Tuesday 11 April 2017


Some weeks back, as I was spending time with God during my QT, He suddenly extended an invitation to me to "something". A bit taken back, I didn't accept immediately, because this time, the only thing I knew about the invitation was the Inviter, and nothing else. This post is about the story of the God who loves His son so very much, and how He helped him to challenge his fears. 

Keeping In Step

I had gone on many journeys and adventures with God at His invitation, but something that was different about this particular invitation was that I was clueless about what was the content of the invitation. What was God inviting me to? Having walked with God for many years and always being intentional to sense the season and short-term purpose, His thoughts and whispers for me, I could mostly have a good idea of what God was going to lead me towards in His invitations. Even if not perfect, often it was with relatively reasonable accuracy. But this time, I was so clueless that it felt as though God was intentionally hiding this information from me. 

Not knowing what to expect whatsoever, I was rather hesitant about whether I should accept His invitation. "What if He leads me to a place where I didn't want to go?"; "what if in accepting, I cannot accomplish/gain my desires?"; "what if I have no energy to follow?" Many such questions filled my head. The past me (maybe, 2-3 years ago) would have simply said: "Let's just accept! Let's trust God!" There's absolutely nothing wrong with this response, and I would have surely supported the past me in obeying God this way. But at this juncture, for myself who desired to sought not just God's instructions, but also His heart and purpose, I was rather unwilling to obey without thinking, without understanding. Hence, though I sensed the invitation strongly, I intentionally waited on it for several days. I didn't know when I would make the decision to accept it, but God continued to hold His hand out - His hand never came down, as though He knew I needed that space to consider. In my head, the peculiar way by which God invited me gave me a hunch that this invitation is going to be quite massive, with ups and downs. Naturally, I wasn't in a rush to decide, though in all honesty I didn't think I had a choice to reject, only a choice on when to start.

Taking the "Dive"

One morning, I think about 5-6 days after the first time I received the invitation, I sat down on the chair that I usually did my QT on, and somewhat realized that I'll never proceed with my decision to accept the invitation at this rate. I think that period of time for me to sit on the decision is not just for me to think about what it entails, but also what it means for me to accept it. We are all humans, and I had to respect my fears and apprehensions. They really do exist, and to me respecting these is an acknowledgment of my weakness as a human being. A sinful creature, of flesh, but also of spirit. It's my way of being "real". 
"Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace." (Romans 8:5-6 NIV)
Indeed, as Christians we live according to the Spirit and pursue what it desires. But ignoring our flesh completely is also strange, since it is our body too.
"After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body..." (Ephesians 5:29b)
Without considering our container, we cannot really understand what it costs to follow God, and not knowing these costs may at times stumble us at the most unexpected situation, or cause needless scars. Eventually, as I sat there with my journal open, I started to think about what I really need to make my decision. I re-traced the goodness of God and His faithfulness in this year alone. About 3 months in, and it is obvious beyond fact that He is with me, that He is for me, and He has good thoughts and plans for me. He loves me. I also thought about His enduring character, how over the years and in the Bible, God is always God. His love endures together with His character. And His character is sufficient. Armed with a reminder of His love for me in this year, and how He is supporting me in my endeavors for/with Him, I decided to take the plunge, and "dived" into Him.


For me, the seas and oceans had always a special place in my heart. There were 2 reasons. The first was a very sweet memory and assurance: God declared to me, a few years back, that His love was as unfathomable and boundless like the ocean - while all I could see and be impressed by is the waves that hit the shore. In other words, whatever I knew about His love for me, it was actually more than I could ever know. The second reason was, that I was really scared of deep waters in general. I didn't like swimming or being underwater; partially because I couldn't breathe and felt constricted; but another reason, embarrassingly, was because of childhood stories heard from my mum about the dangers of the deep (which she told, obviously, to keep me from doing dangerous things at the swimming pool and beach).

Initially, though I was so blessed by God's love expressed to me explicitly through the ocean, I saw it as nothing more than an analogy to talk about His infinite love. Probably also because it happened while I was at a beach resort in Bali, staring at the sea. But as I came to be more aware of my apprehension of waters (I used to just avoid waters and not think of them very much), I realized that the hesitation made me feel rather fearful/scared of God's love as well. The ocean became something of a strange well of emotions - one of lavish adoration, affection and also one of fear, a dark and abyssal place. 

This realization only came not too long ago, about at the turn of this year. Ever since last semester, I was rather keenly aware that the next sem (Jan-May) would be a season of building courage. How does one build courage? By practice. Practising courage means to walk to your fears and say "let me learn to live with you until you want to leave". If that doesn't sound scary to you, I don't know what is. And how God made me understand how to practise it, was to meet me at the edge of the scary seas, made eye contact with me (imagined), and then look towards the ocean. The meaning is clear as day. I walked in and began to practise swimming. 

I don't like waters and I don't like swimming. But that's precisely the point, to live in my fear - that's practising courage. And you know, in the middle of the ocean there is no rest-point. There aren't any random small islands where I could stop and take a break from the waters. (Well, there might be... but that's not the point :D) Courage is practised precisely in the midst of fears. Fearless people cannot practise courage for courage is only required in the face of fears. God knows that there is little fear for me to practise on dry land; I'm confident enough on land to not need much courage. But here in the boundless seas, what choice do I have but to live and breathe fear and produce courage?

Learning to Swim (Not Diving)

The initial part is somewhat easy. I took a few steps and leaped into the sea, riding the momentum and ending my last contact with land, for a long time of at least 4 more months. As with many things, we often begin well. But once my mind registered that I'm in the waters, and that there is no turning back, I started to truly notice how dangerous a situation I'm in. And how much I'm in the water. Before me, there was nothing but the horizon, no land to look towards. I haven't even got to panicking about what lurks beneath the surface. Practising courage is tiring - because of its constant grind - and the need to defend myself from assaults on the heart. One of the first hurdle I have to overcome is that swimming is tiring. The semester started just about a week, and I was already somewhat tired. Can I make it to the end? I knew God could, but I was pretty down about the amount of 'training' I had to go through. Some of my struggles from the previous semester followed me: my health. My fatigue from ministry and also some responsibilities. And also my own personal struggles and desires. School load was also a bit daunting - 4 Sociology modules >< (My maximum was 2 in a semster!!!)

God repeatedly made me go through the practise of courage on a particular area in my life. Daily, weekly, monthly. I had to ask God questions and timings for directions, pitfalls, answers on how to deal with that area.  And it was really difficult - because much of that area were covered in scars from the past. Facing each scar (fear), I had to summon my entire arsenal of courage (whatever I had) to combat it, and honestly many times it's a paper-thin margin of victory. Even when I won, it didn't feel like I've won. The times that I felt I won big time, I felt God's contribution and victory even more - and that was ecstatic for me, as though God gave me a turbo booster as I'm swimming in the ocean. Some part of the swim was choppy, some was smoother. But bit by bit, I got used to swimming and practising courage, and how to swim in the ocean. My posture got better, but something I realized as well. I wasn't originally a sea-dweller, but as my skill in courage grew together with my familiarity in the sea, I became a little careless in my self-control. Became a bit more aggressive; somewhat arrogant; less sensitive and responsive and ended up being mean to some. Not proud of it, but I really couldn't help it much. If you're one of those people, I apologize sincerely.

Diving Deep

In case you're a little confused, I want to clarify that "God's invitation" was for the dive, not for learning to swim in the ocean. For the swimming part, He didn't really invite, just hinted at me. 

So when the dive really started, the first thing I was aware of was the length of time it'll last. About 3 weeks to a month, when I asked God. Why is there a time variation? Probably for my sake, to be able to adjust according to my needs. In the first week, wow it was tough. A lot of things turned badly in my life, and I was severely discouraged by them. I won't mentioned the details of it, but suffice to say those came down hard on me. The 3 most important areas of my life got stripped off me one after another, and from trying to learn 'how to dive', I instinctively knew/could go down deeper into the water. I just had little energy to swim up, and thus let myself sink deeper by default. Maybe that's God's way of bringing me down(wards) into the deep end of literally God-knows-what. And I did. However, the stripping of those things was alright, for in my heart I knew those were ultimately something to surrender to God. A significant prayer that came out of that incident was: "Let me never trade the source for the channel", and that God was ultimately the one who satisfies. While difficult, I still felt that I could keep up with the change in water pressure. In the weekend of the first week, some of those things were restored to me, at least partially. 

The second week, however, boom. This time, my strength and my skill was stripped off me through several events that I shan't describe here, but can only be said to be 'only God'. No other explanation for the seeming 'coincidence' of those events. But I think this second removal was a lot more difficult than the first - desires are something I know is innately something which God gives to brings me more of Himself, but for 'ability', it is the way I pursue God, and how God has grown and trained in me over the years. It's like from losing fish to losing the ability to fish. To be stripped of that is... de-stabilizing, to say the least. How else shall I proceed? I think at this juncture I definitely drowned, and then sunk even deeper into the ocean. 

I was stuck on this for a long time until the middle of the third week, lying on the seabed that I knew (well, I hope) won't sink down into some strange place. Thankfully, I was aware that it'll only last 3 weeks to a month, so soon it'll end, and that kept me going on. Knowing that Jesus died for my sins and that eventually I'll be with Him kept my hope alive too. However, I knew that God surely wouldn't have let me dove all the way into the seabed just to teach me how to dive - if that's the case, the first week is enough and I don't need to drown. Some may say: "let us not question God, for He is God." I do agree somewhat, but for the person who is in the situation, is it bad/wrong to ask? Is it "out of place", to want to know - not for vindication but for cooperation? Job's story in the Bible expressed his questions and rants at God, and God reprimanded him with "Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?" (Job 38:2, NIV) and for KJV, "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?" I think the issue here is "without knowledge" and not the questioning. Naturally as mortals, we will never have that "knowledge" that is needed to question God. Then, let us not 'question', since we do not have "knowledge", but instead 'seek' as people who desire to know God's knowledge. You may disagree, sure. But in my experience, and with God, He does share His thoughts and heart with me enough times for me to know that there is something at the bottom of the seabed that He brought me here for. Learning to dive is just one of a few objectives. And so, at the middle of week 3, I found that reason.  

Walk on Wonder

Prior to stepping into the ocean to learn to swim, I was on land (obviously). And now that I think about it, I haven't really been conscious of being on land till I stepped into the ocean, where there is no footing. Because of that, I think being in the sea has always been uncomfortable for me without that security of being able to stand/walk on hard ground. And that has been an almost instinctive constraint ever since I first went into the sea, at the turn of the year. I had to practise courage for almost everything and at almost everytime - just being in the water and swimming ahead takes courage, honestly. That got me rather jumpy and timid, which is natural, I think. And God knows - only in this environment where I am timid about many things can I truly practise a lot of courage to the point that courage exists in my heart and is part of my lifestyle. But after getting used to swimming, the timidity remained, or specifically, the thought of timidity remained. I didn't need courage to face the thought of timidity - I need the dive to help me remove the thought of timidity. And how God removed it during the dive was by having me arrive on "land" - the seabed, and recover the memory of the land where He was faithful, present and raised me to be His bold vessel.

This happened in the most mundane of ways. Recently I borrowed a book to find out more about a new area of the Kingdom of God that I wasn't very acquainted with. I wanted to know more because I was considering it as a new field of ministry (for myself) in the future. I wasn't very motivated to start, frankly, but since I had a deadline to return it by, I forced myself to read it. And as I began reading, the desire for exploration, for knowing more of God, the carefree-ness and ambition of knowing 'more' and the challenge of it all - came flooding back into my heart. And I remembered: there was a time when I wasn't so timid, when I wasn't crushed as I am now, when I roamed on land fearlessly. So why am I in such a state now? There is really no need to be so. And I realized God's lesson: 'swimming' was to learn about courage to 'withstand'. To be able to face, for a long time and sustainably, the things that I fear - learning to live with it. But, a courage that only aims to 'withstand' is not fully courage. It bows its head to a situation that will never change. But a complete courage also includes the desire to 'overcome'. Courage is used to live with fear, learn more about it, and then to destroy it. Through this experience, God had given me the "vein of courage" - one that supplies the courage I need from my heart to my hands.

Now on the seabed, just as on land, I am walking. And 'walking' here to me means being bold about fears, daring to dream of overcoming them. God knows I need "land" to bring out my full potential, and so He gave "land" in the middle of the ocean, the depth of His unfathomable love. Just as Peter, who despite in fear, wanted to walk on water towards His beloved Master and Savior, called by Jesus; God too called me to Him, despite my paralyzing fear, to walk on wonder. The wonder of His perfect love.

Conclusion - An Ocean of Love

Sometimes I really wonder, how God finds all these creative ways to help us to grow to be more like Jesus. Even our strongest protests and fears, pains that are tied to the root of our soul, God knows how to gently and surgically separate and purify for our benefit. To help me complete my understanding of courage through letting me dive, drown and "recover a memory", only God could think of such a way to complete such an impossible task. 

A lot of people love us. And though we know that God loves us beyond them all, at times it's rather difficult to measure and compare love. But one thing that God towers above all our loved ones is that His love is perfect - in a sense of the 'skill' and considerations involved. God could have me practise courage in many other settings: on land, through going through dark valleys and fighting 'monsters'. In high mountains, with little resources. Covering my eyes and having me live in darkness through daily life. BUT! He chose to make me learn to swim and dive. Not just in any lake and pond. But in His ocean of love. The same place I feared, is the same place where He declared His love for me and made my heart pound for Him. Isn't that amazingly sweet of God? He didn't send me just anywhere to practise courage and fight one of the potentially hardest struggles of my life. But He had me face my fear in His love. And that became the source of my confidence in practising courage, in my journey in the sea, no matter how deep-rooted my apprehension was. And this verse comes to mind, alive:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18 NIV)
God is re-writing my ocean of fear, into His ocean of love.

And the next part of my journey in the sea, I already know and understand it from God. After swimming, then diving, the next part is "floating" :D I doubt it's easier or harder - just different. But all the same, God is God, and I know His ways are perfect. 

Dear brother, dear sister, I encourage you that when God wants to have His way with you, sometimes expected, sometimes unexpected, sometimes preposterous, whatever and however it is, be willing, after consciously considering, to accept His invitation. I pray that your journey in the "sea" will be something that helps you uncover truly the depth of His love for you. 

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