Jurong Outreach

"whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ."

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Learning from Our Afflictions (IV)

Our sufferings teach us to be more fervent in prayer.

Bad times have the effect of driving men to pray. We have perhaps heard or read accounts of godless men who defied God all their lifetime but at the height of a personal crisis, when their pain was almost certainly unbearable, they cried out to God or some deity or mysterious higher power.

En route to Tarshish, the ship Jonah was aboard was thrown into a fearsome storm. It was God calling out to His errant prophet. The sailors were desperately trying to keep the ship afloat, “and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them”. It was no use, and “the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god” (Jon 1:5).

The wearied Jonah was actually asleep while the storm threatened to sink them to the bottom of the sea. “So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not” (Jon 1:6).

It is not shameful to cry for help and relief. This ‘instinct’, if we may use the term, to call out to God in our most fervent need is common to all men. We look to someone who can grant us relief and provide us answers. We know, as the apostle Paul pointed out, that there is a God in heaven. (Cf. Romans 1:19-20)

Our afflictions can be instruments to remind us to remember and seek God; a wake-up call if ever there was one. In good times we tend to be rather careless in prayer. We present our requests as if we are not really concerned if God hears us. In a sense, we are not quite conscious of our needs.

Afflictions wake us to our needs. Prayer is the avenue granted to us to approach the throne of grace, where “we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). It is a spiritual blessing we enjoy in Christ, but one which sadly is most neglected.

“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Php 4:6).

“Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Col 4:2).

“Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1Th 5:17-18).

Prayer is not only during good times. It is also not to be utilized only in bad times. Prayer is for all times.

The Lord Jesus exemplifies for us a life of fervent prayer. During His public ministry, He would make time out of a busy schedule to commune with His Father. “And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).

The Lord told the Parable of the Persistent widow “that men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). Prayer is a daily spiritual discipline. If we neglect it during times of ease, we will feel out of place trying to call upon God in times of need.

Our sufferings teach us to ponder upon the sufferings of the Lord for our sakes.

Christ suffered immensely to redeem us from our sins, unite us in His body and grant us all spiritual blessings, including the status as children of God. Once a week during the Lord’s Supper, saints all over the world remember His agony on the cross.

Men are forgetful creatures. Over time, we can easily forget the hardship of those who came before us and the price they paid to achieve what we have today. It is the same with the sufferings of our Lord. When was the last time you are truly moved by what the Son of God has done for you?

Consider the lashes upon His back. Can you imagine the same cruel lashes upon your own back? Now think of the crown woven of thorns. See the blood flow from wounds as the soldiers callously press it onto His head. What if it were your head subject to such abuse?

Think of the emotional abuse when the soldiers and Jews hurl insults on Him. The rejection as the masses scream in unison, “Crucify Him!” The humiliation when they blindfolded Him, slapped Him, and spat upon Him. Can any of us endure these?

Now see the nails driven into His hands and feet. Hear the heavy sound as the hammer falls. Do you ever consider, “It should have been my hands and feet?” Indeed, it should have been our hands and feet! But He took it all upon Himself.

Why? Because He loves us.

As we bear up with Christian dignity our own sufferings and afflictions, spare some thoughts for His. Think also of the temporary nature of our pain. Soon it shall pass. The day draws ever nearer when the Lord shall wipe away every tear.

Even as we are baffled by sufferings in this world, remember the Lord and His grace. He has promised that we shall not be tested beyond our ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that we may be able to endure it. (1Co 10:13)

The Lord has said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” So let us humble ourselves and declare, as the apostle did. “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2Co 12:9).


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Learning from Our Afflictions (III)

Our sufferings teach us to be patient and compassionate to our fellow men who are likewise suffering. Our sufferings teach us not to take blessings for granted yet not rely on the gifts but on the Giver. Our sufferings teach us to lay aside self-gratification in humble obedience to the will of God.

Our sufferings teach us to be humble and meek in the hands of the Lord.

Complacency follows close on the heel of prosperity and success. When everything is smooth-sailing, all the more we ought to be on guard against complacency, or a sense that everything will go on as planned and expected.

All of us have the experience of being unprepared when the unexpected happened. Our best-laid plans go awry; our confidence takes a hit. In some cases, we may ponder over the truthfulness of the infamous Murphy’s Law: “If anything can go wrong, it will.”

The temptation is to blame everyone, especially God, for our disappointment and unhappiness. For the more introspective among us, they may seek an explanation for why things go wrong. And the more proactive may attempt to improve and work toward achieving better results.

One consideration we should take whenever things go contrary to our plans and wishes is that we ought to be humble before the Lord. Even the best-laid plans are not perfect because no one is perfect. The wise man says:

“Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established…A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps” (Pro 16:3, 9).

Moses reminded the second generation of Hebrews in the wilderness before they storm and take the Promised Land:

“And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live” (Deu 8:2-3).

Our afflictions teach us the important lesson of humility and meekness. Without this lesson, we can never truly understand our own hearts, whether we have drifted into complacency and the pride of self-sufficiency and not relying on God.

Our sufferings reveal to us possible hidden sins in our hearts.

Closely related to the preceding point, our afflictions can raise red flags on possible secret sins we may harbour in our hearts. Sins like pride, ingratitude, unbelief, impatience, and idolatry.

The children of Israel murmured against God in the wilderness when the going got tough. We marvel at their unbelief but are we guilty of the same? Shall we receive only blessings from God but turn aside so quickly in hardship?

In good times we hardly ever wonder about the state of our faith. When things are going well, it is all too easy to assume that our faith is strong. Ask the children of Israel, who sang the praises of God after they crossed the Red Sea.

Our faith is put to the test when we face difficulties that challenge what we think we know of our God. Do we still believe that He is almighty, all-wise, and that He will come through for us? Or are we quick to turn to our own devices and forget God?

Idolatry is putting in the place of God something or someone else. If we trust only in our own ‘wisdom’, then we have made an idol of self. God has given us the ability to think and solve problems but these mental faculties – or anything else for that matter – are not meant to replace reliance and trust in God.

Afflictions can expose sins we have hidden in the deep recesses of our souls, even sins buried so long and deep that we no longer give them another thought. The sons of Jacob were brought to a rude awakening many years after they had betrayed their brother Joseph.

“And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us” (Gen 42:21).

Suffering is sometimes the natural consequence of bad decisions and actions; sometimes they occur because of sins we have committed. Sins must be properly dealt with the Bible way or they might catch up on us and find us out in ways we do not appreciate.

God uses our afflictions to teach us lessons in life and to build us to become the men and women He desires us to be. When we suffer, let us take the opportunity to ponder and reflect. We will be the better for it.

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Learning from Our Afflictions (II)

Afflictions can teach us many important and practical life lessons. They serve as sign posts, in a sense, directing our attention to things we might otherwise ignore or fail to notice.

Our sufferings teach us to be patient and compassionate to our fellow men who are likewise suffering. How can we “rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Rom 12:15) if we were unable to understand and relate to their joys and pains?

In times of affliction, we need friends who will reach out in understanding, compassion and patience. A person who has just lost a loved one doesn’t need to be told a joke to lift his spirits. He doesn’t need to hear a discourse on how to best remember the departed. He needs someone who loves and understands to just be there.

Our sufferings teach us not to take blessings for granted yet not rely on the gifts but on the Giver. We do not always appreciate the value of a thing until it is taken away from us. Christians rejoice in the blessings we receive from our Father.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).

But when health, wealth, friends and loved ones are taken away, when our dreams and aspirations are crushed, when people we thought we could rely on disappoint us – may the faithful utterance of Job also be the cry of our hearts:

“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

Our sufferings and afflictions teach us to lay aside self-gratification in humble obedience to the will of God.

In considering our afflictions, it is good to examine if the cause lies in us, in our negligence to submit to God’s will. It is easier to look ‘out there’ and ascribe the responsibility onto others but the truth might be very different.

“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:23-26).

Cross-bearing is a daily demand. We die to self and live for Christ. To travel the highway to heaven, we must be ready to deny self. Self-denial will hurt at times, no doubt. All of us perhaps have experienced the moments of difficulty in choosing between obedience and doing what we want; between submission and being our own wisdom and providence.

When we insist on our own way, our Father may choose to use afflictions to turn us back to the strait and narrow.

“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him” (Pro 22:15).

We can take heart when the chastisement of the Lord is upon us because we know it is out of His great love for us.

“And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not (Heb 12:5-7)?”

The Hebrews writer goes on with his perfect reasoning:

“But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb 12:8-11).

Yes, afflictions can teach us many important and practical life lessons. Let us humble our hearts and learn them, that we may use our afflictions for God’s glory.


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Learning from Our Afflictions (I)

The problem of pain and suffering is one which has dogged man for the longest time. For many of us Christians, pain and suffering do not rock our belief in the goodness of God.

We have explored the intellectual question of suffering and found that the existence of pain and evil in this world does not disprove God; rather, it proves all the more that God exists and man needs Him.

Life without Christ offers no more than illusory meaning. Whatever we make of the meaning of life without Christ, ultimately it falls apart. For He is the Creator of all things and in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

Life without Christ offers no objective value. There can be no right and wrong since there is no objective standard of morality apart from God. If that were the case, evil ceases to exist. But no one denies that pain and suffering are real.

Life without Christ lacks an ultimate purpose. Questions of the purpose and meaning of life cannot be adequately answered by refusing to consider Jesus Christ and His claims.

We are aware of that and so we surrender to His goodness and perfect will, even when it means we do not always have the answers to our questions. It is in trying to make sense of pain emotionally that many of us find the going tough. How can we live with our pain to the glory of God?

The Lord Jesus took upon Himself the form of a man. He lived and died as a man, experiencing pain and suffering, joy and triumph, disappointment and encouragement. He can empathise with our pain, suffering and sorrow. In our own pain and suffering, we can, to the best of our ability, emulate the example of our Lord.

Our sufferings teach us to be patient and compassionate on our fellow men who are likewise suffering.

The encouraging words of brethren are precious but there are times when what we need most is not words but silent companionship. In the deepest moments of pain, to have a compassionate arm over our shoulders, to have someone just sitting there with us – someone who truly understands the powerful emotions of suffering – can be very comforting and assuring.

“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2Co 1:3-4).

Christians can turn our pain and suffering into something positive to use for the glory of God and edifying of the saints. We can reach out to those in need of comfort. We have been comforted, so we share the love in comforting others. This is a way our Lord wants us to love one another.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35).

Our sufferings teach us not to take blessings for granted yet not rely on the gifts but on the Giver.

Remember the Prodigal Son who took for granted the blessings he enjoyed while living under his father’s roof. It was only when he was afflicted with abject poverty and hunger that he came to himself and realised his awful sin.

Suffering can teach us this valuable lesson. We are not the sum of what we own but still we are not to take God’s blessings for granted. Many times we have heard of how easy it is for us to forget God when times are good. It is quite true. So therefore let us beware.

Instead of relying on the blessings, we ought to rely on the Giver. It is God who provides and saves. Our possessions and blessings, whether material or abstract, cannot save our souls. They cannot provide answers to the most important question in life: what must I do to be saved?

Christians can live for God’s glory even in the midst of pain and suffering. We can uphold our Christian dignity in afflictions. The reason is because we have a great and awesome God.

“For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2Ti 1:12).


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Looking Up in Moments of Pain

Four-year-old Emily was a cheerful child. Everyone who saw her remarked what a delightful child she was. She brought joy to her immediate and extended families and to friends and teachers in Day Care. Emily was known as the ‘Sunshine Girl’, for she brought so much positivity to everybody around her.

But now Emily was lying on a hospital bed in intensive care. One Sunday morning after church service, as her parents were conversing with some other worshippers and momentarily left little Emily out of their sight, she happily chased a butterfly that fluttered by. The butterfly flew out onto the road. Emily ran after it with glee. The driver in the Toyota didn’t see Emily. His eyes were on his mobile phone.

Her vital signs were getting weaker. The doctors had asked Emily’s parents, Thomas and Belinda, to prepare for the worst. They prayed. Oh, they prayed long and hard. The church prayed with them and for them. The church wept with them and for them.

“Why?” This was the question on everyone’s mind, though not on everyone’s lips. Why did such tragedy happen to a beautiful, innocent child like Emily? Why did faithful Christians like Thomas and Belinda have to suffer this nightmare?

Why did God allow this to happen?

“In the World Ye Shall have Tribulation…”

It is an undeniable fact. Troubles, pain and sorrow happen to the best and worst of men. Christians are not spared from suffering. The heart-rending story of Emily and her parents is one of myriads of the pain and suffering of Christians from across centuries, countries and cultures.

We believe in the God of heaven and earth. We believe He is love, that He is almighty, and that He cares for us. But the pain of suffering remains real and intense.

The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, gave encouragement to His demoralized disciples. Toward the end He said to them:

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation…” (John 16:33).

The word ‘tribulation’ comes from the word that originally means “a pressing, pressing together, pressure”. When troubles hit us, the pressure is often intense and at times it feels almost unbearable.

Someone has described it like feeling as if a heavy rock is sitting on his chest, making it hard to breathe. Another has described it as a knot deep in the pit of his stomach. Yet another described it as an urge to bawl like a baby yet without the strength to do so.

The Lord never denied that Christians shall suffer. In fact, He affirmed it. The Bible does not gloss over the unpleasantness of life. It equips the saints to brave through it.

“…but be of Good Cheer; I have Overcome the World.”

Our Father desires peace and good will toward Man. But peace comes at a heavy price. We live in a world suffering from the effects of sin. Man, in exercising free will, chooses with wide-opened eyes to defy God and turn against His perfect plan for us. This is a world turned upside-down but God is determined to rescue His erring creatures.

To do so, the price must be paid. The Judge of all the earth shall do right. “For the wages of sin is death…” (Rom 6:23). He sent His only begotten Son to pay the price we could not pay. Not only has the Lord Jesus died on the cross and shed His blood for the remission of sins, but He is also our Mediator before the throne of the Father.

“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1Ti 2:5-6).

Our Mediator is not one who does not understand the sufferings of His people. He took upon Himself human flesh and lived among His creatures for over three decades. Why did He do that?

“Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2:17).

The astounding truth is we have a God who not only sympathises but empathises with our pain, suffering and sorrow.

“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:15-16).

Yes, the Lord has overcome the world. And in Him we are more than conquerors, whatever may beset us for the time being (cf. Rom 8:37). We can look up in moments of pain and behold with eyes of faith the Lord Jesus, who truly understands.

In suffering, Christians can turn what may seem to be defeat into something positive. We can use even our sufferings for the glory of God. In the following weeks, we shall observe how we can do that, Lord willing.