Pastoral Perspectives

Happy 48th Birthday Singapore!

Our nation’s birthday bash was such a success! There is so much for us to celebrate. Our economy is doing well. We have one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world, a low unemployment rate, an enviable education system. Internally, we are a country of hubs; externally, we spread our investment wings far and wide. Most recently we register a record strong Singapore dollar that makes shopping in JB all the more alluring. Infrastructure wise, we are technologically up-to-date, everything runs efficiently save for occasional train breakdowns that someone from London will deem a trivial matter. We are going to have our first ‘vertical kampung’ in Woodlands to foster community spirit when housing, health care and hawker centres all come under one roof. Our airport is going to rival that of Heathrow with T5 in the pipeline.  It is also the world’s most awarded airport! Even on the sports front where talent is scarce, we saw 15-year old sailor Loh Jia Yi come in first at the sailing competition in Italy, winning an emphatic victory over the 259-strong international field. 16-year old swimmer Samantha Yeo was praised for her good showing at the Fina World Championships in Barcelona. Though she did not get pass her heats, she was tipped to star at December’s SEA Games. The list of accolades can go on and on. I am aware that the picture that I have painted is far from perfect and there are many challenges and issues that our nation has to deal with yet I cannot deny that this little red dot on the world map has worked hard to earn her renown. I am so proud that I belong here. It is no surprise to hear from those returning from abroad that ‘this is home truly’.

I would like to make a wish for my beloved country as she celebrates her birthday. I wish that we will grow into a more gracious society in tandem with the rise in our affluence. If we are not careful, the increase in wealth can cause us to become more mean spirited as we strive to stay ahead in the rat race by stepping on others, looking out only for our own interests and being oblivious to the many needs around us. How can we build a more gracious society? In what ways can we extend grace to one another? Small acts add up.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear from my parents who are in their 70s that whenever they take the MRT, people would willingly give up their seats for them. That is really gracious of the younger generation because although there are notices everywhere on the trains or buses to alert people to give up their seats for the needy, they can choose to ignore and continue their sleep, real or pretentious, I do not know, only they know. What about being gracious on the road? Let pedestrians have the right of way. Honk less, flash less, tailgate less. Can you recall those frustrating moments when you were trying to come out of a side lane but because there was traffic in both directions and you wanted to turn onto the farther side, you were stuck for ages? I know the cars on the main road always have the right of way but how nice if they would voluntarily stop so that those from the side lane have a chance to move. I had that experience while driving in the UK. That to me is gracious driving.

Can we show some grace when we are in a queue or when we have placed our orders for food but it is taking forever to come? Often we grow impatient when we have to wait longer than we expect. We would complain, if not out loud, surely in our hearts, how badly organised the event is or how messy the kitchen must have been to result in such long waits. We want to lash out at someone and usually the person to bear the brunt of our fury would be the one who finally attends to us or the waiter that has first served us. Can we refrain from sarcasm even if we have to ask why our food is taking so long to come? Can we show a smile instead of a disgruntled face when it is finally our turn to be attended to, knowing that the person we come face-to-face with must have been under tremendous pressure to clear the queue?

When we move around, we may meet strangers with special needs. Instead of starring at them as if they were aliens, or looking away pretending not to see, because we ourselves feel awkward, why not look them in the eye and give them a big smile or say ‘hi’ or even support them if they are busking or selling some items? That’s showing grace. We notice someone new in class or someone who is socially awkward and others are laughing at him behind his back. Would we befriend him instead of joining the rest to make fun of him? If we are working with a colleague who is not so competent, are we prepared to help her out and even cover her work in order to give her time to learn and grow or would we be the first to lodge a complaint against her? The plausible scenarios described above are not exhaustive. The people involved may not deserve our help, our attention, our patience, our love, yet this is what grace is all about – undeserving favour.

For Singapore to be a more gracious society, Christians, among all the people, should be the ones to take the lead because we understand what grace means for we have been the privileged recipients of God’s grace. Our salvation in Christ is purely by God’s grace: ‘For by grace you have been saved through faithAnd this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God’ (Ephesians 2.8). ‘While we were still (undeserving) sinners, Christ (showed us favour – He) died for us’ (Romans 5.8). As a good reminder to all, the apostle Paul would frame his letters to the churches with the word ‘grace’. A typical example taken from his letter to the Galatians reads: ‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 1.3) and ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen’ (Galatians 6.18). As we have experienced God’s amazing grace, we want to be a conduit through which His grace can flow to many others. We want to be grace giving people in our everyday life. The grace that we have experienced should motivate us to extend grace to people we meet.

For my wish to come true, I must play my part, you must play your part, and we all must play our parts if we desire to see transformation in our society. As beloved children of God, we have a higher stake in such efforts because it is part of our Christian discipleship. A gracious act, a kind word, a compassionate gesture, a smile will also go a long way in opening doors for us to share the Gospel and in so doing, bring hope and salvation to the lost whose souls would be forfeited even if they were to gain the world and enjoy all its affluence. As we begin our 49th year of nationhood, may the Church, the Body of Christ rise up and take the lead in making Singapore a more gracious society. Happy Birthday Singapore!

Pastor Kien Seng

August 11, 2013