Surviving The Teen Years: Hardly Trying

Transcript:

You know those people, who never struggle to get high grades? Yeahh.. nah that’s not me. I didn’t really care about my studies. I still got decent marks – in my opinion anyways. But my parents thought otherwise. They kept on telling me that my 50 to 70 percents aren’t gonna get me a good job, and they liked to compare me to my friend, Melanie, who always gets high grades. Until now, they still do this and it ticks me off, but they do have a point. If I had continued going at my slow pace, I wouldn’t have gotten as many future opportunities as I could.

I got fed up and took my anger out on Melanie and said, “Why are you trying so hard to get good grades all the time? After you leave school, graduate from uni, get a good job, what are you going to do next?” She came to me a while later and told me she had an answer to my question. Melanie told me that she was learning so she could be better equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to glorify God. She added that by learning about the world around us, we can see God’s existence, wisdom and power, through His creation.

This motivated me to study. However, I still felt pressure, especially from my parents, but also from myself to get a certain grade or job, which made me scared of failing. Our parents want us to do our best, and we still need to respect and listen to them. But in the end, our goal is to glorify God. Not to please ourselves or anyone else.

Like the parable of the talents in Matthews 25:13-40, the servants were each given a different number of talents. The first 2 worked hard to double what they were given, while the third was lazy. Like me, you might relate to the third servant who had less talents than the others. In reality, God has given each of us different amounts of talents in different things, so we can’t expect the same result from everyone. We study to develop our talents and reach our full potential, not to reach our own, or other people’s expectations. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been given 1, 2, or 5 talents, our responsibility is to put in all our efforts to grow our talents for God’s glory.

It’s so much easier said than done and I still struggle with expectations myself. There’s no definite solution for this problem. All I can say is that only God has the solution and we need to rely on Him while doing the best we can. He has a different plan for each of us that might not be what we or our parents expect. So, we need to trust God, through obedience, to guide us through His plan that He has for us.

One thing to remember, is that as Christians we’re called to be a living example of Christ to this world. If we’re lazy, people will see us and think “Why would I need a God, if I’m already doing better than these Christians?”. Through our actions, people can either be led towards or away from Christ. In Titus 2:7, Paul tells us to be an example to people around us. Our peers will look at our diligence and attitude to learning, so it’s important that we bear witness to Christ in all that we do.

The Way we use our Words

We’ve all been quoted proverbs before – throughout childhood, and even to this present day.

‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’

‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’

‘An apple doesn’t fall far from its tree.’

Any of these sound familiar?

One of the earliest sayings that I remember hearing is, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.’ At the time, it seemed to make sense. After all, harsh words can’t hurt us physically, and as far as I could see, it left no wounds. 

But as I grew up and started to interact and talk with more people (such as my teachers, friends, classmates, and even random strangers), I began to realise that words could indeed hurt. And perhaps, hurt even more than any physical wound.

The Bible addresses this truth several times, discussing it in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Unlike the saying, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me’, the Bible warns about the danger a careless tongue poses to both its owner and  surroundings.

Ironically, the book which addresses this topic the most throughout its chapters is the book of Proverbs, written by the renowned king of Israel, King Solomon.

If we flick to Proverbs 12:18, we are able to read that

 “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Later on, it’s added that, 

“The soothing tongue is a tree of life,

    but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”(Proverbs 15:4)

Speaking is such an everyday occurrence that we don’t often think of how our words affect those around us. Sure, in public, we know to ‘think before we speak’, and we remember the usual common courtesy rules that apply to speech. But what about the times we’ve made hurtful jokes about others? Or when we snap at our siblings or parents for no good reason? Just like how our actions and desires have been corrupted by sin, it’s inevitable that our words, too, have been corrupted.

Last week, during my school’s weekly Bible study, we discussed chapter 3 of the book of James. What stood out to me about the chapter was how the author used analogies to describe just how dangerous our tongue was. 

In verses 3 to 6 in the chapter, the way the tongue directs the rest of our actions is described in three ways: how a bit in a horse’s mouth leads where the horse runs, how the rudder in a ship changes the course the vessel sails, and finally, how a tiny spark can set the entire forest aflame. We may argue that it was only a small insult, or it was only a few swear words, but we can’t stop the inevitable.

What comes out of our mouths came originally from our sinful hearts. As it says in Matthew 15:18“But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them”. 

But does it have to stay that way?

If we have been saved by Christ, it means that we have received a new life and a renewed heart —meaning, our words, too, have to change.And yet, as we have all discovered, it’s not that easy. The Bible has never promised that the process of sanctification (especially of our words) will be a simple journey. 

However, in Christ, it is possible. 

Being a Christian means that our speech should reflect Christ, as that is who our hearts belong to. If we continue in using words that defile ourselves and those around us while at the same time claiming to be a Christian at church, what message are we sharing with those around us? We end up being hypocrites, and as a result, we cannot be a blessing to others. When we are sanctified by Him, all aspects of our lives must be given to Him — especially our tongue.

So what words should come out of our mouth? Ephesians 4:29 instructs us to speak graciously and encouragingly, saying, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”. Our speech needs to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ, not tear down. 

Perhaps, when you meet up with your school friends, instead of continuously complaining about teachers you could remind them about the positive things as well. Maybe, when your siblings are getting on your nerves, you could opt for a more patient and peaceful reply. Or, when you see a friend struggling through something, you could encourage them and most importantly, pray for them.

Whatever your struggle is, it’s important to continuously study His Word and ask for His guidance. Even though we’re continuously reminded, it’s easy to forget that we aren’t alone in this fight.

Sticks and stones may break our bones, while words are able to hurt those around us. But our speech was made for much more than that: our words are meant to be a blessing for others. 

How will you use your words today?

Surviving The Teen Years: Trying Hard

Video Transcript:

How do you feel when you get your grades back? Maybe you feel scared, or don’t really care. Or maybe if you’re a straight A’s student like me, you can feel overconfident that you’ll top the class.

Pride. It’s something we’ve all felt before. Whether it’s when we’re praised for something we’ve done, or when we win something. Pride is rooted so deeply inside our hearts that it becomes second nature. We don’t realise how dangerous it is. When we feel proud, we put ourselves above everything else – including God’s authority. Pride makes us think that we don’t need anyone or anything. Worst of all, we stop relying on God and become self reliant on our own limited self and abilities.

A few months ago, I thought that grades were everything. I was determined to keep my position at the top of the class. Whether I was happy or not, depended on how I was doing at school. I never struggled too much to get good grades, but I put my studies above everything else; even above God. 

It came to a point where my friend, Liam,  asked me a question that would change the way I saw my studies and grades, “Melanie, Why are you trying so hard to get good grades all the time? After you leave school, graduate from uni, get a good job, what are you going to do next?” It sounded like such a simple question, but I couldn’t answer him. I’ve been going to church my entire life, and I know that the only way to be saved from my sin is to be in Christ. I finally understood that everything in this world is temporary, including my grades. 

Without God I wouldn’t be able to study or learn in the first place. I realised my motivation for studying was only to get good grades that would fuel my pride. I was so hung up on being the best, feeling proud, and keeping a good reputation, that I forgot why I was learning in the first place. 

In reality, grades aren’t everything. They’re just used in school to show how well we’re learning. Our calling as students is to try our best in our studies. But grades are not supposed to be a competition between your peers. Yes, we do need to try our best in studying and school but not until it becomes our idol and we place studies above God.

After a while, I finally know the answer to Liam’s question about why I was trying so hard. Back then, it was to fuel my pride–to make me feel good about what I’ve achieved. But now, my motivation is to learn so that I can be better equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to glorify God, both now and in the future. 

*OUTTRO*

Thanks for watching the whole video! Look out for the next video, where my friend Liam will give his experience and point of view on grades and study. Bye!

No small sacrifice

We’ve all made sacrifices before – whether it was giving up a hobby for ministry or giving up a few dollars as an offering at church. Not all sacrifices were physical, and not all sacrifices were made happily, but we can agree that all of them were made at a certain cost to ourselves. 

Why, then, do we continue to make these sacrifices to God? After all, if we judge our actions by the world’s motto of ‘pleasure over pain, aren’t we being incredibly foolish?

When puzzling over questions such as these, it’s always best to turn to the very beginning, where the very first sacrifice to God was made by mankind.

The Very First Sacrifice

Most of us have heard about the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16). Two brothers, sons of Adam and Eve, were presenting sacrifices to God. While Cain presented fruits of the ground as his sacrifice, Abel, being a shepherd, presented the fat of his firstborn lamb. It’s written that the Lord accepted Abel’s sacrifice while rejecting Cain’s. This led to Cain’s anger and jealousy, and although being warned by God, he went on to kill Abel, resulting in his punishment to be ‘driven from the ground’ for the rest of his life.

If we take this chapter for face value, some might argue that God was unfair to Cain – after all, why didn’t God accept his sacrifice?

Sacrifices in the Old Testament

If you take a look at the Old Testament, you’ll probably notice that there’s a lot of mentions of ‘sacrifices to God’ there. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Israelites, all sacrificed burnt offerings to God. Again, with many of the kings and prophets, they all sacrificed to God. 

If we open up to Leviticus 1, we’re presented with the instructions that the Lord gave Moses concerning the burnt sacrifices of the Israelites. This chapter is followed by three others, all involved in the topic of sacrifices. These include both animal and grain offerings, with the method of sacrificing depending on both the type of offering and motive. For example, a lamb offered as a peace offering would be killed in front of the tent of meeting with its blood thrown on the sides of the altar, while a bull being sacrificed as a sin offering would have its blood sprinkled seven times before the Lord in front of the veil of sanctuary. 

The main motives behind these sacrifices vary between thanksgiving/praise, penitence for sins, or self-dedication. No matter what type of sacrifice it was, it was a serious and holy matter. 

We must remember that God doesn’t need anything that we may sacrifice to Him – everything we own, even our very lives, were given to us by Him. It doesn’t matter how much you give Him – He is not obliged to us in any way for our sacrifices. 

What matters to God in a sacrifice is the attitude and state of heart of the giver.

But what exactly is involved in this state of heart? Let’s take a closer look!

  1. Sacrifice wholeheartedly

Google defines the word ‘wholeheartedly’ as “with complete sincerity and commitment.” The keyword being complete. The words that recur throughout the first four chapters of Leviticus are ‘without blemish’ and ‘firstfruits’. In simpler terms, everything we sacrifice to Him must be the very ‘best’. 

When we look back at the sacrifices of Cain and Abel, we see that although both of them offered to the Lord, it was only Abel who presented the ‘best’ of his flock – the firstborn. Not only that, but it’s clear that Cain did not have the right state of heart, as seen by his jealousy towards and eventual murder of his brother. Even though animal sacrifices are no longer relevant to us, we must still sacrifice to God our best whether this means giving Him the ‘best’ of our time, the ‘best’ of our efforts, or the very ‘best’ of our lives.

  1. Sacrifice cheerfully

It comes as no surprise that the sacrifices we make aren’t always made with a happy heart. I know from personal experience that we usually feel as if a cheerful heart in sacrificing is too much to require. But the truth remains.

I recall hearing this quote from a sermon. “If we refrain our lust, without cheerful obedience to please God’s heart, it is not holiness. Obedience becomes a grievous yoke to us.”

When we sacrifice comfort, pleasure, or an easy life for God, our first reaction is to grumble. But, if we are to sacrifice to God, we must give Him our all – and that includes our emotions. 

Whenever I complain about sacrificing my time and effort to help my mum, she always reminds me that it is better to not sacrifice at all than to sacrifice unwillingly. And the same definitely applies when we sacrifice to Him. 

  1. Sacrifice all

A chapter I came across when reading Sara Barett’s book, Love Riot, was titled ‘Do You Love Enough to Give Everything?’ There, she mentioned a quote from an article that she had recently read, which changed her perspective on sacrifice to God. It read: “ ‘Lord, there’s nothing I won’t do for You. I will die for You!’ But I think Jesus is responding by pointing to places in our lives and saying, “Yes you are willing to die for me…but are you willing to let this thing die in you?” 

Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that, “we know that the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14a), meaning that our obedience to Him must not be limited to purely external sacrifices. 

Sara Barett challenges the reader with the following question: “Can you think of any areas in your life you’ve been afraid to give to God?” If I were to be truthful, there’s too many aspects of my life that I’ve been unwilling to give – my free time, my hobbies, even my comfort zones. But if we are to sacrifice our best for Him, we must sacrifice all.

There are many spiritual heroes who sacrificed status, comfort, and their very own lives for God. One of the most inspirational for me personally is an evangelist named George Muller. Although his early college years were spent selfishly for himself, he sacrificed his reputation, status, allowance, human support and appreciation – all for God. We must sacrifice our entire lives to Him – in both physical and spiritual aspects. 

In the end, it’s only us individually who can make the decision – the decision to sacrifice our best and our all, with a cheerful heart. Don’t get me wrong – I guarantee (from personal experience) that the process won’t be easy, and it’ll cost you. But whenever we feel discouraged, we must remember Jesus- how He was willing to give up his position as the glorified Son of God in heaven to suffer on earth, and ultimately sacrificing His own life on the cross for our undeserving souls. 

Will you sacrifice for Him? 

True Thanks

“Thank you.”  “Thanks!” “ Thx.” 

A simple phrase, but effective nonetheless. In fact, people say this phrase roughly five times every day and around two thousand times every year on average. Why do we say thank you? We say it to, well, thank people, as a sign of appreciation for the good things that others give us and help us with. 

All of us have been taught that this is one of the basic foundations for common etiquette from young ages. Perhaps that’s why we say thank you so automatically – to our friends, teachers, parents (I hope so!), siblings, and even strangers that help us in our daily lives. 

So how would you feel if you helped someone, but they didn’t thank you?

Sad?

Angry?

Frustrated?

I’d feel the same. 

But unfortunately, that’s something we do so much of the time. 

Let me ask you another question: How many times every day do you thank God?

Once? Twice? Maybe only before you eat, or sleep?

I realise that I’ll never be able to thank Him enough for the extent of His grace and mercy. But, I also know that I haven’t put much effort into thanking Him either. Before we delve further, let’s look at the times the Bible (God’s Word – another thing we need to thank God for!) records the instances when humans thank God.

Back to Genesis

Noah’s Ark – it’s a familiar Sunday School story to most of us. Noah and his family, the pairs of animals boarding the Ark, the flood itself  – we’ve got it memorised backwards. But rereading it, there’s a part that often gets overlooked. After the water receded and the ark came to rest on Ararat, Noah and his family came out of the Ark, along with all the animals. What was the first thing that Noah did? 

“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it” – Genesis 8:20

In other words, the first thing he did was thank God. He offered a sacrifice to God in thanksgiving, worshipping God for saving him and his family. 

Obviously, we aren’t in danger of any world-class floods. But we have been saved – saved from our own sin and eternal death. The story of salvation is so familiar to us, that we lose the wholehearted gratitude and thankfulness that should instantly light up our heart every time we hear the Good News. The joyful gratitude is replaced with a slightly bored attitude. But think about it – we did absolutely nothing to deserve this mercy. No amount of good works, thoughts or intentions could achieve and buy us eternal life compared to the overwhelming mountain of sins that we have committed. Let us thank God with renewed joy!

What about hard times?

It’s easy to thank God in the good times – when everything is going well, and our own lives are comfortable. It’s much harder to thank Him when we experience bad times. Usually, when we suffer, our prayers consist of much complaining and groaning. In times like those, the priority of my prayers often shift from “Thank you God!” to a pleading, “Take me out of this suffering!” 

If we look into the Old Testament, we can see that Daniel definitely faced plenty of hard times. Darius the king of the Medes and Persians had decreed that all the people of the land must only worship the king – otherwise they would face the lions. 

But what did Daniel do?

“Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before”Daniel 6:10

How could Daniel give thanks in such a time like that!? Yet he did so – and personally, I don’t think I would have if were him. What could Daniel possibly thank God for?

Flipping several pages backward, we can find answers – in the book of Psalms. Wars, persecution, and many attempted killings – King David faced these all. But in Psalms, we can find some of the most earnest and wholehearted prayers of thanksgiving that were written by him. 

In Psalm 9, he laments, “LORD, see how my enemies persecute me! Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death!” But, as we read on we see that he is still able to thank Him for His mercy and justice, for being his “refuge and fortress”, and a very sure and “very present help in trouble.”

“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;

    I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.

I will be glad and rejoice in you;

    I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.” Psalms 1:2

The reason that Daniel, David, and even us now, can thank God is because we can trust in Him – we can trust that He will always protect us, love us, and be with us in any circumstance that we find ourselves in, good or bad. 

Keeper of Promises

God is merciful – we often ignore that.

God is faithful – we often doubt that.

God keeps His promises – we often forget to thank Him. 

I’ve made a lot of promises – to friends, to parents, even to God – but I’m guilty of not keeping all of them. Unlike us however, God keeps his promises.

If we read the first chapter of Luke, we are met with a miraculous scene – Mary, a young virgin betrothed to a carpenter named Joseph, is suddenly faced with the news of a lifetime. Not only is it delivered by an angel, but he tells her that she is to be the mother of the long awaited Messiah, the Son of God. Wow!

What is her response?

If you read on, to Luke 1:46, you’ll see that she thanked God. The verses following are now called ‘Mary’s Song’, and it is a beautiful and poetic exaltation, praising God’s timeless faithfulness to His people. She praises God for keeping His promises to His weak and hungry people, blessing and protecting them with His grace and justice, “remembering to be merciful… just as he promised our (Israel’s) ancestors.”

“My soul glorifies the Lord

    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” – Luke 1:46

Mary isn’t the only one who thanked God for keeping His promises. Luke mentions another woman who was met with a miraculous answer to God’s promises. 

Anna, a prophetess from the tribe Asher, had lived in the temple as a widow, praising God day and night. When Mary and Joseph came to the temple to perform the traditional purification rites required by Jewish law for baby Jesus, Anna saw the child, and she immediately gave thanks to God. Why did she give thanks? She gave thanks because she knew that God had fulfilled His promise through Jesus Christ – His promise of salvation and redemption for His people was complete in the sending of the Messiah, God’s only Son. 

So now, how can we thank God?

There are so many things that we can thank God for, that I haven’t even scraped the surface. Likewise, there are many ways we can thank God. When we thank others, we don’t always say it verbally. We sometimes text a message of thanks, give a card, or we give a present or gift. I know I’ve given friends brownies before, to say thanks for their help and friendship. Of course, we can’t ‘text’ God, but there are several ways we can thank God.

Prayer

An obvious one is prayer. But as the song goes, “You can whisper in a crowd to Him.

You can cry when you’re alone to Him. You don’t have to pray out loud to Him; he knows your thoughts.” 

Don’t limit your prayer life to hungry and sleepy amens. You can pray in thanksgiving to Him anytime – when you’re doing your chores, or when you find your mind wandering. 

Another way we can remember to thank Him in prayer daily is to set apart a few minutes everyday, with minimum distractions, to just wholeheartedly and devotedly thank Him. A few minutes set apart for thanksgiving daily is nothing compared to all the years He has blessed us with. 

Music 

Martin Luther says that “Music is a gift and grace of God, not an invention of men.” We can not only thank God for music, but we can thank God with music. 

Remember David?

He praised God through music, through voice and lyre. 

Remember Mary?

She praised God through music, through her song of worship.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s in the form of singing hymns during Sunday service or by playing an instrument in your church’s orchestra. Along with Mary, David and countless others, we too can also praise God through music. 

Live in thankfulness to Him

Giving thanks to God isn’t limited only to words or actions. We can live in thankfulness for Him. When our hearts focus more and more on thankfulness to God, and less on ourselves, we become less selfish and less proud. Because everything we enjoy today, from objects to people, was given by Him. Every second of our lives are a gift from God. So if we are truly thankful, we will not waste it for an idle lifestyle of scrolling through social media. We will cherish and treasure our time, and instead use it for God and His glory. 

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”  – Psalm 100:4

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