“I want to be smart.
I want to look good.
I want to ‘fit in’. I want to have many friends.
I want to be happy & successful.”

What’s wrong with being smart? Isn’t it right for us to always strive for the best and try to be the ‘cream of the crop’?

What’s wrong with being pretty? Is there any wrong in trying to be prettier or in following current trends?

Is it wrong to have many friends, to ‘fit in’ and to be popular? It is our human nature (given by God) to long for love and acceptance from others.

How can trusting and following my heart be wrong? Don’t you always see inspirational quotes that say, “Follow your heart, do the things that make you happy”?

Remember this: Lies from Satan always begin in the form of a question, injected into your heart.

Satan is still using his old trick. He deceives with questions, just like how he deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden and made her question herself and God. Thus, the bible gives us a warning; “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9—ESV)

EYES ON THE PRIZE

I was born and spent my first ten formative years of life in a country where competition was truly encouraged, worldly achievement was highly praised and compensated, and ‘success’ was really the ultimate goal of life. Starting from early primary school, I can remember my cohort being segregated into different classes based on our ‘ability’. We were separated into best class (for students ranked 1-40), second-best class (for the 41st to the 80th), and the rest were just called “mixed ability classes.”

At around the age of nine, we had worn our ‘label’ in school every day. Before migrating to Australia at the end of year four, the school decided to adjust the system and merge those two best classes. Instead of having the top forty students in the best class and the next forty in the second-best class, the top eighty students were randomly divided into two classes. I vividly remember all the negative reactions from my classmates. With anger, frustration and sadness, they exclaimed, “This is not fair! We have worked so hard to maintain our rank to be in the best class, and now some of us would get ‘downgraded’ to the second-best class?” At that time, I said to myself, “Lucky me, I don’t need to experience the feeling of being ‘downgraded’!” 

After spending most of my childhood in such an environment, I became a high-achiever, aiming for nothing but the best in many areas of my life. 

Even though it is not totally a bad thing, I am reminded once again of the deadly catch it may bring. If we start to place our success and other worldly things as the foundation of our self-worth, we are surely setting ourselves on the path of disappointment. As children of God, we have been ‘set apart’ from the people of this world, and our self-worth should not be built on things of this world. Instead, we should have God as the one and only solid foundation. 

This was one of the lies that I somehow believed - what a timely reminder for me. My values were determined by what I could achieve in my study life. Yes, it is unavoidable to have society (i.e. school) put numbers and ranks on me. But my real value is not determined by the label people put on me or by what I do; instead, my value is determined by how God views me (Ev. Sariwati). 

ALMOST FAMOUS

I am convinced that all of us (including me) have social media accounts. Let me ask you. Is the way you view yourself significantly impacted by how many friends you have on Facebook or Snapchat, how many subscribers you have on YouTube, how many likes you have on your Instagram post or how many of your Tik Toks went viral? If the answer is somewhat yes, you are - like many other teens – bound in Satan’s trap. 

In many surveys conducted worldwide, about 90% of teens aged 13-17 use social media platforms and more than 50% use more than one. Our generation, known as Generation Z (Gen Z) are ‘screenagers’. As the name suggests, this age has people spending most of their lives in front of a screen. The usage of technology and social media comes so naturally to us, and it has become part of our lives. Unconsciously, we have developed ‘nomophobia’, shortened from ‘no mobile phone phobia’. A phobia where we feel anxious or stressed when we do not have our mobile phones with us.

Before we know it, social media will start controlling our emotions, thoughts and life! The initial intentions to use social media as a platform to connect with friends will turn into an uncontrollable desire to be famous, to be liked and accepted by the community. It will turn into a competition among peers about who is better-looking, and more popular. Social media is greatly used as an effective tool by Satan to deceive you. Do you find it scary how a number of likes on a certain post can make you be on cloud nine and a single hate comment can impact the rest of your life?

So how can we equip ourselves to not fall into this trap? 

These are things I learned from Rev. Agus Marjanto and Ev. Sariwati from the retreat:  

  1. We should never entrust our hearts to social media and let it control our emotions. Rather, “trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5-6—ESV).
  2. Do not believe that our outer appearance is worth more than our inner. Our physical beauty is only temporary (1 Peter 3:3-6—ESV), and the beauty that matters the most to God is our inner beauty (Jeremiah 9:23-24—ESV).
  3. Make sure that our activity on social media is right and brings glory to God. Remember, social media itself is not evil, but people with wrong and evil motivation brought together will make it evil. 
  4. The relationships we have on social media are just virtual relationships and communication. What we really need is communion that can only be obtained offline. Communication is simply sharing opinions, but communion goes deeper to share life with others. Communion is only found in a church among believers who share the same faith. So seek to find a Christian-based group of faith where you can experience communion, hold one another accountable and encourage one another to live a holy life. 

BEING A CHRISTIAN IN THIS GENERATION

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19—NIV) 

Being a Christian living in this generation can be hard. I have had experiences where my friends invited me to hang out with them - on a Sunday. I told them that I could not come as I had to go to church. Most friends would just let the situation brush past them, or some even are willing to reschedule for my sake. However, a few of them would pose questions like, ‘Why do you need to go to church anyway? Can’t you just skip it this week? Just this once?’ 

In our community, we often feel like we can’t ‘fit in’. It is true, we can’t fit in and we shouldn’t because we can’t love God and the world at the same time, and there is NO middle ground. God calls us to give Him our all; or nothing at all. 

During the teens retreat Q&A session, I asked this question to clear up my confusion about being Christians in the world:

Christians are often disliked by people of the world. But if they despise us, doesn’t this disadvantage us when we are trying to spread the gospel to them? 

Here is the answer from Rev. Agus:
We are all in this world, but we don’t belong to the world. In all relationships, both parties will influence one another - either good or bad. This applies to our relationships with worldly people. They influence us, and likewise, we must also influence them. In fact, there is no disadvantage at all. When things are smooth-sailing, they might judge our way of living or dislike us. However, once trouble strikes, the people of the world will realize and come to find the righteous, true of heart, holy, honest and one that demonstrates love and holds onto the truth. 

It reminds me of the story of Noah. What did the people around him do to him when he obeyed God and did exactly as told? They mocked him, laughed at him and called him crazy; until it started to rain.

When we are sharing the gospel to our worldly friends, they might reject us in the beginning. Do not be anxious if they reject you, instead pray to God to ask for His help and the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts to enable them to accept Christ. Definitely do not conform to the ways of worldly people in order to gain their attention and approval. 

"Scripture alone is absolute truth, essential truth, decisive truth, authoritative truth, undiluted truth, eternal, everlasting truth."
- Charles Spurgeon -