The easy Christian path

A lot of teachers will have you believe that the Christian path is difficult. Nothing can be further from the truth. When you become a Christian, you do it by faith and not by works. It is this simple act of trust that will transform your life, and not your onerous self-efforts. Ephesians 2:8-9, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

In your Christian life, you will face trials and tribulations, but it will be easy to overcome them as you put your faith in Christ and His saving power. He promises in Romans 8 that we will be “more than conquerers” through Christ who loved us.

The world’s way to righteousness is hard, because it is dependent on our own self-effort. The Christian way is easy because it is dependent on what Christ has done for us, rather than what we have done for Christ. Jesus calls us to forsake the world’s difficult ways and take on his easy burden:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

It can be tempting to reject Jesus’ light burden because it seems to easy – it seems too good to be true. Sometimes God’s way seems so easy it offends us. That was what happened to Naaman.

Naaman was a mighty soldier in the army of the king of Aram. He had won many battles but had one war which he couldn’t fight, the fight he had with leprosy. He heard from one of his servants that Elisha, the prophet of Israel, could heal him of the dreaded disease. So he went down to Israel with a big load of riches and asked Elisha to heal him:

Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”  So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

Sometimes, we are tempted to be like Naaman. He thought that having a dip in the Jordan was too easy. We shouldn’t make the same mistake as him and reject the easiness of the gospel – salvation by faith and not by works.

Jesus tells us to have faith in Him and that faith will be enough to cleanse us of our sins, help us to move mountains and achieve the impossible. But in our human thinking, we believe that the answer to our problems must be more difficult, more complicated. And so we reject His easy path and go our own way, which leads us into difficulties.

But God wants us to take the easy path – the path of dependence on Him, resting and waiting on His power to save us. In Numbers, when the Israelites sinned, God commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. When the Israelites looked at the snake, they were healed. In the same way, in John, Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” For sinners to receive eternal life, all they have to do is to simply look at Jesus – it’s as easy as that. Salvation is simple, don’t let your need to do good works complicate God’s method of saving!

Wait for God to work for good

There’s a verse in the Bible that I always go back to, which encourages me every time I’m down and has given me wisdom, strength and victory every time I turn to it.

What’s this special verse? It’s Romans 8:28:  “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God”.

When something bad happens to us, we have to be patient and trust that God will bring something good out of it. We have to wait for the big picture to unfold. One day, if we are patient enough to trust God and see His total vision for our life, we will see how both the good and bad things actually mix up beautifully into a wonderful story with a happy ending. The setbacks make your comeback that more amazing and turn your test into a testimony.

Bad things will happen to us, we can’t avoid trouble in this fallen world. However, we make things worse if we fixate on the negative. Maybe you went through a divorce or had a bad childhood, but it’s dangerous to isolate the bad parts of your life. Though you’ve been through a tough time, if you trust God, He can give you beauty for ashes and you’ll come out stronger, more victorious than before.

God whispers comforting words of hope in Jeremiah 29:11 –

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Believe that God has good things lined up in your future, that you’ll meet the right people at the right place at the right time. When you face a set-back, instead of getting discouraged, re-ignite your passion, don’t look at the failure and start moving forward. As you power on with fire in your heart, God will grant you the victory.

In your life, there will be both good and bad things. Wait for God to work with both the good and the bad, wait for the big picture to unfold. When you see the fullness of what He’s doing and the victory that He will bring to you, you’ll forget all about the pain of your problems and praise Him for your blessings. You’ll say to Him – “God you’re amazing, you had it all figured out, your plan was better than my plan!” When something bad happens to you, you may not understand why but one day, if you don’t lose your faith and move on with life, you will see His perfect plan.

So don’t lose heart. It’s not over until God says it’s over. And God always ends with good.

There’s a story about how this man was shipwrecked on a deserted island. He was terribly depressed – all alone, away from his loved ones. He had no idea how he could get someone to rescue him. He prayed to God for help but weeks passed and nothing happened. He lost all hope that he would ever be rescued. Then something terrible happened. One day, when he went out to gather some fruits for lunch and when he came back, he found that the hut he had built was on fire. As he watched his hut burn to the ground, he cried out to God – “Why are you doing this to me? I prayed for you to help me and things only go from bad to worse. I give up!” He was utterly devastated. But then an hour later, a boat turns up at his island. It was the Coast Guard – they had come to rescue him. The man was over-joyed. “How did you know I was here?” the man asked the captain. “We saw the signal from the fire you built on the island,” the captain said.

Like the shipwrecked man on the island, God can turn the fire that threatens to destroy us into a beacon of hope. We just have to be patient and wait to see how God can turn things around and transform the negative into the positive. As Psalms 30:5 says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning”.

So no matter how bad things get, keep your hope in God and watch Him bring you the victory!

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How to defeat any problem

What do you do when something bad happens?

For me, I’ve found the secret of conquering problems. It’s found in one of my favourite verses in the Bible – “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28)

If you believe in the above verse, then you’ll tell yourself that when something bad happens to you, don’t be disturbed, because it’s not the end of the story. There’s another chapter coming up and it has a good (and happy) ending. God is writing the story of your life and He has promised us that it will end on a positive note. God encourages us by saying to us – “for I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

God guarantees that when you face adversity, you’ll be victorious! He will turn your setback into a comeback. The Bible is full of stories of how God worked good out of negative circumstances.

For example, Paul was put in prison – definitely an unpleasant situation. But instead of being frightened and happy, Paul was full of joy. In Philippians, Paul tells us that because he is in prison, more people have been encouraged to preach the gospel because of it, thus God was working good out of his prison stay. Paul writes:

“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.  As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”

The early Christians faced many problems and were widely persecuted. Yet God used the persecution for good. When non-believers saw Christians being willing to suffer for their faith – even willing to die for their faith by becoming martyrs – that became a powerful testimony for their beliefs. And for the Christians who were slain, that was not the end for them. God promised them a heavenly reward for sacrificing their life, thus turning the situation to one of ultimate good. As James writes:

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

The ultimate example of God working good out of tragedy is found in the cross. Jesus was brutally tortured and killed but the grave couldn’t hold him. On the third day, God resurrected Him, turning his death on Friday into one of triumphal resurrection on Sunday. God used Jesus’ death on the cross for a mind-blowing good – the forgiveness of the sins of any who would believe in Jesus.

Why do we face obstacles and problems? Oftentimes God uses obstacles to train us to be patient and persevering. As James writes,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

So instead of being afraid of problems, dreading problems, James tells us to welcome difficulties with joy! We are told to see problems as a way to build up our perseverance and endurance.

So what’s the secret of defeating problems? It comes in having faith and trust in God to work for our good, in using problems for our advantage. It comes from not trying to run away from problems, but welcoming them with joy and tackling the problems head on because we know that God is using the problems to build our stamina. When we face failure, we do not give up, but keep pressing on until God’s grace grants us the victory!

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Overcome envy

I’m often tempted to envy my friends.

I envy the fact that they’re married and have cute babies. I envy the fact that they have well-paid jobs in senior positions. These well-paid jobs enable them to have posh houses and expensive cars, which I wish I had.

But recently God has been speaking to my heart about my envy.

He said to me – “I love you and want the best for you. Whatever you have in your life is the best for you and you lack nothing. You are unique. What will make others happy will not make you happy. What makes you happy might not make others happy. So don’t compare yourself with others. Be thankful for what you do have and make the best of what I’ve given you.”

When I heard this truth from God, I resolved to change my attitude towards my friends’ prosperity. Instead of comparing myself to them, I resolved not to envy them or indulge in self-pity. I told myself not to indulge in what-if-I-had-what-they-had thoughts and wishful-thinking fantasies of having what they had.

Instead of envy, I replaced it with gratitude and a serene acceptance of what I do have. Instead of pining, yearning, longing for what I do not have, I have a calm, satisfied gratitude for what I do have.

I resolved to celebrate my unique circumstances and gifts, to learn how to thrive with what God has given me instead of envying others and longing for what they have. This means taking stock of all the blessings and positive things God has poured into my life, and to use those things to maximise my happiness.

I’ve learnt to be free from competition. That means that I don’t compete with others to be the best, I only compete with myself. In Philippians, Paul writes, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” The Christian life is like a race. When you watch the big races, like the Olympics, you’ll notice that the runners never look at each other when they’re running. They look straight ahead as the zoom towards victory. In the same way, when we run the Christian race, we should just focus on running it in the best way that we can and not compare our running with our fellow Christians.

Envy can be a dangerous vice and it is one of the seven deadly sins. Envy, if it festers and grows, can turn into hatred, and even lead to murder. That’s what happened to Cain, who envied his brother Abel and killed him. Saul became envious of David’s success in defeating the Philistines and threw a spear at him to try to kill him. The religious leaders envied Jesus, and plotted to have Jesus put to death. As it was said in the gospel, Pilate “knew very well that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him because they were jealous” (Mark 15:10). Envy can turn your love for a friend into one of hatred, so guard your heart against this deadly attitude!

Envy is the only deadly sin that is also listed in the Ten Commandments: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17).

Oftentimes we sin because we can’t resist the pleasure of that sin, but envy is a sin that brings no joy at all. Envy creates hell in the human heart. It allows no satisfaction, no security, no peace only the constant discontent of selfish desire. It is a deadly sin and a miserable punishment.

Envy leads you to want to see the other person’s happiness to be destroyed – it is full of selfish maliciousness. It reminds me of the story about the preacher who was disappointed because he wasn’t invited to a neighbor’s picnic? Later, when they got around to asking him, he said, “It’s too late. I’ve already prayed for rain.”

When you understand the dangers of envy, you’ll take care not to cultivate it when it rears its ugly head. James warns us that ” where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work” (James 3:16 ).

Instead of being jealous, we should learn to be content with what we have. We should develop an attitude of thanksgiving, both for our blessings and the blessings of others. As it is said in Romans 12:15 – “Rejoice with those who rejoice”.

(If you liked this blog post, do visit this blog again. I intend to update this blog with a new entry weekly, usually on Wednesday)

Gratitude – the attitude that will change your life

I’d like to start this blog with something funny I read the other day:

Bill and Joe were walking through a field. Suddenly, they saw an angry bull. Terrified, they ran towards the nearest fence. The bull chased them in a mad rampage and they soon realized that they wouldn’t be able to outrun the terrifying animal. Bill shouted at Joe – “You come from a Christian family. Pray to God for us!” Joe replied, “I come from a Christian family but I’m not a Christian. I’ve never prayed a prayer in public before.” Bill said, “Never mind, just pray what your family prays! We’re in deep trouble here!” “All right,” Joe said, “I’ll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the dinner table: ’O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.’”

If you’re like Bill and Joe, you might be in difficult circumstances and being grateful for them seems like a joke. But what I’ve learnt in my life is that gratitude changes things. Gratitude is the attitude that changes you and as you change, your actions change and that transforms your circumstances.

I first learnt about the power of gratitude when I was working at a Construction Association. The job was a poor fit for me since I had no interest in construction, so I was bored and utterly miserable but felt I had to continue it since it was the only job I could find after months of fruitless searching for other jobs. Then one day I went to a seminar where the teacher taught us a gratitude meditation, where for five minutes we just thought about the things that we were grateful for. I was amazed at how much better I felt after the exercise. So I started listing the things that I was grateful for about the job, such as the job was easy, the colleagues pleasant and the work load was light. I started feeling happier about my job. Then I had a great realization: the mind can only focus on one thing at a time. If the focus is positive, then you will feel happy. If the focus is negative, then you will feel unhappy. Gratitude makes your mind focus on the positive, creating joy, thus gratitude is a powerful attitude that can transform your mental state into one of bliss.

For Christians, gratitude isn’t just a nice option, it’s a necessity. The Bible commands us to give thanks in verses like:

1 Chronicles 16:34

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Colossians 3: 17

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Ephesians 5:20

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Gratitude is not just good for your mental health, but your physical health as well. In an article in Guideposts magazine, Dr. Stephen Post, a physician at Case Western Medical School, discovered that

1)   Focusing on things you’re grateful for in just 15 minutes can significantly increase your body’s natural antibodies

2)    Gratitude can help make your mind more focused and make you less prone to depression

3)    A grateful mind induces a physiological state called resonance that’s associated with healthier blood pressure and heart rate

For me, gratitude is not just a virtue, it is an enjoyable virtue. There is something wonderful about giving thanks. Like praise and worship, when you give thanks, it brings joy and lifts your spirits. For me, giving thanks is an immensely pleasurable activity, a command which I quickly, readily and joyfully obey.

In short, gratitude makes me feel good.

Most importantly, gratitude makes me feel good when I should be feeling bad. When you face negative circumstances and are tempted to feel unhappy, gratitude makes you focus on what you do have and not what you don’t have.

Gratitude helps you put things in perspective, so that you realize that even when things aren’t going your way, there’s still a lot of good in your life.

An example of this insight at work is when Matthew Henry was robbed and gratitude helped him deal with the trauma. As he explains in his prayer:

I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed and not I who robbed.

I’ll end this blog post with a great quote from C.S. Lewis, about the pleasures of gratitude:

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.