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When God was not at the Centre

29 August 2011

WHEN GOD WAS NOT THE CENTRE OF MY LIFE

Many years ago, I attended a public speaking course. The instructor sprang a surprise question on all participants,“Use the next 20 minutes to review your life: If you have only six months to live, would you change the way you live?” That question came as a shock to me, like thunder from heaven. I felt God speaking to me, wake up!
Busy with building a career in the civil service, leading the church Choir, serving in the YAF, married with wife and two boys, I thought I had tried my best to be a good father, husband, employee and Christian. My wife and I taught the boys God’s word and Christian songs, read books and prayed with them especially for their salvation. Saturdays and holidays were opportunities to visit the zoo and parks. We attended church camps regularly. We looked every bit like a solid Christian family.
Beneath the veneer, however, I wasn’t happy. Life was a mess. I often found fault with my wife. Selfish and immature, I did not love my wife as Christ loved the Church, and was often unwilling to help with house chores. Impatient with my boys, I did not teach or train them consistently but disciplined in anger. I was temperamental and irritated by their demands on my time:“Don’t bother me with these things, can’t you see I’m busy?” Stressed and physically tired, I barely coped with the demands of family, career, and church ministries. Daily devotional reading was cold and irregular. Wrecked with guilt, I assuaged my conscience by rationalizing that preparing Bible messages for YAF and choir was enough spiritual food. But it wasn’t. Gone was my first love. The overwhelming joy of the Lord I felt when I first came to Christ had dissipated.
What’s wrong with me? Why was my life so joyless? There, in that public-speaking course, tears flowed as I repented of my sins and pride, my lack of love for my wife and children. Yes, I was a hypocrite. My life was no different from non-Christians in my self-centered pursuit of career, wealth and church position. I spent the least time with the people dearest to me – my wife, children, my father, and siblings. But most of all, I grieved my beloved Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I wanted success in my career and in church ministry mostly for my own self-glory and pride. I have believed in Christ as my Saviour, but why did the abundant life elude me? I struggled with these questions for many years. Eventually, the riddle was unlocked bit by bit especially in recent years. The “lightbulb” moment came when I studied the book of Ecclesiastes.
Solomon, widely regarded as the author of Ecclesiastes, instructs us that man will find true lasting happiness only in a right relationship with an eternal God. Therefore, enjoy life as a gift from a loving God. Ecclesiastes is not pessimistic, but presents a realistic Christian view of life.
Life without God is meaningless (“vanity”). Before I was saved, I used to watch blockbuster movies and variety TV shows from morning to night. Yet after being entertained, I felt more empty and bored than before. Pursuing entertainment as an end in itself is meaningless. Watching those poor actors and actresses acting out miserable lives was depressing. Even comedies were futile attempts to put on a brave hollow front in the face of life’s harsh realities and miseries. Happiness and the meaning of life could not be found in fun and pleasures (2:1-3), entertainment (2:7-8) or possessions of luxury properties (2:4-6). Life under the sun without God at the centre is meaningless.

Instead, we are most happy when we are content with God’s beautiful plan for us, with all its flaws, ugliness, apparent contradictions and arbitrariness (3:16-5:20). Our loving God has planned every event in life to happen at His appointed time (3:1-15). The twenty-eight “time” words used in 3:1-8 (fourteen pairs of “time to …, and time to …”) emphasize that God is in control of every event in our lives. He dictates the precise time of our birth and death. Hence, it is not right to say a child is born “premature” because God has decided the precise time of his birth.

The key verse in Ecclesiastes is 3:11. The key word translated as “world” in the Authorised Version is better rendered “eternity.” We can paraphrase 3:11 this way: God has stamped eternity in our souls, in order that we may seek after the eternal God. God has planted within our hearts a deep-seated hunger and quest for Him. St. Augustine described this yearning of the human soul for the eternal Creator, “You have made us for Yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.”

Live to the glory of God. True joy and satisfaction in life is found only in an intimate personal relationship with Jesus Christ, trusting in His blood shed for us on the cross. When our sins are washed away, and we live in daily awe of God and thanks to Him, we can truly rejoice and eat, drink and enjoy work as gifts from our Creator God (3:12-13) to His glory. I feast on roti prata and chicken curry with relish as I thank my loving multi-faceted interesting God who created such delicious multi-textured flavours.

The Christian chef who fries char kway teow can say Halleluyah to God amidst the wok heat, oil fumes and pungent garlic. Likewise, the fatigued mother breastfeeding an infant finds meaning and joy nursing and nurturing God’s blessed gift of a precious soul despite the tedium of feeding, washing, cooking and child training. Life is messy. Life is beautiful.

Prosperity is not necessarily good; adversity, not always bad. Cherish the moments of prosperity (7:14), but remember that bad times may come. Hold happiness lightly. Don’t be too rigid in your schedules or set impossibly high standards, or you will put unnecessary pressure on yourself (7:16).

God is not a “kill-joy”. But He gives us good food, fun, marital bliss and work satisfaction (9:1-12). Youths can positively enjoy legitimate wholesome pleasures without guilt. But remember, you are accountable to God. “Rejoice, O young man,… walk in the ways of thine heart” (11:9) does not mean you can pander to all your heart’s desires. By all means enjoy your iPad and iPhone. But if we abuse them to surf pornography or commit sin or become enslaved by addictions, that would not glorify God. Enjoy life (seize the day) and work while you can, before old age and sickness come (12:1-7).

The secret to a joyful meaningful life is to know God our Creator and live with a clear conscience before Him (12:13-14) because we are ultimately accountable to God. Therefore, keep one eye on this world and the other on eternity.

Learning points for me

Looking back on those years, I struggled because I had lived my life MY way. I determined in my heart I will do my own will, and was half-hearted about doing God’s will. I wanted a picture-perfect family with smart kids, nice house, career advancement, financial security and good reputation in church. I wanted Jesus as my Saviour (benefits of heaven and forgiveness of sin), and I wanted the pleasures of the world. But I did not want to fully submit to Jesus as my Lord and Master. When I was not content with what God has given to me, I was always looking for counterfeit gods to satisfy my lusts of the eyes, lusts of the flesh and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-16). When God was not the centre of my life, I felt frustration and emptiness.

Then God spoke to my heart: “You need to repent from your self-centered way, submit to Jesus Christ as Lord, take up your cross, give up your dreams, and follow God’s will.” After several painful lessons in my life, the last being a fall from the roof of Beulah House in 2006, I surrendered my life wholly to Jesus. James 4:14 reminded me that God is in control of my life: What is your life, it is even a vapour that appears for a little time and vanishes away. I slowed down and thought much about death and heaven. I am humbled that God should choose me as His child. I am grateful for every single day that I can serve Him. I rejoice daily because my name is written in heaven (Luke 10:20)! What more do I want? What else do I need? If I have God, He is more than enough for me. I study, work, care for children, visit or preach, to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). Life is still messy; I am still sinful, but I strive to place God at the centre of my life (Ecc 12:13-14). And I am content. Joyfully content.

Place God at the centre of your life.

If you are a student, live for God. “Reach for the stars” and thank God for the learning activities you have. In school, love God and love your classmates and teachers. Find opportunities to serve others and testify for Christ. At home, obey and honour your parents, as unto your Lord and Saviour.

For the adults, you can choose to slow down and centre your life on God, or you can go on your hectic lifestyle and complain daily about stress. You can choose to love God and love your neighbours at the workplace, at home and in church. When God grants prosperity, savour the luxuries of life, but love God more by your consecrated service to Him, and love others more by your generous sharing.

For the elderly, prepare to meet your God by finishing well. Sickness and pain are reminders from our Creator that we are but frail creatures. Cherish each day you have. Love God deeply, pray fervently, visit the needy and the elderly. Encourage your children, grandchildren and relatives to know and trust God, because He has been faithful to you. Reconcile with others who have offended you or have been offended by you. You don’t want to leave this world with unresolved conflicts or regrets. Besides, they provide great opportunities to forgive and share Christ’s love with others. Through the vicissitudes of life, recognize that God is sovereign and has ordained all events for our ultimate good.

Place God at the centre of your life! You will find great joy and freedom to love God and others.

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