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What are you living for?

Seow Yeong Yang // 23 July 2021

Seow Yeong Yang posing for a portrait at the Kallang Practice Track at the Singapore Sports Hub on May 2, 2015.

“If you knew Jesus was coming back in your lifetime,
what would you change in your life?”

Since joining Track and Field at 9 years old, sports has been my world. From bagging multiple gold medals at 12, participating in an overseas competition in Australia at 13, and finally making it to the SEA Games when I was 22, being a successful sportsman became a big part of my identity. Although I was a Christian, I was much more concerned that people knew about my sporting achievements rather than my identity in Christ. Whenever I met new people, I would ‘casually’ let slip that I was a top athlete. The thought of facing others without the slew of successes behind me was inconceivable. 

Being on the National Team meant that I had to live a ‘busier’ life than others. On top of my lectures, tutorials, homework, school, and church activities, I would have up to 7 training sessions a week! But I convinced myself that this was all worth it…right? After all, I would reap the benefits of my sacrifices in the accolades that I won.

Even as I tried to maintain my identity as a ‘perfect Singaporean student’ by excelling in both academics and CCA (Co-Curricular Activities), Jesus was pursuing my heart. 

It was at a Christian camp that everything changed. There was nothing really ‘extraordinary’ about the camp, just bible studies, sermons, and some games! But God’s word was taught and preached, and that changed me! The final sermon was on 1 Thessalonians 5, and the preacher ended with this question – “if you knew Jesus was coming back in your lifetime, what would you change in your life?” 

As I sat there seriously considering the question, it dawned on me that if Jesus were to return right now, none of my earthly achievements would hold any significance! What would I have to show for my life? The thought of me bringing my gold medals before Jesus and expecting Him to praise me for it was laughable. I used to tell myself that my achievements would in some way ‘glorify’ God. But in truth, these achievements were only to glorify myself. After all, Jesus’ mission was to save sinners, not gain earthly glory in this age! 

And yes, although I grew up knowing that Jesus was returning, it was always a distant future, not a present reality! Of course, none of us knows the exact day Jesus will return (Mark 13:32). But in that same passage, Jesus commands us to ‘stay awake… lest He come suddenly and find you asleep’. (Mark 13:35-37). Throughout church history, Christians have always been waiting expectantly for Jesus’ return, living radically for Him all their life! 

This was a significant turning point in my life. When I contemplated the purpose of my life in light of God’s big plan for the world, I knew my life had to change.

The Bible says that all of humanity, myself included, chose to rebel against God and reject Him as our ruler. Even though I professed to be a Christian, my achievements on the track was the god that ruled the way I lived my life. And because of this, justice demands that rebels like me deserve death and separation from God. But God, in His love, sent Jesus to take the punishment in my place and gave me a new life! If Jesus paid such a great price for my greatest need, it meant that I should live my life wholeheartedly for him, certainly not for my medals! 

For so long, too much of my self-worth had been tied to gold medals. It was after much deliberation that I finally decided to quit Track and Field. 

Wait, what? Why can’t a star athlete be a good Christian as well? I’m definitely not saying that this should be the case for everyone. But for me, living for Jesus meant that I had to take radical steps to remove this idol from my life. This was completely counter-cultural in Singapore, where earthly achievements are considered respectable and perhaps necessary, even as a Christian. In order to truly follow Jesus, I had to let go of the accomplishments that had always brought me respect and admiration from others. Jesus is the only one who can bring me true joy and satisfaction.

To be honest, sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if I had stayed in Track and Field. In fact, the month that I quit, I received a message that I qualified for the World University Games! Did I really make the right decision? 

In times like these, the Bible assures me that there is more to live for than this life alone! 

Jesus says, 

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?”
Mark 8:34-37

If all our earthly accomplishments will one day pass away, then we must hold lightly to them. All the losses and sacrifices made in this lifetime cannot compare to the glory and joy in the life to come! 

It’s been nearly 5 years since I made that big decision in my life. Was it worth it? If Jesus was not returning, then it would have been a “waste of my talent”. But if Jesus was returning (and He is!), then a thousand times yes! Of course it was worth it! I traded something of less value for something of infinite eternal value!

The words of Jim Elliot ring true. 

“He is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose”.