Be Humbled in His Presence : Paul Choi
2 Chronicles 7:14-15 (ESV)
14 If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.
“I’m done for,” I thought. All I had to do was simply finish up the last few weeks of my junior year internship. My pride and unchecked emotions got the best of me as the other interns and I discussed current events on heated international affairs between North Korea and the rest of the world. In the tense group chat conversation, I used a politically incorrect term which was then reported to the human resources department by another intern. As all of the Wall Street internship advice thematically states: “Just stay off the radar and give off the appearance that you work hard, are well liked, and that you know what you’re doing, and you’ll secure the full time offer.” I did everything right, but all it took was one misstep to see my hard work start to dematerialize into thin air. I concluded my internship with a strand of hope that they would call me back with a full time offer so I can come back after graduation.
Rewinding to freshman year, a friend of mine once told me that I could make a six-figure salary with only a bachelor’s degree in finance. Suddenly for the first time in my life, school was interesting. As dry wood to a spark, I burned with passion for it. I used my entire sophomore winter break to study in advance for accounting and financial modeling to catch up to the role models in my year who started their pursuit of happiness earlier than I did. Nothing was going to stop me, and as someone who never possessed a good work ethic before college, I almost miraculously developed an ability to study for hours on end. All that was repeating in my head was: “Once I get a junior-year internship, that company will extend me the full time offer so I can come back once I graduate.” The thought of having this recognition, power, status, and money was liberating. My first-generation immigrant parents worked so hard just so I can have this one shot at a successful life. I wanted to finally do something good for them. It was exhilarating to imagine how proud they would be of me. If I worked hard enough and shot for the moon, I thought that I should at least land among the stars somewhere, right?
Wrong. The call-back that I hoped for never came. I was left with one last shot to attempt to secure a job before graduation. Going into my final year, I returned to school with a cocky attitude. Reaffirming myself with accomplishments of a good GPA and solid work experience, I assured myself and everyone around me that I would surely land an offer from somewhere. In fact, I had better chances to secure a job better than the one I would have gotten at my previous internship. I landed four final round interviews out of ten. One by one, I failed at all of them. But in one of those interviews, I thoroughly impressed the Vice President who was interviewing me. He even asked for a copy of the stock pitch presentation I made in one of my Baruch College finance clubs. This offer was as good as mine! However, in the final stretch during a case study, I froze for an eternity of ten seconds when it came my turn to present. As I exited the interview receiving odd stares from both the interviewers and the interviewees, I was livid. I needed something, or someone to blame for this humiliation. As I went into my room, my eyes shifted to the wooden cross keychain that I thumbtacked to the ceiling of my room years ago. Out of frustration, with the folder I had in my hand, I slung it at the cross. The folder directly struck the cross with a considerable force, but to my subtle surprise, it did not fall.
My last final round interview day was at a firm called Moody’s. I walked into the lobby to find two other interviewees waiting to be called. I introduced myself and asked them for their name and where they attended school. Both simultaneously chirped “Columbia,” and I paused for a second out of intimidation before continuing small talk with them. With a slim margin of error, I had to execute two interview sessions almost flawlessly to have a chance at this job. There were around 80 people competing for 10 selections that day. The first set went well, while the second had surely dinged my candidacy. During the second set, the interviewer asked me such a simple accounting/finance question that I had never thought to review. I utterly blanked and gave my best wrong answer. “Interesting,” they said as we concluded the interview.
I went home, and looked up at that same wooden cross keychain. Instead of throwing another object at it, I started to repent in my heart. I was confessing for trying to use Jesus for my gain. It should have been the other way around. And just like that, my interview season had come to a close for that semester. I ended up with no job offer in my hand, yet I felt an odd peacefulness in my heart. I knew that there would be significantly less opportunities for interviews in the second semester of my last year. But I relaxed in the assurance that my odds could not have defined what God wanted to do in my life. I shifted my heart and told God that I would enter the next interview season the right way with the confidence not in myself, but in his sovereignty.
Weary and defeated, I longed to be forgiven. I just wanted to see more of Jesus and the peace I knew only He can give. In this state of repentance, all that I idolized: Money, power, status, parental recognition, success, proving myself - didn’t seem all that important anymore. I told myself as I extracted them from my heart, “Even if I attain all of those, I would just want more of them to attempt to fill this gaping God-sized hole in my heart. I’ll eventually come to a point where I ask, ‘What’s next?’”
Deep within the pursuit of all these things, it was redemption that I craved. I just wanted to never want again. How ironic is it that I tried so hard to arrive at a place of contentment by pursuing things that would never be able to fill me? I tried and failed to redeem myself through my own power, yet God was gracious to both reveal these things and reminded me of how capable and infallible He is. I was filled up with His refreshing love that resulted in glimpses of completion. Even though I struck Him, He warmly embraced me back with those loving open arms of His. As I confessed my sins and came back to the right posture in heart, He told me, “I remember your sins no longer” (Hebrews 8:12). He then placed a word in my heart from Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I humbled my heart before Him and laid down the anxieties of my uncertain future before Him. Along the complicated spectrum of emotions I felt, a part of me was also glad this happened. This God I serve is not one of the prosperity gospel, and this needed-failure led me to invest more of my trust to Him despite my unfavorable situation! This was something I haven’t been able to do in the past. This made God all the more legitimate to me, and I wanted to know Him more. It wasn’t the call back from the firms I needed to answer, but the call back from my Redeemer.
A few weeks later, I did what any other Asian male student would do in the face of failure and started to play League of Legends, a game I had not touched for a long time. As I was playing, I received a call from the city starting in the area code “212.” I thought it was another interview, so I answered and placed the phone between my ear and shoulder while continuing to play. “Hello, this is Zack from Moodys. Is this Paul?” I confirmed my identity and let him continue to unenthusiastically flatter me for my participation in the interview process, as many rejection calls usually start off. In annoyance, I cut to the chase and coldly asked, “Do you have any good news for me?” He chuckled and uttered the magic words every finance student longs for: “We would like to extend you an offer.”
In my ears, that’s what I heard. But through my heart, Jesus spoke to me, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:31-34).
It was as if the Lord was telling me, “Were you usable or even willing to be used before I graciously rained down these ‘failures’ to remind you that you’re set apart for Me? Do you not recognize who I am, that you should be anxious about your future when I bankrupted heaven to chase after you? Now that you humbled yourself, I can give you this job. Now that you’ve realized that you’re nothing, I can now make you everything in my Kingdom and use you in that workplace. Now that you’ve extracted the idols from your heart, I can make My house there. Remember that it was not of your own work, but a gift that I’m giving to you.” Heeding this silent revelation, I took it with fear and trembling and never boasted about this job offer to anyone. How could I brag about something that isn’t mine?
Through this one of many displays of His faithfulness, I became immersed in this powerful and renewed faith that He gave me. A firm faith that will not be shaken in the storm. A discerning faith that humbled me to realize that it is not me, but my God who is in control. A real faith that made me realize that trials of various kinds are GOOD for me. A humble faith that looked at the accomplishments of Jesus instead of mine. A bold faith to say the scary statement that even if He strips me of everything I own, God is still good and I’ll still praise Him. A tested faith that even if He doesn’t rescue me from the fire, He will be there in the fire with me, and I will trust in Him and His ways because it isn’t about me. It has been, is, and will always be about you, Jesus.
For Your Reflection
We are all called into humility by Jesus and to turn away from the idols in our hearts. Idols are dead, and Scripture says we will become like them if we let them occupy our hearts (Psalms 115:4-8). Humility gives you the ability of repentance, which leads to restoration and reconciliation with God. Where are some areas in your life that you can let God come in and take control? Let the Redeemer do His work in you, because He cares for you.