When Reality Doesn’t Match Up With Your Dreams

Written By Sean Tong, England


Through the tiny slit of the curtain, the baying fans coalesced into one voice commanding that we come back on stage. It was a frenzy. The floor began to thump with the incessant pounding of feet declaring their need for more. I held back a few moments to bask in my success. Then I calmly walked on stage, grabbed my Fender Mustang guitar, and enjoyed the overflowing joy of the crowd as I struck the first staccato chords of the encore.

I wish.

Since I first caught the primal energy of the band Nirvana, I had wanted, nay, longed to be on a stage with a guitar whipping a crowd into a stage-diving, beer-flinging, arm-waving sea of joy.

Instead, I find myself in a normal nine-to-five job. In a normal town. In a normal life. Is there any purpose to this? What is life for if I can’t spend my days rocking it out at the world’s greatest rock festivals? This wasn’t the life I had hoped for. But the need for a stable job, lack of a drummer (why are drummers so hard to find?), and a growing desire to stay in my local church precluded that from ever happening.

Perhaps you feel a sense of unfulfillment too. Life may not be all that you were expecting. That dream career with a big fat salary and excellent pension fund never materialized. That exceptionally beautiful/handsome spouse never showed up. You are just waiting for life to. . . happen.

So, what is the point? What are we to do?

One of the Pharisees once asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. Jesus’ reply?

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)

We are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind. And also we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is our purpose. That is what we are to do. These two things do not sound particularly appealing or exciting, but they are better, more beautiful, and longer lasting than any life as a rock star, award-winning actor, or sports personality. Indeed, James Bond author Ian Fleming was once asked what it was like to be successful. “Ashes, dear boy, ashes,” came his despondent reply.

It’s been a journey in learning to lay down my dreams and obey God’s commands, but God has worked wonderfully in my life so that I am currently content. He has given me a wonderful (though at times frustrating and annoying) church family to love and enjoy. I am fulfilled despite the lack of loving adoration from a rock concert crowd. Spending time with others in my church is where I get my contentment—from serving them as I serve Him. Getting to share the joys and disappointments of everyday life with my church family is what I enjoy and long for now.

Loving our neighbor doesn’t have to show itself in extraordinary ways. This purpose in our lives doesn’t have to (though it definitely might) involve something dramatic and outlandish. We don’t have to be a famous preacher with book sales through the roof. We don’t have to start organizations that will feed half the world’s poor. We don’t have to be the best at everything at church.

So, what does this love look like?

It looks like a humble life that seeks to serve God and others. This will likely be in a variety of ways, but it can be as simple as helping others at church. Offering lifts to the elderly, sharing your home with others, reading the Bible and praying with others, cooking meals for those who are ill, or just sitting down with someone over a cup of tea.

We don’t have to despair with our lot—we do have a purpose. And even work hours (that nine-to-five spent not performing rock songs) provides opportunities for me to obey this command. The joy in helping others in their work and sharing life with them is truly more meaningful than any response from a killer distorted power chord.


It’s Time to Submit to God

Photo taken by Blake Wisz

Day 23 | Today’s passage: James 4:7-10 | Historical context of James

7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

I remember scribbling on my Bible as a kid. I would highlight verses and commandments that I liked, those that I thought were softer on the ears and easier to obey. My Bible ended up pretty clean, since there were many hard truths that I struggled to accept and live out and hence, chose to ignore.

After all, why should I love my neighbour like how I love myself (Mark 12:31) when I could just focus on loving myself? Why should I be the first to keep showing forgiveness (Matthew 18:22) to those around me when they were the ones who were mean to me? Why should I live peaceably (Romans 12:18) when I could stand up for myself and pick a fight with whomever got in my way?

It was a tough struggle.

Let’s face it, submission to God—be it to His Word or His Person—is easier said than done. It takes a great deal out of us to put aside our pride and the rights we think we deserve, and to humble ourselves in obedience before God. Recognizing His sovereignty and trusting in the never-failing character of God can be scary, especially when it dawns on you that doing so means giving up control over the situation you’re in. The world and our flesh constantly tempt us with lies, telling us that there is more joy and pleasure when we retain control and make decisions that pander to our own selfish desires and pride.

However, James exhorts us to submit to God in humility (v. 7). I’m thankful that James doesn’t just leave us with a command without much explanation on how to obey it. Instead, he provides us with a step-by-step process, and sums it up with the same theme of humble submission in verse 10.

Earlier on, James highlighted the consequences of our friendship with the world (4:4) Now, he reminds us that submission, which is shown through obedience to God, is intentional. It requires a complete change in heart—a resolution to love God instead of the world. It challenges us to put aside what we want, and to consider and act on what God wants instead.

We are told to take a two-pronged approach in submission—to “resist the devil” (v. 7b), and to “come near to God” (v. 8a). Resisting suggests a deliberate, persistent and active rejection. It’s almost like engaging in military combat against the devil, enduring his taunts and lies, and ultimately rising above the temptation.

Turning away from the devil, we run in the opposite direction towards God. This could be done through prayer and reading His word. Coming close to God requires us to wash our hands and purify our hearts (v. 8b). And we are to do so with a clear focus and a firm resolve—that we are no longer allowing our hearts to waver and return to our prior state of sinfulness.

These actions symbolize both an inward and outward effort we make to be right with God. It is an instruction to clean up our inner being (thoughts) as well as our external being (deeds). In fact, our sinful selves are so dirty and detestable before God that we are told to “grieve, mourn and wail” (v. 9). Hence, choosing to turn to God in confession and repentance is precious, because that’s when sanctification occurs.

Doing all the above might sound difficult and tiring, but James goes on to assure us of the reward we will receive. When we approach God with clean hands and a cleansed heart, we don’t just receive praises or compliments. Instead, we receive the greatest gift of all—God Himself—when He draws near to us (v. 8).

Personally, keeping my eyes on this magnificent reward motivates me to come to God daily in obedience and repentance as I make the choice to submit to Him in my life.

May it do the same for you as well.

—Constance Goh, Singapore

Questions for reflection

1. Is there a particular sin/habit that you struggle to abandon in submission to God?

2. What practical steps can you take to draw near to God?

Hand-lettering by Rachel Tu

Constance is an avid reader and a Milo addict. If she is not found with a book, she is probably watching Korean dramas or jamming on her guitar to some Coldplay tunes. She enjoys the company of children and hopes to work among them in the future. As someone who believes that hardship on this earth is nothing compared to the future glory in heaven, she takes pride in being able to work hard for God.

Read 30-day James Devotional

A Quick Summary Of James 1:16-27

How has your reading of James been this week? What have you learned? Here’s a quick reminder of this week’s key truths.

(Once again, do note that no devotions will be sent over the weekend.)

Is Knowing the Same As Doing?

Day 8 | Today’s passage: James 1:22-25 | Historical context of James

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

We often say (or hear) that we want to know God’s will for our lives.
But how often do we think about doing God’s will? Is knowing the same as doing?
We’d be deceiving ourselves if we thought so. There’s a bridge that needs to be crossed between these two points and it’s called: obedience.

God’s will is not hidden from us. His perfect law is revealed in the Scriptures that millions of people own today and can access from around the globe. He speaks to us and urges us to heed this law. But how often do we walk away from it, satisfied with the new insights we’ve gleaned from our study of the Bible, but fail to make any tangible changes to our lives?

I was once in a serious, long-term relationship with a guy whose faith stood at odds with mine. There was a chasm between our views of God, which I dismissed as inconsequential. Over the years, however, God sent numerous people to confront me about it. I also personally received His Word from 2 Corinthians 6:14 on several occasions; it says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”

Though it was clear from His Word that this relationship was putting my relationship with Jesus at risk, I didn’t want to listen. I questioned God’s wisdom and refused to obey.

My response then was like that of the man James described in verse 23: he looked at himself in the mirror and saw all his imperfections, but walked away without making a single effort to change anything about himself.

In the end, I suffered the consequences of insisting on doing what I wanted. I couldn’t pray, read the bible, go to church, or even talk about God to him. There was also a constant tug-of-war when it came to deciding where to go for spiritual needs. We ended up fighting often about God and even my call to the mission field. While I eventually ended that relationship, I carry the scars that resulted out of it.

The Word of God acts like a mirror to our true selves. It reflects what we look like from the inside. It reveals to us the true condition of our hearts, and tells us what we need to do to realign it to God’s heart. It doesn’t matter how much we’ve heard or understood; what matters is that we obey what we’ve heard.

The second person James describes in verse 25 not only listens to and understands God’s word, but also lives it out. This person sees his spiritual imperfections in the light of God’s word, and as a result, takes actual practical steps to obey God’s word. He keeps listening and doing continuously. And in doing so, he is blessed.

James says that we are to be doers of the word and not hearers only.
Let us examine our own lives and act on the truths that we hear (vv. 22-25).

—Kezia Lewis, Philippines

Questions for reflection

1. What is God’s Word telling you to do? Are you doing it?

2. What holds you back or hinders you from doing what God’s Word says?

Hand-lettering by Sonya Lao

Kezia resides with her husband, Jason, in Krabi, Thailand where she serves alongside him in the ministry under Sowers International and teaches English at a local Thai school. She and her sister were named by her mom (who has not read the Bible before that) after two of Job’s new daughters (Job 42:14). She sees that as God telling her she is “His daughter.” She loves to call God as Father for He is that to her. She feels particularly calm when it rains and loves to be near any body of water.

Read 30-day James Devotional