Written by: Jireh Tan (Photo by: Marvin Ng)
How God found me when I was ready to leave the Church
Philip Yancey wrote in ’What Good is God?’ that “Grace, like water, flows to the lowest part.” Having recently emerged from a season of prolonged dryness, I am keenly aware of the disparity between such barrenness and being thoroughly soaked in oceans of grace.
In January 2014, I was ready to leave the Church. Although typical Christian conventions — baptism, ministry, and evangelism — have been a part of my life since I was thirteen years old, the moral responsibilities that accompanied the faith made it extremely tiresome to be a Christian. I was sick and tired of conventional Christian jargon — phrases such as “God will provide” and “God is good” exasperated rather than encouraged me because I perceived them to be vague and impractical. Christianity seemed to be more draining than uplifting, and all I wanted was out.
As I wrestled between leaving and staying, God spoke distinctly to me in the very three areas I was tussling with, rejuvenating the specific areas of my life that had grown stale.
1. “You are loved.”
Given that my cell group meets on a Friday night, it wasn’t difficult to stop attending it for a period of time; all I could think about was the massive amount of time and effort needed just to attend cell. It did not help that I felt more comfortable with the group of friends I had outside of church than in this supposedly God-given community.
Yet, when I was on the verge of losing all hope in this community, my cell group members were instrumental in setting me back on track. From car rides by my cell leader to minimise spending time travelling between cell and home, to random text messages from different cell mates, they embodied God’s relentless love even though I wasn’t putting in any effort to make this community work. Moreover, when I confessed to my cell leader about my personal struggles with the faith, I was graced with understanding, instead of the judgement I expected; I received much-needed advice and not condemnation. The axiom, “God is Love”, took on a new meaning in my life, as I found Him deep in the kindness of my community.
Even when I had chosen to struggle alone, God did not let me go. While He was seemingly silent throughout this time, His love was personified by my Christian community. His tangible and unmistakable love served as a staunch reminder to me of how we were never meant to live the Christian life alone. He made it very clear to me.
2. “I am faithful.”
Although I was serving as a cell leader, persistent feelings of inadequacy and insecurity bolstered my desire to leave the Church. I was overwhelmed with guilt each time I turned up for cell feeling out-of-sorts, and it was made worse when I was in-charge of the ‘word’ segment. I found myself speechless on countless discipleship sessions, devoid of advice to comfort my members. “Someone else who is better will take my place, someone else who is better will take my place…” was a common refrain in my head. I thought that stepping down would be better for everyone, especially for myself.
Interestingly, through this tumultuous period, I still managed to witness my members grow in their spiritual walk. I still vividly remember this particular day when one of them told me that God had come through for her and that she had decided to stay on in church! It was crazy to think that there were fruits in my ministry when I was on the brink of giving up on it; I came to see His faithfulness when I was virtually faithless.
There were many times when I felt I had nothing left to give to them, still He came through for me each time. My prayers may not have been accompanied by emotional outbursts and my sharing was not always the most fluent, still He worked through my imperfections. I realised that the best cell sessions occurred when I depended wholly upon Him, when I chose not to dictate the flow of cell. My prolonged struggle in ministry showed me that God was faithful not just in the lives of my cell members, He was undoubtably faithful in mine as well.
3. “Find freedom in Me.”
As I struggled in my faith, the expanse of the world became more attractive than the confines of the church. This was especially so when it came to drinking and partying. My friends were frequent club-goers and for someone whose life had revolved around the church for most of my teenage years, I desired to step into the often-raved-about unknown. My disillusionment with Christianity grew largely out of a misguided opinion of it being a restrictive and overly demanding religion, one which I felt I was perhaps better without.
I came to understand that all these pleasures of the world cannot fill the void within our hearts; not when it is meant for the Father’s love. My obsession with the ‘dictates’ of Christianity had distorted my view of the One who meted the law for the very purpose of love. The freedom that the world pandered to me would only leave me a slave to addictions — I will only be mastered by the things of this world (1 Corinthians 6:12).
As I committed to refrain from clubbing and began to fix my eyes more fully on Him, I found a freedom in His presence like never before. Persistent feelings of emptiness and discontentment with the status quo was placated and soothed in His love; it had never felt this good.
My Christian walk is far from perfect today, however because He met me when I was entrenched in my struggles, I have now caught a better glimpse of the depths of His grace, bottomless like the sea. Through the flux of my faith, I have truly learnt that I need Him — He alone can satisfy my longings.
Dear friend, today you may be disillusioned with Christianity like I was, on the verge of walking away from Him. Regardless of your decision, His love will pursue you, ever ready to permeate your broken heart. My prayer for you today is that you’ll allow God to speak to you even in this wretched state, just like how He spoke to me in my struggles. May you discover that His love involves no strife or pain — in His embrace is the only place where you and I truly belong.
Note from the editor: Jireh is a guest contributor. If you would like to contribute a piece, our submission guidelines can be found at: Write For Us.