While speaking to several friends about the year that is passing, most shared that it was rather insignificant or that they did not experience any major events in their lives in 2011. Not so for me. 2011 was the year where I saw that God was intimately involved in my life, especially through episodes of discovery, disappointments and restlessness. If I could, I would gladly avoid those moments of disappointments, but I realise that those are the periods where I clung to God more tightly. On hindsight, I would not exchange these moments of intimacy with God for anything else
I started the year with Revelations 2:2-5 in mind. The passage, recording God’s words to the Ephesian church through the vision of John the Apostle, reads,
I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
Reflecting upon the passage, my honest response was that I don’t think God was ever my first love. Sure, I can tell people that I love God and that’s why I (try to) obey Him, but frankly, I think I have always loved myself the most. It was almost with a tinge of regret that I told God, ‘I’m sorry that I don’t love You the most,’ and then ended my lament with a sigh of resignation. But as the passage continued to dwell in my mind, there was an increasing discomfort that I could be let off with a mere regret. God calls for repentance and warns of the consequence if I’m found wanting. So it’s with this fear that I learnt to pray that I would love God more than I love myself. This prayer scares me to death; who knows what God will do in answer to this prayer? But I know that I can’t run away from His disciplining and pruning, and I must respond to Him in trust and obedience.
Part of life is learning to deal with disappointments, and when the truth that a dream will remain unfulfilled finally sank in, I went through a period of sadness as I felt a part of me falling apart. I grieved for my loss, yet I felt a great sense of comfort as I encountered God through His word, particularly through Psalm 23. Even though this Psalm is a perennial favourite of many Christians, somehow I have never been intimately acquainted with it. But God used the imagery in Psalm 23 to comfort me during that period: even though I walked in a dark, gloomy valley, not able to see what was ahead nor know when I could get out, I knew that God was with me. He was the gentle Shepherd tapping his staff against the stony path underfoot with every step that we took together. I could not see Him but I knew that He was there beside me. It was one of the most bittersweet experiences, knowing his reassuring presence in the midst of sadness and loss.
The circumstances related to this episode also led to an increased interest in understanding the will of God. Even though I was never taught that there’s a specific individual will in Foundation, somehow the question in my mind was always, what is God’s will for me with regard to __________, as if there’s a very specific path that God wants me to take. (Actually, the converse is true, that we were taught that there’s no individual will and we are free to choose in non-Biblically commanded areas. Somehow, that never really registered in my mind. I concluded that I was daydreaming in class.) Hence, I brought upon myself much misery through my passivity and inaction as I waited for God to reveal His specific will to me. With the understanding that God gives us freedom to choose in non-moral situations, there’s a liberating new-found freedom yet an incredible weight of responsibility to choose wisely and exercise discernment. I know that there’s no easy way to grow in wisdom but to saturate myself with the word of God. As I was seeking to know God’s will, I also learnt that it’s not about knowing what to do that matters. During one of those times when I was praying and seeking God’s will for a certain area of my life, God gave a clear impression of an unexpected answer, ‘Seek Me.’ In the end, what really matters above the doing was knowing God and relating with Him.
2011 was also a year where I saw myself wanting to be more involved in serving the community-at-large. As I was contemplating over the time and commitment needed for some of the opportunities that were presented, there was a thought that these could prove to be ‘easier’ than church ministry. But then I realised that I thought these could be easier because they would require me only to do and not to love. In the church, I had to love, even those whom I find different and difficult to relate with. Conversely, for the community work, I could just be administrative and get the job done. Yet, I found that I couldn’t walk away from serving the church, because God had commanded me to love. One thing that God had impressed upon my heart since last year was disciple-making. I don’t need a role to make disciples, but I certainly have to love to do so. And it’s with this understanding that I know I need to remain steadfast in my service to the church.
I surprised myself by turning out to be quite a persevering reader this year, and one of the books that I enjoyed and affected me was Dorothy Rowe’s Why We Lie. It’s a secular book and yet I saw God’s mercy and truth through the words. I picked up the book because, well, I lie, even though I don’t want to, but I felt that I was under the bondage of this sin since young. Although this book’s written by a secular author and contains ideas that undermine faith systems, God used the book to show me that what’s worse than lying to others is lying to myself. This means having to live with a degree of uncertainty and doubts even as I admit to myself my own ignorance and weakness. I realised that I could be true to God, true to myself, and true to others, and not live with the conflict of putting up a false front because He is a God of truth, and hey, God knows everything anyway. There’s a greater desire for authenticity, even if it means not fitting the stereotype of who people think I am or even want me to be.
So it’s with these lessons and experiences that I aspire to love God more, grow in wisdom, and be more real in 2012. And I pray that by the grace of God, I will.