Words by: Joseph Koh (Photos by: Zann Lee)
When my life required re-examination
It’s been a whirlwind month since switching jobs. I’ve worked past midnight on consecutive days, with to-do’s bleeding perniciously into the weekends.
In the throes of this madness, I finally caught a mid-week breather during one precious Wednesday evening. Like waking in the still night when everyone’s sedentary and sedate, I found time to head to the gym and sauna.
The silence of the sauna has continually taught me how my heart hasn’t been still. As I shut my eyes, everything else within me would come alive, not much different from scenes of Night at the Museum. To make matters worse, when I pulled open the door to the tiniest sauna I’ve seen in my life, it was already occupied.
Gawkily, I took my place beside him and sealed my eyes, as if to pretend that I was alone within the tight space. In the most peculiar way, the man’s presence felt like God was seated right beside me, as the slightest sound I made would be noticed. Every move and every thought was inescapable from his/His sight.
As the quietness lodged into the caverns of my heart, God — to my surprise — spoke to me, “If you were to die today, would you regret how you’re living your life?”
All I wanted was to relax, not contemplate the chaos within. As with all His questions, it was a rhetorical one; beyond a shadow of a doubt, I knew that there were matters in my life that needed immediate attention. There were specific things in my life that needed to die, as should they be left unattended, my soul would gradually decay — a down-spiral into death.
What in me needed to die?
Romans 7:18 (ESV) is a sobering reminder of the disease in us that needs to be laid to rest daily: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Paul calls it an indwelling sin, one that persists in us.
Digging deeper into the terroir of my heart, numerous characteristic sins had been produced: self-dependence, passivity, pride, and a desire to prove my worth. As a whole, my life in the past month had been on auto-pilot mode. I wasn’t cognisant or convicted about the magnitude of my sins.
Having pressed the restart button on my career, I was focused on cultivating it and indulging in my flesh, rather than rooting myself in a symbiotic relationship with God.
As I pondered on the interior soil conditions, I was not only proffering scraps of my life to Him, but I had shoved a couple of valuable pursuits in my life to the sidelines, such as volunteering. I had been thinking about pouring more of my weekends into helping the disadvantaged in society, but nothing was still being done. Instead, I had spent my weekends gratifying my flesh with worldly pursuits.
Resisting the demands of our carnality is a kind of dying (1 Peter 2:24). Colossians 3:5 unwaveringly calls us to die to this corrupted and deceitful nature — “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness.” It may not seem intuitive, but when we die to ourselves, we are in reality choosing life and dying to our soul’s decay (and eventual death).
I’ve come to learn that the starting point of our dying must start with (re-)understanding what the gospel means for our lives. The gospel often lives at the back of my head rather than actualised in my behaviour.
I have a proclivity to be quite hard on myself, in which guilt and shame take over, and self-pity typically follows after. I should not be overly focused on how I’ve erred, as the Word became flesh (John 1:14) to pay the penalty of my imperfections. The gospel means that He has pardoned my shortcomings. Romans 5:20 is of continual assurance to me: “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”
God has also given us the Holy Spirit, enabling us to walk in “newness of life” (Romans 6:4). With the Spirit, we’ve been afforded the ability to rise against the compulsions of our nefarious nature (Galatians 5:16).
I had lost the determination to partner the Holy Spirit in living a life of power and authority; in many ways, I had even forgotten that the Spirit is meant to be my helper in every imaginable way. Romans 8:13 elucidates the crucial role of the Spirit, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
If we live apart from the leading of the Spirit, sin will easily find reign in our being (Romans 6:12). Space needs to be accorded to the Spirit to speak and steer, and living out the gospel is integral to pursuing the destiny that God has envisioned for us.
While life can feel like I’m onboard a hurtling train and all I want to do is head in the opposite direction, I’ve learnt to consistently remind myself where I am headed. God prompted me to take a hard look at my life and excavate the very things that need to die, because I had bought a train ticket that wasn’t going to take me to a destination that counts for something.
I didn’t even know where I was going. He does though — always.