Stressed out?

“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.”  – Charles Spurgeon

There’s plenty to be stressed about these days, and so much of what makes us anxious is beyond our control. On the other hand, there are really practical things we can do to reduce stress in our lives. Some of the best advice on that is found in the book of Proverbs. Let’s take a look.

Plan ahead. Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow. One way not to have to worry is to have a plan – whether it’s for raising children, advancing in your career, saving money, or serving God.

Set good priorities. Part of planning is prioritizing. Find your priorities and follow them consistently.

Choose friends carefully. Get close to friends who will walk with you through joys and sorrows and will encourage your faith in our loving God.

Always tell the truth. It’s too much work to remember what you told to whom. Truth-telling is not only biblical, it’s safe!

Find good counselors. Proverbs is all about getting good input. In fact, it talks about having an abundance of counselors. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice!

Keep your finances in order. Make it a goal to spend less than you earn. Debt creates stress!

Help others. Step up when you see those who have needs they can’t take care of by themselves.

Trust God more than you trust yourself. As much as we’d like to, we really can’t trust our own thinking sometimes. That’s where God comes in. Trust him first and always. If everything follows from that foundation, stress will be calmed.

If you haven’t read the book of Proverbs lately, this might be a good time to revisit its amazing wisdom!

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh . . .”– Proverbs 14:30a

He kept walking.

“When Jesus set his face to walk the Calvary road, he was not merely taking our place; he was setting our pattern.” – John Piper

Jesus knew what was coming. He told his disciples he was going to Jerusalem where he would be arrested, tried, and crucified. After three days he would rise from the dead. Jesus knew what had to take place if he was going to be the Savior of the world. So, “. . . he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

The walk from Capernaum was nearly 80 miles long. Lots of time to think about what was about to happen. But he didn’t waver. He pointed himself toward Jerusalem and kept walking. He stopped to heal people along the way – then kept walking. He stopped to eat and sleep, and then kept walking. Resolute. Pointing toward his own death. Never turning back.

What was he thinking about? We get a clue from this passage: “. . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1b-2).

He kept walking because, at the other end of agony, there would be joy. Joy at doing the Father’s will. Joy in bringing salvation to the people of the earth. He did it for joy.

Are you facing health issues? Family problems? Emotional trauma? Financial setbacks? Work stress? Do what Jesus did. Keep walking, knowing he has a plan for you, knowing the end result is in his hands, resting in his promises of presence, power, and joy. Don’t give up. Keep walking. That’s what Jesus did!

” . . . for the joy that was set before him. . .” – from Hebrews 12:2

NOTE: Original walking concept from Emilie Griffin in Small Surrenders

Hearts’ Desires

“. . . it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us . . . We are far too easily pleased.” – C. S. Lewis

What is the most important thing to you? What does your heart desire? Some of us have given in to desires that now control us: Food, alcohol, drugs, pornography, approval, unhealthy relationships, senseless accumulation. We really want to change, but every time we try, we fall back to old habits. Could it be that our desire to be freed from those controls is not as great as our desire to keep things just as they are?

This is where God steps in if we let him. He wants to give us what truly satisfies, not just the immediate comforts we reach for. He can actually change what we want. He can give us new desires. It happens in marriages when a troubled couple falls in love all over again. It happens in other areas, too.

I heard of the testimony of a young woman with an addiction. Soon after giving her life to Christ, she said she no longer had a taste for what she had craved uncontrollably just weeks earlier. God had taken away her old desires and replaced them with new. That’s what he does! For her, it was immediate. For many, it happens over time. But our short-sighted desires are eventually replaced with better ones.

God knows our true needs. So, he helps us want the right things. Then he fulfills the desires he plants within us. Result? Freedom from enslavements. Empathy for others. Love for God. Please, Lord, change our hearts!

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4

When Discouragement Hits

“Faith sees the invisible, believes the unbelievable, and receives the impossible.” — Corrie ten Boom

I know a lot of people who are discouraged, some even depressed, stressing over financial setbacks, health issues, or relationships. Others have a more general anxiety about the world – political unrest, environmental issues, global conflicts.

Paul’s writings helped me to think more clearly about these things recently.

He begins by warning his spiritual son Timothy that things are going to get difficult, and people are going to continue to behave in sinful, ugly ways (2 Timothy 3:1-5). He then gives Timothy some instruction.

First, he says not to get caught up in the horrible condition of the world around him. Be aware, but not obsessed. Instead, he says Timothy should follow Paul’s example:  You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness . . .” (2 Timothy 3:10). Maybe we all need to look for those who are living God-centered lives in difficult times and follow their examples. They may be people we know personally or authors we read or teachers we listen to. Let’s find people with one foot planted in this world and the other in Scripture and listen to them.

Second, Paul tells Timothy to keep following what he knows to be truth: “. . . continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

Essentially, Paul says, turn your eyes to good role models and your heart to God’s truth. That advice will preserve us from discouragement when times are tough. I’m working on that. You, too?

May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.” – Psalm 25:21

Obstacles

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9b

Do you feel like you’ve been stopped in your tracks? You’ve been on a path you thought God was directing, and now there’s a roadblock you hadn’t anticipated. What do you do? Turn around? Give up? Or push on?

In the first chapter of the book of Judges, we read about the Israelites moving into the land God had promised them. With God’s help, they took over village after village, then came to one area where the people had iron chariots and they gave up. Didn’t even try.

If the Red Sea and the walls of Jericho were not obstacles too big for God, would he be intimidated by iron chariots? Of course not! But the people didn’t see that, so they stopped. As the history continues, we find the people with iron chariots were the very ones who led God’s people into worship of idols. Stopping short of the goal God has placed in front of us leaves us in danger.

What obstacle do you face right now? Difficult relationship? Job or career struggles? Sickness? Financial setback? If we are walking with God and, to the best of our ability, following his will, there is no obstacle too big for him. None!

So, let’s not quit before we complete what God has called us to do. We need to rely on him for strength and push through the challenge in front of us – whatever it is.

“We need to remind ourselves that God can change things. Outlook determines outcome. If we see only the problems, we will be defeated; but if we see the possibilities in the problems, we can have victory.” – Warren Wiersbe

Lost?

“He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.” – Psalm 145:19

We all wander away sometime. We don’t intentionally turn our backs on God, we just stop paying attention to him. We get distracted and, eventually we stop following where he leads.

When a sheep does that, he gets lost. And a lost sheep has no way to find his way back home. So he usually finds a bush or a rock to lie against and he waits to be found. In the meantime, the shepherd has returned from the fields to the sheepfold for the night and, in his counting, realizes that one of his sheep is missing. By now, though, it’s dark and that little sheep will be hard to find. But, the shepherd lights a lamp, ventures out, and begins the search, calling as he goes.

At this point in the dark of night, the sheep will never be found unless he participates in his own rescue. His job is to hear the shepherd’s voice and then respond with a bleat – as loud as he can and consistently over time until the shepherd can follow the cry and bring back the wanderer who, by now, is cold, hungry, and afraid.

Are you feeling lost today? Far away from God? Having no way of knowing how to find your way back to him? He’s reaching out for you already, but he waits for you to participate in your own rescue. How do you do that? You call out to him. You pray. You wait for him to hear your cry for help. He will come. He will rescue you and carry you home.

“Human beings do not readily admit desperation. When they do, the kingdom of heaven draws near.” – Phillip Yancey

Note: Lost sheep concept taken from the book The Good Shepherd by Kenneth E. Bailey

Making a Difference

“. . . (The Lord) who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
 who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
– Psalm 103:4-5

Life can be frustrating, discouraging. Sometimes we feel like we are trying our best, but not making a difference at all. We find ourselves asking if what we are doing today will matter in the long run.

Don’t give up. God works in ways we cannot see – at least not yet! I read recently about the life of David Brainerd, missionary to American Indians in the 1700’s. He kept a journal, so we have a window on his private thoughts. He was often discouraged. He was alone and lonely. He was sick (diagnosed with consumption). And his ministry was not very successful. But, even when he was depressed, he kept going. He prayed – sometimes for a whole day at a time. He fasted. He read and re-read his Bible.

And, listen in to the cry of his heart: “Lord, let me make a difference for you that is utterly disproportionate to who I am.” God answered that prayer. Though he had few converts and died at the age of 29 after only a four-year ministry, his devotion to God during tough times has inspired countless others to gives their lives to God in service as ministers and missionaries.

So, even when we are discouraged, we don’t quit. God is working something in us and through us that we don’t understand. Let’s pray, as Brainerd did, that God would use us to make a difference that is disproportionate to who we are!

” . . . God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints who cry to him day and night to accomplish amazing things for his glory.” – John Piper

Following and Trusting

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” – Job 23:10

I was hiking with friends in the Rocky Mountains recently when we came to a narrow part of the trail. I looked to my left and realized there wasn’t much room between me and a long drop to the creek below. My heart raced and I slowed my pace. Beth, walking behind me, asked if I was afraid, and I admitted I was. She understood and asked Bonnie, another friend, to walk in front of me. Bonnie got around me and then walked a slow and steady pace, knowing I needed to be able to follow. It was much easier getting through the tough part of the trail when I was watching her feet instead of the drop-off beside me.

I learned two things that day. First, I have some great friends. They saw I was in trouble and, one behind and one in front, helped me through. When we struggle with a hard part of life’s path, we need friends like these two!

Second, I needed someone to trust. I knew my friends had hiked this trail before, so I had confidence in them. When I took my mind off the scary edge next to me, focusing on Bonnie instead, I calmed down and made it to the wider part of the path.

Do you know the person I trust the most? Even more than my friends? Jesus. I’m trying to learn to follow his sandaled feet whenever I’m afraid. He always leads me to a safer place. He’ll do that for you, too!

“Self-denial . . . means no longer seeing oneself, only him who is going ahead, no longer seeing the way which is too difficult for us. Self-denial says only: he is going ahead; hold fast to him.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wonder and Wait

The symphony he is composing includes minor chords, dissonance, and tiresome fugal passages. But those of us who follow his conducting through early movements will, with renewed strength, someday burst into song.” – Philip Yancey

Life is about the day-to-day, isn’t it? We get caught up in what is next on the schedule, what we need to plan for, shop for, or fix. Life can be mundane.

Then a crisis hits and we long for the “boring” days, the days when all we had to do was the next thing on our calendar. Now we are taken to a new place and it can be a place of discouragement, frustration, and even dread. We can’t see how this will end. We are vulnerable and afraid.

Let’s rewind that scenario. What if we see the crisis we face not as an obstacle to get around, but an invitation from the God of creation to let him lead us through it? What if there are heavenly blessings and spiritual understandings we cannot get any other way than by going through something we didn’t sign up for? Something we detest? Something we fear?

If we are in crisis, let’s face it with awe at what God is about to do. With wonder at what will unfold as we walk day-by-day with him in the middle of it. With anticipation of an outcome we cannot, in our humanness, even imagine. Let’s lean hard into the one who has promised never to leave us, always to love and care for us – no matter what we are facing today. Then we can watch in wonder as he does his amazing work!

“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” – Habakkuk 1:5

I have a question.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” – 1Corinthians 13:12

I want to ask you “why?”, Lord. Why did my daughter get cancer? Why did you not heal her after the last time? She is a true lover of you, a disciple, growing in her faith over the years. Why would you let this happen?

Then I read a prayer from Carolyn Myss this morning. She said, “I have learned by now that you do not answer questions: You answer prayers.”

That was true of Job, wasn’t it? He wanted to confront God about the disasters that had come into his life. He wanted to know why. He wanted to know what he had done to deserve this pain. God didn’t answer Job’s questions, but he did reveal himself and his glory to Job. That was enough to quiet Job’s heart and satisfy his questions. He learned he could trust God with the whole story of his life including what he was experiencing that day.

So, Lord, I will change my questions to a prayer instead: May we realize your presence in this journey. Give us courage. Give us hope. May I trust you as the author of my life story and my daughter’s. And, please, reveal to us your glory so our questions become unimportant, and you become all-important. Amen.

When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal, but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.” ~ C.S. Lewis

NOTE: Painting shown is by Bernard Vaillant (Dutch, Lille 1632–1698 Leyden) and is titled “Socrates Looking into Mirror”.