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Where Our Love Story Went Wrong

Photo taken by Asher Ong Photography

“What do you find the greatest joy in?”

I paused, thinking about what puts a smile on my face, what keeps me going every day, and what gives me the most happiness.

“I suppose I find the greatest joy . . . in you,” I said softly.

“Me too.”

***

This is the part of the love story where we smile at each other shyly, clasp our hands together, and wrap our arms around each other in love—blissful, romantic, head-in-the-clouds love.

This is the part of the story where it dawns upon us that we are living out The Love Story told and played out in every fable, song, book, and movie, sold to us with every sentence written and lyric sung and scene painted, over and over again until we’ve unknowingly bought into it a hundredfold over.

But this is also the part of our love story where it all goes wrong. Because the real Love Story is not meant to be this way, and the one we’re living out now is not meant to last.

***

I’ve been in a relationship with my fiancé, David, for two years now. And with every passing day, I fall a little deeper in love with him.

Yet there is always a danger of loving him so much that I come to love him more than my first and greatest Love: God. It is a very frightening thing to find myself crossing that line: when I choose to spend evenings out with him over a time of solitude with God, when my heart finds more pleasure in him than the Lord, when I am devoted to his needs and wants but not to knowing and obeying Him.

 

But why is it such a bad thing? What’s wrong with loving my future husband more than God?

It‘s dangerous. It lures me away from worshipping God to idolizing a mere man, full of foibles and flaws (Romans 1:25). Sometimes I find myself so in love with him that I forget that he is, after all, only human. And though he tries his best to love me rightly, he sometimes fails—and so do I. And that’s when we find ourselves disappointed, hurt, and upset with one another.

It’s sinful. It goes against God’s first commandment to us: that we do not have any other gods before God (Exodus 20:3). A god isn’t just a little wooden carving or altar in my house that I worship, but it’s what I elevate to the throne of my life, it’s whom I love, adore, and value more than anything and anyone else in this world.

And it’s grievous. It saddens God when I wander away from Him and into the arms of another lover—a good gift God Himself has given to me—but which I have twisted and abused in my selfishness. Being unfaithful to Him also hurts me in ways I can’t quite understand on an intellectual level, but which I experience on a deeper, instinctual level, when my spirit mourns along with the Holy Spirit.

Time and time again, I’ve been shown how loving him more than Him has consequences. But these consequences are meant to lead me to repentance and to discipline me for my own good (Hebrews 12:5-11). As my friend rightly puts it: “God isn’t going to give you someone just to watch them take the place that only He can.”

Loving my fiancé more than my Father has more often than not led to a mess of tangled hurts and alienating distance. Because when I elevate him to the status of my god, one whom I believe can meet all my needs and wants, to love and understand me unconditionally, and to be unwaveringly present with me in all circumstances—be it physical or emotional—I find that he falls short. It shouldn’t be a surprise, yet I can’t help but feel crestfallen, cheated almost. Because I believed a lie that I had told to myself.

 

Photo taken by Asher Ong Photography

 

How do we love our partner then, without idolizing him or her?

It was a bittersweet moment when the both of us confessed to one another that we found the greatest joy in each other’s arms. Bitter because we knew that our love could so easily stray into sinful and grievous idolatry if we were not careful; yet sweet, because we have found the one whom our soul loves and with whom we will join together in union  (Song of Songs 3:4, Genesis 2:1-24).

It was a bittersweet reminder that this kind of romantic love, as with every other love, is but a shadow of the greatest Love that has and will ever be: one that was embodied on the cross through the Son of God, who took on our sins and died in our place.

I’m learning that the only way for me to love David rightly, and for David to love me rightly, is for us to love God rightly (1 John 4:19). It means asking ourselves who God is to us; and if He is our God, then living a life of total worship to Him in response.

It means acknowledging Him as the King of our hearts, by prioritizing the growth of our relationship with our first Love, both individually and as a couple. Not just when we’re in church listening to sermons, or spending time with our families, but in every other private and intimate moment when we’re alone together too.

And just as how a Christ-centered relationship is based on the building blocks of commitment, interdependence and intimacy, so, too, our relationship with Christ should be based on commitment to Him, dependence on Him, and intimacy with Him. This means intentionally choosing to love God above each other, leaning upon Christ alone as our cornerstone, and drawing near to Him daily, in the everyday choices we make.

Since we came to the realization that we needed to put God first above each other, we’ve been including a portion of time to pray, give thanks, and meditate on His Word together when we meet on dates. We‘re also continuously cultivating the habit of praying for each other daily, asking for each other’s prayer requests, and encouraging each other with His Word.

At the end of the day, our love story is all about experiencing what the psalmist experienced when he wrote: “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you,” and that “in Your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:2, 11). It means prizing Him as my greatest treasure, and therefore enjoying Him as my greatest pleasure (Matthew 6:21). This is how we can, and are, making our love story right by His grace: by finding our greatest joy in Him alone, together.

 

Tired of Bad News? You’re Not Alone

“Where is the evidence of your love?”

His words pierced my heart.

“Where is your love for the broken, for those who face injustice?”

I felt offended and hurt by my friend’s quick and harsh reproach, and wanted to remonstrate in my self-righteousness. But my breath caught in my throat, because deep down, a part of me knew that he was right. Where was the evidence of the love of God I proclaimed to identify with and embody?

To be sure, I love those around me who are easy to love, like my family, friends, and fellow believers, and I make effort to pray for and reach out to those around me who are going through difficult times.

But how about those whom I have no particular reason to love—like strangers living halfway across the world?

The conversation with my close friend forced me to examine my life with a clear and sober eye, and to ask myself, “What have I been doing?” More specifically, what have I been doing, in the face of crises around the world—the suffering, persecution, and injustice faced by hundreds of thousands of millions of people?

Nothing. Not only was I not doing anything, I didn’t want to know anything.

As a journalist constantly tuned in to the goings-on in my home country Singapore, I’d become desensitized to bad news. I felt drained of any emotional or spiritual capacity to care about all the daily happenings on our island, let alone the sheer magnitude of catastrophes around the world. I was indifferent and helpless to what was beyond my control.

When my father told me about a church bombing in Surabaya, Indonesia, which killed 15 churchgoers on 13 May, I felt a pang of shock and sadness. Yet my prayer for those devastated by the attack went unfinished in my head, as my attention turned to something else more immediate.

And when I visited Perth, Australia, for a holiday at the same time US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shook hands in Singapore on 13 June, not once did I glance at a screen to find out how the summit went—even though this could potentially be a monumental first step for millions of North Koreans living in both spiritual and material poverty. Even the miraculous Thai cave rescue in July came across as a mere feel-good read, as I barely batted an eyelid throughout the dramatic search and rescue operations spread out across those few days.

With enough happening on our own shores, the refugee crises and political corruption, the terrorist attacks and bombings, the nuclear threats and natural disasters, fellow Christians being persecuted and afflicted for their faith, the inexhaustible list of small-scale injustices to migrants, single mothers, orphans, the poor, the environment—everything just became just too much for me.

I had slowly and subconsciously retreated into my oyster, hardening my heart to the hurts of this world. After all, I justified, there’s only so much I could feel and do with my limited time and resources—especially when world crises are so conveniently distilled into distant images and headlines on a screen as I sit safely ensconced in comfort.

Yet that isn’t the kind of attitude Jesus had, neither is it the kind of disposition we are to have as His followers and as recipients of His salvation. Instead, he wants us to serve the “least important” who are often overlooked by society: by meeting their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, such as by feeding and clothing the poor, and by caring for and lending a listening ear to the marginalized and forgotten (Matthew 25:34-40).

Even though God clearly calls us to love and serve others—and I’m reminded of this time and time again through His Word—I often have difficulty obeying. Yet James warns us of the danger of being mere listeners who forget His Word, thereby deceiving ourselves; and whose faith, when not embodied in deeds and acts of service, is actually dead. And this frightens me: that my self-imposed ignorance and uncaring disposition is a sign of my self-deception and dead faith.

***

As I was listening to Hillsong’s “What a Beautiful Name” on YouTube, a comment caught my eye. A man had commented, asking for us to pray for Christians in Egypt.

“We are going through difficult times, yet it is times of blessing. Pray for the weak of souls; pray for those who lost a son, father, mother or wife just because they are Christians,” he wrote.

“How lucky we are to taste some of the Christ’s sufferings for our sake. The Lord bless you all.”

I was chastened—but this time, it was by a man living halfway across the globe—a nameless, faceless man undergoing persecution for his faith, yet who was declaring the beauty of the name of Jesus, and standing firm in prayer and praise unto Him, who alone knows every name and face of His chosen ones.

His testimony stirred something within me, and spoke to me of what it really meant to be a part of the body of Christ, as His united people and church, commanded by our Lord and Savior to love and serve others with both our hearts and hands. And this prompted me to reflect on how we ought to respond when faced with crises in the world.

 

Acknowledge

The simplest yet often most overlooked action is to acknowledge that God is powerful, omniscient, and unlimited by all human constraints and constructs. God doesn’t call us to lay the weight of the world on our shoulders, He calls us to acknowledge and surrender it to Him.

That’s what all the holy men and women of God—the kings and prophets, the weak and afflicted—did in the Bible, and what His people throughout the generations have been doing: acknowledging the sovereignty and power of God, and surrendering our helplessness to Him. Doing so reminds us that though the multitude of world crises we face seems unsolvable and unending, they are under His control, within His will, and ultimately for His purposes.

 

Pray

Ask God to break your heart for what breaks His, so that you would care for what He cares about: the oppressed, the unwanted, the vulnerable (Isaiah 1:17). This commandment to care about crises is essentially distilled in the royal law that we love one another, be it those within His church or outside of it (James 2:8).

For this reason, we ought to pray that God would shape our hearts to love as He loves, and to save those in need and  deliver them from harm. Not only that, we are also to pray for His leaders and shepherds who oversee and care for His flock, and for the persecutors themselves. After all, if we trust that God hears and answers us when we pray for our own needs, would He not also take heed of our prayers for others?

As John Calvin once said:

Our prayer must not be self-centered. It must arise not only because we feel our own need as a burden we must lay upon God, but also because we are so bound up in love for our fellow men that we feel their need as acutely as our own. To make intercession for men is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them.

One simple way to start is by praying for a headline crisis that appears on your newsfeed or newspaper. International Christian Concern also publishes articles about the various happenings and needs of fellow brothers and sisters across the world.

 

Do

Support those who are actively involved in the work of solving these crises and helping the needy, whether through prayers and supplications, raising awareness of such issues, helping with funding and donations, or volunteering in a suitable capacity. As Paul wrote in Galatians 6:10, we are to do good to everyone as we have the opportunity to do so, especially our fellow brethren. And this means acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with the Lord (Micah 6:8).

I’m still learning to do just that—starting with aligning my will with the Lord’s, by praying for those beyond my immediate social circle, attending my church’s monthly prayer gathering, and committing to the Lord people and situations beyond my control.

 

As we learn to acknowledge our limitations and God’s omnipotence, as we make the intentional choice to pray for His will, healing, and salvation over this world, and as we do what we can with what we have, I pray that God would open our eyes to see how He is without rival or equal in this world, and that we would fall in worship before Him, in spirit, truth and deed.

When I Traded God for My Boyfriend

It didn’t happen immediately, but so gradually and subtly that we were completely oblivious to it. We became so blinded in our love for each other that we didn’t see it coming.

It didn’t start out this way, of course. Even before we started dating, we intentionally sought the Lord’s will on whether we were right for each other. We prayed earnestly as we grew closer, as friends first and then later, tentatively, as partners. We encouraged one another with God’s Word, and prayed together regularly.

But over time, things changed. We became more emotionally intimate as we shared our innermost thoughts and secrets, our hopes and dreams, our fears and memories. We began meeting more often, and for longer stretches—from a weekly Sunday afternoon to the entire Sunday. The importance of the day slowly shifted away from Sabbath rest in our Savior, to outings and meals with our significant other.

And we started trying to find every possible opportunity to spend more time together, such as by staying out later and later on Sundays—which was the only time we could meet for a full day due to my irregular work hours. We couldn’t bear to be apart from each other; and when we separated, we’d long for the time in which we could next see the other.

This led us to spend more time with each other, and less time with the Lord and other loved ones. Our once-quiet evenings spent in prayer, worship, and reading God’s Word, were replaced by nights talking with, texting, or video calling each other. Dates together even began to take precedence over meet-ups with friends and meals with family. Slowly and almost imperceptibly, our love for each other had started to eclipse that for the Lord and those around us.

The most frightening part of it all was that we weren’t even aware of it happening. We were doing all the “right” things: we prayed together, sent each other Bible verses and prayer requests, attended church service together, and even had an older accountability couple to mentor us. Yet our hearts were not right with the Lord.

We really didn’t think we were spending all that much time together—after all, there were couples who met each other daily. Yet it wasn’t so much the amount of time we spent with each other, but the level of priority we had begun placing on each other.

While we often spoke of putting God first, our affections and actions showed otherwise. We no longer loved the Lord with all our heart and all our soul and all our might (Deuteronomy 6:4-15). We started to stray away from Him, instead choosing to turn to one another for love, joy and comfort. We began placing ourselves in precarious situations that presented overwhelming temptations to sin.

Though we had intended for God to be the centerpiece and cornerstone of our relationship, our actions pushed Him to the very corner. We had fallen deeper and deeper in love with each other, leaving God out of the picture. Our hearts were so deceitful—we were barely aware of how we slowly but surely drifted away from the Lord and towards idolatry, innocently clothed in relational love.

Yet God isn’t a footnote in our love story. He’s the Author and the Perfecter of our friendship, courtship and ultimately, if He wills, marriage. Through a series of incidents, God revealed how we had strayed away from Him.

This included one particularly painful episode, after which my boyfriend and I spent a month apart to repent and reflect before God, under the guidance and counsel of our accountability couple.

Even though it was painful to be separated, our time apart forced us to remember who we were before there was a “we”. It gave us a breathing space to hear God’s voice again—to remember that our first and foremost identity was not merely a girlfriend or boyfriend, but a redeemed child of our Heavenly Father, saved by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

As I sought the Lord, I realized I had come to love God’s gift more than the Giver Himself. I learned to ask myself:

  • Who do I yearn to spend time with?
  • Where do my thoughts wander to when I have nothing to do?
  • To whom do I turn to for love, satisfaction and pleasure?
  • And if the Lord were to take my boyfriend away one day, how would I respond to Him?

In short, I was confronted with the question: If all of life is meant to worship God, who was I worshipping in my relationship: God or my partner?

God showed me that I had traded Him for him, and that I was seeking and deriving love, joy and fulfilment from my boyfriend. I quickly learned that these are gifts only our Maker can give in all His fullness, and which no man can give in all his limitations.

When my boyfriend failed to live up to my expectations, I saw how I had placed him on a pedestal above the King of kings. When he inadvertently hurt me, I realized how much hope I had placed in him, rather than in the Shepherd of my soul. And when we came apart—physically, emotionally and spiritually—I realized how much I had come to adore and even worship him, instead of the one and only true God.

After the month was up, my boyfriend and I came together to reconcile and pray with one another. Since then, God has been teaching us, through every victory and struggle, to turn our gaze on Him. We’re still learning how to love God first before each other, and to gently point one another back to the Lord when tempted to idolatry.

Although our story is far from over, I know that our Author is writing every word, every letter lined with grace upon grace. And this gives me a peace and assurance that He is ever-present even—and especially–in the midst of our struggles and sinfulness. More importantly, God has promised us that just as He has saved us, He too will sanctify us completely in His faithfulness (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

What Do You Desire?

Day 21 | Today’s passage: James 4:1-3 | Historical context of James

1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Fights, quarrels, murder. James uses some pretty strong language in this passage. “Well, this definitely doesn’t apply to me. I mean, I’m not the argumentative sort and I don’t pick a fight for no reason,” you might think to yourself—or at least, that’s what I thought. After all, James was addressing his letter to the 12 tribes of Jews scattered among the Gentiles. Not us, right?

Yet James essentially warns us that all conflicts and arguments are rooted in our self-centered desires to satisfy our personal lusts—be it for power, pleasure, or prosperity. This means that all of us who live in this world will inevitably struggle with lusting after the passions and pleasures it has to offer (1 John 2:16; Titus 3:3). When we do not have or cannot get what we want, we fight and quarrel with each other—sometimes to the extent of murder. It’s a tale as old as time, from Cain to modern-day murderers. Let’s face it: we live in a world that prizes and pursues the gratification of our personal lusts at whatever cost.

Before we conclude that we’re not as bad as Cain or a mass murderer, reflect on the last argument you had—be it with your parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker. What was the root cause of the conflict? Was it your pride getting in the way of admitting your wrongdoing? Your selfishness in not wanting to lend a helping hand at the cost of inconveniencing yourself? Your anger causing you to explode in argument? Your envy that motivated your gossiping behind the backs of fellow classmates or colleagues? If we take a moment to reflect, we would realize that much of it has got to do with our self-centred inclinations to get our way and protect our personal interests (even if it’s at the cost of someone else).

Ultimately, James says, we don’t have or can’t get what we want either because we don’t ask from God, or because we ask with wrong motives.

God gives good gifts and gives them generously whenever we earnestly seek His wisdom or will in what we do (1:5; 17). This is why James calls us to question our intentions behind our prayer requests: are they primarily aimed at fulfilling our own personal wants, or God’s sovereign will? Do we ask God to give us good grades, success in our work, or certain blessings to glorify Him, or to gratify our self-centered passions and pleasures?

The solution is to ask God to align our desires with His, so that they are according to His will. When our desires are not hinged on satisfying our flesh, but rather on pleasing and honoring Him, He promises that what we ask for will be given to us (Matthew 7:7-8). And this will not result in fights, quarrels, or murder—but in wisdom, peace, and a harvest of righteousness (3:16-18).

—Wendy Wong, Singapore

Questions for reflection

1. What advice have you recently heard from the world about pursuing what you wish for?

2. What truth encourages or challenges you to seek God boldly in your prayers?

Hand-lettering by Rachel Tu


Wendy is an aspiring writer, a TV journalist, and a disciple of Christ. She hopes that God will use what He’s given her to bless and glorify Him through her words and work. Her perfect day includes spending quality time with the Lord, curling up with a good novel, and marveling over His creation on a hike or bike ride.

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