React VS Response

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A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire. Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim. – Proverbs 15:1, 4 The Message

There was once during cell we were discussing about a ‘cockroach management theory’ on ‘reacting’ and ‘responding’. It brought to my mind this famous liner by Charles R. Swindoll, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” And to quote Ann Landers, “The trouble with talking too fast is you may say something you haven’t thought of yet.”

In short, the way we react or response reveal or rather mirror our heart and character- you are what you say.

There is a vast difference between ‘reacting’ and ‘responding’- we usually react out of our emotional impulse, quick and without much thought, as opposed to ‘responding’ where we usually pause with deliberation to think over how to respond appropriately despite how we feel at the moment. Reaction often sparks off a chain of negative reactions unnecessarily, whereas response provokes analysis and opens ground for healthy discussion.

I can totally relate between these two subjects. I used to be a very reactive person as a result of growing up under a stigma of rejections that had moulded me to be a very ultra-sensitive person. I took every little comment personally and reacted negatively, even if the person meant no malicious intent. The root was deep so were the wounds. Because of this sensitivity, I deliberately hardened my heart in order to prevent any injurious infliction. And over the years, I grew numb emotionally as if living in denial was my way to survive. Imagine that I had been living in a vicious cycle of blaming my family background and a physical condition I could never accept.

But God has been gracious and didn’t leave me that way, just as an onion has layer upon layer to peel off, God had been gently dealing with this deep issue in order to bring healing to my whole being. It took me years to learn and overcome. Aside to arming myself with the Shield of Faith and Sword of the Spirit, these practical tips also help immensely:

  1. Rein myself in for 3 days against reacting in order to response with a clear mind appropriately;
  2. Should I find myself reacting to a situation, I should filter it by asking myself: (a) Is it true? (b) Is it right? (c) Is it necessary? (d) Does it benefit or helpful to the person who listen?
  3. Pause and evaluate what and why you are reacting? Then nib it in the bud immediately otherwise this bad root will grow into a strong tree and you will find yourself in a vicious cycle.
  4. Last but not least, realise that words whether spoken or unspoken, will be actualised and has the power to bring the end result it has been intended for.

I hope by sharing this excerpt from my own journey will help others to avoid this unnecessary path. May it also provide some insights to how we are what we are because of where we were.

And yes of course, even till now, there is no way I can be perfect in this area, until I get to Heaven. And nonetheless, it doesn’t warrant a license to continue living as I was. The heart of the matter is often the matter of the heart- Attitude. It is but a matter of how you see it and response; and response takes action wisely.

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A Beautiful Exchange

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To all who mourn in Israel He will give: beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness. For God has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for His own glory. – Isaiah 61:3 TLB

(Studies shown that in the Biblical times, it was the custom for people in great mourning and difficulty to lay down in pile of dirty ashes.)

Today marks a new beginning: a new chapter, a new hope, a new milestone, and a renewed spirit. “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?” (Isaiah 34:19A)

Matthew 9:17 cautions that ”no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”

So in order for the new to arrive, we have to get rid of the old.

The bumps and curves of life in the past year may have left us wounded with hurts and crushed by disappointments. We may even wallowed in that stinking puddle of pain, anger, bitterness and resentment. In our sub-consciousness, we may even be angry with God.

Yet our loving and gracious God doesn’t want us to remain in the ashes of the past; He wants to trade our brokenness for healing and restoration; He wants to exchange our ashes for the better (beauty). A beautiful exchange that wasn’t merited; His promise is far greater than the sum of our past, failures, mistakes and agony.

But that can only happen if we let go of what has been holding us back, and let God does His Work. Only then can we experience true freedom when we have totally release what we have been holding in our hands- if you need to forgive someone or even yourself, forgive; if you need to get rid of an unhealthy habit, rid of it; if you need to overcome the carnal nature of the flesh, crucify it.

It all boils down to a choice, we have to choose not to let what has happened to define us, and allow God to use those things to refine us. All our tears and heartaches are not without purpose, for our desert experiences seek only to draw us closer to Him so that we can learn to trust Him more.

So don’t waste another day sitting in the ashes, for we have a future ahead that can be filled with beauty. God has already done a beautiful exchange, we just need to trade up and return to Him as a new ‘wineskin’.

“I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud And your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” – Isaiah 44:22 NASB

The Dangers Of Feelings

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The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT) He who trusts in his own heart is a fool. (Proverbs 28:26a)

Here’s a point-blank question: “Are you a person who do things based on feelings?”

If you have been living life based on feelings, that means you let your heart (emotions) rule more than your head (provided it is of sound and godly wisdom). But God has a different take about trusting our feelings because our heart is most deceitful.

Living in an era that is about “feel good in order to live good” or “live good in order to feel good.”, the society of today has conditioned us a “Follow your heart!” culture where it places a very high value on our own desires and emotions.

When we live our lives based on whimsical emotions, we become subservient to our feelings instead of God’s Spirit and His Word. Following our heart cultivates an attitude of self-centredness rather than yield to surrender. And the flip side is, we cannot become true servants of Christ if we are controlled by our feelings. For a life lived in God is not lived on the plane of our feelings, but of the Will of God.

When we allow our feelings to take the lead, we will end up making a lot of foolish and self-focused decisions, and ended up making a mess of our lives. We will also develop the tendency to pick and choose the ‘truth’ that appeal to us personally, and reject those that contradict what we want to hear or receive. Whenever we try to edit the ‘truth’ to be in line with our emotions or preferences, we are actually placing our own opinions and thoughts higher than God’s.

I confessed that I can’t recount the number of times I didn’t feel like going to church, leading cell group, going to cell meetings, going for ministry, going to meet someone in need out of inconvenience, and God knows what else. And I often brushed them off as it is human to feel like that. It is not uncommon for most of us.

Understanding how our feelings come in play and how we can overcome them is all based on this golden rule- “First decide (wisely based on God’s Word) then feelings will follow.”

  1. Feeling opposes faith

A feeling that is based on the ‘right moment’, “I don’t feel that my faith is strong enough.” versus a decisive choice to just believe, “I chose to have faith no matter what!!”

  1. Feeling is contingent

A feeling that depends on whether you feel like it, “I really don’t feel like forgiving this person.” versus a decisive choice to just forgive as an act of obedience, “I chose to forgive this person because I myself have been forgiven by God.”

  1. Feeling is double-minded

A feeling that can’t decide between ‘yes’ or ‘no’, “I am not sure if I feel like going to church.” versus a decisive choice to say ‘yes!’, “I chose to die to myself (whatever you are feeling at the moment) and just go to church.”

  1. Feeling is fleeting

A feeling has ‘moods’ which can swing anytime and commitments tend to be very short-lived, “I feel like doing this. And the next moment, I don’t feel like doing this anymore.” versus a decisive choice to persevere, “I shall keep to what has been set initially despite how I feel.”

  1. Feeling is natural

A feeling naturally derive from how we feel at the moment, “I feel like…. / I don’t feel like…” versus a decisive choice to yield to the supernatural, “Although I don’t feel up to it, but I can do it through Christ who strengthen me.”

  1. Feeling can cook excuses

It is human nature to base decision or act on our emotions, and we often blame our fallen nature for our sins. If we are honest enough, we are very good at cooking excuses based on how we feel.

A life controlled by feelings is not very healthy, especially when our spiritual walk will be affected, therefore it is high time to set right with God in this area.

Last but not least, we also need to be mindful that something that “feels” right doesn’t mean it is right. No wonder God says, those who trust his own heart is a fool.

“What Is It You Want?” The Trivial Things.

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Throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus jumped up and came to Jesus. “What do you want Me to do for you?” Jesus asked. “Rabboni, said the blind man, “I want to see again.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. – Mark 10:50-52

It has never occurred to me to pray to God for trivial things. I thought it was incredulous to ask a supreme being who does big things to do something so insignificant. Until a friend put into a new perspective that God is concerned what is bothering us even with the slightest matter! (Imagine God numbers every strand of hair on our head as delineated in Luke 12:7. That shows God is a God of fine details!)

I found it amusing to be asking God, in my 15-year journey with Him, to request Him to be my alarm clock as I needed to wake up earlier to rush work. (Lest you wonder, normal alarm clock doesn’t work on me……) Initially I prayed, “God, please wake me up earlier.” Indeed, I had been waking up earlier than my usual timing, but it was still behind time as planned. Until I decided to be more specific, so I prayed to God to wake me up at 8am.

Yes, you guessed it. I really woke up at 8am!

“What is it you want?”, God asks specifically. (Matthew 20:21)

“What do you want me to do for you?”, Jesus asks specifically. (Mark 10:51; Luke 18:41)

Therefore, be specific, no matter how trivial your request.

Don’t worry about anything (including what you worry that your requests may be too trivial for the Almighty); instead, pray about everything (yes, all the little things that bother you). Tell God what you need (specifically), and thank Him for all He has done (claim and receive by faith). If you do this (by praying and petitioning), you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand (and you be in for a surprise!). His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus (just trust Him). – Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

On the other hand, even if we have yet to hear our prayers answered, Jesus encourages us to always pray and not lose heart, through a parable in Luke 18, about a persistent widow pleading her cause continually, until the judge had to grant her request. Although 1 John 5:14-15 reminds us that God hears each prayer: “And we can be confident that He will listen to us whenever we ask Him for anything in line with His will. And if we know He is listening when we make our requests, we can be sure that He will give us what we ask for.” Our prayers have to be in line with the Will of God, as not everything is beneficial to us. We have to trust our all-knowing, loving God wants the best for us, and leave the outcome in His Hands.

Money Matters

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Those who love pleasure become poor; those who love wine and luxury will never be rich. – Proverbs 21:17

I had a deep reflection while on the way home last Friday after cell, because it was a subject that was very close to my heart- Money Matters. I chanced upon Proverbs 21:17 which warns those who indulge in carnal pleasures and sensual gratifications, and spend time and money in such a way, are very likely to be poor, and not rich in or towards spiritual things. Dictionary defines pleasures as extravagant living, expensive feastings, and costly leisures or entertainments, and we have often heard that where our money goes to tell a lot about us. And interestingly, according to Ecclesiastes 5:11 NLT, it also warn that the more you have, the more you spend.

I retrospected my life now to the time I was steeped in debts before I gave my life to Jesus. It was a joke that my best subject in Accounts had flunked me in life- poor financial decisions reaped bad consequences. That catastrophe had forced me to live the other spectrum of life: back to the basics- one pair of jeans, one pair of shoes, one bag and one tee-shirt. (Lest you wonder, irrespective of style, cut, type, colour, function, it was just one item only.) Believe me or not, I literally wore them like a set of uniform. Plain Jane? Boring? Sure, but I had no means to indulge. I even had to stay away from shopping lest I be tempted. Till a time my mum had to encourage me that it was high time to change my wardrobe a little as I seemed to live like a tattered beggar. Whenever I needed to make a purchase, I had to prayerfully consulted my Chief Financial Officer (God of course) a few times, “Should I or should I not?” Now that my life is better, I no longer lived that pathetically. However I have to guard myself against all covetousness with a “want versus need” evaluation. But of course I still do make imprudent decisions at times.

Last Friday night after some insightful revelations by the author, I was nudged spiritually, and stumped by a myriad of questions I could not answer:

“Why do you need another pair of shoes?”

“Why do you need another top/ bottom?”

“Why do you need to travel to so many countries?”

“Why do you spend money on immaterial things?”

“How do you spend my money? Have you consult Me?”

“What do you think pleases Me?”

I am no Saint to be sharing this, but I felt in my Spirit to pen down what I had received: Whether we all like it or not, if we are honest, how we spent our money only seek to indulge the “self”: I want to look good; I want to feel good; I am entitled to spend the money because I have worked hard for it; I deserve to reward myself; I need comfort food or things; I want to achieve my dreams; and all on the wanted list.

Some helpful questions to ponder:

  1. Are you sure the money you have are yours?
  2. Who give you the right to spend what pleases your flesh?
  3. Are your “want”s your “need”s? So are they necessary or rather essential for you to live?
  4. Are you doing what God wants you to do?
  5. How have you been sowing in the Kingdom of God?
  6. Why are you so uptight in giving generously to the kingdom purposes of God when you can spend extravagantly on what you love?

Look at Jesus: just a pair of well-travelled sandals, perhaps a few pieces of weather-beaten garbs, and a basic appetite for simple meals.

I am sure some of us will rationalise that Jesus lived in the old era but now we have much choices, therefore the application is not relevant in today standard of living; some of us may also justify “I don’t spend on expensive things” so it won’t hurt, but I do concur that it isn’t about the value, it is our attitude of the heart: what if God asked, “How about you give what you supposed to spend it on, to bless someone who needs it more?”

Listen to how our heart respond, we will get the answer.

Money is the second most referenced topic in the Bible, where it is mentioned more than 800 times. God had first laid the blueprint so that we would not get consumed by the world. We will need God to help in our weaknesses in this area- be humble, God will spotlight the areas that we need to work on.

Keeping Secrets

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When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Finally, I confessed all my sins to You and stopped trying to hide my guilt.  I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”  And You forgave me!  All my guilt is gone. – Psalm 32:3, 5 NLT

Sometimes I encounter friends who would share something with me but end up hushing me to keep them a secret. And I often wondered, if it is meant to be a secret, it is better not to share with me in case I may forget to honour my promise to retain confidentiality. Not only is it a burden to keep promises (because we may fail any time), it is also a burden to keep secrets, for fear of being found out one day if confidentiality is breached by careless and loose tongue.

I am thankful that having served as a former cell group leader had trained me to abide by “professional-spiritual” ethnics in protecting my cell members’ trust in me. And the bonus of shepherding a group had limited my capacity to remember so many things shared with me. Every time, I would feel burdened for them having to keep “secrets”, and I had witnessed how they wasted away with moans and groans all months (or even years) long, to the extent they are numbed and crushed. Like Psalm 38:8 in the bible warns, “I am benumbed and badly crushed; I groan because of the agitation of my heart.”

Whether secrets or not, we all will pay a price for sins or disobedience- even if we can fool men, but we cannot deceive God who can see or know every secret things in our lives.

Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?” – Isaiah 29:15

And the more we try to hide, the more darkness will lurk in every corner of our soul., for our soul is not meant to ingest sin. At the end of the day, there will always be something gnawing inside us relentlessly.

The murderer arises at dawn; He kills the poor and the needy, And at night he is as a thief.  (Job 24:14). In the dark, thieves break into houses, but by day they shut themselves in; they want nothing to do with the light. (Job 24:26). Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. (John 3:20)

It is needless to suffer the miseries of unconfessed sins. Ephesians 5:11 exhorts to have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13). If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9). Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16).

Remember, as the Chinese proverbs goes, “There is no paper that can contain a fire.”

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, – Acts 3:19

Procrastination

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So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. – James 4:17

This morning I jumped out of my slumber when a voice seemed to jolt me hard in my half-awake moment- “Procrastination is a sin!” I felt as if I was confronted. While trying to figure it out if I have issue with being a sluggard or with procrastination, I came across this verse-

How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man. – Proverbs 6:9-11

Woah, I definitely do not want to be robbed that way! Isn’t that enough to shake us up?

There are many reasons why we procrastinate, and very often they are lame excuses to justify our inaction. Some of the common excuses are:

1. Just Plain Lazy……

The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing – Proverbs 13:4A 

If we are honest enough, we all want things easy, quick and convenient. Anything that challenge our comfort zone will be off on the cold shelf, for a long long time…

2.  Just Can’t Decide……

A double minded man is unstable in all he does. – James 1:8 

We make decisions every day, but some decisions which stress us out will likely be put on hold as we can’t seem to decide simply with a “yes” or “no”. And we end up vacillating with our decision by conveniently citing the reason, “I am still praying about it…”

3.  Just Not The Right Time……

If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never get anything done! – Ecclesiastes 11:4LB

The truth is, there will never be the right or perfect time. Things are not going to happen by sitting on it. And the day may come that we won’t even have the time. And who knows, if we get to live another day……

4.  Just Don’t Feel Like It……

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? – Jeremiah 17:9

We are emotional beings who always let our heart rules and mood dictate our feeling for the moment. We will always be on a roller coaster rides if we allow life’s ups-and-downs to control the way we think, feel and act. Does it mean we will be dysfunctional or justifiable to do nothing in the our downtimes or not-in-the-right-mood?

5.  Just Feeling Fearful……

Fearing people is a dangerous trap. – Proverbs 29:25

Although this verse explicitly points to “people”, it can also be things we feel fearful about., for example, fearing the unknown. The acronym of fear actually is, “False Expectation Appearing Real”, and the opposite of fear, is “Faith”. In other word, fear is the absence of faith.

Procrastination is a passive resistance, we do not want to take action because we keep thinking there is always another time or another day… But what if we do not get to live past tomorrow? Therefore it is time, and it is now to get going what you supposed to do or call to do. Look out, God is watching from above too.

“Don’t put off something till tomorrow what you can do today. Just do it!”