This is a very familiar National Day song which I learnt since I was in school. What should Singapore count on me to do? One of the lines in the chorus of the song says: ‘Count on me to do my best and more.’ As a small nation that is always striving to survive in the larger world arena where competition is ever so stiff, it does make sense for us to work hard and to do our best to achieve greater productivity so that, as a country, we can enjoy a higher standard of living. However, in this perspective, I would like to tweak the lyrics: ‘Count on me to intercede for you.’ (It works lyrically – try it!) I must confess that I have not been faithful in praying for Singapore. Having come across some world events in the newspaper recently has caused me to tell myself not to take the peace and prosperity of this nation for granted. Firstly, we have much to give thanks to God for as we enter into the Year of Jubilee.
We want to thank God that we are shielded from natural disasters. No active plates lie beneath us and so we do not need to fear that our homes will collapse due to earthquakes. We are shielded from Tsunamis because we are surrounded by greater land masses. It may rain cats and dogs here but we have neither typhoons nor hurricanes. We may have our dry seasons but never long drawn droughts that lead to loss of crops and lives. Yes, we have our fair share of haze but that is hardly natural. No volcanic ash. No mudslides. No catastrophic floods.
We want to thank God for political stability in the region. Although there were tense moments when Indonesia chose to name a new navy ship after two men who had committed terrorist acts in our country or when the nagging haze issue doesn’t seem to go away, we do enjoy the diplomacy and co-operation between ASEAN countries in both trade and tourism. When we think of other places on this globe where bombs and rockets destroy homes, where children have no opportunity to go to school, where hospitals do not have space for the injured and dying, where violent strangers come to loot, rape and kill, our complaints regarding inefficient transportation system and bed crunches seem rather trivial.
We want to thank God for the freedom of worship. Every Sunday, or in fact on any day of the week, we can come to church for worship without any fear of threats from the authorities or from fellow Singaporeans. We can read the bible and pray, even in groups, anywhere we want so long as we do not disturb the public. We have the freedom to share the Gospel although we should never put other religions down or coerce people to convert since conversion is the work of the Spirit. We can do street evangelism and at every Christmas, in the heart of Orchard Road, people get to hear the story of the incarnation of the Son of God!
Let’s pray that we can continue to enjoy such freedom. The advocacy of religious harmony is good. We do not strive to harmonise what we believe for that is impossible but people of different religious orientation can work towards living in harmony with one another. It is in this peaceful context that we can share the good news and people can count the cost and have the freedom to put their trust in Jesus. This is more important than to pray that the whole nation be Christianised. Learning from history, the downfall of Christianity started when Rome became Christianised. This was because people embraced the faith for all sorts of reasons other than having a genuine trust in Jesus. So let’s pray for our government that they will be able to provide us with a peaceful and quiet environment where we can live our Christian lives in godly and dignified ways. Christian testimony, Gospel and prayer will lead to the salvation of many as they are convicted by the Word and the Spirit. Listen to what Paul had to say to Timothy: 1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly anddignified in every way.3 This is good, andit is pleasing in the sight ofGod our Saviour,4 who desiresall people to be saved andto come tothe knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2.1-4)
In this regard, let us also pray for our brothers and sisters who live in countries where the government is not able to provide a peaceful context for them to practise their faith. For example, in Mosul, northern Iraq (the biblical land of Nineveh), the militants coerced the Christians to convert to Islam, or pay a very high religious tax which is literally unaffordable or face the sword! The irony is that when Saddam Hussein was in power, these Christians were very much left alone but now that the country is freed from the tyranny of their former leader, the unstable political situation has opened doors for militants to sweep into power and it is this group of violent people that are causing the population of Christians in Mosul to decrease from 35,000 (during Hussein’s reign) to 0! Let’s pray for God’s mercies to be upon our brothers and sisters in those countries where they are constantly being persecuted.
Let’s also continue to pray that our government leaders will have the wisdom to navigate the pluralistic voices of society and have the courage to safeguard values that are crucial for the health of the nation. In the past, it was the setting up of casinos. The National Council of Churches of Singapore expressed their uttermost concern of the impact of having not just one but two casinos in the country. In the name of economics, the government still went ahead although they have made efforts to prevent Singaporeans from falling into the perils of gambling. More recently, we have the Pink Dot event and the National Library saga. We are aware of the cacophony of voices – from mere sympathisers to strong advocates of a homosexual lifestyle, from people who want to show acceptance of their homosexual neighbour to those who are crying out for Penal Code 377A to be abolished. The government’s present stand is that they want to respect societal norms. What if those norms change over time? Will the government’s position also shift? I believe that the government has many angles to consider in response to a particular social issue and the decision making process can be complicated. They do not want to make policies that will fragment society. That’s why all the more we need to pray for them.
Let’s also pray for our people, and that will include praying for ourselves. The competitive society that we live in is a reality and it will stay. To survive as a nation, we have to work hard and find ways to increase our productivity. Competition is a fertile ground for breeding self-centeredness, work-life imbalance and spiritual indifference. These can be detrimental to society, family and oneself. Let’s pray that we, as God’s beloved children, will balance competitiveness with compassion, especially when we know that our physical existence is transient, we are sojourners, aliens in this world, and if our mind set and lifestyle can stick out from the world in a positive way, it will lend greater credibility to the message of God’s love and compassion that we preach.
‘Count on me Singapore,
Count on me Singapore,
Count on me to intercede for you,
Count on me Singapore.’
Pastor Kien Seng
August 10, 2014