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Are you in distress this morning?  If so, perhaps today’s message can help you de-stress. Let’s just check your stress levels this morning.  Here are some ways you will know if you are too stressed.  You know you’re stressed if: 
  • You say the same sentence over and over again, not realizing that you’ve said it before.
  • You can achieve a “runners high” by sitting up.
  • The sun is too loud.
  • You are missing several days from this week.
  • You wonder if brewing is “really” a necessary step for the consumption of coffee.
  • You say the same sentence over and over again, not realizing that you’ve said it before.
  • You can hear mimes.
  • You ask the drive-thru attendant if you can get your order to go.
  • You say the same sentence over and over again, not realizing that you’ve said it before.
  • Antacid tablets become your sole source of nutrition.
  • You discover the aesthetic beauty of office supplies.
  • You begin to talk to yourself, then disagree about the subject, get into a nasty tiff over it, lose, and refuse to speak to yourself for the next day.
  • You begin to explore the possibility of setting up an I.V. drip solution of espresso.
  • You say the same sentence over and over again, not realizing that you’ve said it before.
Can anyone identify with these stress measurements?  I think we better look to the Word of God to help us de-stress. Psalm 23 1 The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Silent Prayer
  1. Recognize God as Your Source-“The Lord is MY SHEPHERD.  I shall not be in want.”
If you have been in church for any length of time, you have heard a message about looking to God to be your Provider.  You’ve heard about the way Jehovah-Jireh which means, “The Lord Provides” works in the lives of His people.  God took care of the Israelites as they journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land and He will take care of you.  We know the promise in Philippians 4:19:  “My God shall supply all of your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”  However, I want us to think about God as our Source in a different way.  I believe that a lot of times, stress in our lives is the result of failed expectations.  We expect people to be something for us that isn’t fair or realistic, and we expect perfection from ourselves which we can never deliver.  Therefore, we live in constant disappointment and stress out over our failures or what the perceived failure of others to affirm us means.  In both instances, I believe that deep down, what we are soliciting from others or ourselves through our performance isn’t support, encouragement, or help but affirmation. We think if people behave a certain way towards us it means we’re special, valuable or worthwhile.  The thrust of Proverbs 29:25 tells us that worrying about what others think is a trap, but when we trust in Christ, we will be kept safe.  We think if we can perform to the expectations of others or if we can exceed their expectations, we will prove we are special, valuable or worthy of their love.  Listen, you are not defined by other people’s opinions.  Your job doesn’t define you.  Accomplishments and successes don’t spell out your worth.  If that is where you believe your worth comes from, you will be chasing the wind, you’ll be fatigued in your body, mind, and spirit and you will fall into depression and waste your life. Based on Psalm 23, one way to de-stress is to detach your value and worth from your connections with others and to detach it from your own personal performance.  Instead, let God be your Source for affirmation. When we base our worth and value on the opinion of others or on our ability to perform, we make an idol of ourselves and are always in striving mode to put on the happy face or to put on a show.  There is nothing wrong with trying to be positive.  I believe as God’s people, we should be the most positive people on the planet.  But what we must realize is that there is more to who we are than what people see when we are out in public.  We know the truth about ourselves.  We know the crummy things we think sometimes.  We know how insecure we are.  We know our tendencies, vices and our jealousies.  We know where we lack and how we haven’t really kept up our end of the bargain in certain instances.  Take that and multiply that knowledge by infinity, and consider that’s how well God knows us.  He knows it all; the good, bad and ugly.  Psalm 139 paints God as a heavenly stalker in a good way.  He knows when we stand and sit.  He knows what we think and what we’re going to say before we say it.  In fact, the Psalmist says we can never escape His presence.  We can’t get away from Him.  I say all of that simply to say that if the God of the universe knows how weak and desperate and pathetic we are, yet He pursues us with a relentless love, not letting us out of His sight and not letting us out of His care even though we have nothing to offer Him but the filthy rags of our sin and humanity it must mean that He is madly and desperately in love with us! Oh, you might be able to get pumped up with a compliment or an “at a boy” from time to time, but “that which is inflated will sooner or later run out of air.” (Mary Southerland in Escaping the Stress Trap)  Flattery may feel good in the moment, but listen, it can become toxic to our system over time if we fall into the trap of being addicted to others’ opinions. God loves you regardless of your bank account and regardless of your performance.  You didn’t earn it or deserve His love, but He thought you were worth dying for.  Romans 5:8 says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Before you ever thought about committing to Him, He committed to you.  Wow!  The God of the universe pursued you!  Quit looking to others for esteem and approval.  Make it your goal to please one person; God.  Won’t that take some pressure off?  Won’t that reduce some stress in your life? God says I am His workmanship.                                     Ephesians 2:10 God says I am His child.                                                   I Peter 1:23 God says I am qualified to share in Christ’s inheritance.  Col. 1:2 God says I have overcome the world.                              I John 5:4 God says I am beloved of God.                                        I Thess. 1:4 God says I am the apple of my Father’s eye.                   Psalm 17:8 Did you know you were God’s favorite?  You are.  Each and every one of you is God’s favorite.  Nothing has ever been purchased at a higher price than you were.  Jesus died for you.  When God has attached that kind of value on your life, that kind of price on you and your potential, don’t look to anyone else to give you an estimate on what you’re worth.  Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I lack no affirmation and need no other voice to approve of me. 
  1. Rest a While-“He makes me to lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside the still waters.  He restores my soul.”
When we are tired, life’s challenges and our inabilities are magnified.  Fatigue will add stress to our lives that won’t be profitable to us in any way.  If you need to de-stress, you need to get some more sleep and some more time for relaxation and “down time.”  I’m preaching to myself here!  Matthew 11:28-29 says, “28Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29 Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives.” NCV While this verse speaks to laying down the burden of religion and entering into a freeing relationship with Jesus, giving up our sin and letting God forgive and love us, there is also an admonition to accept Christ’s teachings.  That means that we are to learn what the Scriptures have to say about all of life. For the Christian, just like worshiping, serving, giving and praying are to be built into our spiritual DNA, so too has God prescribed a pattern for rest in our lives.  The creation account in Genesis is told in such detail.  The writer could have stopped after six days because everything that has been created was created during that six day process.  However, on the seventh day, God in essence created something else for us to enjoy and understand.  He created rest.  He gave us permission to recharge.  He instituted a time of refreshing to refocus and relax.  This is very tough for performance-driven people.  The more we accomplish (I have to admit my struggle here) the more we feel valued.  However, in His wisdom, God knows that rest is good for us and will produce great benefits in our lives, not the least of which is a reduction in our stress level. In a book called “Escaping the Stress Trap,” author Mary Southerland shares this illustration (pg. 66):  A visitor saw several shepherds in Nazareth bringing their flocks to water them at the well.  When the sheep had drunk their fill, the shepherds called and their sheep immediately followed.  The visitor asked the shepherds if the sheep always followed their own shepherds when they called.  “Yes,” said one of the shepherds, under one condition.  The sheep that don’t follow the voice of their shepherd are the sick sheep.  If a sheep is healthy, it will always follow its shepherd, but if there is something wrong with the sheep, it will follow anybody.” Southerland makes the point that when we are tired and become run down, we are in danger of following the wrong voice.  Rest will keep us sharp so that we can hear the Lord when He speaks to us.  Rest makes our bodies more efficient which will enable us to do our work more efficiently.  If any of you are like me, it is difficult for me to rest if my house is in chaos.  I’m not talking about being able to eat off of the floors; I’m talking about being able to SEE the floors!  J Clutter creates stress for me.  When I reach the “I can’t take it anymore” point, I work until I SEE relief.  Just having my space de-cluttered reduces my stress level.  However, the problem I deal with is that I don’t rest after I have spent a couple of whirlwind hours de-cluttering.  Yes, we have responsibilities.  Yes, we have obligations, but one of the obligations has to be to ourselves.  In order to be good stewards of the bodies God has given to us, we are going to have to build rest into our schedules. Often in music writing, a composer will put a rest into a space with great intention.  He or she wants to create a big moment and wants to emphasize it by preceding it with a rest.  The same is true for our lives.  Big moments can follow periods of rest if we will discipline ourselves to do so.  So post on your FB status that you are going to take a nap in order to rest for whatever big thing God has planned for your life.  God has given you permission to do so.
  1. Relinquish Control-“He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
I love taking trips with a guide.  There is nothing better than “being along for the ride.”  When someone who is more knowledgeable is leading, they know how to plan the trip for the optimum experience. They know how to string the stops and events together in a sequence that will make the most sense and how to pace the trip so that eating and sleeping are all taken care of.  They also know which routes to take to each venue to enable the most enjoyable and educational journey.  Having a guide is a great thing. In Proverbs 3:5-6 we’re told, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”  Doesn’t it just take your blood pressure down to think that you can relinquish control to Someone who is better at being in charge than you are?  It’s not difficult to make a convincing argument that God ought to be the One guiding.  However, the second part of this Scripture is a little more difficult to apply to our lives.  We are supposed to acknowledge Him in ALL our ways.  What does that mean?  It means that in our physical, relational, financial, emotional and spiritual life, Jesus is Lord.  He is Supreme.  We look to Him to guide us in every aspect. God is not a control freak.  He simply knows that if we allow Him to be Lord in every area of our life, we will walk as the Psalmist says, “in righteousness.”  We will walk without stress and strain.  It doesn’t mean life will be difficulty free, but it means we won’t create our own problems!  Life will have enough problems without us creating our own by trying to run every area of our life. What I am trying to say is that we create our own stress when we don’t allow God to be God in every detail of our lives.  We can’t say, “Lead me, but stay out of my checkbook.”  We can’t say, “Guide me, but stay out of my marriage or my job or my physical body!”  Some of us are stressed out today by debt, addiction, and poor relationships because we haven’t let God lead in every aspect of our lives.  Doing things God’s way will decrease our stress. 
  1. Refuse Fear” I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
If you want to stress out, just go ahead and research all of the possibilities for your situation.  Get on the internet and see what thousands of people from around the world have to say about your condition or your problem.  Let your mind dwell on the negative and all of the things that could happen.  That will raise your blood pressure for sure. Life is a series of battles.  Accept that up front.  Move through your fear by walking into the battle with the conviction that God is with you.  David faced a giant named Goliath.  The Scripture doesn’t tell us David was afraid, but he had to be.  It’s not that we can talk ourselves out of fear.  It’s not that we can avoid the reality that in our humanness some things can cause worry or anxiety, but it’s that we don’t let fear, worry or anxiety keep us from moving towards victory.  I Samuel 17:48 says that as the giant came towards David, David ran toward the battle line.  He didn’t let fear paralyze him.  He didn’t let anxiety or worry get him stuck.  Instead, he moved forward with faith that if God was with him, the giant was already as good as dead.  He didn’t have much in the way of physical weaponry with just a sling shot and a stone, but He had the Word of God and the assurance that God was with Him.  That was more than enough. You want to know what will cause stress?  Doing nothing.  Sitting still and hibernating in worry.  Not exercising faith will build up stress in your body.  Exercising faith gets us into forward motion.  It gives us momentum whereas fear will paralyze you.  Don’t be a victim of fear.  Walk towards whatever you face, but do it while claiming that God is with you.  Do it armed with the Word of God and Prayer.  Faith isn’t the absence of fear, but it is trust that even though we are afraid and things look bad or impossible, we believe God will prevail and we do what God asks of us despite how we feel about it.  Go ahead and talk to God about whatever you are afraid of.  After all, as the Psalmist said, “He is with you.”  You might as well talk it out with Him. 5. Receive God’s Comfort- “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” When we are stressed, we often look for comfort.  We turn to comfort food, comforting TV programs or movies, or the comfort of our warm bed.  Sometimes we even look to others to comfort us in an inappropriate way which is sin.  Why not allow God to console and comfort us? A rod was a weapon that a shepherd would use to kill attacking beasts.  It is a symbol of protection.  Some of you have a gun in your home or some other form of protection and there is a measure of comfort that you receive from knowing you have a weapon with which to defend yourself should a situation ever arise that you might need to do so.  I keep a squirt gun under my pillow . . .  just in case.  Josh Hicks, Pastor Wendy’s almost husband, called a couple of weeks ago to ask if he could take a gun with him while hiking on the church property.  He wasn’t asking for permission to hunt, but for permission to deal with a snake if he got surprised by one.  There was a certain level of comfort that having a gun should that instance arise that gave Josh the courage to explore the Acres.  Never having explored the Acres before, knowing that he was protected gave him confidence to move through new territory.  The same is true for us spiritually.  The Lord is going to protect us as we move through this life as long as we are in His care.  Now we can’t expect Him to club our enemy if we’re not sticking by Him.  It is only when a sheep is with the shepherd that the shepherd can protect it.  If you want to de-stress this morning, move closer to the Shepherd. The rod AND the staff give comfort.  We know the rod is for protecting us, but what is the staff for?  It’s for keeping us on track.  If we start to stray, God has some tools to get us back on track.  It’s also for keeping us moving on when it’s time to move on.  You see, God has a plan for our lives.  He is guiding and leading us on a certain path.  If we have decided we want Him to be our Shepherd, He is committed to helping us stay on track.  It comforts me to know that God has a plan for my life.  It comforts me to know that the plan includes that I keep growing and when I need a little prodding, the Shepherd will use necessary means to get me up and moving.  It brings me great comfort to experience this kind of love, care and commitment from God.  If He didn’t care about my potential, my future, or my growth, He wouldn’t use those tools to move me on.  That which God can use to shape us is of great comfort to us because it points us back to God’s love and His purposes and to the reality that He won’t give up on us! 
  1. Relax Securely-“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
With my enemies being dealt with and given that God will help me be where I am suppose to be by using His staff to keep me on track, I can relax.  I love the picture the Psalmist paints here of a meal being prepared for us, of our head being anointed with oil and our lives being blessed to overflowing. Anytime something is prepared for me, I love it.  I feel so pampered.  It could be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  If someone else prepares it, I can relax.  However, the portrait seen here isn’t just of a little peanut butter and jelly, but of a banquet.  God wants to spoil us.  He wants to pamper us.  He goes to some effort to create something special for us and while He is serving us whatever He has prepared with one hand, He is beating off our enemies with His rod with the other hand.  What an amazing God! Having your head anointed with oil was a custom reserved for special guests back in that day and time.  Perfumed oil was poured on the head of special and distinguished guests.  Can you entertain the thought this morning that God wants to host you, spoil you, and nourish you?    Isn’t it awesome to think about being taken care of by God?  Oil was also applied to wounds.  When the sheep would come in to rest, the shepherd would examine them.   Wherever they were hurt, he would apply soothing oil.  For those who were thirsty, He would make sure they were refreshed with as much water as they needed. Maybe you’re here today and you need to de-stress by saying, “God, I’m tired and weary.  I’m wounded.  I’m just going to sit and relax in Your presence.  Will You feed me?  Will You heal me?  Will You anoint my head with oil and remind me of how special I am to You?
  1. Rejoice in What is Following You and in What Awaits You- “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
One way final way to de-stress is to speak out God’s blessings with confidence.  When you get up in the morning, it wouldn’t hurt you one bit to look in the mirror and say to yourself, “You are blessed and highly favored.  You are the daughter or son of a King and good things from God’s hand are following you around.”  It means we don’t have to wait until we reach heaven to experience God’s blessings.  When we walk with Him, His blessings follow us around.  Like I said, God is like a heavenly stalker! And because I know that I can de-stress by walking with Him, I will stay in communion with Him every day of my life.  And what is better than to know a mansion over the hilltop is waiting for each one of us.    If you want to live in distress, worry about what everyone else thinks.  Let them be the ones who decide how valuable you are.  Push yourself to the limit to perform no matter what.  If you want to live in distress, burn the candle at both ends.  Get up early and stay up late.  Work every evening on your computer when you get home and run to accomplish as much as you can on the weekends.  If you want to live in distress, be a control freak.  Try to make God fit into your plans and ask Him to bless all that you’ve got planned. If you want to live in distress, dwell on all of the could be’s.  Let your mind go to the worst case scenario and stay there. If you want to live in distress, comfort yourself in as many ways as you can think of. If you want to live in distress, ignore God, and thus disable Him from granting you the privileges of being one of His children. If you want to live in distress, be thankful for nothing and look forward to nothing. But if you are ready to de-stress: Recognize God as your source.  Rest a while.  Relinquish control.  Refuse fear.  Receive God’s comfort.  Relax securely and rejoice in God’s blessings and in what awaits you.
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