Breaking Out of the ‘Pai-seh’ Culture
By Sabrina Ng
We've all been there before, that dreaded 'Who wants to lead the prayer?', and in almost telepathic unison, pairs of shifty eyes start darting downwards and bodies start sliding down in their chairs towards the floor.
I may exaggerate but I'm sure we all know it to be true in one way or another. And if you're wondering what I'm trying to get at with that illustration; in our local Singaporean lexicon, we call it ‘pai-seh’.
In proper English, to feel pai-seh is to experience feelings of shyness and/or embarrassment. It is perfectly normal to encounter situations where we can’t help feeling that way − but to be pai-seh regarding our faith and calling, this stems from something much deeper.
The Fear of Man
What exactly is this pai-seh that is so rampant in our society, and what does the Bible say about it? Essentially, the ‘spirit’ of pai-seh is the fear of man. Pai-seh is not biblical, and will hinder us from fulfilling our destinies.
‘For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.’ - Galatians 1:10
In church, many shy away when asked to lead a prayer, a song in worship, or take up a leadership role, thinking that they're not good enough, that they would be judged by the level of their skill; this is pai-seh at play.
When we allow this fear to take precedence in our lives, we succumb to thoughts of intimidation, insecurity, inferiority, and inadequacy. And if we let negative thoughts and fears consume us, we hinder ourselves from fulfilling all that God has called us to be, and robbing ourselves of the blessings we could otherwise have.
Who are we trying to please? As Christians, we need to be more concerned about God's business than other people’s opinions (including our own!) Remember, we are created in God's image for His glory and to glorify Him. And being created in His image, we have been predestined as sons and daughters, called according to His purpose – there is no excuse to say that we are not worthy.
‘Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.’ - 2 Corinthians 3:4-5
Through Jesus Christ, we have already been given the confidence to walk in the calling that God has for each one of us. So what if we don't have the best singing voice or are only able to pray five sentences? It has never been about being the best; God looks at the heart – at our sincerity and authenticity. Practice will make perfect, but ultimately, God is more concerned with our progress than our perfection.
A PK’s Journey
No one is exempt from the spirit of pai-seh and I’ve come a long way in my own journey of overcoming it. In my teens, I became acutely aware of the weight of expectation placed on me as a PK (pastor’s kid). Though I liked singing, I shied away from the spotlight, preferring to fade into the background (literally hidden behind a pillar) as a keyboardist on the worship team.
As the years went by, the need for worship leaders in my church arose and I reluctantly agreed to step in to fill the gap. The initial period was challenging and I frequently questioned my own abilities. I was much happier just serving Him behind the piano; there were many people more spiritually mature, more musically talented than me who could probably do a better job, why would God make my life so difficult? Why would He set me up (the pastor’s daughter, no less!) to fail in front of so many people?
Yet, in spite of my self-doubt and regret, there were occasions when I experienced glimmers of joy while leading worship, and they shone like diamonds in the darkness. God was impressing upon me the call He placed on my life, assuring me of the gifts He has given me to fulfil it. Slowly but surely, I began to walk in confidence and into the fullness of all that God had prepared for me.
Throughout my journey, and even today, I am still learning that I needn’t be shy about what God has gifted me with and placed in my heart to do, because there is no competition in the Kingdom. God has given each of us gifts, not to bury and hide away, but to edify the body of Christ. We may not be the best, but let us be the best that we can be in our pursuit of God! He has something in store for each one of us in our journey of faith, so let us press forth, no need to pai-seh!