I’ve Decided Not To Pray…

“Let me pray about that.”

How often do you find yourself saying that? Or hearing others say that? This line usually follows a request that you do something, or comes with regards to a decision you have to make.

Prayer is important. I’ve always been told to pray about everything. And rightly so. The Bible says to “pray unceasingly” (1 Thess 5:17). But something I read in a book recently made me think about the kind of prayers I pray.

The author talks about King Saul and his battles against the Philistines as chronicled in the book of 1 Samuel. In Chapter 7, the house of Israel was given a promise that if they return to the LORD with all their hearts, rid themselves of foreign gods and commit themselves to the Lord and serve Him only, God would deliver them out of the hand of the Philistines (7:3). Fast-forward a bit, and we see that King Saul has under his command a army of men who are willing to put their trust in God and go to war against the Philistines. One day, the Philistine assembled for battle, and Saul’s army was terrified. Saul was to wait for Samuel to offer the burnt offerings to the Lord, so that He would grant them His favour, but the appointed time for Samuel to arrive came and went, and some of Saul’s troops left out of fear. As Saul watched his numbers dwindle, his confidence also weakened. He decided that he would offer the burnt offerings himself, and just as he had finished, Samuel appeared and reprimanded him for doing so. Saul had disobeyed clear instructions to wait for Samuel to arrive and had taken things into his own hands. As a result, his kingdom was taken from him – the kingship would be passed onto David, who was not part of his lineage. God had spoken clearly, but Saul had not obeyed.

Sometimes, God speaks clearly, and there is a time to wait for Him to show up. We pray and wait on the Lord, and that is our obedience.

But sometimes, the way we are to obey is to act. Later on, Saul’s son, Jonathan, decides to confront the Philistines on his own, with his armour-bearer. They sneak away from the camp, most likely because his father, King Saul, would not have approved of the move. Now, Jonathan was fully confident in God’s character – that He is a God who keeps His promises, that He is a God who is mighty to save, and that He is a God who can be trusted. God didn’t speak to him and give him a specific time to go and meet the Philistines. In fact, when Jonathan goes up, he tells his armour-bearer, whom he has brought with him, “Let’s go. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf.” PERHAPS. He was either completely foolish or completely trusting of who God is. God shows up and grants them favour, and back at camp, Saul and his troops awaken to the sound of battle. When they realise what is going on, Saul calls the priest to bring the ark of God to pray. But as they do, they hear things getting crazier in the battle, and Saul realises that it’s time to fight and, in essence, it was not a time to sit and pray.

That’s a strange thing to hear, isn’t it? That it wasn’t time to pray? I’ve grown up with tag lines like, “There’s always time for prayer.” And that isn’t wrong – we have to be careful with the linguistic nuances here. Yes, we are to be praying unceasingly, but there are times of prayer that are set aside specifically for prayer – times when you bring the ark of God out and seek Him fervently in prayer, and there are also times when you’ve got to be doing something but you keep talking to God as you do it. If we confuse those two times, we can miss out on what God is doing.

The author, Erwin McManus, puts it like this: “To live a prayerless life is to miss the life that God created you to experience. Yet there are times when prayer can become a religious veil for an empty life.

So back to the title of this post. I was trying to think of times when I have used or tend to use prayer as a “religious veil” – times when it is clear what God wants me to do, and yet I am still simply praying about it. I definitely have not decided to stop praying, but I have decided not to pray certain kinds of prayers – in particular, I’ve decided not to pray prayers that go like this: “Dear God, please help me to be more disciplined / avoid temptation / be more loving / etc.”

Why? Well, I don’t think there’s anything wrong in praying those prayers, but I have noticed that when I pray them, I have this subconscious expectation that God is somehow going to show up and turn me into some sort of superwoman who will suddenly be super disciplined or not tempted by anything at all or full of ooeygooey love for everyone. I believe God can do that, but more often than not, that’s not how He works. The thing is, when I pray those prayers, I’m waiting – I’m waiting for something to show up to help me do the things I’m asking. But the directives are clear: discipline yourself, flee from temptation, show love to others. There really is nothing to wait for, and nothing magical about it – you just do it.

“But, but, but… I can’t! I’m too weak! I need God’s strength!” Yeah, you betcha. But here’s what I’m learning: God’s strength comes as we obey. More often than not, I expect to pray and then suddenly feel a rush of superhuman, divine strength, confident that I’ll be able to face the challenge. Nope. But as I obey, I am made stronger. The strength I pray for comes through obedience.

So when God speaks, keep praying, yes, but also act. Be more disciplined? Force yourself to do what you need to do, when you need to do it. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Habits start to form, and your prayers have been answered. Facing temptation? Don’t stop in the place of temptation and pray for the strength to resist! Just run! As you keep running, you will be strengthened as you realise that you have the power to flee from it. Struggling to love? Start doing small acts of kindness. Find concrete ways to practice love. It may feel mechanical and even kind of fake at first, but it will change you.

See, the thing is, these sorts of prayers require some effort on our part, too. I tend to think that God just zaps me with His mighty finger and everything changes, but again, while He can certainly do that if He chooses to, most of the time He works through human effort. It’s much less glamorous to my fairytale-inclined mind, but it ensures that we are being transformed, not just given some special power ups that can run out after a period of time.

Faith in action. That’s essentially what obedience is. And it brings about greater faith. So pray – pray for strength, pray for greater resolve, pray for love and patience; but beware of hiding behind those prayers in wait for a magic bolt of lightning. If you know what you are to do, don’t stop and say, “Hold on, let me pray about that.” Just do it.

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2014

This post is a few days late, but…it is 2014! Happy new year!

Why do we celebrate the new year? Why is January even the first month of the year? Why is anything what it is? Regretfully, my brain does not contain the information required to answer those questions, but suffice to say that due to the conflation of a number of historical, cultural, scientific and wholly unscientific reasons, the culture we live in has come to recognize the 1st of January as the marking of a year gone by and a new year ahead.

Along with that often come grand plans for self-improvement and change, resolutions to be a better person in the year ahead, etcetera etcetera. (I can’t stop looking at the word “etcetera” now that I’ve typed it out.) I wrote a little last year about resolutions and needing to remember in all our well-intentioned efforts that grace must underwrite them all. God must be our God in weakness and in strength. As Paul wrote, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21) The goal of these habits that we yearly try to adopt is not to make us worthy or gain us righteousness, but rather to remind us that we are in need of a Saviour and that Jesus alone is our righteousness.

This year, I was reminded again of that. Part of John Wesley’s Covenant Service includes a prayer that reads as follows:

Lord, make me what You will.

I put myself fully into Your hands:

put me to doing, put me to suffering;

let me be employed for You or laid aside for You;

let me be full, let me be empty;

let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and with a willing heart yield all this

to Your pleasure and disposal.

I love this prayer. I pray it every year at Watchnight Service. I do my best to mean every word. But what does that even mean? I say that as though effort alone can change one’s truest intentions. It cannot. Those of us who have struggled with knowing ourselves and wanting our hearts to be pure so that our words will be true understand that well. There comes a point where we reach the end of ourselves and can do nothing more but say, “God, help me to mean these words.”

It occurred to me that even when I am at my ‘best’ in saying this prayer, there is risk of selfishness. Do I truly desire God’s will for me? Yes. But do I desire that for myself or for His glory? I pray that it is more the latter, but surely there is a part of me that wants God’s will because it is what is best for me. Now, God Himself wants what is best for me – for each of us. He wants to give us the best. But I pray I will never be more committed to getting His blessings than I am to bringing Him glory. If His will is for me to be laid aside for Him, to be empty or to have nothing, and I see no benefit in that for me, I pray that I will still find joy in bringing Him praise.

This year, I pray that my greatest motivation will be to see Him glorified.

“And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,

and all mankind together will see it.

For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

– Isaiah 40:5

More than my own salvation or joy, may I long for the day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord of all.

Why Be Jolly This Christmas?

Christmas. ‘Tis the season to be jolly. So we’re told, anyway. Christmas is meant to be festive. Happy. There are lights, trees, decoration, music – music everywhere.

I have some friends who absolutely LOVE christmas. You know, the kind of people who start playing Christmas music in November and turn their cars into Rudolph the red-nosed Hondas. Maybe you’re like that. If so, great! As long as your friends can handle hearing jingling bells for two straight months. But really, it’s a good thing to be excited about Christmas.

Maybe, though, there are some of you who are more like me – I like Christmas well enough and I’m no grinch, but I’m also not the sort to get up and shout about it. I do love the smell of Christmas trees and the sight of white, blinking lights on them, but truthfully, I could live without them too. These visible, outward signs of Christmas just don’t really get me that excited for long.

So I was in church a few weeks ago, secretly hoping we wouldn’t be singing Christmas carols the whole month (and feeling a bit like a Christmas pooper for thinking that), and i was asking God to help me appreciate Christmas anew, to bring new life into the songs i’d been singing for 20 years and the story about baby Jesus I’ve been hearing since I was a baby. And as I was sitting there trying to muster up some Christmas cheer, I found myself thinking about all the people for whom this Christmas season isn’t a very jolly season. People who got laid off and don’t have enough money to put a ham or turkey on the table or buy presents for their children, people who are spending Christmas in the hospital with loved ones who are sick or who are sick themselves, people who have buried or will bury their loved ones this Christmas time, people whose lives have been thrown into disarray by huge gusts of wind and waves that seemed to come out of nowhere, people dealing with messy relationships with friends or family….

I wondered, what is Christmas like for them? What if instead of gathering to celebrate, our families were gathering to mourn? What if all we wanted for Christmas wasn’t our two front teeth or anything under a tree but simply a roof above our heads? I wonder if I would hate Christmas then – if I would just see it as a season that reminds me of the many sources of pain and misery in my life. Maybe I’d be more like the grinch then. And who would blame me?

As I was thinking about that, it dawned on me, again, that the point of Christmas is that people in the situations I just described, and all others, can rejoice. I know that isn’t anything new. We’ve all heard it before: Jesus is the reason for the season. Christmas is about more than all the fanfare it brings. But you know how sometimes you know something but that knowledge seems to have lost its power? And then you get a new revelation of it – a new understanding that impacts you emotionally. Well, for me, it was realizing that these people in these situations that most of us would view as terrible do have something to celebrate, and Christmas is still a time of cheer, even if what they’re going through seems to suggest the complete opposite. The message of Christmas is a message of hope in the seemingly hopeless; of light in the darkness.

I found this quote by an Anglo-American novelist (whom I have not actually read) that says, “This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone.” And we aren’t just in the company of some random nice person off the street. In Isaiah 7, Isaiah tells of the birth of Jesus and says that He will be called “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” The message of Christmas is that we are in the company of a Friend who loves us at all times, who understands us and sees the pain and the suffering in the world and the hurt we experience from day to day, but also a Friend who is powerful enough to save us from that pain – not to remove it necessarily, but to promise that there is meaning in the pain.

There are those whose pain and suffering is obvious. But I think each of us suffers pain in our own way, just that for most of us, it’s easier to ignore it when there are presents to buy, food to prepare and countless Christmas cards to write. Maybe in the midst of all the noise, we aren’t even aware of the pain in our hearts. Sometimes I think the jolliness of Christmas puts pressure on us to put on a happy face all the time. “It’s Christmas! You’re not supposed to be sad.” But as I’ve said before, I think sorrow is sacred. So I pray that when we do find ourselves away from the lights and sounds (and smells and tastes) of Christmas – and life in general, because the message of Christmas is a message for the whole year – and when we let ourselves become aware of the cries within our hearts, we will also remember that Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas day to answer those cries.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I pray that the truth and meaning of Christmas will be born in our hearts again. May you know the presence of Emmanuel, God with us, and understand what He came to do in you. Merry Christmas, everyone. :)

Rebels With A Cause

The other day a friend of mine was lamenting about her needing to attend a formal dinner event. There are a few reasons formal dinner events can be less-than-fun, but what she was mainly stressed about was needing to get dressed up. She said something to the effect of, “I think it’s because I feel like they threaten my identity.”

I totally understand.

For most of my teenage/young adult life, I have refused to wear dresses unless absolutely necessary. I wore jeans, a jacket and a T-shirt that read, “DARE TO BE DIFFERENT” to my Sec 4 Founders’ Day Dinner. A little cheesy, maybe, but I just happened to have the shirt – plus, it had cute sheep on it. For my IB prom, I was sort of forced into a dress, but refused to wear it until halfway through – after I’d finished my performance, in dress pants and a blazer (see, at least I upgraded from jeans) and a T-shirt on which I’d printed the words “I CHOOSE FREEDOM.” Ha. Charming, I know.

Why did I refuse to wear dresses? I used to just say that I didn’t like them, and while there was a grain of truth in that, that wasn’t the whole story. As much as I hate to admit it, I don’t think dresses are all that bad – it’s true they are much more cooling (though at formal events you’re usually cold, rather than hot). What I didn’t (and still don’t) like is the expectation for girls to wear a dress and the idea that not wearing one somehow makes you less of a girl, as well as the strange way that people seem to suddenly compliment your beauty when – but only when – you wear a dress.

“Debbie! You look so pretty!” – Thank you, I think? What about all the other days you’ve seen me? Maybe you should be telling my dress it looks pretty instead. I know the comments were well-meaning, but it’s something to think about, isn’t it? What message are we sending girls when the only times they’re told that they’re beautiful coincide with them wearing certain types of clothes?

I could go on about the damage caused by gender stereotypes and expectations and etc, but that’s not the point of this post. What I want to talk about is what we do in response to these expectations we disagree with. Rebelling, as some might say. Refusing to conform.

In my younger days, I was on a crusade against these expectations, and the only way I knew how to fight them was by refusing to conform, outwardly – refusing to wear dresses and makeup and high heels. And that was fine. I was making a statement, and people recognized it.

But as the years went on, and I decided dresses weren’t evil after all, I realized I had trapped myself. I built my identity on not wearing dresses so much so that when it came to a point where I wanted to wear one to some event because I really didn’t mind them and I had nothing else appropriate to wear (let’s face it, those T-shirts couldn’t last forever), I felt like I’d be selling out if I did. I had a reputation I needed to defend.

I had been trying so hard to resist and free myself from the expectation to dress a certain way that I had unwittingly made myself a slave to another set of expectations that I dress a certain way.

Here’s the thing: If we try to simply resist definition by defining ourselves in the opposite way, we aren’t really free from it at all.

We may think we are, but we’re essentially still letting whatever we’re resisting control and define us. If the expectation is that I should wear a dress to the dinner and I say, “I resent that expectation so I’m going to do the opposite and refuse to wear a dress,” my not wearing a dress is still determined by the initial expectation that I wear one.

That’s not to say that anyone who doesn’t wear a dress in protest is unwittingly a victim of societal expectations, just as it’d be wrong to say that anyone wearing a dress is a thoughtless conformist to those expectations. There are people who simply like wearing dresses and there are people who simply do not like wearing dresses. The point here is that conformity and non-conformity go deeper than skin deep – or clothes-deep, or whatever-else-deep. It begins in the mind.

It’s only when we’re able to defy an expectation or stereotype on more than just a superficial level that it becomes truly subversive.

To try and repurpose a saying in the fashion world: It’s not what you wear but how you wear it – it’s what you believe what you wear – or don’t wear – says about who you are. That’s how I can wear a dress willingly but not be a sellout. I can choose to wear a dress and yet choose not to buy in to the belief that I am what I wear.

Why is this important, beyond decisions about what to wear to that fancy dinner? I believe we are called to be culture changers, to change the culture around us for the kingdom of God. In John 17, when Jesus was praying for His disciples, He said, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (John 17:14-16)

That’s a phrase you’ve probably heard a lot if you grew up around Christians – we’re called to be in, but not of, the world. We’re not meant to isolate ourselves in holy huddles, staying away from the evils of the world, and even if we did, you know what? Those evils can worm their way into our holy huddles. There is more worldly thinking in our churches than we care to admit. There is more disobedience among those of us who call ourselves Christians than we like to think. Just because we look like we’re doing the right thing on the outside – going to church, not swearing, feeding the poor, etc – doesn’t at all mean that we’re right on the inside.

It’s not about what we do – it’s how we do it.

Oswald Chambers says this:
“Our Lord was not a recluse nor a fanatical holy man practising self-denial. He did not physically cut Himself off from society, but He was inwardly disconnected all the time. He was not aloof, but He lived in another world. In fact, He was so much in the common everyday world that the religious people of His day accused Him of being a glutton and a drunkard. Yet our Lord never allowed anything to interfere with His consecration of spiritual power.”

At the end of the day, we are called to “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (Romans 12:2). The Bible doesn’t say “do not conform to the pattern of this world; draw a new pattern.” It doesn’t talk about external non-conformity but internal, mental, spiritual non-conformity. We must beware of judging our state of conformity by our outward actions and behaviour. Not everyone who looks like a rebel with a cause is actually carrying that cause, and not everyone who looks like they’re conforming is without a cause.

It also doesn’t propose a simple oppositional reaction. As long as our act of non-conformity takes the object of contention as its reference point, we are still subject to the very thing we are trying to set ourselves apart from. It has to start deeper, on the inside – in our hearts and minds, the crucibles of our beliefs, which, in turn, determine our behaviour. We set ourselves apart as Christians not by simply reacting to what we see in the world, but by aligning our beliefs with God’ – by allowing Him to renew our minds so that we live in the world, but see it – and ourselves – through His eyes.

I’m still not in love with dresses, but whether I wear them or not and whether you compliment me or not, I know that my identity is secure in Christ – and that’s all I need to know.

A Night With The Gran

The rest of the family was out for the night, leaving just the two of us, eating silently at the dining table. The silence was punctuated by a question: “You are having exams now, is it?”

“No, por por. I graduated from university already.”

Silence.

I thought I saw her brow furrow slightly in confusion, but I couldn’t be sure if she had heard me and had nothing else to say or if she had already slipped into another space in her head – into another time, perhaps.

A few minutes passed and she asked, again, “You’re having your exams now, is it?”

This time I hesitated and then responded, “Yes.”

My doctor friend had mentioned before that some doctors believe it is better to join Alzheimer’s patients in whatever reality they’re in than to continuously shock them out of it.

“Starting tomorrow?”

I stumbled on my reply, evidence of a lie not well-thought out.

“Yup.”

She might have noticed if her mental capacities allowed her to. But then I wouldn’t be lying in the first place.

We finished our dinner in silence, as though the conversation never happened.

After clearing the plates, I went upstairs to my room and picked up the guitar lying on my bed. Soon after I began to play, my grandmother’s head poked in through the doorframe.

“Can I come in and sit for a little while?”

“Okay.”

I sat tentatively on my bed, watching her hobble in. Suddenly, she turned around and said, “Wait, I wash my face first.”

“Okay.”

She liked to hear me play the guitar for some reason. Whenever she heard me playing, she would stick her head in and watch me. Sometimes she would comment, stating the obvious: “Playing music ah.” I’d never really know what to say. Sometimes she would offer a compliment before retreating to her room: “Very nice.” It always felt awkward, somehow. I suppose I didn’t know what to make of it, since I could hardly trust that she knew what she was saying these days. Sometimes, like tonight, she’d ask to come in and listen.

I heard the water in the bathroom sink stop running and waited to see if she would come in through the bathroom door that connected our rooms. She opened it and looked in, without saying a word. I kept playing, not really turning around, and she retreated, closing the door. Just as I was wondering if she had forgotten that she’d wanted to come in and listen, she came in again through the front door. She took a seat on my bed, and like always when I had an audience, I didn’t know what to play. I was usually singing when she asked to come in, but once she sat down, it felt weird to keep going. Intrusive. Or maybe I felt I’d been intruded upon.

I had just restrung my guitar a couple of hours earlier and had to keep retuning it as the strings slipped. I was doing just that, preparing to play, when she abruptly said, “Play a song.” It came out sounding like a command, and in another context, someone might have considered it rude. The thought crossed my mind for a second and I wondered if this was the effect of her Alzheimer’s and old age or if she had always been awkward at expressing herself. Both seemed equally plausible and equally sad.

I knew I was unlikely to get a proper response, but I asked her anyway, “What’s your favourite song?” I had to repeat the question twice.

“Anything will do. I can’t remember,” she said as she arranged herself to lay down on my bed.

She hardly spoke anymore, except to ask whether we were going to church tomorrow (regardless of what day it was – she couldn’t remember), whether lunch or dinner was ready, whether I was doing work, whether I was sleeping, to let me know for the 1000th time that she wasn’t locking the bathroom door so I could go in whenever I needed or to occasionally talk back to my mum. There were a few more, like, “Where are you sleeping tonight?” (In my room) and “Where is your room?” (Next to yours, Por Por) and “Where’s my room?” (Upstairs; come, I’ll show you), but for the most part, she had a fixed repertoire of phrases. Conversations lasted a few exchanged lines; ten was long.

I began to pluck the notes of “Amazing Grace”, trying to think of songs she would know. I hadn’t really expected any visible response or sign of recognition, but on my third time through the verse, she began to sing along.

I dared not look up. It seemed like a sacred moment, somehow, and I felt simultaneously uncomfortable and honoured to be sharing it. Singing has always been an act of vulnerability for me. It is through singing that I express the deepest longings of my heart; through singing that I allow emotions otherwise kept hidden and suppressed to take tangible form. That’s why worshipping through song is so sacred to me. It’s also why I like to do it in private, when I’m alone.

After playing through “Amazing Grace” a few more times, I figured it was time for a different song. I played through “It Is Well With My Soul,” which she seemed to recognize, but couldn’t quite call to mind. With “Blessed Assurance,” she hummed through bits of the verse and then sang the chorus, “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Saviour all the day long…”

I looked over at her singing with her eyes closed, trying to guess what was going on behind them. There seemed something especially poignant about her singing these hymns. Perhaps it was because she hardly spoke, and even when she did, it was difficult to discern whether or not she was fully present. Oftentimes, her words made no sense, or she’d stop in the middle of a sentence, the words lost in the mess of her mind. But this – she didn’t remember all the words, substituting “da da da” when she forgot, but there was something about the way she was singing. Like these words, unlike most others that came out of her mouth, could be trusted, because they were Truth. Like these words and melodies had endured through the years and through the debilitation of her mental facilities – they were, and represented, something constant, something true. Someone true.

Perhaps because of that, they grounded her, even as the words she wanted to say floated out of her grasp, as the world around her flickered between times and places in her mind, as the people before her shifted in and out of past and present versions of their selves and their relatives. I wondered if these songs transported her to any specific memories – a wedding, a funeral, a time when these very words gave her the strength she needed to carry on.

I hope they brought her some peace tonight.

Not for the first time, I realized how little I knew of her life, and of who she was. I had never really interacted that much with her, and as the disease set in, she became more of a stranger, as my last hopes of getting to know her faded quickly away with her memories, locked inside the frail and fragile shell that remained.

One of the last few songs I played was “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Again, she only knew the chorus, but when she reached the end, she started again. I followed, now accompanying her, helping to facilitate what I hoped was a beautiful experience with the Divine. It occurred to me that this was what I loved about leading worship. It isn’t that worship cannot happen without musicians or someone leading in song; it’s just that sometimes, we need someone to walk us through the door, and as worship leaders, we get the immense privilege of witnessing people come alive as they enter into that secret place where it’s just God and them, and all else fades away, including, I have to believe, our physical and physiological limitations. There, if just for a moment, we catch a glimpse of heaven, where all will be made perfect and we will see Jesus.

I was reminded that somewhere behind the stuttered and sometimes incomprehensible speech, behind the inexplicable impulses to eat – always and anything, behind the often improper and inappropriate behaviour, behind what is so easily perceived as a burden, is a human being, fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image. The eyes that glaze over when spoken to are the same eyes that once saw the horrors of war. The hands that now shake visibly are the same hands that once held a needle steady and skillfully sewed the clothes my mother wore, and the dresses that my grandmother still wears every day. The person who stands before me is not everything she used to be, but just because those things are harder to see now doesn’t change the fact that she is still a human being in need and deserving of love and care and perhaps more grace. And so I pray, God, increase in me Your love.

Thoughts On Being Used By God

“A saint is never consciously a saint – a saint is consciously dependent on God.”

– Oswald Chambers

I’m slowly recognizing that being too conscious of how God might use/be using me is something I should be wary of. More often than not, that shows that I am being enticed by fame or popularity, by the attention and approval of others. It is disguised with good – godly, even – intentions of doing God’s work, yet work that mentions Jesus but is not commissioned by Him is not, ultimately, what I want to invest in.

A few days ago, I wrote in my journal, “I don’t want my dream if it isn’t Yours.” And while I meant that as wholeheartedly as I could have in the moment, everything is more easily said than done. These short quips and tweetable statements are just the kind of things we like to grab on to these days. But are they just empty words? Do I really know what I’m saying? I pray they aren’t empty, and I pray I know what I’m saying. I’ve been realizing how easily enticed I am by the thought of popularity and being liked. It isn’t even fame per se – at least not on a huge, international scale. It’s just the thought that there are/might be people who like what I do, whether it’s music or writing or something else. I am too influenced by the crowd, and when I allow that to happen, I lose the ability to do what I do just because. Because it helps me be who I was meant to be.

I’ve been blessed with people who have, throughout most of my life, affirmed and encouraged my gift of music. Sometimes that has come in the form of statements like, “You should join Singapore idol!” or “You should cut an album. I’d totally buy it.” or “I’ll set up your fan club!!” And I thoroughly appreciate those sentiments. They have brought me much confidence and given me the encouragement I’ve needed to share and continue to share my music with others, which is ultimately what I love and want to do.

But I have also been caught up in those ideas of turning my music into something ‘more’ than what it is. It’s the temptation of doing something just because you can. It’s a business-like, consumerist mindset that I think is very prevalent in our world today, but one that is opposed to a mindset that places Jesus as King and Lord and Director over our lives. It’s looking at what you’ve got and saying, ‘hey, people have been telling me they’ve been encouraged by this. why not try to reach a wider audience so more can be encouraged?’ [edit] After publishing this, WordPress tells me,

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It’s almost as though it’s ridiculous to think that people could be writing for any reason apart from wanting to “reach 1000s” of people. And maybe it is – but more on that later. [/edit]

Large audiences, fame, popularity, etc. are not bad in themselves. I’m well aware of that. God has placed each of us in positions of influence – some bigger than others. But the keyword there is “God” – God has placedHe is the one who positions us. It is not for us to decide who our audience or where our influence will be.

Look at Jesus – He was bringing the Gospel, something that is undeniably good for everyone. If His goal was to bring the Gospel to everyone, shouldn’t He have jumped at every opportunity to share it with people? But He routinely withdrew from the crowds. He walked away from what business-minded, PR people would say were perfect ministry opportunities. “Jesus! What are you doing? Do you know how many people you could reach if you spoke at this event? Do you know how many views you could get? How many likes? How many souls could be saved?” But Jesus knew that His ministry wasn’t about the numbers. Yes, His goal was to bring the Gospel to the masses. But that goal, as with all goals, was (and is) subservient to the goal of listening to and obeying His Father.

Sure, maybe it’s God’s will to work through me somehow to reach a wider audience. But I want to be 100% sure of that before I make any attempts to do so. If not, there’s a 99.9% chance that I am doing it for myself, rather than for Him, no matter what I may tell myself.

Anyway, these musings are probably more for myself than anyone reading, but that gets at another thing. Why blog? Why write here, for others to see? As with music, I’ve been told by people multiple times that they like my writing, that it has blessed and encouraged them, and etc. Praise God. I’ve been told, “You should write a book!” and “You should be a full-time blogger!” just as with the music thing. But again, to get infatuated with the idea of turning it into something more than it is is dangerous. But if I’m not writing to try and win readership or anything like that, why write here at all? That’s a question I’ve come back to time and time again, probably because I so easily lose focus and let my eyes drift to temptations of popularity. It’s something that always seems hard to justify – if it’s not a focused, intentional area of ministry, then it must be simply attention-seeking.

But I want to believe it can be something in between. I’ve written about it already here and here and here, but to add a little to them, I think maybe it’s enough to say that I’ve learned a lot form others who have shared their thoughts with me, even when unsolicited, and while I’m not trying to write about any one thing in particular and I’m certainly no expert on anything in life, writing here is just about availing myself. We find community in the most unlikely places. We find connections when we aren’t necessarily looking for any, and if there’s one thing the internet is good for, it’s connecting people. So on the off-chance that someone finds meaning or encouragement in my sometimes incoherent and often lengthy ramblings and attempts to untangle the mess in my brain, great. And if not, I need to untangle the mess anyway.

So, again, I pray that this little space of mine here on the world wide web will, ultimately, not be mine, but God’s. That He will work through it – or not – as He wills, and that I will be so emptied of myself that I will not even be aware of Him using me, nor will it matter to me that I do not know. My security comes not from evidence that He is using me to reach others, but from the blood, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on my behalf. I pray I will be so satisfied and secure in Christ – in the knowledge of His love and grace towards me – that I will not even need anymore evidence of His approval of me than what He has already said in His word. Perhaps that is what it means to have salvation by grace through faith alone. Being certain of that which I do not see – because the One who promises is faithful. The results are not mine to be concerned with – only that I work to put to death in me all that prevents me from complete and utter surrender to Jesus Christ my Lord and merciful Saviour.

I have a long, long way to go – yet by His grace, I will be held steady and remain standing until He returns to make me whole.

The Author

I think one reason I love stories is that there’s always an explanation for why someone is the way he/she is.

Insecure girl, afraid to love? There’s a story about an orphan, abandoned by her father, left to watch her mother fall apart even as she tried desperately to hold her together. Or maybe something about a beautiful boy who broke her beautiful heart. Or something else about betrayal.

Evil queen? There’s a story about suffering and hurt – she wasn’t always this way. She started out good, just like you or me. But as the evils of the world and its people began to infringe on her space and her heart, she grew cold and hardened her heart, deciding somewhere along the way that the only thing she could do was to fight back with hate and scorn.

There’s always an explanation, incidents that can be pointed to to explain where and how it all began. It’s emotionally messy, but narratively neat. Things aren’t as clear-cut in real life. We don’t have perfect knowledge, self-awareness or memory. We’re stumbling through it all, without the benefit of the author’s all-knowing eye.

But I guess that’s where God comes in. He is writing our stories, and everything does fit together, somehow. He sees it. And He is good and trustworthy, so even though we don’t see it, we can trust that we are in good hands.

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you can’t understand
When you can’t see His plan
When you can’t trace His hand
Trust His heart