Stress free and happy

Philippians 4:4-9
Hey, do u want to be happy? Do u want to be worry-free? Do u wish for a stress-free life? Let me tell u share with u the formula Paul taught the Philippians. He told them to rejoice ‘always’ – always means good times or bad! Huh? How?
1) In the LORD! Not in success, not in security, not in money, not in fame nor popularity… But in the Lord. 4:4
2) Know that the Lord is near. v.5 He is coming soon. Let us rejoice in hope of this wonderful day.
3) v.6 tells us To worry for nothing, but in everything to pray. How? with a thankful heart, tell God all your requests. Then what? There is a promise from this exercise of worry-free, heart full of gratitude praying to God. Surely, the peace of God which gives us joy will be with us. We will experience His peace which is beyond human comprehension. People will be amazed at how this peace will keep our hearts and our minds steady in joy; steadfast unwavering in our gladness as we abide in Jesus Christ.
4) Another formula to joyful heart is found in v. 8. We are to think good things. The mind that is focused on the true, the honourable, the right, the pure, the lovely, the good repute, the excellent and all that is worthy of praise, surely when my mind is filled with these good things, my heart is filled with joy.
5) Finally, out of the heart, the mouth speaks, the hands acts and the life lives! When I intentionally practice to live a joyful life, the God of peace is mine to enjoy and experience!

Philippians 4
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

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Juggling life…

I often feel that life is pulling me in two different directions. Pride and self-pity… Confidence and doubts… security and anxiety… It seems to me like walking on the balance beam. I need to stay in the middle to keep from falling off.

Each time I think of this dilemma, I remember a Chinese song I learned from Youth summer camp at  church. The lyrics are taken from Isaiah 30:20-21.

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The Easy-to-Read version reads: The Lord might give you sorrow and pain like the bread and water you eat every day. But God is your teacher, and he will not continue to hide from you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. If you wander from the right path, either to the right or to the left, you will hear a voice behind you saying, “You should go this way. Here is the right way.”

Living the blessed life is about staying on the right path – making the right choices. But it is easier said than done. In the world today, it is no longer just black and white. Many things have become grey.  World views and moral values are constantly changing. Aside from external influences, man in his sinful nature constantly struggles with the good and the bad, the right and the wrong. Even Christians are not exempt from this struggle.

God puts me in circumstances to teach me how to walk the balance beam. When I become proud and self-dependent, God gives me lessons of humility. When I am burdened with anxiety, God shows me he is faithful to provide for all I need. Such a fool to be worried and fearful for the what if’s of life that never happened. Indeed, in the midst of adversity and challenges in life, God’s Word is a comfort for those who take time to read and study it. If only we will listen attentively to his voice and obediently follow his call to walk in his path, we will surely stay on the balance beam.

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Which ball do you think will bounce back?

I’d like to add faith to the 5. As a Christian, faith in God is more than a ball that I juggle with. Life’s circumstances often made it seem difficult to keep all the balls up in the air. It is not about which balls will bounce back. It is about having God’s hands juggle the balls with me. Surely, God keeps all the balls up in the air. And even if any falls, it bounces back.

The If’s and When’s of life

What if I get sick… what if a big earthquake strikes… what if I fail to get the job.. What to do when there’s not enough money to pay rent? Where to turn when terror strikes? How to cope when relationship turns sour?

The Bible doesnt tell us a clear-cut answer for each ‘if’ and ‘when’ of life. One thing it tells us – Do not worry about all these things. (See Matthew 6). Instead pray.

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Oh but many of us Christians do that – we pray. When? When the crisis strikes or when we think it is about to happen… when we are at the end of the rope.. when there is nothing else to do… then perhaps prayer works?

Do you know that King Solomon said a prayer for all the ‘ifs’ and ‘whens’ he could ever imagine in his days.

Read 1 Kings 8 and observe how many of his prayer items started with ‘If’ or ‘When’: all the not good scenarios but harsh realities in life: sin (v.31,46), defeat (v.33), drought (v.35), famine, pestilence, enemies, plague, sickness (v.37), war, etc. Why so? Wasnt he the richest, wisest, most powerful and popular king in the history of Israel? The Bible tells us there was peace and great prosperity during his reign. (1 King 4, 5:4)

Do you know when and where he prayed about the ‘ifs’ and the ‘whens’ – bad things of life? He prayed after he built a great beautiful temple for God. He prayed during the dedication of the temple to God. Not the typical ‘celebrative’ prayer, is it?

Why ‘if’ and when ‘when’? ‘If’ seems to imply ‘might’ or ‘might not’ happen. When is more a matter of ‘when’ – a matter of time. Regardless, Solomon prayed because he was calling on God to be ‘present’ in the temple he built for Him. He recognized how awesome, loving and kind God is (v.23). He realised that God is too big to be contained in the house he built (v.28). Solomon knew the realities of life and living life. He knew of man’s sinful nature. He understood how nature works – drought, famine, sickness are part of life. Solomon understood that man can only live and overcome these challenges by the hand of God. He grasped the importance of having God ‘hear from heaven’ (vv.30,32,34,36,39,43,45), ‘forgive’ (vv.30,34,36,39,50) and ‘maintain the cause’ (v.45,49) of the ‘pray-er’.

So how do we apply this today? How can we follow Solomon’s example?

Today, we can pray like Solomon. We pray for the ‘ifs’ and ‘whens’ – for the not so good even in the midst of prosperity and blessings. It is not being pessimistic or fatalistic. We pray because we beseige God to be with us on earth as He is in heaven. We pray because we need his forgiveness if and when we sin, when we make him sad, when we offend our neighbors. We pray because God alone can maintain our cause. He alone makes the impossible, possible.

We pray each of us knowing the affliction of our own heart: God, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive and act and render to each according to all our ways, whose heart You know, for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men, that we may fear You all the days of our life. (vv.39-40)

We pray: Hear in heaven Your dwelling place in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name. (v.43) Amen.

may hear your great name

 

 

In search of blissful contentment…

Have you ever watched a baby sleeping quietly in his mother’s arms? Such picture of blissful contentment…

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King David wrote Psalm 131.  What did he say?

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David does not strike me as a proud man. So I was intrigued when he said: My heart is not proud, Lord. My eyes are not haughty. (Psalm 131:1a). It does not seem like a humble man to say of himself as being not proud, is it?  I used to believe that humility is something one loses when he thinks he has it. But that is not the case here. Why?

He said something more that helps to explain the context – where he’s coming from when he said he’s not proud. He said: I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. (131:1b)

David prayed: “I am not proud, Lord.” That he addressed God as Lord, showed his submission before a greater person. David was not ‘ambitious.’ In simple terms, he did not strive to understand great matters – things that are beyond his understanding… things too wonderful for him to comprehend.

v. 2 gives us further context – that of contentment. Contentment of a weaned child. What does that mean? What is a weaned child? Why did David use that metaphor?

What is the significance of weaning a child in the Bible? Gen. 21:8

Answer: According to Jewish custom, the time when a child is weaned is cause for celebration. A weaned child has survived the fragile stage of infancy and can now eat solid food rather than breastfeed from his or her mother. (https://www.gotquestions.org/weaning-child-bible.html)

To be weaned like a child is to be off the needs of this world. To be off the need for significance, for affirmation, for self-righteousness and self-reliance. A weaned child is content in his mother’s arms. He knows he will be given solid food instead of his usual milk.

There are four significant themes in the 3 short verses. First is that of pride. David confidently prayed that he is not proud – not in his heart nor in his eyes. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. (Matt. 12:34b) When I read haughty eyes, what comes to mind is looking down on others. Haughty eyes imply that I am better than you are. David was neither proud nor haughty. He was the humble shepherd boy who fought Goliath in the name of his God who helped him fight the lions to protect his sheep. He was the humble servant and musician of King Saul. He spared Saul’s life time and time again even when Saul tried to kill him.. even he was already anointed by Samuel to be king to replace Saul.

Second word is ambition. David does not think important to know all there is to know, to understand things that are beyond him. He neither had ambition to fight a giant nor to become a king. Why?

Contentment: Because he is content like a weaned child. Godliness with contentment is great gain. When has a weaned child ever sought to be wise, all-knowing, powerful and influential? There is calmness and quiet in the soul when there is contentment… no striving, no struggling, no contentious spirit.

Application:
Pride is at the heart of man. We are all proud by nature. Even in our good works and ministry in the name of God, even as we know the value of God’s approval, perhaps we seek more the approval of men. We might even think more of ourselves than what God thinks of us. Adam was lured into wanting to be like God. Pride and ambition often get us into a state of dissatisfaction, of anxious striving and chasing after the wind.

Contentment is being at peace like a weaned child – getting satisfaction and peace from knowing that his needs are taken care of. As God’s children, we are called to dependence on God for all our needs and wants. We trust and we rest.

Finally, we declare our hope. We know it is possible to attain such state of complete peace. We call on others to go on the road with us in hope… hope in the Lord who provides us with everything that we need and call us to be everything that we hope to be.

Psalm 131
A song of ascents. Of David.

1 My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

Getting up from the mud…

What do you do when things do not go the way you want them to? How do you react when people are rude and inconsiderate? How do you feel when your actions were misunderstood, criticised and taken negatively in spite of the good intentions you have?

What do you do in the face of all negativity that surrounds you? Do you complain about it? Talk to a friend? Do you retaliate in kind? Give the people who offended you a piece of your mind? Defend yourself? Do you passively ignore them? Do you pray to God to vindicate you? Do you even pray for God to avenge you? So after doing any one of these things, what next?

I have at one time or another experienced one of the scenarios above. At one time or another, I might have responded in similar ways to one of the above. What did I learn from all these negative, unpleasant situations that life brings? I learn resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back, to be elastic and stretchable. It is being adaptable and adaptive to circumstances that life brings to us. It is refusal to stay in the mud and mire. It is picking myself up from the mud, washing off the dirt and start walking again.

How do I do that? First, I stop complaining about it. Let me illustrate. When my driver/chauffeur of 10 years resigned suddenly without advanced notice, I was taken by surprise and mad. I was angry at his disrespectful behaviour. I was insulted he sent me a resignation letter delivered by his brother-in-law addressed “To whom it may concern.” I suspect it was written by his new employer. I complained about it to his brother-in-law (who is employed with me) and my friends. Then my husband told me: I guess he’s embarrassed to come personally to us to give his notice of resignation. I realise that putting myself in his shoes helped me to be less angry. It made me stop complaining. I learn to be happy for him – if he is in a better job, then good for him.

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I then turn to the positive aspects of the situation. One driver less is less expense for us. My daughter can drive herself to work, get parking reimbursement from her employer, and we save on gasoline. The driver does not need to take her to work and go back for her after work. She gets to manage her own time. There are 4 of us in the family who can drive. One driver can serve our needs. If necessary, I can drive for my children or my children can drive for me. We get to have more bonding moments in our rides. My driver gets to earn more. We increased his salary for his added load and to encourage him to do better.

What about when I quarrelled with my husband? It is always stressful to argue, to shout and vent our anger on each other. It is not pleasant to keep myself from defending my rights, and not get what I deserve. There is a need to have the last say. It is difficult to shut up and fume inside. It takes lots of energy and self-control to bite my tongue so the argument will stop. What do I do? I rationalise. I think how right I am. I get angry and say to myself – how wrong he was. Or I think how wronged I was. I cry. I sob. I indulge in self-pity. I learn both these responses do me no good. I dry my tears. I get up from the couch of self-pity and anger. I drove myself to watch a movie. It doesn’t matter what the movie is about – a drama, a comedy or a thriller – so long as I like it. One time I watched Phantom of the Opera. It was cathartic to continue crying in the movie – for something not my own sadness. Another time I watched King Arthur – the legend of the sword. The plot and action scenes in the movie made me forget my own angry tales. Then I bought myself my comfort food to bring home to eat. I ignored my husband the rest of the night. I went into the bathroom the next morning and hugged him to say I’m sorry. And he said ‘I’m sorry too.’ That’s the end of sad story… until the next one.

158411-Dolly-Parton-Quote-I-ll-be-wearing-my-high-heels-even-if-I-m-up-to.jpgReality of life is that there will always be difficult circumstances in our life – unavoidable or not, things within our control or not. Our mortal body (diseases, death) – with our sinful nature … in an evil world (war, prostitution, terrorism, oppression, etc.), in the natural world under the forces of nature – famine, typhoon, tsunami, earthquake, etc.; all these are often beyond our solutions to solve, beyond our abilities to handle to avoid or run away from. We have no choice but to face them as they come. But we do have a choice how we face them – how we respond to them with our attitude and perspective.

It is natural to feel sad when hurt, to feel angry when wronged, to feel anxious when sick. Grief is part of the emotions that God created in man – what are tears for? Today I still grieve for my parents. They died within 5 months of each other last year. How do I cope with grief. I think of our happy times. I look at old photos of us together. I remember my childhood days. I treasure the legacies they left behind. I honour their memory when I live out these legacies – the legacy to be diligent and responsible, the legacy to be prayerful, to be positive and encouraging, to be resilient when times are hard.

choose joy

Yes, it is easier said than done. Practice makes perfect. Everyday is a choice. If there’s a will, there’s a way. For Christians, we have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our teacher, our counsellor and guide. He guides us and enables us to get up from the mire and to continue walking.

Getting out the deep dark pit…

鑚牛角尖: this is a Chinese proverb I learned in high school. Its literal meaning is 鑚 (to drill) 牛 (cow) 角 (horn) 尖 (point).
It means to take 鑚牛角 pains; to study an insignificant [insoluble] problem; to get (oneself) into a dead end; to get into a blind alley.

I remember this proverb during the period of my deep depression. It was literally like drilling myself into the edge of the bull’s horn – and turning deeper and deeper inside and getting nowhere out.

While it is true that a cheerful heart is good medicine, a sad depressed heart is a reality in life. I experienced how hard it is to tell myself to be happy; not to worry; to think good thoughts – whatever noble, pleasant, worthy of praise etc. And it did not work. I was sad and there seemed no way out.

I remember Rev. Stephen Kwan once preached about depression and it was found to be the no. 1 killer (not cancer). Depression leads to suicide. I never thought to kill myself in the darkest pit of depression. I wished for Jesus to return sooner so my depression would end.

I recall Rev. Stephen Tong once preached on sufferings. Two truths comforted me: 1) Suffering shall pass. 患难会过去。2) Suffering is universal. It is not only me.

Rev. Johann Lai impressed on me that in suffering, rather than ask ‘why’, ask ‘how’: Lord, how do I go through this suffering? What lessons do you want me to learn? Show me how – what to do? I remember Jesus said: In the world, you will have troubles. But take heart, I have overcome the world. So Jesus, show me how to overcome troubles.

I also remember Rev. Lai shared a personal story. He said when he was a pastor in Manila, his daughter was just a little girl. One hot summer, his girl came running, “Papa, it is very hot!” He told her: Papa knows. Yes, papa knows it is very uncomfortable.

Truly, it is a comfort to know that my heavenly Father knows. He knows everything. He made me; he knows exactly how I feel when I am sad. He knows what I am going through. So when I am sad and depressed and beyond words, how to pray or what to say to him, it comforts me to know that he knows. Somehow that is enough … to know that He is with me no matter and He gets me through… He gets me out of the tip of the bull’s horn – I don’t need to 转牛角尖.

Praise the Lord!

Fear vs Joy… your choice

What is your worst fear? Mine used to be fear of being widowed. Next came fear of being maid-less. So trivial.. this 2nd one. Am not proud of it… What makes you most angry? Mine… secret…

I am upset when I am criticized especially when I think I did right. It makes me angry when justice is not served – when the right is wronged and the wrong is declared right. When someone hurt me, I could be angry and/or I could be sad. Anger could embitter me. Or I could wallow in self-pity.

One thing i observed from all these emotions – fear, anxiety, anger… they are like prison bars. When i let my anger turn to bitterness, I imprison myself in a state of self-righteousness and/or state of pathetic self-oppression. When I let anxiety overwhelm my every thought, I am in bondage to all negative possibilities and probabilities all for nothing because even as I worry about it, these worries might never come true. Even when I fret, worrying does not solve the problem.

So what to do? What is the antidote to anger, fear and worries? Paul said Rejoice always.

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How do we choose joy?  Here’s the formula.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4