Can you run away from God (29th January 2008)

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Thank God that last Lord’s day 27 January 2008, Pastor Willy Ng (a visiting minister from Criswell Tabernacle) shared a very encouraging sermon from Jonah chapter 1 on “Can you run away from God?”.

Pastor Willy Ng said in Jonah 1:1-2, Jonah is described as a man who run away from God. Pastor Willy asked “Can you run away from God?”. Jonah tried to run away from God because he disagreed with God’s will, with what God was going to do in his life. God was calling Jonah to preach repentance to Nineveh, the ancient capital of the Assyrian empire which was known as a very cruel and wicked city, famous for torturing people in their captive. The children of Israel and Jonah hated the people of Nineveh and they have every right to do so because they were under great harassment by Nineveh. As Jonah believed in justice and punishment of sins, he believed that God should punish them. Therefore he disagreed with God’s will to preach repentance to them.

Pastor Willy said when we look at Singapore and around us, we sometimes get used to the things in our life even when they are immoral or sins eg abortion, homosexuality, etc. We become immune to these things. We think this world is ok. But God who created this world never meant it to be forever - there will be a day of judgement. This is a solemn reminder!

Jonah was called to Nineveh to preach repentance because God knows their sins. Pastor Willy reminded us that God knows our private struggles, our quarrels, our trying to run away from God’s will, etc. God is holy, He will not get used to sin. God looks at us and He knows our sins. Pastor Willy exhorted us not to hide our sins because our sins will eat us up one day. We have individual sins and family sins. God will punish sinners and call into account the way we live. God will judge the world. If the Lord will not be merciful, we will all die in our sins. Romans 3:23 said we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. We must repent and seek God’s forgiveness.

Pastor Willy asked a series of heart-searching questions. Is there someone in our life that we wish will never know the Lord or will go to Heaven? Is there someone we will not share the Word of God with because we hated him/her? God has placed these people in our lives not by coincidence, but so that we can tell them of the coming judgement and share of His forgiveness with them. We must submit to the will of God and obey His call to share the Gospel with them.

Our Lord set the best example for us when He humbly submit to His Father’s will to lay down His life on the cross for us. In the Garden of Gethsemane we read of His prayers unto His Father 3 times and His yielding to His Father’s will:

“O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Matthew 26:39

“He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” Matthew 26:42

“And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.” Matthew 26:44

Pastor Willy mentioned many lessons we can learn from Jonah and other portions of Scriptures. You may want to download this sermon and listen to it when it is available on my church’s website for downloading.

In his conclusion, Pastor Willy asked whether do we obey God and submit to His sovereignty and will? He encouraged us to learn to submit to the will of God. God has a purpose in whatever He allows us to go through. God’s purposes will be fulfilled even if we can’t understand. God will give us the grace to endure. Pastor Willy encouraged us to hold the Bible dear to us, to read and pray, and especially to read the Bible more in our trials.

There are many lessons I am learning from Pastor Willy’s encouraging message. In particular, I am reminded afresh of God’s sovereignty and of His callings in our life. Sometimes we are called to serve Him in very difficult situations or in places/positions/vocations we do not wish to. Or we are put in a difficult family or church. I remember having to work at several places where I need to handle difficult situations and people. I have much struggles trying to fulfil my callings there. The reminder that God has placed me there for a purpose and that I was still to bear a good witness for our Lord drove me to my knees daily. I would not have been able to continue on without the Lord strengthening me and enabling me to persist despite how I feel. Sometimes I do failed Him miserably. Sometimes I also tried to run away just like Jonah. But I also found myself then in the “fish belly”. I learnt through those painful experiences that I cannot run away from God’s will.

I am still learning to humbly submit to God’s will in my life. It is sometimes difficult to understand why God allows me to go through certain experiences or why He puts me in a certain situation. In particular, I used to find it hard to understand why God allows me to go through so many episodes of severe depression when I have tried my best to seek Him and serve Him. My sole purpose in life is to live for God and serve Him. My life is meaningless if it is not lived for God. So in my many severe relapses of depression, I often wondered why.

Now after my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, I finally understood that it is a medical condition just like diabetes and hypertension. So it can happen to anyone. Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. Different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through, the symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. Thank God that it can be managed and it is possible for me to live a life that is close to normal, and be more functional and useful for God, His people and the society.

No doubt relapses of clinical depression are very awful and painful beyond words, and I would not want to go through another extensive episode. It paralysed me and I was hardly able to function. I was like a dead man, a living corpse incapable of any right thoughts or feelings. And these usually lasted for 3 to 6 months or more, every day, every night - if without medical and other intervention. There is a cycle to it and one can recover without medication but it takes a very long time. And it is painful and difficult to endure until the cycle completed. Just like a broken leg will take months to heal, so does a broken mind.

Thank God that He preserved me through those very painful and difficult episodes, and delivered me time and again in my past 10 or so relapses in the last 20 years. Thank God that now with the availability of medical helps, regular exercise, Omega-3 fish oil supplements, etc etc it is now possible to either prevent relapses or shorten the relapses as I learn to recognize early symptoms and manage this condition.

The advantage of Bipolar Disorder is the hypomania episodes which alternates with clinical depression. These hypomania episodes too will last between 3 to 6 months or more. It is these hypomania episodes which enable me to be more creative and more productive for the Lord. Whenever I am well or hypomania, I think and talk faster than most people, feel deeper and love deeper than most people. I also will have more energy and ideas, and able to take on more projects or serve our Lord in more areas. It is due to this hypomania too that I am now able to develop this blog at this time. The disadvantage of the hypomania episodes is that I will tend to take on more projects or do more things than I can handle. And after several months of such over-straining, an episode of black and painful depression is sure to follow.

So this bipolar brain condition is not all bad, it has its advantages too. Just that I really need to learn how to manage it so that my down time will be lesser and I am more functional, and I can then live for the glory of God and continue to serve Him. I pray that through the prayerful application of His Words and all the available helps which I am learning to make use of, my extreme mood swings will be lesser and lesser, and I will be able to function more stably and more usefully for the Lord in the long run.

One advantage of the severe depression which I have gone through is that through these very painful experiences in my life, God is enabling me to treasure Him more and more each day, knowing that I live daily by His grace alone. Without Him, I can do nothing.

Through my deep and painful struggles with many relapses of depression, God is also enabling me to sympathize with others who are going through sufferings or trials, and to try and comfort them with the same comfort that God has comforted me. I feel very deeply for them in their sufferings even though I may not know exactly what they are going through. I feel especially for those who suffer from depression, bipolar, OCD and other brain conditions or physical illnesses. I thank God that He continues to work His purposes in our life for His glory and His people’s good. No matter what He allows us to go through or where He calls us to, His grace is sufficient for us and His purposes will be accomplished in His ways. And we can be persuaded that nothing shall ever separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:28-39)

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