift to him could simply be the benefit of the doubt—that he is really trying his best, and not that he does not care.

 

4. Mental health conditions

According to Singapore’s Institute of Mental Health, about 5.8 per cent of adults in Singapore have suffered from Major Depressive Disorder at some point in life. Churches in Singapore (and around the world) seem under-equipped to understand and help those with serious mental health conditions. I am not suggesting that the church is responsible to provide treatment or cure. However, we do need to have a basic understanding of this important matter in order to be able to recognize symptoms of common conditions and provide guidance on where to seek appropriate professional help.

I know of hyper-spiritual churches that would quickly attribute these symptoms to demonic forces, and super-conservative churches that would distance themselves completely from clinical psychology, psychiatry, and the use of medicine. This gap, combined with my earlier three points, could be the reason some pastors may be suffering silently from mental health struggles, like depression and anxiety disorders, that could go unnoticed by their churches for years. By the time these mental health struggles eventually surface, it is usually because of something major or tragic. I pray that our churches will grow in understanding and applying good gospel theology to these complex matters of life in this broken world.

At our church, we partner with a Christian counseling ministry and regularly invite our leaders and members to attend their online courses. The ministry offers us a great wealth of theologically robust and practical resources to help us meet some of our counseling-related needs. If your church has access to such resources as well, I would encourage you to equip yourself and learn more about how we can best support each other through the different challenges we face in life.

 

Final thoughts

If I sound like I am complaining about church or my job as a pastor, that is the furthest thing from the truth. I love my job as a pastor. I feel privileged that God has called me to the vocation of proclaiming the greatest news ever—the news of a Redeemer who came to rescue me from myself and restore the brokenness of this world. That is really the deepest and most lasting cure to all our struggles.

To love and care for our pastors well, we must not assume we have fully understood how much sin has affected all of us. Sin is not just about our actions or behaviors, it also affects our hearts and deepest affections. It is the grand psychosis that blinds even the most spiritually gifted among us.

Hence, pastors need your grace, prayers, and encouragements. They need to be constantly reminded to find rest and hope in Christ alone. They need to be pointed to the Good News they preach again and again.

All of us are part of the same story, and none of us is the protagonist. The hero is someone else—Jesus. Your pastor may preach that story really well, but he must really “get” it in the depth of his heart.