One of my favourite Sting songs is “Englishman in New York (1988).” And one of my favourite lines from that song:
And you can hear it in my accent when I talk
I’m an Englishman in New York
Well, you can hear it in my accent when I talk, I’m a Penang boy in Singapore. Sting is a “legal alien.” So am I. I am a permanent resident in Singapore. I thought I’d write a reflection on Singapore on her National day.
When I think about what it means to be a Singaporean, especially one who is also a follower of Jesus Christ, two words come to mind — gratitude and service.
There is so much we should be thankful for in Singapore. We are spared of major natural disasters. We are free of major communal and religious conflict. We have a government that has non-tolerance of corruption as one of its key platforms. Singapore is a country that works. Which is why breakdowns of the MRT are so traumatic. Not only are many dependent on public transport, it is a violation of the national ethos. And as one who is so dependent on the internet, I am always relieved to be back in Singapore from wherever I have gone, including Malaysia.
I am a biblical realist. I don’t expect any government this side of heaven to be free of problems or weaknesses. I believe followers of Jesus have the responsibility to continue to engage the government of the day through constructive criticism. I thank God for my brothers and sisters serving in various political parties here and the many who serve in the civil service and the stat boards. But a long hard look at other countries should remind us that we have much to be grateful for. Hence, gratitude.
Yes there is a place to be grateful to our founding fathers, the sacrifices of the pioneer generation, and the many who continue to serve the country faithfully today. But ultimately our gratitude and worship must be to God and God alone. He is the giver of all good gifts. The many blessings we enjoy must not lead us to pride but to a grateful spirit and an acknowledgement of His grace. National day must be a day of worship and thanksgiving. And thanksgiving must lead to service.
The wellspring of the Christian life is gratitude. We love because He first loved us. Any true appreciation of His grace must move us to love Him in return and to love Him is to love neighbour. One test of how much we are living grateful lives is the degree our lives are God conscious and people focused.
We need to learn from Israel. They were specially chosen by God, not because they deserved anything special. God Himself says they were unlikely candidates to be a special people. They were chosen to highlight God’s sovereign grace and faithfulness and they were chosen to be blessed so that they could be a blessing to others.
The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. (Deuteronomy 7:7-9 NIV)
There is so much going right for Singapore. We can either be proud that we are not like other nations or we can be good stewards of God’s blessings.
So much of the “bandwidth” of my brothers and sisters in Malaysia, for example, is taken up with the fight for fundamental critical issues, like the fight against racism, abuse of power, and corruption, and the fight for civil liberties and the freedom of religion. Followers of Christ in Singapore do not have to invest precious energies in these sorts of concerns; at least nowhere near the degree their brothers and sisters across the causeway have to. They need to be good stewards of their extra capacities. They should be investing them in Kingdom concerns.
We don’t live in a neutral world. A consumerist society works day and night to convince us that we should spend our resources pursuing money and the things that money can buy. And because we live in a relatively peaceful society, we are vulnerable to the enticement to live a materialist, selfish lifestyle. Periodically we need to check if we are spiritually awake or trapped in this materialistic stupor. Loving God and neighbour is a deliberate choice.
Since my first sojourn to Singapore in the ’70s, when I came to do my tertiary education, till now, I have been blessed with friends and family who take seriously their discipleship and the call to love God and neighbour. They seek to help their neighbours both in Singapore and beyond. I am inspired by them. I have been blessed by them. But I also feel that there are church communities who are more concerned about building the perfect church and are therefore more inward looking. National Day is as good a time as any to check our spiritual compasses.
Are followers of Jesus in Singapore a people who are grateful for their blessings and who show their gratitude by blessing others? Are you?