Part III of Everyday Matters Because Every Day Matters Series
Stress comes into our lives for many reasons. There isn’t enough money to pay the bills. There isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. There aren’t answers for our health concerns. There are no guarantees that we will always be safe and avoid injury or difficulty. We are impulsive and say and do things we regret. We aren’t sure what the outcome of a meeting will be or if we will be considered for the promotion. Our children face pressures like bullying or pressure to fit in which causes them anxiety which in turn messes with us. Fear causes stress. Disappointment causes stress. Friendships and family life can be stressful. Deadlines, demands, and commitments about—there are a lot of reasons to stress.
Stress creates extra problems for us when we don’t deal with it well. We may suffer with headaches, the inability to sleep, sore neck and shoulder muscles. It can cause stomach aches, cause you to sweat, cause your skin to break out, your hair to fall out, cause you to gain weight, and to not think clearly. None of that sounds like fun. All of us can relate. Even Jesus dealt with stress.
Matthew 14:22-25 22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.
Here in this story we see that Jesus needed to get away and take time away to pray. Here is what I am learning about dealing with stress: Taking time to be alone with God will refresh you, but it will also prepare you for the storm that is likely ahead.
Jesus needed to recharge after an exhausting day of ministry. He had just fed five thousand people. Right before that, John the Baptist, His cousin had been beheaded. He was grieving. He was tired. He needed to draw away for rest, and He knew the place to go was to the Heavenly Father. But what I also want to point out is that when Jesus finished His prayer time, He headed right into a physical storm. Life doesn’t stop because we are grieving or tired or stressed. So, how do we deal with the stressful times in our lives? The 23rd Psalm can help us.
Let God be your Source.-“The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not be in want.”
God needs to be our “go to.” He needs to be the One you turn to, talk to, cry to. We have to look to Him for answers, for provision. He says He will take care of us. Philippians 4:19 tells us He will supply all of our needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. He knows what we need.
In addition to providing for us, I want us to think about God as our Source in a different way. I believe that a lot of times that 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 like us or invite us to the “happening” 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. Can we let God be our Source for affirmation?
Child of God, you are not defined by other people’s opinions. You aren’t defined by your performance. Your job doesn’t define you. Accomplishments and successes don’t spell out your worth. Your education isn’t what sets you apart as unique. 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 release your 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 striving to put on a happy face or a show. We know 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, what we think and what we’re going to say before we say it. 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 we are incredibly valuable to Him.
Let’s not get addicted to the approval of man, to the number of likes we can get on FB, or the number of followers we can acquire on Twitter. Let’s not run on flattery but on our faith in God’s love for us. 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?
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.
Submit to God’s rest.-“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 unload stress, you need to get some more sleep and some more time for relaxation and “down time.” God made us to work and to be fruitful, but He also created us with a need for rest. He has rest to give.
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.
That is very tough for performance-driven people because the more we accomplish 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.”
When we are tired and become run down, we are in danger of following anybody. 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. 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. God may likely be telling some of you to take a nap!
Give God total control-“He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
I love a guided tour. There is nothing better than “being along for the ride.” When someone leads you who has all of the information and knows where to go, and you ust have to follow, that is like a “ahhhh” moment for me. There is no stress in following someone who knows the way and has the experience all planned out. 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. Easier said than done. Perhaps this is where many Christians struggle and is how added stress comes into our lives.
God knows that if we allow Him to be Lord in every area of our lives, we will walk as the Psalmist says, “in righteousness.” We will walk without unnecessary stress. 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.
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 google your health problem. I think Google may be the single biggest stress-producing thing on the planet. 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. Since we can’t change it, we have to purpose to move through our fears by walking into every battle with the conviction that God is with us. 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 will do what God asks of us despite how we feel about it.
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 shepherd’s rod was a weapon that a shepherd would use to kill attacking beasts. It is a symbol of protection. The Lord is going to protect us as we move through this life as long as we are in His care. If we are straying away into other pastures, we won’t be near His rod and staff. If you want to eliminate the stress in your life, 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? If we start to stray, God does have some tools to get us back on track. His staff also can prod us 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!
Relax Securely-“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
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. I love sitting down to a prepared table. Anytime something is prepared for me, I love it. I feel so pampered. It doesn’t matter what is on the menu. If someone else prepares it, I can relax. The picture here is of a feast. 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 a mighty God we serve!
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 a sheep’s 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 unload some 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?
7. 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 to let go of 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.” Do you realize you don’t have to wait until you reach heaven to experience God’s blessings? God wants to bless you right now.
And because I know that I can reduce my stress by walking with Him, I will stay in communion with Him every day of my life. And what is better than to know that Heaven awaits?
If you want to live with added stress, 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 with added stress, burn the candle at both ends. Get up early and stay up late. Work every evening on your computer when you get home, stay glued to your phone, and run to accomplish as much as you can on the weekends.
If you want to live with added stress, 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 with added stress, 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 with added stress, comfort yourself in as many ways as you can think of that don’t include God or the things of righteousness.
If you want to live with added stress, ignore God, and move as far away from His care and protection as you think you can.
If you want to live with added stress, be thankful for nothing and look forward to nothing.
But if you are ready to unload some 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.