Grappling with uncertainty
In March 2019, God invited me to spend the next year and a half without a job. This took place during a month-long internship at the Penang House of Prayer, where a clear resounding voice spoke through the clutter of my mind, “Would you dedicate the rest of your 20’s to me?” I had 16 months before I turned 30, and it felt like a long time. The Father was asking me to lay my life down at the altar, yet the surrendering was the last thing I wanted to do.
I had decided to attend this internship after resigning from my job of three and a half years. With this in mind, right from the first day of the programme, my heart was fixed on this singular question: “Lord, what’s my next step?” Every time I wrestled with my next chapter, God would reveal how He is more interested in our relationship than the assignment. He wanted a son more than a servant, and reiterated that He would much rather I first anchor my identity in Him before any work or service was done.
Despite the clarity in which God had spoken, I struggled immensely before making the decision. In Singapore, where we are accustomed to work and productivity, being jobless felt almost taboo. I was afraid of how much it would set me back in my career progression and began questioning myself if I had heard His voice correctly. In that moment of decision-making, my fears echoed louder than my faith. It was easy to adopt a pragmatic stance to the matter and reject the invitation, but God, like the good Father He is, took my hand and walked me through the process.
The gospel of Matthew talks about a young man who kept all the commandments and yet could not bear to sell his possessions and give his wealth away to follow Jesus. Throughout the internship, the Father revealed that, just like the young man, my eyes were fixed on the temporary, so much so that I had lost sight of eternity.
Consumed by the rat race in Singapore, I was focused on building a fading inheritance in the name of stability and comfort. However, my perspective shifted when I started encountering the testimonies of the other interns. I had a front-row seat in witnessing lives that were so captivated by the love of Christ to the extravagant extent that they had no qualms about giving themselves wholly to partner God in the nations. These were learned people who surrendered well-paying jobs and promising careers to say “yes” in obedience. They were modern-day Davids, proclaiming that “I will not offer my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
Just as the Apostle Paul counted everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, I’ve gleaned this truth from their lives: when we truly know the man of Christ, the only adequate response is wholehearted surrender and obedience.
Surrender looked like a desert
Saying “yes” to God was one thing, but walking it out in obedience was another. After accepting the Father’s invitation, I felt the pinch of my decision after returning home from Penang. During the initial months, the path of surrender was akin to walking into a desert — it was uncomfortable and I often felt lost.
Having to share my decision with friends was challenging, as the path I was embarking on did not make logical sense. There were days spent wavering and questioning, as I saw my peers receiving promotions and entering new jobs. I realised the extent to which the culture of striving in Singapore was embedded within me, and it was in the desert that refinement could happen.
When there is less in your life, you begin to realise what is truly essential. During this season of trudging through the desert, I’ve realised that we’ve been lied to: the material things that we deem as imperative are often unnecessary. John the Baptist was a man who understood this full well.
He valued God’s presence far beyond material comfort or the opinion of man. Even in the face of a physical desert, his spirit was tapping into the unending streams flowing from the throne of grace. I believe he never stopped drawing from them even when he was out of the desert and it was these very streams that sustained him through the years of imprisonment and persecution, even to the point of death.
Learning from John’s example, God was teaching me to access the reservoir of underground streams beneath the arid ground. It was in drinking from these streams of living water that I would be truly satisfied.
Surrender is easy when you know the Person you are surrendering to
Through the time of refinement, the Father also unearthed within me lies that needed uprooting; I could not fully surrender to His ways because I had not known Him fully or rightly. I had painted a picture of the Father with my own experiences and culture, rather than truths lodged in the Bible.
This was evident in the way I related to Him. While I knew He was a perfect Father who loved to shower His affections on His children, I found hidden, deep in the recesses of my heart, doubts of His goodness toward me. Instead of relying on His providence, I adopted the mentality that I could really only depend on myself, and strove hard to meet the world’s standards of success.
Yet, the whispers of the enemy began to be exposed after I chose to meditate on His unyielding word. It isn’t just a metaphor when Jesus said that the Father provides for us in the same way He feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field. Lies based upon fears came crumbling down as He re-acquainted me with His heart. It is summed up beautifully in a song by Hillsong United, As You Find Me:
I have wrestled and I have trembled toward surrender
Chased my heart adrift and drifted home again
Plundered blessing till I’ve been desperate to find redemption
And every time I turn around, Lord, You’re still there
My fears of surrender were unfounded in the presence of a Father who relentlessly watches and fights for me. It was in the presence of perfect love that surrender became easy.
Surrender isn’t the scenic route
We live in a culture that celebrates and highlights the mountain peaks, but rarely sheds light on the arduous journey up the slopes. I’ve come to realise that the path of surrender is definitely not the scenic route, and offers more winding, unlit roads than panoramic vistas. There were many days where reading His word and spending time in His presence were painfully monotonous. Yet, it is an everyday choice to put one foot in front of the other, knowing that the final destination is worth the effort.
I recently had a short chat with a friend who was deciding whether to take up a full-time job, or focus fully on the ministry God was calling her to. It was in the sharing of my journey that a reminder came to mind: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” We often view surrender in terms of loss, but we fail to realise how much more we’ve gained through the process.
Like olives being pressed to yield fragrant oils, may we choose to live surrendered lives that emanate a sweet fragrance unto the Lord. There is true joy in a life laid down for the Father.