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Letting Go of All the Things I’ve Hoped For

Written By Jiaming Zeng, USA

I finally got a late acceptance to present at one of the top conferences in my field this November. Ever since I’ve heard about this conference, attending it has been on my “life goals” list, a milestone in my PhD career. I was euphoric and exuberantly prepared for the trip. Yet, barely a month later, as I sat on my plane ride home, I felt only exhaustion from the week-long event.

Sure, it was a milestone and definitely a wonderful learning opportunity, but gone was the enthusiasm on my flight there. All I could think of now was the catch-up work from my absence and the grant proposal that was due in a week. If I can get this grant, I told myself, that would be amazing, a true milestone.

Every time I thought I’ve learned my lesson, the cycle resumes. Hope, anxiety, stress, relief, satisfaction, new hope, anxiety, and so on. I’m not sure this qualifies as a vicious cycle; it’s just a cycle, a cycle of life that I desperately wish to break.

In a way, all the things we hope for points to an idol we worship in our hearts. As David Foster Wallace said, “[T]here is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”

The problem is, everything else we worship, other than God, will crush under the weight of our expectations. It is precisely in the moment we’ve finally achieved our dream that we realize that the dream was not enough.

It is not that the dreams are bad. It is that we have put our hopes in the wrong things. Instead of fixing our eyes on the unseen, we have fixated on what is seen. We have disordered our loves, and though the things we yearn for may be good things, they will never truly satisfy us.

This December, I want to challenge myself and everyone reading this article to try another way of thinking. I want to reorder my loves, so that “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). Instead of worshipping my idols by listing goals and resolutions, I want to worship God and thank Him for the gifts He has given me.

 

From Hoping to Receiving

Once upon a December, God gave us the greatest gift of all; He gave His one and only Son so that He can die for us and bring us salvation. Instead of constantly striving for satisfaction through our own power, we should receive the marvelous gifts God has given us.

In those moments, when the lists of January grip my heart, I must remember that I don’t deserve and am not entitled to the success I have or I wish I can have. Instead, as Apostle Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Relax and rejoice. The lists of January have constrained our minds and imagination. We hold onto it like a lifeline, as something we can see, but through our grip on reality, we lose sight of the unseen.

Although the lists seem so real to us, they are but a “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14), a chasing after the wind. And as with mists and winds, the second we think we grasped it, it has slipped from our hands. Therefore, let them go. Instead, we should “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name” (Psalm 100:4).

For me, I want to thank God for the little things in life that we forget to delight in. For the spurts of progress I’ve achieved in my research. For the amazing friendships that I’ve built over the year. For a family who encourages and helps me even when I’m thoroughly aggravating. For the beautiful community of God that He has invited me into. For guiding me to understand His Word and wisdom. For the lessons He has taught me through my failures and mistakes. For the love and faithfulness He has shown me despite my doubts and anxieties.

This December, instead of sullying our year with our never-ending lists, let us enumerate God’s infinite blessings. Let us remember what God has done for us through Jesus Christ and in the everyday trenches of adult life. Through thanksgiving, let us let go of the hopes and fears that drive us to take control of our lives, putting idols instead of God at our center. Let us receive His gifts with a grateful and open heart. For “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

This December, to the idols of our heart, begone.

How to Move Forward in 2018

Written by Jes Nuylan, Philippines

“Look to the future with the past in mind.”

 I came across this phrase last year when I went on vacation in Baguio City, one of the tourist towns in Benguet Province of the Philippines. Benguet is a place of lush trees and green mountains, where you can hear the chirping of birds and the rustle of leaves. It’s the perfect place to do some serious thinking, reminiscing, and soul-searching. So, far from my busy schedule and constant challenges at work, I had time to relax, reflect about my life, and remind myself to be thankful for all the blessings around me that I sometimes fail to see.

During those moments, I found myself thinking, where did the time go? It’s as if time had run on ahead of me and I didn’t notice till it had already gone. And what did I do with that time? Was it spent in a worth-while manner? Reflecting on those questions, I had a few regrets.

I earned a living, but did not spend enough quality time with family. I travelled and explored the world, but did not do much to advance God’s kingdom. I especially regretted the lost opportunities at work. Though I was generally a good example to my colleagues and friends at the work place, I did not take those opportunities to share God’s word.

During that vacation, I also visited the Philippine Military Academy—a training school for the officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Inside, I not only got to glimpse the trainees doing drills, but I was also able to explore the grounds and see vintage tanks, helicopters, other historical military weapons, as well as memorials to the American and Korean wars. These relics reminded me of the sacrifices of the past, but could not actually bring me back to those times.

It’s the same with my own past. I can always look back on it: events that shaped who I am, people dear to my heart who have come and gone in my life, achievements I am proud of, mistakes I regret . . . I might cringe at a bad memory or smile at some small noble deed, but I can never go back to those times. Instead, I need to ask what I can do with the present.

The present is not always easy. Tragedies happen. Relationships fail. Pets die. But I am convinced that as long as we listen to and follow God’s voice and will in our lives, we can always count on what was declared in Romans 8:28: “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

When I look at the financial problems and family difficulties I have to face, I can find it hard to get through the day. But this verse reminds me to follow Christ and serve the Lord, and eventually, He will put all things in order.

 

Looking to the future

After my vacation, the real world threw cold water on me as I returned to the city and my job. I had spent my vacation remembering the past, and I thought that reliving good times and knowing what mistakes to avoid repeating were going to be good enough. But as I returned to the battlefield of life, tons of tasks awaiting me, piles of bills accumulated, and loved ones continued to depend on me.

I realized that there are times for processing the past, but getting stuck there makes us forget what lies ahead. My current goals in life are to provide for my family’s house, as well as prepare for my future family. The time has come to write down my list of New Year’s resolutions, which should help me meet my goals.

Yet whatever my personal plans, it terrifies me that ultimately I am not in control over the uncertainties of the future. This thought always brings me back to my true purpose here on earth: to share God’s love through my life and win souls for Him. This should always be my first priority, above any of my personal plans. As it says in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

In 2018, I will focus my eyes on Jesus, not on my mistakes, trials, or even people around me, but on Jesus alone. I have to admit that in 2017 I did not fully contribute to my purpose here on earth. But instead of complaining about my trials or wishing for a different life, I will instead be thankful for God’s unconditional love, abounding grace, and all the blessings He has bestowed upon me. I will try harder to live out what I am reading in the Bible and learning in my devotions.

More importantly, I will do more to share God’s goodness and bring souls to Him. This year, God has led me to a new company and helped me gain more friends whom I can share His good news with.

With all that has happened this year, be it good or bad, the new year brings another chance. Learning from past mistakes and lost opportunities, I am able to run this race while looking to the future: the life that God has prepared for me in eternity after this life on earth.

 

Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Don’t Give Up On Making Resolutions, Here’s 5 Tips

Making New Year’s resolutions is one of my favorite traditions of the holiday season. “What’s your New Year’s resolution?” is an unavoidable question asked of friends, family, and coworkers alike this time of year.

Interestingly enough, setting New Year’s resolutions is a rather old practice. Ancient Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and even medieval knights used to participate in practices not entirely unlike the ones we have today. In fact, the most recent form of New Year’s resolutions that parallel our modern practices came from the Christian Methodists. John Wesley held watch-night services in which his congregation would pray and make promises to God on the eve or first day of the New Year.

Personally, I love the whole idea of setting resolutions and creating grand, overarching goals that span the course of an entire year. They can be a wonderful way to stretch yourself and grow towards becoming a better you. In the past, I saw resolutions as cheesy. I even thought of them like I think of an old person’s dentures—useful for some people, just not for me. To me, resolutions were goals (often irritating ones) that either left people dissatisfied, unsatisfied, or entirely aggravated with failed performance.

As I got older, though, I began to see the benefit of setting these large-scale objectives. For instance, I have adopted the practice of making lists and have become more organized all because of a resolution a couple of years ago. Ever since, I have been trying to set other beneficial resolutions that could help me in my life’s journey.

But what kinds of resolutions are beneficial? Of course, there are the classic ones that come up every year. Pew Research resolution data revealed that top resolutions were to “spend less money or save more,” “be a better person,” and, to no surprise, “exercise more”, each boasting 12 percent of respondents. Other common resolutions are typically improving career positions, taking certain trips, meeting new people, and becoming more spiritually inclined.

While I’m a big fan of these generic goals, I’ve usually made my resolutions quirky goals dealing with specific undertakings. One year, for instance, I made my resolution based entirely on clichés such as Dr. Seuss’ “The more that you read, the more you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.” That year, I greatly increased my reading amount and was even able to breeze through 10 leisure books in my summer alone.

But whether you like your resolutions common or quirky, here are some points I’ve found to be very helpful in meeting resolutions with success:

 

1. Make Smart Resolutions

One helpful pointer is using the concept of “SMART” goals. This clever acronym suggests goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. When resolutions are “SMART”, there is a greater likelihood that they will be accomplished since the added qualifications help keep one grounded in reality. Take the common resolution to “work out more,” for instance. As is, the resolution is vague and offers no direction. A “SMART” version of it would be to “lift weights for an hour four days a week throughout the year.” This would help one stay focused and ultimately, have a better chance for success.

 

2. Categorize Your Resolutions

Breaking down resolutions into different life categories has also helped me greatly. For instance, since I love the outdoors, I make a separate list of goals featuring places I want to hike, amount of times I’d like to camp, and different backcountry sports I want to try for the upcoming year. This separate list forms my outdoor resolution. I also have one for books I hope to read and articles I hope to write and other miscellaneous goals as well. I’ve found it helpful to simplify my aspirations into bite-sized chunks.

 

3. Write Them Down

Another tool that I’ve found useful is actually writing down resolutions (or typing them). I think there is something special about actually codifying one’s resolutions onto a formal document in a way of proclaiming “this is serious” to yourself and to the world. It adds another level of accountability. Last year, I took this a step further and began writing how I performed next to my resolution for the previous year. It has helped me stay in line throughout the year knowing that I will have to come back at the year’s end to see how I stacked up.

 

4. Get A Resolution Buddy

Grab a close relative or friend and share resolutions with one another along with a promise to hold each other accountable. I’m actually going to be implementing an accountability partner for the first time this year since I think I probably would have been better off with 2017’s resolutions if I had one. Accountability partners force us to produce results and, additionally, force us to focus on the success of someone other than ourselves, which produces humility, which helps us concentrate on the more important things in life.

 

5. Commit Them To The Lord

The final tip for fulfilling a resolution—and it happens to be the most important tip—is to connect to the very roots of this whole tradition. We would be better off bringing our resolutions before God and asking for His strength as we embark on a new journey towards new destinations in a new year. We can promise our friends, our coworkers, even ourselves that we resolve to do these new things. But let us not forget to take a moment and make our promises to God that we will faithfully strive to achieve what He sets before us.

 

Believe Success Is Possible!

Many people think there is no point to making resolutions because, in the end, they are going to fail anyway. I want to encourage you to keep your head up. Even if you’ve failed at resolutions in the past, the beauty of this tradition is that each year brings new chances for success! The past is the past and it does not have to dictate how you will perform in the New Year. Start with a fresh mindset, one that assumes success is around the corner, and you will be more likely to achieve it.

And also, don’t think failure indicates the end of the road. Failure often helps motivate you to discover more effective ways of achieving your goals. Resolutions are not a place to arrive at–they are a continual journey of progress. No one will ever be perfectly fit, perfectly manage money, or do anything else perfectly. Perfection doesn’t exist! It’s about the growth through the process. One year, part of my resolution dealt with punctuality and time management. Did I achieve it perfectly? Nope. And that’s okay because I have become more punctual nonetheless and have continued to strive to become more punctual still. The journey has been beneficial and continues to challenge me today and that has made all the difference.

As this section of life winds down and we approach the next segment, I hope you take time to reflect on the past year and consider all that has happened, both the good and bad, the ups and the downs. I also hope you decide to join in on a millennium-old tradition and form resolutions for the upcoming year.

Whether they are resolutions for fitness, or finances, or friendships, I hope you will see these unique goals as a beneficial means by which we can be challenged to grow in exciting new ways.

2017: The Year My Resolutions Failed Spectacularly

Written By Priscilla G., Singapore

I’ve had years in which I did not meet my new year resolutions, but never a year in which I failed in my resolutions as spectacularly as I did this past year.

This August marked my fifth year working as a journalist with a media company in Singapore. While I had my share of bad days at work, I loved my job. I enjoyed meeting interesting people and telling their stories. I specialized in covering social issues—issues that affect disadvantaged groups—so I felt the job was meaningful. Though my working hours were flexible at best and irregular at worst, God gave me the grace to still be able to spend time with family and church.

At the start of the year, one of my resolutions was to get a promotion and win more awards for my articles. To me, these goals were attainable. I’d won awards before. And I wanted a promotion as an affirmation of my work, not so much for the pay rise.

 

The Shocking News

Long story short, not only was I not promoted, I was told in October that I would be redeployed the following month. I was to be transferred to another department and take on a job that I did not ask for nor want.

The news came as a shock. Many of us had seen the company’s restructuring exercise coming, but I did not expect younger workers like myself (I am in my late 20s) to be affected. I knew of at least three others who were redeployed, and at least four who were retrenched.

The month before I was told of my redeployment, my supervisor had nominated me for an award. And as of 6:30 p.m. that fateful day, I still had not heard about my own redeployment—the human resource department was busy talking to the many employees who were retrenched, so I was informed about it at about 6:40 p.m.

Until that day, I had never cried so much in a day before. I cried when I spoke to my supervisor in the office canteen immediately after being told the bad news. I tried to hold back the tears when I returned to my desk. I cried during a cell group meeting later that day. I cried to God at home, until about 3:00 a.m.

I loved my job. I loved it enough to stay on for five years without a bond, and to stay on while at least seven of my peers quit before I did. But I now had to move to another job within two weeks.

During the prayer that ended at 3:00 a.m, I asked God several questions: What just happened? Why? Was I not a good steward of the gift, of this job You gave me? Did I make my job my god? What did I do wrong? If I did something wrong, why didn’t You give me some sign or warning? Usually the Holy Spirit convicts me when I sin, but this redeployment was a bolt from the blue.

 

God’s Leading and Provision

Amid all those tears, I felt God assure me that the redeployment wasn’t my fault. He reminded me that all the authority figures in my life—my parents at home, my cell leader in church, my supervisor at work—did not sound out any problems when I got busier at work.

He also helped me realize that the career move was something He wanted. I have had several signs from God, since the age of 12, that led me to believe that He wanted me to be a journalist in that company. I had the conviction that I would quit only if the signs leading me out were as clear as or clearer than the signs leading me in. To me, the redeployment was a clear sign to move out, at least for this season in my life.

I also felt assurance of His guidance. Two days after hearing the redeployment news, I listened to a sermon about following God’s signals and road map. One of the first verses mentioned was Psalm 32:8: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Perhaps because the verse is written in the first person, it felt like God was speaking directly to me.

Eventually, within less than a month of being told of my redeployment, I found a new job in the corporate communications team of a social service agency that serves people with disabilities.

Events moved much faster than I expected, but I do not think my career move was a rash decision. I did not just settle for any organization with a job opening; this new job met various criteria I had. For instance, the organization serves people with disabilities, and I had covered news stories on the disability sector, so the job was not totally unfamiliar territory. My salary expectations were met too.

I am also thankful that I could sign the job contract and submit my resignation letter to my previous company before leaving for a mission trip. The security of knowing what lies ahead gave me more peace of mind during the week-long trip.

By the grace of God, I will start my new job in January 2018. I am thankful for the lessons I have learned through this episode of failed resolutions.

 

 1. Turn to God

I have learned that going through disappointment with God is better than going through it without Him.

It was helpful to have advice and words of encouragement from friends, but God’s presence and words were more satisfying. They gave me comfort and healing from the bitterness towards my previous company, so I could let go of the hurt and move on. They gave me direction and wisdom when I needed to know where to move to next. They gave me courage and hope for the future. The nearness of God is a good thing (Psalm 73:28).

It is important to turn to God first to deal with the emotions within, rather than denying them and going to the extreme of being task-oriented. I find it interesting that in Philippians 4:6-7, Paul says that if people present their requests to God in prayer instead of being anxious, “the peace of God . . . will guard” their hearts and minds. He could have used the word “filled”, but “guard” suggests a defence against something. Peace can guard us from making unwise and rash decisions.

 

2. Accept reality and focus on making informed decisions

There were moments when I found myself thinking about the if-only’s and what-if’s, or dwelling on the “why me?” question. But God reminded me of a popular Christian quote: “God grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

So, for the first few days after hearing the redeployment news, I focused on gathering information so I could make informed decisions. I went to find out more about the content marketing job that I was redeployed to, and what my options were if I did not want to accept it. I learned that it would still involve writing, but it was not journalism and would involve writing for a variety of clients, not necessarily the social service sector. I knew early on that this was not what I wanted, so I focused on thinking more about what other jobs I wanted. I narrowed it down to journalism and a corporate communications job in the social service sector. Eventually, it came down to the latter.

 

3. Be thankful for what God has given

Despite what I was going through and even before I found my new job in the social service sector, I could find some reasons to be thankful to God. I realized that many of the dreams I had wanted to achieve as a journalist had been fulfilled, even if I felt my time as a journalist was being cut short. I think Christians are often in the headlines for wrong reasons, so one of my dreams was to feature the good work of the body of Christ.

Over my five years as a journalist, I was able to, by God’s grace, write a story about a church’s unique calendar for needy residents in the community, a story about a pastor with cerebral palsy, and another story that had a brief mention of a Bible verse (Psalm 55:22). I also wrote a personal column which included a quote from Christian author John Piper.

 

When I start my new job next month, it may not be smooth sailing, and I probably will have to get used to many things. But I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness and provision, and I believe that having opened this door of opportunity, He will also empower me in the journey that lies ahead.