Written by: Samuel Kong (Photo by: Ronald Lim)
Through my wilderness
In May 2015, I received two university offers to study in the United States. I was ecstatic that the opportunity to escape Singapore’s rigid education system had arrived.
However, being a leader in one of the ministries of my home church, I sensed that God was calling me to stay put and build His church. I felt heavily tempted to leave everything behind and accept one of the offers. After wrestling with God for many weeks, I obeyed the call of God and turned down both offers.
It was a painful experience having to let go of my dreams and surrendering them to God. Thankfully, when my heart started to grow in excitement for what God put in my heart for specific people and my ministry, the pain started to subside.
Alas, just slightly more than a year later, I started to feel a disconnect with the vision of the ministry. I felt empty and exhausted after serving each week, and I didn’t have the heart and capacity to serve and love others anymore. After struggling for approximately seven months, I decided to step down as a leader.
I soon wandered into the wilderness for one year — I didn’t find God, let alone know where He was leading me. My life took a turn for the worse when a few of my friendships met a dead-end. The emotional turmoil, coupled with the academic stress, took a toll on me.
There were mornings where I had no reason to get up. There were countless times where I would wake in the middle of the night, gasping for air. I was distraught, disappointed, and angry with God. I stopped attending Sunday service and didn’t want to meet anyone in church. I simply wanted to distance myself from church and its people.
There were many days when I thought to myself: I gave up a possibly great future for this? Was it worth it? Why did God call me to stay in Singapore to build a ministry that not only yielded insignificant results, but became problematic to the extent that people started leaving? Reflecting on this reality, I regretted my decision to stay on in this city.
The call to complete surrender
In the midst of doubting God’s goodness and faithfulness, I was constantly reminded of Philippians 3 and that “to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). As I meditated on these two passages, I began to understand more deeply that this life does not belong to me.
When we realise and experience the immense love of God — the same love that caused Jesus to die on the cross for us — we can no longer say, “This is my life; don’t tell me how I should live.” God was calling me to a place of total surrender; this laying down of my dreams did not come with a condition that I was going to attain something in return. Instead, I needed to trust in His sovereignty and know that He is in control.
In beckoning me to yield to Him, God sought to align my heart to what matters to Him. He slowly but surely picked up the broken pieces of my life, poured His love on me, and taught me to fix my eyes on the things which are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18). The eyes of my heart had been blinded by circumstance and worldly desires.
Drifting away from God
There have been moments where my eyes have been transfixed on the right things — nights where the Holy Spirit gently tugged at my heart to be in God’s presence in the midst of studying; moments when God stirred in my heart to intercede for particular persons. Yet, my heart is prone to wander.
It has been a year since I stepped down from church leadership, hence I recently decided to apply for a one-year overseas exchange programme. I felt that I needed a break from all the people I know and there was nothing much left to be done in Singapore.
After submitting my applications, God spoke to me one particular Sunday during church service, “Samuel, what is on your heart?” He brought me to May 2015 — the time where I had turned down my U.S. application.
It struck me that my heart was still stirred to see people come to know Christ personally and for former believers to return to God. I realised that God’s call upon my life had not changed through the year. Instead, my heart had changed, purely because of my circumstances. I had chosen to walk away from God, and not the other way around.
As the call to reach out to specific people in my life tugged so strongly at my heart each day, I could no longer bring myself to accept any offer should I get it. When I was informed that I secured a place for a one-year exchange programme in the United Kingdom, my heart was conflicted. I was allured by the possibility of having a year-long break to enjoy myself and not be troubled by any ministry or hurt by any friendships. But by God’s grace and strength and overwhelming love, I turned down the offer and felt at peace with it.
Each night, when I think of my relatives and friends who need to encounter the love of God, tears would well up in my eyes. As I step into church with each week, my heart sinks with sadness whenever I think of loved ones who should have been at service, especially when the Word of God was so appropriate for the season of their life.
God is bringing me to a place where I count my cost for His cause — even if I have to give my life for it, I should be able to say, “It is well with my soul; let Your will, not mine, be done.”
Waiting on God
While I wait for the day where God would answer my prayers on direction for my next season, I have finally begun to understand that God is more interested in my shaping my character and walk with Him than giving the answers to my “when,” “why,” and “how.” Though I still feel frustrated about life occasionally, my friends have noticed changes in the way I behave and think. A few of them pointed out that I did not used to be as anxious about my life as before, while others told me that I have been speaking passionately about God (such that it annoys them sometimes).
Through this season of waiting, God has drawn me closer to Him, reminding me of my One Thing (Psalm 27:4): to ask and seek the presence of God. God has also been challenging me to dive deep into the Word, in understanding His heart and character, so that I may grow towards Christ-likeness.
It is only by God’s grace that I am settled and growing in a loving Christian community that constantly points me back to Him after years of running away from such communities. They have encouraged, prayed, and journeyed alongside me through my struggles.
If you are at a crossroad in your life, where you’ve been on your knees praying but still left with no answer, you are not alone. There are still days when I struggle to hear the voice of God, causing me to feel like I am making blind decisions. I live with fears that I would make wrong decisions that would destroy my future.
In such seasons, I have come to know that my mind needs to be continually renewed, in trusting God and His goodness in my life. This is established through anchoring myself in the Word of God and prayer.
Even when I cannot find purpose in what I’m doing or know where I’m headed, I believe that God’s ultimate purpose for us is to become more Christ-like. As my pastor puts it beautifully, “We try to shine for God but God is more concerned about shining in us. We hurry to build God’s house but He is more concerned about building His house in our hearts.” In the midst of waiting, may you set aside unhurried time alone with God, and allow Him to renew your mind and purify your heart. Truly, His promise in the Word holds true — that He is a covenant-keeping God who will always be with us (Exodus 6:6–7).