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God Isn’t Done With Your Story Yet

Growing up, I lived in great fear of my abusive father. I was neglected, beaten, and abused. His treatment convinced me that I was unwanted—a burden hardly worth being tolerated.

By age 15, this led me to become very embittered and depressed. I felt rejected, and covered up my incredible loneliness and pain with an angry protective mask.

Void of love and acceptance, I often questioned why I was alive, and whether my life even mattered. Somewhere deep inside, there was a part of me that longed to know that there was more to life than the hard, angry world that surrounded me.

As long as these questions about purpose remained unanswered, the emptiness I experienced persisted in a deep way. But when I found the answer to why I existed, there came a change so radical, things haven’t been the same since.

 

The dead, lonely end the world led me to 

As I grasped for purpose, my natural inclination was to turn towards what the world offered. So I sought my identity through sports and girls. I chased fulfillment through alcohol and drugs, and found temporary escape through music. I looked to bottles of vodka for peace, and another high from drugs to give me relief from my pain.

Of course, the relief never lasted long. I kept trying to convince myself that these worldly pursuits would help me, when in fact, they left me feeling more confused about my purpose in life—endlessly caught in a dangerous cycle of addiction that only left me empty.

 

At the end of myself, I finally looked to God

Through years of building up anger and bitterness against God and everyone, I had ignored the efforts of those who tried to share the Good News with me. But I eventually found myself desperate for something—anything—that could help me make sense of my life. And that desperation led me to reconsider the gospel I had distanced myself from. I had tried nearly everything else, and knew how deeply these things had failed to give me meaning. Perhaps it was time to give Christianity a chance.

From a point of despair, I was drawn to the rich promise Jesus makes, of a life of fulfillment and complete satisfaction in Him. I longed to experience that in my own life—to have a taste of the water that wells up to eternal life (John 4:12-14).

Finally, at age 16, I received Christ into my life and began a life-long process of learning how Jesus is the source of life and the answer to my quest for purpose.

 

A new creation in the same circumstances

However, once I accepted Jesus, my circumstances remained the same. Drugs and alcohol still beckoned me. My father was still abusive, and offered nothing resembling love or acceptance. Yet, while my circumstances remained unchanged, things couldn’t have been more different on the inside.

The difference lay in the reality that I no longer felt imprisoned by the situation I was in. Since Jesus had saved me from the confines of sin, He welcomed me as an adopted child, offering the unconditional love and acceptance that I had been so desperate for (1 John 3:1). Through redemption, He gave me hope for a life outside the traps of fear and cycles of addiction.

Though accepting Christ wasn’t a quick fix for all of my problems, it cut to the core of many of the deep struggles I had about identity and purpose. God taught me how to overcome the lures of the things of the world, and instead, to look to His Word to understand that I was made for Him (Colossians 1:16), and His purposes!

How God is still helping me understand my purpose

As I continue my journey as a Christian, God is constantly exposing ways that I rely on things apart from Him to understand my place in this world. Recently, I’ve had to work through the temptation to look to the applause of men for affirmation of the work I do in church. Instead of looking to others, I remind myself that in trying to make sense of who I am, or what I do, I must look to Christ. Because Christ is the reason I am. He is the one who sacrificed His own life—to offer us a way to come back into relationship with the very One who created us.

When we get caught up in the busyness of life, there are a thousand ways to lose sight of this. In order to carefully re-center my thoughts when I find myself straying, I’ve started a practice of pausing and praying. I ask God to silence the loud noise of my surroundings, which only offers loud, false hope. I ask Him to help me listen to His still, small voice that calls me to Him. In these moments, I’m reminded that God is all I have ever needed or longed for. Even if briefly, I can be still and rest in knowing that He is God (Psalm 16:10).

And this helps me remember one of the freedoms we have in Christ—freedom from the pursuit of seeking satisfaction from the things of this earth, from being failed by jobs and relationships, or whatever else we are tempted to define ourselves by. I have found peace in knowing that true eternal satisfaction is found in praising and worshiping God.

It’s my hope that I can encourage others to find hope in the freedom Christ offers—freedom which allows us to turn from self-indulgent pursuits, and to worship God freely with grateful hearts and satisfied souls.

Do You Need Hope for Your Family?

Written By Judah Koh, Singapore

I have been a Christian for 11 years, and was the first in my family to come to Christ. By God’s grace, my mom and sister came to know the Lord a year after me. About a year ago, my brother also came to the Lord thanks to the efforts and prayers of his colleagues. Christ’s redemption of my family has been miraculous.

However, there was still my dad. I grew up fearing my dad because my mom would tell me ugly and nasty things about him. Shouting, yelling, and swearing were common in our home, and at one point, my dad even handed me a butcher knife and challenged me to a fight during one particularly heated argument. To me, he was a bad-tempered man who was distant and possibly violent. Though I eventually outgrew my fear of him, the fear had already wiped out any love that ought to have existed between father and son.

But then, around five years ago, on a day just like any other, I noticed that my father had become old. Not just old, he had become frail. He had become silent (he no longer swore the way he did when I was little). He had become mild. And he had become isolated.

Though we all lived in the same house, no one really bothered connecting with him. He cut a forlorn figure, and I felt like God deposited within me an ache—an ache that began with sympathy, then grew into love and forgiveness, and eventually became a desire for the salvation of his soul.

In our culture, many things are often unspoken. But somehow, my relationship with my father began to take a turn for the better. We almost never quarreled again, but became more cordial in our interactions. As our relationship healed, more and more I wanted to share my faith in God with him.

It proved to be a long journey. At one point, an overseas friend joined us for a visit, and we started talking about our faith. The conversation quickly turned on its heat, and I suddenly realized that we were being too forceful in trying to convince my dad. I had to halt the conversation before it escalated into a full-blown fight. While I desired my father’s salvation, I realized that I could not push things by my own strength (Ephesians 2:8-9).

2018 was my last year receiving red packets as a single at Chinese New Year. My dad and I, together with my fiancée, went for our regular New Year’s visits. My dad, being a proud traditional Chinese man, was eager to share about his son’s wedding—a church wedding, that is.

It was interesting witnessing a non-believer’s explanation and understanding of a church wedding. As the conversation continued, I heard my dad utter words like “Jehovah” and the “10 Commandments.” Turns out, he had been to church in his youth, albeit only during Christmas for the goodies and food. He was never challenged to make a decision, but somehow, God deposited that knowledge in him such that more than half a century later, my dad could remember details from the sharing.

As the first believer in the family, I had felt responsible for bringing the good news to my family. But it was humbling to be reminded that God loved my dad more than I could, and He had plans to reach my dad long before I was even born. God was in charge of my dad’s salvation. My role was to trust and pray and remain faithful (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Not that it was smooth sailing thereafter. Shortly after I was married, my wife and I discussed bringing my dad to her home church. It was a bilingual service, and there were quite a few people close to him in age there. My dad came with less resistance than usual, and things in general were uneventful and calm. This was the first time we had managed to bring him to church, and I was hoping that my dad would show more interest or maybe even become a believer. I was left disappointed that day, but my wife told me to take heart, for God was softening my dad’s heart.

Earlier this year, a large multi-church, cross-denominational evangelistic meeting was held in our city, and my wife and I decided to invite my dad for it. My dad was 71 years old, and the urgency for the gospel to be preached and understood was clear. We asked, and after some to-and-fro, he agreed to come. We heard testimonies aplenty, and a timely message about truth and principles; my dad sat through the entire event, occasionally commenting on the wrong use or mispronunciation of words. But, he listened to what he needed to hear. When the time came for a decision to be made, my wife and I took the opportunity to sandwich him.

He claimed to have understood, and claimed that sooner or later he would believe because his entire family already had. Yet, he expressed some concerns which I felt could be better worked through in his eventual discipleship journey. After all, we all have personal issues that God continues to help us overcome. My dad agreed to take a step forward, and we accompanied him to answer the altar call.

I was so moved and excited, thinking that he had finally believed, only to later find out that in his conversation with the minister he had yet to believe. It felt like a defeat at first, but I came to see it as a victory, in that he was prayed for and was willing to consider finding out more about this “western faith.” The minister passed him a copy of the New Testament, and we knew that salvation was near.

In the following weeks, my dad went to my wife’s home church on his own accord to meet up with my father-in-law, which was another breakthrough. My dad has probably only been to church six or seven times (apart from those Christmas events in his youth), and five times in the past month alone.

I was eager to hear from my father-in-law what had transpired. My father-in-law shared that my dad teared up a few times during the visit, and was moved by what my wife and I had shared about our heart for him to come to faith.

Finally, on June 30, when my wife and I were at a leaders’ retreat at church, we received a video clip from my father-in-law of my dad praying and professing his faith in Jesus Christ.

God works. God loves. God completes.

 

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

No Longer A Slave to Bitterness

Written By Deborah Lee, Singapore

“Don’t you ever dare think of taking Jack away! You need to prove yourself as a mother first.” Those were the harsh words of my mother-in-law, trying to stop me from taking my son home for the weekend.

My husband and I had just bought a new home. Friday after work, I arrived at my in-laws’ to bring my 6-year-old son home to stay for the first weekend after unpacking. My mother-in-law has a strong emotional bond with Jack since she has played a vital role in taking care of him since he was born. She was the voice of the home, and everyone in the family was afraid to defy her. My attempts to reason with her eventually led me to raise my voice, and she slammed the door at me.

I left her home in tears, and without Jack. I had spoken to my husband the day before about fetching our son back to stay for the weekends, but he did not want to do the work of talking to his mom. He left me to speak to her about it, despite knowing her unwillingness and the possibility of a disagreement.

This again led to our quarrel when we were home. Why wouldn’t my husband be responsible and talk to his mom about reasonable expectations? How could he leave me alone to deal with his own mom? Because I lost my cool and raised my voice, I was labeled as the bad daughter-in-law and bad wife, but could anyone understand my feelings?

I went to bed feeling bitter that night, and cried myself to sleep. I felt like I had married someone who refused to shield me, and that I was a daughter-in-law who had the support of no one.

When I woke up to read the Bible the next day, I still felt bitter and angry and could hardly concentrate. Determined not to let my emotions overcome me, I continued reading, and Psalm 73 caught my attention. It is the Psalm of Asaph, and it describes a time when Asaph’s spirit was grieved and embittered—he saw that people who did not follow God had no struggles, while he himself was afflicted.

Like Asaph, I was grieved and embittered at how I was treated in this whole affair. Why could I not bring my son home after such a long wait? Why would my husband not support me?

Asaph’s turning point came in verse 17. He entered the sanctuary of God, and came to understand that the wicked people’s earthly comfort would not last for long unless they repented. In the final verses, Asaph affirms that God is righteous, and that his own suffering would not be in vain. Though his flesh and his heart may fail, God will be his strength and his portion forever.

In reading Psalm 73, I was reminded not to see things only from an earthly perspective. Instead, like Asaph, I should see things from a kingdom perspective—the things that are unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18). When I applied that to my own experiences, I was lifted up.

Earlier, I had felt bitter, upset, and burdened. I had found it hard to communicate with my husband without feeling angry. But as I fixed my eyes on Jesus, I knew I had to respond in faith. God is all-knowing, and He has allowed all these to happen so that I may find a solid anchor in Him and marvel at His light. With God’s truth in mind, I reconciled with my husband by apologizing to him.

However, it was not easy facing my mother-in-law. Her unreasonable words tempted me to be bitter again. I realized that while I cannot control her response towards me, I can control my own response towards her. I can choose to surrender my bitterness and follow Christ. I saw the need to guard my heart with the Word of God—which leads me out of darkness and sets me free from bitterness.

When I was bitter, I felt like a prisoner chained in the darkness of anger. By following Christ and choosing to surrender my bitterness, I felt like a prisoner set free. I was able to walk with Christ unhindered. Though my flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:26). The Bible reminds me that as a servant of God, I must be compassionate, kind, humble, meek and patient to others. I can choose to respond in kindness to my mother-in-law even though her heart might still be hardened, and my efforts to show kindness may not yield any remorse. As I fix my eyes on the unseen, God reminds me not to waver—because He sees our deeds and rewards us (1 Corinthians 15:58).

When I turn my thoughts to God’s truth, bitterness can no longer destroy my faith in Christ. Had I remained bitter, I would have gotten into more quarrels and missed out on the power of God. As I surrendered my bitterness, God took my bitterness and turned it into forgiveness, power and courage to love again. Through it all, God has shown me that His love surpasses all bitterness, and forgiveness is made possible by His strength, especially when the hurt is deep.

The Bible tells us to love our enemies and to pray for them (Matthew 5:44), which I found hard to do until I remembered that my struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the authorities, against the powers of the dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). Knowing that God is sovereign over all events and that He wills all things for our good (Romans 8:28), I prayed to surrender my situation to Him in repentance and committed my thoughts to obey Him. Just like Asaph, I saw the goodness of God only when I turned my eyes to Him. And now I can say as he did that it is good to be near God, I have made the sovereign Lord my refuge (Psalm 73:28).

Rejection Drove Me in the Right Direction

Written By Joanna Tan, Singapore

As the youngest child, I’m often teased and called the little princess of the family. But the truth is that when I was growing up, it was often difficult for me to get my mother’s attention. I felt like my parents favored my siblings, who were both high performers in school and at church. By contrast, I was not as outstanding as them and my parents thought of me as the child who got into trouble more often than not.

Like all children, I desired to be loved, so my parents’ neglect really hurt me. I fought hard for my mother’s affections by trying to keep up with my siblings’ in school, and by doing all I could to become the “sensible child.” I made cards and gifts for my mother during special occasions and studied hard to get good grades in my studies. Yet no matter how hard I tried, my mother continued to compare me with my siblings, often telling me how I fell short. And even though I did well in school, my mother attempted to dissuade me from attending university simply because I did not match up to my siblings. No matter how hard I tried, it just wasn’t enough.

I was crushed by the futility of my efforts. But these years of trying and failing to earn my parent’s affections helped me learn to seek refuge in God. In moments of rejection, I would pour out my sadness and loneliness to God, and He was there to comfort me in my hurts. Our heavenly Father made His great love clear to me whenever I drew near to Him.

 

Rejected by Man, Loved by God

A few years ago, I came across the story of Leah. Leah was not the one that her husband desired, and time and again, she hoped to gain her husband’s affections by bearing sons for him. Each time, she was disappointed by the futility of her actions:

When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon. Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi. She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah. (Genesis 29:31-35)

 Through the names that Leah chose for her first three sons, she clearly expressed her desire to be loved by her husband. But when she gave birth to her fourth son, she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Instead of placing her hopes in gaining Jacob’s affections, Leah chose to surrender to God. She rested in God’s gift of a son, praising God for what He had done for her.

Like me, Leah tried hard and failed to earn another person’s affections. Through that process, she discovered the unconditional love of God—one that she did nothing to earn. This deeply comforted me, reminding me that in spite of how I was treated by my family, God always loves me. There is nothing I need to do to earn His love—I already have it!

Many years of disappointment and pain as a forgotten child drew me to our heavenly Father’s unceasing love—a love which was present even before the world (and I!) began. Unlike the love of man, God’s love is unconditional and unchanging—He loves me in spite of my flaws and failures.

Even at our worst, at those times when we can’t even love ourselves, God loves us fully. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Through Jesus Christ who has died for our sins, God has given us the privilege to be adopted as His children, and we can call him “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 3:23-4:7). Finding my identity in Christ has liberated me, because I know that He loves us regardless of who we are and what we have done.

 

Let Your Circumstances Drive You Towards Christ

There are indeed moments when I wish my circumstances could be different—that I could have a perfect family and perfect parents. But as I look back, I realize that my circumstances have helped me experience the depth of God’s lavish love for me. Because I did not receive the love and affection I desired growing up, I turned desperately to God’s love. It was only through the painful struggles for affection and an identity that I have found the greatest treasure in our Father’s love through Jesus Christ.

As I have grown up, I came to better understand my mother and have developed a closer relationship with her. I now love my parents not because I am trying to gain their favor, but because God loves me, and my security is in Him. In fact, because of my experiences, I have been able to encourage my sister in her struggles, reassuring her of God’s unconditional love for us!

Our heavenly Father does not give us all perfect families, jobs, health, and relationships—as can be seen in the experiences of many characters in the Bible. Yet many of these characters, as well as many Christians today, continue to love Jesus faithfully despite their imperfect circumstances, and choose to give up their all to follow Jesus. Sometimes it is through difficult and painful situations that we appreciate more deeply what Jesus has done for us, which prompts us to give all that we have unto Him.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)