Tuesday, 11 April 2017


Some weeks back, as I was spending time with God during my QT, He suddenly extended an invitation to me to "something". A bit taken back, I didn't accept immediately, because this time, the only thing I knew about the invitation was the Inviter, and nothing else. This post is about the story of the God who loves His son so very much, and how He helped him to challenge his fears. 

Keeping In Step

I had gone on many journeys and adventures with God at His invitation, but something that was different about this particular invitation was that I was clueless about what was the content of the invitation. What was God inviting me to? Having walked with God for many years and always being intentional to sense the season and short-term purpose, His thoughts and whispers for me, I could mostly have a good idea of what God was going to lead me towards in His invitations. Even if not perfect, often it was with relatively reasonable accuracy. But this time, I was so clueless that it felt as though God was intentionally hiding this information from me. 

Not knowing what to expect whatsoever, I was rather hesitant about whether I should accept His invitation. "What if He leads me to a place where I didn't want to go?"; "what if in accepting, I cannot accomplish/gain my desires?"; "what if I have no energy to follow?" Many such questions filled my head. The past me (maybe, 2-3 years ago) would have simply said: "Let's just accept! Let's trust God!" There's absolutely nothing wrong with this response, and I would have surely supported the past me in obeying God this way. But at this juncture, for myself who desired to sought not just God's instructions, but also His heart and purpose, I was rather unwilling to obey without thinking, without understanding. Hence, though I sensed the invitation strongly, I intentionally waited on it for several days. I didn't know when I would make the decision to accept it, but God continued to hold His hand out - His hand never came down, as though He knew I needed that space to consider. In my head, the peculiar way by which God invited me gave me a hunch that this invitation is going to be quite massive, with ups and downs. Naturally, I wasn't in a rush to decide, though in all honesty I didn't think I had a choice to reject, only a choice on when to start.

Taking the "Dive"

One morning, I think about 5-6 days after the first time I received the invitation, I sat down on the chair that I usually did my QT on, and somewhat realized that I'll never proceed with my decision to accept the invitation at this rate. I think that period of time for me to sit on the decision is not just for me to think about what it entails, but also what it means for me to accept it. We are all humans, and I had to respect my fears and apprehensions. They really do exist, and to me respecting these is an acknowledgment of my weakness as a human being. A sinful creature, of flesh, but also of spirit. It's my way of being "real". 
"Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace." (Romans 8:5-6 NIV)
Indeed, as Christians we live according to the Spirit and pursue what it desires. But ignoring our flesh completely is also strange, since it is our body too.
"After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body..." (Ephesians 5:29b)
Without considering our container, we cannot really understand what it costs to follow God, and not knowing these costs may at times stumble us at the most unexpected situation, or cause needless scars. Eventually, as I sat there with my journal open, I started to think about what I really need to make my decision. I re-traced the goodness of God and His faithfulness in this year alone. About 3 months in, and it is obvious beyond fact that He is with me, that He is for me, and He has good thoughts and plans for me. He loves me. I also thought about His enduring character, how over the years and in the Bible, God is always God. His love endures together with His character. And His character is sufficient. Armed with a reminder of His love for me in this year, and how He is supporting me in my endeavors for/with Him, I decided to take the plunge, and "dived" into Him.


For me, the seas and oceans had always a special place in my heart. There were 2 reasons. The first was a very sweet memory and assurance: God declared to me, a few years back, that His love was as unfathomable and boundless like the ocean - while all I could see and be impressed by is the waves that hit the shore. In other words, whatever I knew about His love for me, it was actually more than I could ever know. The second reason was, that I was really scared of deep waters in general. I didn't like swimming or being underwater; partially because I couldn't breathe and felt constricted; but another reason, embarrassingly, was because of childhood stories heard from my mum about the dangers of the deep (which she told, obviously, to keep me from doing dangerous things at the swimming pool and beach).

Initially, though I was so blessed by God's love expressed to me explicitly through the ocean, I saw it as nothing more than an analogy to talk about His infinite love. Probably also because it happened while I was at a beach resort in Bali, staring at the sea. But as I came to be more aware of my apprehension of waters (I used to just avoid waters and not think of them very much), I realized that the hesitation made me feel rather fearful/scared of God's love as well. The ocean became something of a strange well of emotions - one of lavish adoration, affection and also one of fear, a dark and abyssal place. 

This realization only came not too long ago, about at the turn of this year. Ever since last semester, I was rather keenly aware that the next sem (Jan-May) would be a season of building courage. How does one build courage? By practice. Practising courage means to walk to your fears and say "let me learn to live with you until you want to leave". If that doesn't sound scary to you, I don't know what is. And how God made me understand how to practise it, was to meet me at the edge of the scary seas, made eye contact with me (imagined), and then look towards the ocean. The meaning is clear as day. I walked in and began to practise swimming. 

I don't like waters and I don't like swimming. But that's precisely the point, to live in my fear - that's practising courage. And you know, in the middle of the ocean there is no rest-point. There aren't any random small islands where I could stop and take a break from the waters. (Well, there might be... but that's not the point :D) Courage is practised precisely in the midst of fears. Fearless people cannot practise courage for courage is only required in the face of fears. God knows that there is little fear for me to practise on dry land; I'm confident enough on land to not need much courage. But here in the boundless seas, what choice do I have but to live and breathe fear and produce courage?

Learning to Swim (Not Diving)

The initial part is somewhat easy. I took a few steps and leaped into the sea, riding the momentum and ending my last contact with land, for a long time of at least 4 more months. As with many things, we often begin well. But once my mind registered that I'm in the waters, and that there is no turning back, I started to truly notice how dangerous a situation I'm in. And how much I'm in the water. Before me, there was nothing but the horizon, no land to look towards. I haven't even got to panicking about what lurks beneath the surface. Practising courage is tiring - because of its constant grind - and the need to defend myself from assaults on the heart. One of the first hurdle I have to overcome is that swimming is tiring. The semester started just about a week, and I was already somewhat tired. Can I make it to the end? I knew God could, but I was pretty down about the amount of 'training' I had to go through. Some of my struggles from the previous semester followed me: my health. My fatigue from ministry and also some responsibilities. And also my own personal struggles and desires. School load was also a bit daunting - 4 Sociology modules >< (My maximum was 2 in a semster!!!)

God repeatedly made me go through the practise of courage on a particular area in my life. Daily, weekly, monthly. I had to ask God questions and timings for directions, pitfalls, answers on how to deal with that area.  And it was really difficult - because much of that area were covered in scars from the past. Facing each scar (fear), I had to summon my entire arsenal of courage (whatever I had) to combat it, and honestly many times it's a paper-thin margin of victory. Even when I won, it didn't feel like I've won. The times that I felt I won big time, I felt God's contribution and victory even more - and that was ecstatic for me, as though God gave me a turbo booster as I'm swimming in the ocean. Some part of the swim was choppy, some was smoother. But bit by bit, I got used to swimming and practising courage, and how to swim in the ocean. My posture got better, but something I realized as well. I wasn't originally a sea-dweller, but as my skill in courage grew together with my familiarity in the sea, I became a little careless in my self-control. Became a bit more aggressive; somewhat arrogant; less sensitive and responsive and ended up being mean to some. Not proud of it, but I really couldn't help it much. If you're one of those people, I apologize sincerely.

Diving Deep

In case you're a little confused, I want to clarify that "God's invitation" was for the dive, not for learning to swim in the ocean. For the swimming part, He didn't really invite, just hinted at me. 

So when the dive really started, the first thing I was aware of was the length of time it'll last. About 3 weeks to a month, when I asked God. Why is there a time variation? Probably for my sake, to be able to adjust according to my needs. In the first week, wow it was tough. A lot of things turned badly in my life, and I was severely discouraged by them. I won't mentioned the details of it, but suffice to say those came down hard on me. The 3 most important areas of my life got stripped off me one after another, and from trying to learn 'how to dive', I instinctively knew/could go down deeper into the water. I just had little energy to swim up, and thus let myself sink deeper by default. Maybe that's God's way of bringing me down(wards) into the deep end of literally God-knows-what. And I did. However, the stripping of those things was alright, for in my heart I knew those were ultimately something to surrender to God. A significant prayer that came out of that incident was: "Let me never trade the source for the channel", and that God was ultimately the one who satisfies. While difficult, I still felt that I could keep up with the change in water pressure. In the weekend of the first week, some of those things were restored to me, at least partially. 

The second week, however, boom. This time, my strength and my skill was stripped off me through several events that I shan't describe here, but can only be said to be 'only God'. No other explanation for the seeming 'coincidence' of those events. But I think this second removal was a lot more difficult than the first - desires are something I know is innately something which God gives to brings me more of Himself, but for 'ability', it is the way I pursue God, and how God has grown and trained in me over the years. It's like from losing fish to losing the ability to fish. To be stripped of that is... de-stabilizing, to say the least. How else shall I proceed? I think at this juncture I definitely drowned, and then sunk even deeper into the ocean. 

I was stuck on this for a long time until the middle of the third week, lying on the seabed that I knew (well, I hope) won't sink down into some strange place. Thankfully, I was aware that it'll only last 3 weeks to a month, so soon it'll end, and that kept me going on. Knowing that Jesus died for my sins and that eventually I'll be with Him kept my hope alive too. However, I knew that God surely wouldn't have let me dove all the way into the seabed just to teach me how to dive - if that's the case, the first week is enough and I don't need to drown. Some may say: "let us not question God, for He is God." I do agree somewhat, but for the person who is in the situation, is it bad/wrong to ask? Is it "out of place", to want to know - not for vindication but for cooperation? Job's story in the Bible expressed his questions and rants at God, and God reprimanded him with "Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?" (Job 38:2, NIV) and for KJV, "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?" I think the issue here is "without knowledge" and not the questioning. Naturally as mortals, we will never have that "knowledge" that is needed to question God. Then, let us not 'question', since we do not have "knowledge", but instead 'seek' as people who desire to know God's knowledge. You may disagree, sure. But in my experience, and with God, He does share His thoughts and heart with me enough times for me to know that there is something at the bottom of the seabed that He brought me here for. Learning to dive is just one of a few objectives. And so, at the middle of week 3, I found that reason.  

Walk on Wonder

Prior to stepping into the ocean to learn to swim, I was on land (obviously). And now that I think about it, I haven't really been conscious of being on land till I stepped into the ocean, where there is no footing. Because of that, I think being in the sea has always been uncomfortable for me without that security of being able to stand/walk on hard ground. And that has been an almost instinctive constraint ever since I first went into the sea, at the turn of the year. I had to practise courage for almost everything and at almost everytime - just being in the water and swimming ahead takes courage, honestly. That got me rather jumpy and timid, which is natural, I think. And God knows - only in this environment where I am timid about many things can I truly practise a lot of courage to the point that courage exists in my heart and is part of my lifestyle. But after getting used to swimming, the timidity remained, or specifically, the thought of timidity remained. I didn't need courage to face the thought of timidity - I need the dive to help me remove the thought of timidity. And how God removed it during the dive was by having me arrive on "land" - the seabed, and recover the memory of the land where He was faithful, present and raised me to be His bold vessel.

This happened in the most mundane of ways. Recently I borrowed a book to find out more about a new area of the Kingdom of God that I wasn't very acquainted with. I wanted to know more because I was considering it as a new field of ministry (for myself) in the future. I wasn't very motivated to start, frankly, but since I had a deadline to return it by, I forced myself to read it. And as I began reading, the desire for exploration, for knowing more of God, the carefree-ness and ambition of knowing 'more' and the challenge of it all - came flooding back into my heart. And I remembered: there was a time when I wasn't so timid, when I wasn't crushed as I am now, when I roamed on land fearlessly. So why am I in such a state now? There is really no need to be so. And I realized God's lesson: 'swimming' was to learn about courage to 'withstand'. To be able to face, for a long time and sustainably, the things that I fear - learning to live with it. But, a courage that only aims to 'withstand' is not fully courage. It bows its head to a situation that will never change. But a complete courage also includes the desire to 'overcome'. Courage is used to live with fear, learn more about it, and then to destroy it. Through this experience, God had given me the "vein of courage" - one that supplies the courage I need from my heart to my hands.

Now on the seabed, just as on land, I am walking. And 'walking' here to me means being bold about fears, daring to dream of overcoming them. God knows I need "land" to bring out my full potential, and so He gave "land" in the middle of the ocean, the depth of His unfathomable love. Just as Peter, who despite in fear, wanted to walk on water towards His beloved Master and Savior, called by Jesus; God too called me to Him, despite my paralyzing fear, to walk on wonder. The wonder of His perfect love.

Conclusion - An Ocean of Love

Sometimes I really wonder, how God finds all these creative ways to help us to grow to be more like Jesus. Even our strongest protests and fears, pains that are tied to the root of our soul, God knows how to gently and surgically separate and purify for our benefit. To help me complete my understanding of courage through letting me dive, drown and "recover a memory", only God could think of such a way to complete such an impossible task. 

A lot of people love us. And though we know that God loves us beyond them all, at times it's rather difficult to measure and compare love. But one thing that God towers above all our loved ones is that His love is perfect - in a sense of the 'skill' and considerations involved. God could have me practise courage in many other settings: on land, through going through dark valleys and fighting 'monsters'. In high mountains, with little resources. Covering my eyes and having me live in darkness through daily life. BUT! He chose to make me learn to swim and dive. Not just in any lake and pond. But in His ocean of love. The same place I feared, is the same place where He declared His love for me and made my heart pound for Him. Isn't that amazingly sweet of God? He didn't send me just anywhere to practise courage and fight one of the potentially hardest struggles of my life. But He had me face my fear in His love. And that became the source of my confidence in practising courage, in my journey in the sea, no matter how deep-rooted my apprehension was. And this verse comes to mind, alive:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18 NIV)
God is re-writing my ocean of fear, into His ocean of love.

And the next part of my journey in the sea, I already know and understand it from God. After swimming, then diving, the next part is "floating" :D I doubt it's easier or harder - just different. But all the same, God is God, and I know His ways are perfect. 

Dear brother, dear sister, I encourage you that when God wants to have His way with you, sometimes expected, sometimes unexpected, sometimes preposterous, whatever and however it is, be willing, after consciously considering, to accept His invitation. I pray that your journey in the "sea" will be something that helps you uncover truly the depth of His love for you. 

Monday, 12 December 2016

Mortality to Eternity

After almost an entire year of not writing, I'm here at the suggestion of one of my beloved CGLs hahaha. Unlike my older posts, I guess this one is more like a reflection over life this year in 2016. Still, it's going to be sort of topical, borrowing from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So 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."
I wasn't hanging on to this verse throughout my difficult seasons this year. But re-looking at it on the other side of the fence, I seem to appreciate better Paul was writing here. (Perhaps, more accurate to say that I'm still on the same side of fence, but nearer to the it, and being able to see past it through a hole in it). I would not be referencing to it directly, but I'd say that whatever I wrote further down is my own elaboration of that verse's reality in my life. 


For most of us, mortality is a rather difficult concept to grasp. Yes we do get hurt, injured, fall sick, have accidents. But unless you experienced intimately the death of another human, especially loved ones, mortality still seems rather far. Here by mortality, I'm not referring to just death, but also the fragility of human lives and our flesh. Aside from death, another way to see mortality is to see the decaying of our own flesh. (which naturally includes death). To elaborate, aged people, especially the elderly, often become more and more aware of their mortality, as they face not just more of the death of others and are more involved in the aftermath of these people's departure, but also have to come to terms with their own failing health. Weakening limbs, losing of hair. Lost of mobility, even sanity. Cancer, heart issues, digestion problems. These aren't merely inconveniences; they dramatically change lives and lifestyles. 

I used to have a grandfather who was still cycling around the neighborhood at the age of 92. He had no major health problems aside from some hearing issues. However, all it took was a fall he had at home, and his lifestyle had to be modified significantly. He couldn't cycle anymore, nor move about much. Neither did last past 95 - the health problems came one after another with that one fall. Another uncle got hit by cancer, and though he could do his best to slow down the progression of his condition, he couldn't. His depression claimed his mind, and eventually his life through the cancer which he just couldn't come to terms with. 

At our 20s we start to realize that we lost some of our youthful energy due to lower metabolism, different sort of life responsibilities that inevitably changed our lifestyle, together with additional health issues (feeling tired, wrinkling, old injuries acting up, falling sick more often). However, the extent of the comprehension of mortality cannot be compared to those who are several decades older. I, for one, had the experience of rather significant health problems more similar to the elderly at my age.

Earlier on this year in February, I started to have rather bad back and hip pains for unknown reasons. A visit to the TCM, when it got really unbearable, shows that my spine and pelvic area is misaligned (like the bones shifted out of place) which resulted in a pinched nerve, and that was why it ached and hurt crazily. It was so bad that it would cost me headaches, and I couldn't sit up. I would go and see the TCM weekly to get the bones shifted back in, but I guess after being injured due to the shift (which I have no idea how it happened), the muscles were damaged and so couldn't hold the bones in the right place. So very often, it would get misalligned again. It was really really really frustrating. Imagine having a permanent stomachache that never goes away no matter what you do. And worse of all is that the bones get out of place randomly: when I lay down, when walking, when standing, when sitting. I never knew what's going to happen the moment I moved.

It didn't just remain that way. Somehow, the issue spread to my shoulders and also my chest. Random (small) movements would causes pops, and there were times when I felt short of breathe because after some pops I would feel something pressing against my chest. It's rather frightening and traumatic to recall, so I think I'll stop the description here, but suffice to say it didn't stop there. At the start of June, I went off to Mongolia for a missions trip of sorts. And I could only say that by God's miracle, after the 2 weeks I spent there, I came back miraculously recovered. No more aches or pains and I felt like I was given a new body. Having resolved that and also another thorny issue in my life, I started to look to the future again. Started gymming and picking up the guitar again i.e. becoming "normal" again I guess. Life was alright for about almost a month, when I accidentally hurt my wrist at the gym. I gave it a rest and about 2 - 3 weeks later, it was a lot better. However, around mid July, the pains I described above came back again. Even as I write this, I'm still suffering from them, although a little less. 

Here I want to describe my thoughts as I went through the whole ordeal. When I first had the issue, on my mind was the question: "When will I get back to normal?" That question consumed me, and everything which I felt set back the timing for me to recover, I avoided as I could. But I couldn't avoid them all. There were some that came especially, all the more, and because I wanted to pursue God and serve Him. And those incidents thoroughly crushed my spirit and brought anxiety. After months came and went, and not knowing what is to come, that hope and anxiety for a speedy recovery became despair and bitterness. I no longer asked the question: "When?" but "Why?" Why me, God? Why such an earnest servant? The same question Christians of all generations ask. But for me, it was asked despite me knowing all the answers and the character and purposes of God in allowing us to go suffering. Those answers were real for me. But those answers were found in the midst of emotional, spiritual pains. Not physical ones. I needed new answers, a new touch, for a new source of suffering and pain, even as I'm battling the sufferings brought by the old sources. When the pains came back in July, and followed me throughout the second semester of this year, each time I remember that it took only 2 weeks to recover in Mongolia,  I could not stomach my current plight. Would God work His miracle again? Why wouldn't He? Was my sufferings in the earlier season insufficient for Him? How much more must I go through? The despair that I had in the earlier half of the year, that disappeared when I recovered in June, came back amplified in August. The question changed from "why?", to a plea for mercy. A begging that I never had before in my life. That desperation that got the centurion to approach Jesus; that desperation of the bleeding women; of Zaccheus; of the lepers; of the paralyzed man lowered down from the roof; I knew personally. I did not dare demand of God to heal me, for He is God and I was made of dust. I eventually resigned myself to life like that - and I would not lie that life like that was not a life I desired to continue living; the alternative seemed so much sweeter.


Treatments came and went. Attempts were made by me to feel better and not aggravate my situation. Lifestyles changed. I tried to walk more and sit/drive less, because those often made me feel the aches. I moved a lot slower, I didn't dare to run. Even taking buses and MRTs made me nervous because of all the jerks (like when the bus drive didn't break slowly). I could only sleep on particular beds, sit on specific chairs. I had to find ways to ignore pains and not be overly anxious or scared about the pops that happen when they did (even if they hurt real badly after). I had to learn to control my emotions and remind me that I'm still a Christian - and God is on His throne. I must remind myself that God could heal me once He fulfill the purpose of this season; I needed only to be patient. I had to find escape methods from all the anxiousness and pains and doubts in my mind. I had to depend on health professionals for relief.

The restrictions I felt was honestly driving me crazy. I remember a few weeks ago while studying for exams, I couldn't sit for long, though I had to to complete my notes. I couldn't stand for long, because my legs would ache (and then pull on my bone) together with my back and neck (if I held my notes up to read). I couldn't exercise (because of all the ache and pains) to feel better. I didn't dare to sleep either (when I toss and turn, the bones can move out of place too). I didn't enjoy waking up because once I stretch instinctively when I wake up, the bones might move too. I felt limited by the environment at home too e.g. the table too low or the chair too high, or too soft. The most minor of such issues could affect me crucially. 

During the semester, I didn't have to sit so much, but there was still a lot to do in ministry and church and life. I didn't want to say that "God's grace was not sufficient for me" even through all this pain and emotional wreck. Though it really wasn't easy, because it's not like life was especially kind to me in other aspects aside from health. (Imagine going through your life now with a permanent stomachache that gets better or worse randomly throughout the day). What do you do, when you cannot do anything? Can't move nor stop moving; can't escape nor give up; can't stand up nor crumble totally; can't trust God nor doubt God? You hope. In the One who is above it all. 

I felt really frustrated, and at times a little angry with myself for not being able to trust God fully. A question that always came up in my mind is "How much should I trust the healthcare professionals? Or myself (since I'm more familiar with my symptoms and lifestyle and limits)? Or God?" I knew they weren't mutually exclusive, but in terms of priority of dependence, there is a specific ranking. And God wasn't always at the top. The 3 kept shifting, depending on the specific circumstance of each day. Sometimes, when God was on top, the other 2 would unintentionally fought for top spot. Sometimes, when God was not on top, through Holy Spirit and my experience with God, I would fight to place Him at the top.

Weeks and months of doing so unintentionally brought me to a new place. A place where my eyes and heart both showed me - eternity, where God resides. Neither of the two dependence brought me permanent relief. Only God could. This I knew for He did so before. For you see, its not just the physical pains that tears one down, but also the emotional distress from them as well. The sight and knowledge, by yourself and others, of how the life you once knew crumbled into something miserable and pathetic, was insanely difficult to accept or come to terms with. No matter how I depended on myself or on the healthcare professionals, all they could do was relief me of the physical pain temporarily and not the emotional pain. It's not that they (the other 2 dependence besides God) were lousy at re-assuring, but it's that they were ultimately mortals. Imperfect and unable to grant me a future. But God! His presence was more. His physical pain relief might not be "enough" for me at the particular moments when the pain was unbearable, but His presence is more than enough. He covers not just the present but also the future - the infinite future - Eternity

Sometime ago in October, we did a study on Joshua 5:1-12 in VCF about the entry of the Israelites into the Promised Land, and God's directions and instructions for them upon their entrance. (Please do read it before you continue!) During the session, questions were asked regarding the pain of circumcision, the rationality of their decision in disabling themselves in enemy territory, and their faith in putting the nation's safety and food security in the hands of God. Personally for me, it was the story of their patience and obedience. However, as we went around sharing about our learning points regarding the study, one of the people present shared her learning: 
"The  process of renewal and recommitment to God is sometimes painful, long and trying. The Israelites had to go through the circumsion to renew their covenant with God, which was a painful process leaving them extremely vulnerable and in a position where they had to surrender their safety and welfare to God. Likewise, when we re-dedicate our lives to God, it is not as easy as just praying for the ability to do so. but it will cost us something. Surrendering to God will leave us in a position of vulnerablity and sometimes might seem irrational. But it is in precisely this position that we can fully trust God to see us through, and this is what re-dedication is all about."
It was a sharing that shattered my heart, full of pain and doubt. It wasn't that I didn't know all these. But it was that I never knew what it meant to recommit, to re-dedicate. I had moments of disobedience, but never to the point that I felt I had to re-commit, since I never left. Yet the Israelites in the story was the same. This new generation was not faithless, complaining and stiff-necked like their forefathers, and was allowed into the Promised Land. They weren't circumcised to be punished for their sins. Instead, circumcision was almost like a "reward", one which differentiated them from their predecessors. It was a gift from God: for their glory, for their inheritance, for receiving God's covenant.

That understanding eventually led me to a conversation with God some time down the road. He told me, that He is with me, and I needn't worry. This, I already know. But yet, after that He said something more: "Sean, I love you, more than these." I couldn't help but burst out wailing. He didn't have to tell me what these are. No, maybe it's good that he didn't specify. It was everything that was crushing my spirit. Physical pains, emotional ones, responsibilities, feelings of isolation, the fatigue of serving and the unwelcomed restraints of life, even some pains that I couldn't identify and give words to. Yet His words tell me that, His love covers beyond even all these, beyond my pains or His pains for me - He was doing something beyond my suffering, and that there is something waiting at the end of all this. In between sobs and wails, my heart and lips moved on its own, in trust and love - "Lord, I love you, more than these too." The pains that destroyed my sanity, heart and body become the symbol of covenant between God and me. He longs for His purpose for me beyond my pains; I long for His presence with me beyond my pains. 

The Goal of Eternity

No longer limited by my flesh (though still affected and constrained), and with my sights lifted to Eternity much more often, things looked different to me now. Pains were still pains, but pains were more than pains. Pains were the signposts to look up and see eternity. While I used to think about eternity as an escape from pain, now eternity is instead an inheritance, a reward and an assurance for life on Earth. The reality of Eternity became indisputable, nearer and a lot easier to grasp. It's smellable - the scent of Heaven - reminding me that as Christian on earth, we are sent of Heaven. A piece of it, at least. 

As of now, I'm still not keenly aware of the why God  wanted me to realize this here and now, at the age of 25. Why me? Why was I given this revelation of Eternity so much earlier than most of my peers? Naturally, this revelation changed much of my perspectives on various things, though it'll still take time for them to solidify fully. I too, am still grappling with all the health issues. But surely, through this I know God more. I understand His thoughts and ways better. And I understand the world He lives in better. And, the sweetness of that, of being on His page, my heart beating based on His, I must say is indescribable. A quiet, indescribable sort of sweetness. 

What can separate me from the love of Christ? Romans 8:38-39 - "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." A lot of things on Earth was removed from the distance between God and I. Uncertainty, fear, ignorance, inadequacy, jobs, marriage, food security, persecution, sin. They didn't disappear into thin air, but they did lose their sting and now felt more like a blunt weapon which I could stand through the armor of God. Now I stand on solid ground. (Psalm 26:12). Now I know how to say: "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." (Romans 8:36)

Once more, again, and forever, He is mine, and I am His. 

My condition started to improve about 1 month or so ago, when my mother got some chiropractor contacts from her friends and passed them to me. Why did I not go find chiropractors earlier? I really have no answer. Perhaps it was because I had prior experience; or had no particular recommended contacts; or wanted to trust God to do a miracle; or thought that I could overcome it by a change in lifestyle; or wanted to wait till the end of exams to think about it. Or a mix of everything. But regardless, it somehow didn't occur to me prior to this, and in the end I went, and thank God for my mum who suggested that to me. It's now getting better, though far from perfect. 

The check-up revealed to me that I had several root problems with my lower spine and neck, and a lot of secondary problems was caused by that. So the treatment revolved in re-aligning the problematic parts by physical manipulation as well as physio-therapy for the muscles. Frankly, I was rather surprised at the results. It wasn't perfect, not that I was expecting perfection, so patience is still required and in the meantime I still had to go and get some relief for the aches. The entire process would take months, maybe an entire half a year. And in the meantime, it's not like life stopped moving. There were still activities that I had to go through that might aggravate my situation (IPPT, NS).

Through this process of slow recovery and rehabilitation though, God taught me one more thing. Just like the Israelites who recommitted to God, God did not merely accept that, but reconstructed them. They were no longer a generation of uncircumcised desert travellers, but citizens of a country that God called them to and brought them there. Their circumcision became a symbol of their identity. From nomads, God reconstructed them and their identities into conquerors of the Promised Land. In the same way God led me through a period of recommitment, and what came after that was done was reconstruction. Not just of my health, but also of relationships, of responsibilities, of character, of perspective, of gifting, of environment, of courage and of faith. A deep, total reconstruction that could only be done because of where I am now. Perhaps our reconstruction would never end, till it culminates in the image of Christ. But I know that right now I'm going through a very special, particular reconstruction that came because of God's covenant with me. And I know, that there is more than these for both of us on the coming journey.

The Gift of Mortality

I want to admit that this entire year, I did not make it through while courageously walking  on and facing the fears and pains. No, I didn't choose this response - Jesus picked me up, held me in His arms, carried me in His embrace and walked me to the end. It was't the first time I had such an imagery in the difficult seasons of my life. But this time, that story had such a deeper, intimate meaning given my physical lack of mobility. I could not take a single step on my own. Jacob's story of wrestling with God, and his ruined hip in exchange for the blessing and presence of God, was no longer a mere beautiful history and biblical lesson, It was the wellspring of life, a love story from God reserved also for me, some thousands of years ago before I was born. 

Can eternity be grasped in the absence of mortality? I think yes, but not for mortals like you and I. For us, God prepared another way. Though mortal words cannot describe eternity, God knew that life, flesh and mortality were a gift that could let us understand eternity, and also bring us there. Jesus came in the flesh and died, to open the way. Prior to Jesus, 'Solomon' found eternity, as his writing in Ecclesiastes, through scouring through and reaching the end of mortality. Mortal words cannot help us grasp eternity, but mortal experiences can. Because God created them, and sees us through them, making holes in the fence of mortality that lets us catch a glimpse of eternity, and Himself.  

In those months of pain and suffering, I never saw mortality as a gift. If anything, it is a curse, the curse of sin that wrecked havoc on the Earth created by the perfect God. On numerous occasions, I sought to escape from it all, whether by desiring a heroic (and swift) end that brings me to heaven, or by indulging in worldly pleasures. I saw my pains as the result of sins, MY sins - and whatever suffering I got was what I deserved. My sufferings were the proof of my sinful nature, and its claim on my soul. I knew I going to heaven, that I never wavered in. But on the earth that was ravaged by sin, the outcome is suffering as its consequence. And yet, what is man, that You are mindful of them, that You would care for them? God whispered to me one day, while I was standing crushed by the weight of my sins: "I bought you at a price, together with your sin. I claim you, together with your sin." And I was set free, once more. In His skillful hands, my sin and fleshly nature would not remain as such. They would become the source of my beauty and glory through the work of Jesus. 

And that, is the gift of mortality. James say that humans are "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (James 4:14). Indeed, we are a mist that, refined by God for the little while on Earth, and then vanishes - would become a beautiful, glorious decoration of Heaven, befitting of our Beloved King. Mist as we are, God has ordained an amount of time for this mist to exist. I learnt that as we continue to live and struggle and give our best for our God as mortals, His timing would be perfect. Not in the way we understand perfection, but in His understanding. Trust in HIS perfection, for it is the fabric that God Himself is made of. 


All of us have our own pains in life. Yours are probably not the same as mine (but well, it may be!) As a brother in Christ, I want to encourage you to count your costs of following Christ on earth. Just as eternity is understood through mortality, through the pains, sufferings, "injustice", God's silence, we count His healing, His comfort, His righteousness, and His ever-presence. In the most difficult of times, He exposes to us His presence that can never be taken away from us thereafter, a glimpse of Eternity and Himself. Let us not love pain. Let us hate suffering. But ultimately, let us desire God. There are times when I forgot about pain and suffering, as I look to find God. There are times when I forgot about God when I am in pain and suffering, yet God looks to find me. At times I reject Him, at times I blame Him, at times I rage at Him and become calculative, telling Him to do something for me for everything I've done for Him. And I've heard Him tell me: "What you did for me, will never be in vain.

Dear brother, dear sister, I know beyond a doubt, after all these years of counting costs, and especially after the crash course that I had in 2016, that no matter how good and detailed we are at it, there is none more calculative than our Father in Heaven. He counts our costs way more meticulously than us, and He will never let it go to waste. No matter what you face in your mortality on earth, I pray you take heart, peace and assurance, and know how costly you are in His sight. He forgoed Eternity, His home, to go through mortality for you and with you. His presence is with you, always and surely, to the very end of the age, until eternity.

You are dearly loved.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Passionate Decision-Making Part 2: Common Decision Dilemmas

I wrote this as a supplement to the previous post: "Developing the DMTP". Decision making is sometimes not so straightforward after all, and even after employing our DMPT, we still get stuck. Thus I will address some common dilemmas that we face and also what I think is the purpose of these decision-making situations (in other words, how we can grow while making decisions in such dilemmas).

All Options are Equally Good (at least to your knowledge)
In such cases, we have the limitation of 'imperfect information'. The natural response is to gather more information: wait till closer to date, ask relevant people, seek Godly counsel, sample (if possible). Assuming all these are already done, and yet the options still look more or less similar, I think any option is fine. The whole point of decision-making is to practice our faith and honor God. If we have consulted God and have worn His lens throughout the entire process and employing a developed DMTP, we can be assured that all decisions will ultimately advance God's kingdom and thus "please Him in every way" literally. (Colossians 1:10) At times, on hindsight, we may discover that an alternative option would have actually been better. But there is no way we can actually know that until we carried out the decision, and there are also times when we discover that the decision we made was the best amongst the options. However, since we can't control that, all we can do is be assured and glad that we've have done our best to make our decision and that the rest is God's part.

I also want to add that when we see that all options are equally good, it will be wise to involve our spiritual community. Perhaps based on what we know, the options are the same, but they may be different from our leaders' and spiritual community' vantage point may not. Perhaps they have been through it themselves and thus have the benefit of hindsight. Or that God had told them some things as they prayed and intercede for you. So do approach them, and when you do, don't treat their opinions as mere 'suggestions' but do truly try your best to obey. It is their responsibility and love to look after us after all. God will deal with them if they give crappy/careless advice. If you disagree with what they say, don't ignore or label them, but instead discuss and negotiate. Let them know what we think and why we disagree, help them to understand us, if not for this particular decision, then for future decisions you're going to make. Learn from them through this process. We want to employ our leaders' and spiritual communities' collective wisdom in our DMTP for our own specific situations to make the best and most suitable decision.

Purpose of Dilemma: Being more familiar in continually involving God in our DMTP (as we ponder upon all the options several times) and know where and how to seek and find Godly counsel from our leaders and spiritual communities. 

Need More Time to Decide
Many decisions come with a foreseeable deadline in the near future. Deadlines are important to help us move on in life: if we have infinite time, sometimes we may keep on procrastinating and not start employing our DMTP. The lack of time results in a sense of urgency. Personally, I think that some of such situations is God's test for us: Have we been continually in touch with Him, asking Him for His specific will in our lives? Have we been growing in the knowledge of God and His Word? If we don't, perhaps that's why we feel like we need more time. Jesus has limited time on Earth, but it doesn't seem like He ever expressed any sort of urgency in terms of decision-making (this is my personal opinion.) Going to places as He walked around in towns, He was always stopped by random people to fulfill their requests. But Jesus was never 'rushed' - He always stopped, did all He needed, before He move on to the initial destination. Deadlines thus act as a test and therefore reminder for us to continually seek God daily.

If you're in such situation where you're short on time, apart from using DMTP, you have to also talk to and seek God, not only 'ask' about the decision. What is ultimately God's desire in our lives? To have a personal relationship with Him. Our decisions and DMTP are made not just to honor Him, but also to know Him and understand Him better. Do you notice that sometimes when you feel very urgent/anxious, God doesn't reply at all? My own take is that this happens when God's answer becomes more important than God's answer (you just want a solution, regardless of whose, as long as it's a good solution). In such cases, then we need to come back to Him first, not the situation. Seek Him, seek His presence, His purpose, His desire, and the answer becomes obvious - He may not even need to explicitly tell you, and yet you will know exactly what to do.

Deadlines helps us greatly in framing and prioritizing things in our lives, acting as a 'end-of-chapter' sometimes. Imagine doing Paper 1, 2 and 3 at the same time. Isn't it frightening? (Some of you may one to one-shot it though, I know!) But deadlines help to separate these into parts, such that we can take a breather and improve/adjust in between. At the same time, this divisions also means that there is a limit to 'preparation'. Eventually, what we have been preparing will become useful. Having this perspective prevents us from being lazy, allowing us to improve on our skills/understanding/knowledge and thus become better vessels and children of God, knowing His heart and thoughts and skills. This then helps us to make decisions much more assuredly and also instinctively. 

Purpose of Dilemma: Reminds us of the urgency to continuously seek God for confirmation and also improve on whatever needs to be improved on. Learning to make
 decisions based on our convictions in assurance of God's plan for us and what He has trained us to become.

Unwilling/Difficult to Obey God's Will/Command
This is one of the most common decision dilemmas Christians face, especially for people who are really attuned with God. We all know that God's command and our obedience to it should take priority over our preferences and desires. However, sometimes it is not easy to simply ignore them, which may be wanting to live in material wealth, having particular achievements, wanting to serve God in a certain way etc. Our preferences and desires can also be in the form of how we want God to treat other people, but yet God plans something different for them, such as having them go through a difficult season. (Examples are how Peter did not want Jesus to die - Matthew 16:21-23; or how Abraham pleaded with God for Sodom and Gomorrah - Genesis 18). Regardless of the reason for, or the nature of, our preferences and desires, we can attempt to find/consider if there are any overlaps in our preferences and God's command. God is not an unreasonable angry God, but a merciful, generous one. Romans 8:32 NIV - He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? 

Negotiating is different from compromise. Compromise is a lowering of God's standard, while negotiating is trying to find common ground of mutual interest. Compromise mocks God's standards by ignoring His perfect ways, while negotiation is a request and appeal for grace and mercy, not a demand that God must fulfill. At times, our preferences and desires are sin - then there's nothing to discuss, but there are also times where they are not sin and therefore not mutually exclusive. But if you never ask, you'll never know. Even Jesus, the Son of God, also made that plea - He expressed His preferences ("My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will." Matthew 26:39), but was willing to submit to God's command. Moses too: reluctant and uncertain as he was, God assured him repeatedly of His presence and acceded to his requests for signs to give to the Israelites. Ultimately Moses still obeyed after expressing his preference that he rather not. Can we negotiate with this attitude and confidence that God will let us have our preference if it is possible and beneficial for us?

If we understand what is God's will, and yet stubbornly/fearfully/shamelessly continue to delay, then two things will happen. 1) God will wait for you to finally accept. In the meantime, you will feel as though there is a barrier in your relationship with God, and your walk with Him will come to a 'standstill'. The more attuned you are to God, the more you will realize this feeling of 'stoppage'. Eventually, you'll reach a point where you (hopefully) realize that there's no point delaying anymore and are instead convicted by what God wants you to do. If you're in this situation, just stop delaying and obey, for you are only shortchanging yourself. God is more patient than you in waiting for your favorable reply to His will, than you are for His favorable reply to your decision.

The other possibility is 2) He will pass you by, and you'll miss out the blessings He desires for you through making the decision He wants you to. You may or may not be able to figure out what you have missed, but I can fully assure you that you will have great, heartfelt regret for the rest of your life in this matter. This is different from unintentionally/unconsciously missing out because you do not know about it - this is a conscious decision to reject God's desire for you, thereby His love, and by extension Himself. Look at the life of Peter. Upon realizing how he had consciously denied Jesus after all the big words he spoke in Matthew 26:35; that he had lost the chance to be by the side of his beloved master for the last time and thus disappointing Jesus before His death, Peter was so broken that he simply went back to fishing - to life before Jesus came and called him. He could not bear to come to terms with what he has done and what he had not done; it is THAT painful. Jesus knew how badly Peter felt, and thus came specifically to restore him. And in a way that truly restored him: asking him 3 times, to reverse the 3 denials Peter made. God loves us so much He will never let us go even if we reject Him, but the pain that comes when we realize how we spurned Him will be so great we will never forget it. And who can be sure that you won't be so discouraged/broken that you will stop seeking or accepting God any more?

Purpose of Dilemma: Believing that God has our best interest at His heart. That He aims to bless and give us, not to take or shortchange us. That His love is tenacious enough to win our hearts over.

Making a Decision that is Far in the Future
Sometimes we have a decision to make that reasonably far into the future e.g. future career/industry, spouse, joining a ministry for the long term, pursuing further studies etc. Well, since there is a lot of time, it's best to wait for more information to surface. Very often, our next few years is connected to the present few months. And since the future is less urgent than the present, it's probably wiser to divert most of our attention and resources to the present. For decisions far in the future, mostly think about them when got time and spare capacity, otherwise just keep it at the back of your mind. We can attempt to connect current affairs to future decision-making potentials, but it is important to not extrapolate unnecessarily at the expense of today. It is good to do some thinking/research on future decisions a little each day, such that we may be better equipped/informed to make them when the time comes; but we also don't want to lightly make promises/commitments about the distant future, because they may not become practical/possible or something we want to keep when more information is surfaced.

Purpose of Dilemma: Being able to do forward planning while not shortchanging the present i.e balancing current and future needs. Also to learn to hold our future loosely but not irresponsibly.

Made a Bad Decision that is Ongoing
Sometimes we made a decision to commit to something we should not have made. Perhaps a job, relationship, maybe its a particularly negative community/activity/business investment. a 'bad' decision can be from your point of view, from God, or both. (but by right our DMTP should have taken into consideration God's input, thus here I assume it is 'bad' from both viewpoints.) Regardless, now you're in it. What's next? What I suggest is that you reflect on why you were in this situation you're in. Was it temptation? Was it an emotionally rash decision? Was it due to being misinformed? Lack of obedience, or wisdom? Once you figured it out, from there on you have to grow in it, such that you will NEVER make similar bad decisions. 

Next, ask God and figure out what He wants you to learn (on top of what you yourself figured out), from your decision-making to add into your DMTP, and also from your current situation/environment. Sometimes there is something to learn. It could be that you chose a job that was not God's intent, but you're bound by contract for the few years. Or you committed a crime and were thrown in jail. Ask Him what to get out of the entire experience and environment - the decision-making and the consequences of the decision. On the other hand, if the decision you made leads you to an environment where you sin continually, whether alone or being in a relationship/community in which everyone is sinning together, you must stop and immediately get out - however difficult it is. You must trust that God will help you as you stop sinning and repent, and that there will be consequences and punishment if you don't. 
Ezekiel 18:21-24 NIV - But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? “But if a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked person does, will they live? None of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness they are guilty of and because of the sins they have committed, they will die.
Purpose of Dilemma: Being able to face the consequences of our disobedience/ignorance and also realize that God still has a plan for us even after we messed up, but that we need to repent and return to His ways.

Decision doesn't really affect/concern me
This is something that we will all face. Sometimes we make decisions whereby we totally don't care about what are the consequences because it doesn't matter to us. Maybe you usually don't finish your food, or often waste paper/plastic bags from the groceries - to us it is just a few more cents and dollars after all Sometimes people make decisions for us that we cannot see the consequences and thus don't bother agreeing/disagreeing with it. Maybe our parents want to bring us for holiday and ask if 10-20 Dec is better or 20-30 Dec is better. You don't care and thus just let it be. Sometimes, it truly doesn't matter, whether to you or others. However, sometimes it does. (different from equally good - here is 'doesn't matter') What I want to impress upon you is that what we care about and think is important is not the only thing that is important in the world. We have to think from other people's point of view and also ask God to help us care, even when we don't care. Things like caring for the environment: some Christians think that the environment is a minor issue as we serve God, and I fully disagree because the environment will affect our lives and affect the way we serve God in the future. Things like praying for the economy, government, political stability, our neighbors etc. All these things may not have any immediate impact on us and maybe not even in the foreseeable future. We don't really have to be enthusiastic about the things we don't care about nor devote the bulk of our efforts/resources to it, but as and when possible, we should try to support such causes that please God and also help other people as well. "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12:31) Don't you wish others would be interested and supportive of your concerns and convictions? Do so likewise. 

Purpose of Dilemma: "Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too." (Philippians 2:4 ESV). To increase our perspective and interest in the Kingdom of God on earth, not simply our immediate vicinity/context. 

Passionate Decision-Making: Developing the DMTP

Third post of the 'Passion Fruit Series' trilogy! This post will be about making decisions, which I feel has been a big headache for me, as a 20-something year old and also as a young (in terms of age) Christian. Many decisions to be made, on hindsight, are no big deal, but everyone can say only that after it's past after all. In our lives, we want to make decisions that honor God and draw us closer to Him. Specifically during 20-30 years old, in our transition to full adulthood, we have to make many decisions e.g. education, work, romance, finance, family. Many times, we are forced to make them with insufficient information, time, energy etc. Therefore, it is very important that we have an effective Decision-Making Thought Process (DMTP for sure), such that even amidst the lack of resources listed above, we are still able to consciously and joyfully make God-honoring decisions.

Same Page as God's Mind
Before I proceed, I make a disclaimer that having our own DMTP is not in conflict with directly asking God for His decision/will/command. Instead, it complement. Let me illustrate: For university students, let's say we want to discuss the recent haze issue and its environmental impact. When discussing with someone who studies the course as you - environmental engineering, for example, there are much more common exposure, vocabularies and thought processes. Even with opposing viewpoints, a more holistic consensus can be reached faster since there is no need to explain things from scratch,. Thus more time and effort can be spent on discussing the impact and solution for the issues. On the other hand, talking to business students who are unfamiliar with the toxins within the haze would require additional time to be spent on explaining key terms, prior to discussion. And even then, they may not fully appreciate one another's viewpoint due to their differing concerns and emphasis in the haze issue. Likewise with God. Having an effective DMTP is allows us understand, connect with and obey God more easily (we more easily appreciate His reasoning and are thus more convicted to obey) and also faster (perhaps all we need is a go-ahead, and not how to go about doing it).

Why is Decision-Making So Important

Decisions are the great melting pot of all of our being - what we:
  • Know - the understanding of God, His character and His Word
  • Feel -  our personal relationship with God: intimacy, emotional connection and dependence. And our convictions
  • Have - our gifting, environment and resources e.g. relationships we have, network, responsibilities
Decisions act as both a test and also an identification mechanism for ourselves: it tests whether we are true disciples of Christ. At the same time it can also be said that only true disciples of Christ would make decisions the way we do. Decisions made with God in mind are, in my opinion, an expression of our love and desire for God and His Kingdom on earth. On the other hand, decisions made while paying God no mind, ignoring His interests, would naturally be seen as snubbing Him. And as Christians we all know that we don't want to snub/ignore God in our lives. But unfortunately, we still do so time to time, whether intentionally or not. Therefore, having an effective DMTP will be very useful in avoiding and reducing such scenarios.

The second reason that makes decision-making such a crucial part of our relationship with God is that some decisions will have large, long-term consequences, regardless of whether we are aware or unaware of these consequences. Some consequence are reversible, but some are not. Examples that come to mind:
  • King Saul - whose lineage were dethroned because of his disobedience to God. 
  • King David - whose murder of Uriah made his name associated with the sin of lust and idleness for the rest of history on earth. 
  • King Jesus - whose obedience to God on the cross made the way for all mankind. 
And many other biblical characters' whose actions change history permanently, whether for better or for worse. Furthermore, poor decisions not only affect people tangibly, but may also leave emotional scars and trauma. Regrets, broken trust, disappointments, insecurities and much more. These are not easily redeemed, and is really really painful in the meantime, often crippling the person and those around them.

Developing an Effective DMTP

My purpose in encouraging you to develop an effective DMTP is expressed in this letter of Paul to the Colossians:
Colossians 1:9b - 12 NIV - We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 
An effective DMTP is developed by 1) taking on God's lens and 2) building and expanding the metrics and considerations within it. It is an ENDLESS process, because our perspective and considerations can be expanded more and more as we become more exposed to the truths of the Kingdom of God. However, even with the BEST decision-making thought process, we will still make wrong decisions at times, because we are mere mortals after all. But, a more effective DMTP will generally result in better decisions and reduce the number of terrible decisions.

Taking on God's lens, Dropping our scales

Acts 9 talks about the story of Paul (Saul), a very passionate and outspoken Christian in his era and who wrote a large part of the New Testament. But he was originally an equally enthusiastic persecutor of Christians (v2 and v13). However, God changed his lens which he used to view the world. In v5-8, Paul was blinded for a few days and then in v18, "something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again." Immediately afterwards, he began preaching powerfully about the gospel which he was previously persecuting vehemently (v20-22). This is a simple and straightforward story, but yet carries a powerful message: through whose eyes are we seeing the world and making our decisions? Paul is an amazing Jew, starting his rabbinic education of the Old Testament at the age of 5 years old (via cross-referencing from the traditions of that era). He also had Gamaliel I for his teacher (Acts 22:3), one of the most notable rabbi in the 1st century AD. Paul also had excellent Jewish roots and upbringing; a Hebrew of Hebrews from the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5). Despite his upbringing and status as a Jew, the chosen people of God, before he started on the mission as the chosen instrument of God to spread the gospel, the very first thing that God did with him was to change his lens. And after that, along with baptism and a few days of orientation with the rest of the disciples, he was ready to go, and powerfully so. As Christians, unlike Paul, we don't have an almost perfect knowledge of the Word of God, our training in the Word is by far less complete than him. But from this story, what we can certainly observe is that any amount of knowledge is only useful with the change in perspective; with God's lens and a removal of our scales. 

Looking things from God's lens (or having the perspective of heaven) is a common sermon. For almost all of us today, maybe even Paul himself then, not the entire scale have fallen out of our eyes yet. Some more, some less. Regardless, what is key here is that we are aware that there are scales in our eyes, and that it needs to come out, and that whatever we see now is distorted by the scales. Why does the Bible use the imagery of scales in this passage? Why did God not just instantly change Paul's perspective in his mind and instead specifically do a physical, outward transformation? After all, Jesus' disciples had no such description of an experience of a physical transformation. My thoughts are that God wants to draw a clear line, not just for Paul but for everyone else, that there is indeed a before and after, that there is indeed something in our eyes that prevent us from seeing what is truly there and important. Jesus addressed this spiritual blindness in Matthew 13, when His disciples asked Him why He spoke in parables. "Though seeing, they do not see; ...you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused...  and they have closed their eyes.....But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear." Our eyes and ears as Christians can see and hear God, but probably not perfectly; else the lapses of disobedience, self-interest and sin won't happen. So acknowledge it, and work towards removing more and more of these scales.

God's Lens
Even if we are for God and want to serve Him, we must still do it through His lens and ways. Else we may become like Martha (Luke 10:38-42), and miss out on God's personal friendship, presence, and teachings, all of which Mary just by being there. If both of them were doing the 'preparation' work, I personally wonder whether Jesus would have called them over on His own instead. I feel that in this case, Jesus was using a life moment to impress upon Martha (and everyone else) what's best and truly important: the kingdom of God; to seek God and have a personal relationship with Him, and preparation/social customs (of preparing food), good as they are, must not result in us missing out on God. To have God's lens is to see and know what God is ultimately concerned about in every setting. (To know more about this, do read the post 'The Will of God', where I describe in long details of what God's purpose is.)

God's Lens and Ours
But the truth is that its impossible to completely ignore our own "lens" which arises from our own experience, such as our family background; national culture; church traditions; school recommendations - what 'people/society' say. This is fine and good, as after all our relationship with God is also a "partnership" - (Philippians 1:5). Unlike scales, these 'lens' can help us to see things in a new way. However, we must realize how to use these lens and be able to remove them when we need to: when they instead distort what God wants us to see, else they will simply end up becoming 'scales' for these situation. I think God's lens is an optimal/ideal combination of all lens that exist in the world. I make this conclusion based on realizing how our existing upbringing and environment causes us to see an aspect of God more clearly than others: in times of peace, we see God as the upholder of justice and the One who provides. In countries with strife, we may see God as the Deliverer and the Almighty. But it is the same God, and only by talking to others who experience what we do not can we truly see God for who He really is. Thus for us Christians, to eventually possess God's lens, we have to work towards developing more lens and finally having the holistic viewpoint of God. What I list below is mainly from what I gather in terms of my friends in university - different vocation emphasizes different main thought process - as well as my own experiences in university. Try to add unto your current DMPT which lens below that you do not already possess. 

This is my own lens as I study business in university: making decisions become a simple addition and subtraction based on benefits. Most of us are also familiar with it as we very often use it - buying things; choosing part-time jobs; deciding to study in school or at home after waking up late; how much effort to put in for particular projects/assignments and many more. The Bible mentions, on many occasions, this cost-benefit concept:
  • Philippians 3:7-8 NIV - But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
  • Mark 8:36-37 NIV - For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 
  • Luke 12: 33 NIV - Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys
  • Luke 14:28 NIV - Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?
This lens is really straightforward, but it's main flaw is that we ONLY see things from this perspective because it's so simple. If we are not careful, we may forget about loving; forget about grace; forget about justice and become incomparably selfish and ruthless. Another major flaw is that, unlike God, we may not always have an accurate grasp of the actual cost and benefit for our actions, unintentionally overvaluing or undervaluing them. We may also overlook any externalities (additional impact on others) on our community and its unity, authority and values. Thus it is highly inadvisable to use this cost-benefit lens in our DMTP in isolation.

At all Cost or Benefits
As an extension, there are also some decisions which should be (or should not be) made at all costs (or at all benefits). Decisions like following Jesus, honoring God have immediate huge and substantial cost and at the same time, we don't even know what are the exact 'benefits'. These benefits are abstractly labelled as 'treasure in heaven' or 'abundant life' and may not be very appealing to some of us. If this is you, then I encourage you to take such opportunities to build your trust in God, who not only loves you very much, but who is also not poor enough to shortchange you. In fact, He is the Great Investor, who multiplies our effort and produce "many seeds" from a kernel of wheat that dies (John 12:24). 

Present and/or Future
One major thing I inserted into my DMTP in university is to also consider the future together with the present. Previously, at the start of each each summer holiday, I will think of how to spend the holiday. At the end of it, I'll think about what modules to take in the coming semester, and then life goes on. In contrast, many of my course mates would think further ahead: what internship to take half a year later; where to go for exchange programmes a year later; how many internship to take in the entire 4 years. I recall in 2015 May-Aug, my friends asked me if what I'll be doing during the holiday. My answer was: "I don't find things to do, things find me to do." Sure enough, I got really busy, with random and yet fruitful things. But over this semester, as I think more about my future; as I lead my the Christian fellowship in school; as some of my close friends in school graduate and also as God surfaced His long-term purpose for me, I began to think of future and the decisions I have to make. Where shall I work? How should I spend my last year in university? When should I take a long-term sabbatical from ministry? I started to become more sensitive about the long-term, future consequences of any decision I made or will make. I guess this is part of growing up: we need to make decisions about the future - and commit to it.

The Reverse: Living in the Present
However, I believe the reverse is required as well. When I first entered university, I have a friend who is really smart, high-achieving and ambitious. On top of her excellent studies, she has a boyfriend, had several tuition assignments at the same time, and also lived on campus. In our first semester, she started to plan for her exchange programme. In contrast to me, who only cares about the next 2 weeks, this person cares almost entirely about the next 2 years. I used to think she is crazy, until I started became more future-oriented in my DMTP. However, now I am also certain that she is 'living in the future'. Just as the future is important, we need the 'present' to get there. If we set all our sights on the future, the present is missed - and we miss God, who is in our lives 'today'. Then, we may unintentionally end up 'worrying about tomorrow' (Matthew 6:34). We stop training our trust and assurance in God who will provide for 'tomorrow' and miss out on His specific will for us currently: the people and environment, which God desires us to be involved in and influence. Our decisions cannot be always about the future, because after we reach the future we had in mind, we will again look to the future. It's never-ending, and we become dependent almost entirely on our ability to count costs, benefits and also our limited expectations of the future. The Bible has this to say: 
James 4:13-16 NIV - Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.
While thinking like an 'adult', we must never forget that we also have to remain childlike, trusting God for the next breathe and be available for the present. Ultimately, it is about the weightage given to the future and present. Different decisions will require different weightage to be given to either the future and present; we have to practise and grow in our discernment of which is more important in making a specific decision.

Along the way as I serve God and study in university, whether in school project groups or in Christian settings, the importance of unity becomes more apparent and vital in my DMTP. Initially, I used to have a more task-oriented mindset. The decisions I make, whether in my Christian community or academic project group settings, would be based on what is best for achieving the purpose of these social settings. When others say/do things which I think is not helpful in achieving the purpose, I would be quick to disagree/comment. After some time, I might even choose to do everything by myself, regardless of their response/lack of response. Ultimately, I got over-strained and felt upset/lonely at the lack of support (which is often something I brought upon myself). However, this mindset changed during a Bible study camp in 2014. I was attending a workshop on 'Denominations of the Christian faith'. After the workshop, I felt that the internal strife of the believers that resulted in the different denominations are due to rigid/unnecessary clinging to traditions and arguments in theology. Somehow, I started to grow resentful of second generation Christians and thought of them as burdens in the body of Christ. But immediately after I thought of that, God rebuked me and said: "How could you judge your brothers and sisters like that?" That sobered me up, and made me realize that regardless of their 'ineffectiveness' (from my point of view), it doesn't change the fact that they are still one body and family with me. There is neither logic nor moral high ground for me to judge them. The Bible says: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV). Since then, the unity of the community/any social group became a very important decision point for me - if my decision affects unity, I would think twice about it very much. Without unity, nobody can go far or do much and sustain it for a long time. 

Getting more 'Right'
The next addition to my DMTP is - how can I make decisions based on more of the Word? A more 'right' decision. What is right and wrong is pretty clearly written in the Word of God. Initially, I always use the cost-benefit model to make my decisions, but eventually I realized that there are some inconsistencies, based on the Word. An example is using our parent's office materials for printing or taking paper from there for our own usage (obviously without the management's consent), Is it okay for us to do so even if everybody has also been doing that? Even if the benefits dwarf the costs, does it mean we should? Even if the answer is no, we often compromise when inconveniences arise. But wrong is wrong, and right is right. Some aspects of the final decision may be of minor consequence with respect to its effect on the entire decision, but regardless, these seemingly 'minor' things are instead a test of our integrity and obedience to God's standard. Thus, what we should do is to look for what the Bible says. In the above example, I used Philippians 2:4 "not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." I decided to not use paper which do not belong to me in my final decision. It is therefore is more 'right' (based on God's standards), than previously. 

Another example of how we can be more 'right' is in terms of how we to interact with people as we make decisions with/involving them, especially those 'under' us - subordinates, domestic helpers, younger siblings, children. We can treat them as everybody would and 'lord it over them' (1 Peter 5:3), or we can be more 'right' and 'let our conversations always be full of grace' (Colossians 4:6). Ultimately the point is that as we continually grow as Christians, our DMTP must reflect more and more of our knowledge and obedience to the Word.

Treating Others Who Does What is Wrong in Your Eyes
Treat them as you would yourself. Before you discovered that there was something wrong in your actions and decisions, how do you want people to treat you? Not with condemnation, but gently, lovingly and with the understanding that you do not see it the way they do. Let them show you where they are coming from: either through the Word or their personal experience (success/mistakes) or from what God told them directly. And then you go digest, ask God, let them know what you're thinking and clarify whatever needs to be clarified and then finally make a more informed decision.
Author's notes: I wrote 'wrong from your eyes' because it could be our misinterpretation of the Word, or we only think it is wrong because we do not know the details or the full picture.

Application and/or Knowledge 
This is a recent addition to my DMTP in the this semester. As someone who studies business, well-versed in the cost-benefit metric, I naturally value practical application much more than pure knowledge. Also, James 1:22-25 NIV - "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says..." further convince me of that. Business school modules are application based and are almost universally useful, whether in CCA, church, family, talking/ministering to people, managing resources etc. This semester, I took the first Arts and Social Sciences module in my life, which is very different from business modules. Sociology is not about only about application, but also about knowing, understanding and appreciating. Its application is more often used used in a macro-setting, by governments and large organizations to shape society and by extension individual members, but much harder to apply in everyday life. After taking the module, I then begin to question the importance of knowledge with little application potential (back to my cost-benefit roots). But now as I reflect, when I read the Bible and go through parts like Revelations (which consists of lots of symbolism, often for additional dramatic effect) over my recent bible study camp, I realize that knowledge itself leads to appreciation, which is not necessarily useful, but necessary for us to understand God better. Just like knowing more things about the people we love and care about need not necessarily change the way we treat the person, but it is still important to us. Likewise, knowing how good God is may or may not lead us to change the way we treat God, but it is still important in our desire to be closer to God. Therefore, with the insertion of 'knowledge without application is also desirable at times' in our DMTP, we can learn to make decisions that may not yield 'edible fruits', but is also good for our lives.

As I get better at doing the things I have been doing in university, I realize that experimentation is crucial for further progress in effectiveness. Of course, sometimes the tried and tested way is the best, but not all the time. Some less seen and more complex situations require tailored-made solutions, and thus we must be expanding our methods/understandings such that we are ready to make decisions in face of such situations. For example, I need to make decisions about how to mentor my mentee and the people entrusted to me. Of course, there is the usual way of giving them teachings from the Bible, checking on their walk with God and also praying for them. All these are tried-and-tested effective ways to grow people. However, along the way I realize that the people I take care of are all different. Some more willing to submit, some less. Some more enthusiastic about growing, some not. Some will take more initiative, some don't. Some prefer more hands-on learning, some less. And the list goes on. Thus I often have to think of new methods to fit a particular person's preferences and dislikes - this started from going street evangelizing with them, then getting them to write blogs based on teachings I gave, then giving them hands-on practice on taking care of people, then getting them to teach me, and more recently, to learn self-control by controlling their unconscious bodily actions while talking. In your own context, this experimentation can take many other forms: planning and running programs; a more efficient way of collecting information; planning celebrations etc. But I encourage you to consider experimentation - because God Himself is a creative God: He made us all different, and creation itself speaks of the extent of His creativity. And I lastly, isn't it a little dry/boring to the same things over and over again? Ultimately, the paths less traveled yield rewards that are less common!

Emotions and Logic
This is the most recent thing that I built into my DMTP. For most of us, we would think that we shouldn't make decisions with our emotions, especially for important decisions. I would only partially agree. In the Story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15 NIV), in v20: "But while he (the prodigal son) was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." This story is often used to show how much God loves us, because this is the only recorded instance in the Bible of God actually running, and important people don't usually run towards others. The decision to run was made, in this story, by a father's overflowing love and gladness for his son. It was probably difficult for the rich man, wearing all his expensive garment and against the cultural norms of treating one's children (what more a failure of a son), to make such a decision - but his emotions got the better of him and he ran. Wouldn't the story be less touching if he actually calculated and logically think of whether he should run - maybe that'll save him about 10 seconds more from reaching his son? Sometimes, emotions are also important factors for us in making decisions. I'm not writing this to say that we should always act on what we feel, but to uncover the myth that our emotions cannot help us to make better decisions, and that there are times also when emotions are sufficient to make decisions (though not so common).

Deciding in Tandem
Some people argue that deciding with the heart is dangerous because "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV). But I put this verse before them as well: 2 Corinthians 11:3 NIV - "But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ". Our minds, just like our hearts, are not perfect vessels for making decisions. That's why I personally feel we should employ both, such that when one fails, the other can cover for it and alert you to reconsider. However, I do agree that for most decisions, logic is mostly enough (and on its own, also more dependable than our emotions) to make good decisions. Regardless, I still think that it is useful to be able to 1) insert emotions into our DMTP and 2) discern, know and when not depend on emotions in our DMTP. If at the moment you make a lot of decisions based a large part on emotions, then develop self-control, and you'll be like Abraham who was able to obey God even in extreme circumstance, being called the 'Friend' of God and became a father of all nations. If now all your decisions are devoid of emotions or that you think it's bad to insert emotions, then see how you can exhibit the character of God in His love, and be able to 'run' as well.

As you add on more and more consideration points/metrics into your DMTP, you will realize that they make your decisions more and more complicated, but also more holistic at the same time. This happens as the different metrics combine and overlap into a matrix. For most of us, we do not consciously think about these metrics (as I have listed above) because they are in a way 'intuitive' to us, and as we grow older and grow in God, we naturally would start to include them in our decision-making, whether consciously or not. However, my point is that we want to be intentionally growing in our DMTP because we want to make the most ideal and informed decisions as young as we can. If you could repeat the same decisions you made when you're in primary school or secondary school with the considerations that you have now, would you make the same decision? Maybe yes, maybe no. But surely there are some decisions you had made poorly due to not knowing or not appreciating a certain decision consideration points before - which explains the urgency for continually building a better DMTP! It may feel foreign or forced at the start, but eventually the benefits will be worth it. This is the same logic as any other thing we do and invest in with God in mind!

Final Comments

Rights or Privileges
Sometimes when we make a decision to get something, we may make that decision thinking that we are are 'entitled to it'. This entitlement often stems from 'everybody having it' and thus 'not fair if I don't have.' This can be many things: overseas trips (exchange and holidays), jobs (research assistant, interns, high-paying jobs), romantic partners, particular talents, a smooth-sailing life with no struggles or pain etc. When I asked people about what if they cannot have/get these, the reply I often get is: "but everybody have it", "only if God says no", "nah, isn't it normal to have". The sense of disbelief from their reply leads me to conclude they have not surrendered their desires unto God, and that they are making these decisions as their 'rights' to get what they want. And when they don't get them, they will feel like God shortchanged them, thus distancing themselves from God or blaming Him or 'try harder'. But what we must remember is that everything we have is a privilege given by God, and we should make decisions 'requesting' God, not 'demanding' God. We have no rights before God after all. And when we find it difficult to accept that we cannot have 'what everyone has', we must remember that the self-sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross is the hallmark of a Christian. We need not be enthusiastic or ecstatic about sacrificing ourselves, our interests or desires, but we must be willing to submit ourselves to God. Not just our time, resources and talents, but also our future, enjoyments, privileges and rights as well. We have to trust that God desires to bless and give us, and that He is ultimately more interested in the submission and obedience, not sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). 

Committing to Our Decisions
Having continuously building our DMTP and using it to make decisions, all this eventually only impacts our lives if we can follow through and commit to our decisions. Jesus tells us to "let our 'yes' be 'yes' and our 'no' be 'no'" (Matthew 5:37 NKJV). Whatever we have decided, we have to follow through, else what is the point of thinking so much? There are many people I know who backed out of their decisions at the last minute, saying: "I have no peace," or "I have some other last minute plans." I do not deny that both are valid reasons at times, and at times in between the time period where the decision was made and carried out, some new information may have surfaced, or circumstances change. But the question that is truly important is: "Are we committed people - able to commit to what we have decide to commit to?" Or are we weak-willed 'infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming?' (Ephesians 4:14 NIV) Or are we self-interested people who only care about what is beneficial and convenient for us? We have to stand firm on the decisions we made, lest we become undependable people whom God cannot entrust anything to. 


The above is the things that I have built into my DMTP. They are the fruit of a continuous process of learning, from successes and mistakes, from my own and others. If you haven't been actively building your DMTP, I suggest you slowly start bit by bit, in steps, from points you're most convicted. Having a more holistic, wide-ranging perspective will result in a DMTP that is more than a sum of its parts. You'll discover that not only will your decisions become much more effective and comprehensive, but that you as a person also become very insightful and are able to discern God's perspective and purposes in things that happen in your life and those around you - because your DMTP is like God's; you're taking on His lens. 
1 Corinthians 2:16 NIV - “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
Matthew 22:36-38 NIV (emphasis mine) - “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment."
Making decisions are ultimately hard because we do not understand God well and do not know what He wants. I pray that you will build your DMTP as you build your life, with eternity in mind and to be more like Christ.