Let us come before Him with thanksgiving. Psalm 95:2
The anger and violence that has embroiled Hong Kong in recent months compounded with the typical challenges of everyday life can be overwhelming and easily cause us (or at least me) to put too much emphasis on the temporal rather than the eternal. But having just celebrated Island ECC’s 20th anniversary and with American Thanksgiving coming up later this month, I am reminded of God’s sovereignty and faithfulness and how He is Lord over all things (including, and perhaps especially, during the difficult times and seasons in life).
He is the God who fights for me (Exodus 14:14).
He is the God who comforts me when I am discouraged (Psalm 94:19; 2 Corinthians 7:6).
He is the God of details who knows and cares for me intimately, even down to the numbers of hairs on my head (Luke 12:7).
As I reflect and meditate on those and other characteristics of God, the worries and pressures of life decrease and my ability to worship and appreciate the Lord increase. It is a simple discipline and one that I need to practice regularly in order for my mind and soul to remember that God is in control despite the seeming chaos that may be swirling around me. I take solace and am thankful that His ways are higher than my ways and His thoughts are higher than my thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).
Let us practice a heart of thanksgiving by:
Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2
Just lately we have had even more things than usual seeking to distract our attention from “fixing our eyes on Jesus” – Hong Kong’s evolving divisions and street protests have created a frenzy of news, opinions, rifts, social media exchanges, discussion, frustration and friction.
Whatever our views on the issues involved, we are all affected by the crossfire of controversy and can easily find ourselves sucked into WhatsApp wars, news-update addiction, forwarding unverified news, anger, worry, fear, judgment and even tribalism – yet we are called to rise above them and “fix our eyes on Jesus” instead. What does that look like and how is it done?
The verses above remind us that exercising our faith muscles is the key to a healthy response. The passage follows from Hebrews 11, which records the faith shown by heroes from Abraham through Moses to Rahab in facing their challenges. Like them, we run the risk of endangering our spiritual walk if we are not careful to “throw off […] the sin that so easily entangles” when we respond to the situation, e.g. if we leap to passing judgment on others. But if we can keep in mind that our responses are part of our spiritual walk – a race of faith marked out for us by God – then it becomes easier to focus on the big picture of that race, and avoid fixating on things that won’t help us race well in terms of spiritual development.
So it’s about keeping the right perspective with Jesus at the centre, even (or especially) when we can only see apparently insoluble challenges. We know those are His speciality. Our part is to concentrate on running our race towards Him. I don’t know how the current situation will be resolved, but I take great comfort and peace from knowing by faith that God has the best plan and timing, and is in control.
So let us direct our eyes right by:
Consider me and answer, Lord my God. Restore brightness to my eyes; otherwise, I will sleep in death. My enemy will say “I have triumphed over him” and my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. Psalm 13:3-4 CSB
We are a stubborn people—or at the very least, I am a stubborn person. I like to hold on to my problems and anxieties as if someone is trying to take them from me.
Well, there is someone trying to pry the anxieties and burdens out of my hands… He is only waiting for me to surrender them first. But how often have I let the enemy triumph by refusing to seek God’s help? In my earthly habit, I think it better to keep my burdens from God, going around with dull eyes, trying to cope alone. Why? Because it’s “too complicated”, “not important”, or “not the right time”. What I feel is “not strong enough”, “capable”, and “scared” to open our can of worms in front of God. So I just ignore and keep everything bottled.
And merely by my refusal to call onto God for help, the enemy has proclaimed a triumph.
David refused to let the enemy claim victory. He faced enemy after enemy but instead of bottling his problems, David gifted us the Psalms, a series of emotional and vulnerable cries to God. It’s as if David was jumping up and down waving at God over and over again asking for help.
David readily admits that his enemies are “too strong for me” (Psalm 18:17). As a result, he asks for deliverance, strength and salvation from God. It doesn’t matter how many difficulties David is faced against or how complicated the issue is, he pleads for God’s intervention. As many times David cries out for help, there are just as many praises for God’s deliverance and blessings. The Lord is his (and our) fortress, refuge, support, and rescuer time and time again.
Rather than sleep in death, we need to call out to Abba for help. Our Father is waiting for us to call out to Him. He wants to revive us and give us joy and restore brightness to our eyes. He only waits for us to call upon Him. He is a God who delivers, heals, comforts, and loves without borders.
Let us practice O Lord, my God by:
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36
Freedom is something that we cherish. Let me share with you my spiritual journey to emotional and psychological freedom.
I have been a Christian for over 30 years but until six years ago. I never thought that I needed to be freed after I came to know Christ! My struggle with psychological freedom started with a single incident in the early 90s that snowballed as I went through other traumatic experiences over a period of more than 20 years. The first incident happened when my wife and I travelled to the US when we were flying from Florida to New York City. About one hour before landing, our plane experienced severe turbulence. The stewardess and the utensils she was holding hit the ceiling of the plane very abruptly that lasted for just a few seconds but left a scar in my heart for years to come. I did not even realise that it would resurface in a much later time!
The second incident happened in 2002 when my mom passed away in Toronto. This was a huge loss to me emotionally as I had a close relationship with her. After her passing, I always had a sense of guilt that I had not moved with my family to Canada.
The final incident happened in 2003 when my company laid me off – this proved to be the final straw. Anger, frustration and bitterness began to set in. Suddenly, I felt insecure and a sense of powerlessness. All these events led me to a deep sense of fear – the fear of losing control.
In medical terminology, "aerophobia" is the fear of flying. Each time I travelled by plane, I had to take medicine to calm the fear. I became a prisoner of this fear for the next 10 years! I was frustrated and helpless but did not know what to do.
Then in 2013, I learned about my serious illness, but because it was in the early stages, I was completely cured. I was so thankful to the Lord that I finally surrendered to Him on the hospital bed. I felt great joy and His love surrounding me. I then learned that healing begins with forgiveness. I started to make a list of the people that I had grudges with and had asked the Lord to forgive me for not forgiving them! I realised that the Lord had set me free – I am no longer a prisoner of my past circumstances. Truly free! Since then I have travelled many times without needing to take any medicine!
Do you want to be set free of your circumstances by the Lord? Remember, healing starts with forgiveness. Ask God to help you to:
On one occasion, while He was eating with them, He gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about.” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:4, 7–8
We see in these early verses of the Book of Acts that Jesus commanded the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit. Why? Because the Holy Spirit would empower them to be Jesus’s witnesses everywhere... even to the ends of the earth.
The Holy Spirit would empower the disciples to speak compellingly about God’s work through Jesus. While their direct experience with Jesus qualified them as very good witnesses; the Holy Spirit would give them the capability to articulate their experience with boldness, determination, resilience, perseverance – and with grace and love.
Yes, the Holy Spirit would give the apostles great power but as we discover in the later chapters of Acts, this would not be the power to change the conditions of the world, to overthrow Rome, or to oppress others. Instead, it would be the power to live joyfully, righteously, and faithfully within the circumstances they encountered. The power to live faithfully under Rome and, especially when the oppression was very heavy, to stand.
Not the power to hurt but to heal, not the power to discriminate but to accept, not power to seek revenge but to forgive, and certainly not power to hate but to love.
Do you find the Holy Spirit’s provision of power to be counter-cultural? Or counterintuitive? That same power – that same Spirit – resides in all followers of Jesus!
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus would give the disciples, and all of us today who have trusted in Him, the ability to do great things: not necessarily to heal the physically blind, but certainly the spiritually blind by bringing them to Jesus; not necessarily to heal the physically lame, but certainly to bolster the spiritually lame; and not necessarily to prolong earthly existence, but certainly to bring people to enter eternal life through Christ.
The power of the Holy Spirit is very real to you and me today as we work, as we follow our leaders, as we lead others, as we engage with peers, as we participate in Christian ministry, as we live with family at home, and as we engage with the broader community including those we disagree with.
Where are you struggling to allow the Holy Spirit to lead you to act in Christlikeness? In such times, we can come to God in prayer:
Ask that He would help us replace any harmful attitudes with empathy, any harshness with patience, and any pride with humility, so that love can prevail.