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Posts Tagged ‘Stress’

Last week, on April 22nd, I read the devotion, “Listen to Me Continually,” by Sarah Young (Jesus Calling, Integrity Publishers, 2004).

Did you happen to read it, too?

 

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As you may know, Sarah determined a number of years ago to listen to God with pen in hand and write down whatever she believed he was saying to her. Those meditative moments became this book.

God’s messages through Sarah often speak timely challenges to me.  Last Thursday was no exception.

First, a bit of background.

As I write this, my to-do list is a bit long, even though I’m retired. (To those who are still employed or still have children at home under your charge, that sounds ridiculous, I know. But let me tell you, retirement does not change how busy you are, just what you are busy doing.)

Not only is that list of tasks long, but I have a strong desire to do a thorough job on each item. After all,

 

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(“If a task is worth doing, it is worth doing well.”)

 

Except that goal can easily lead to perfectionism, which I do have to fight against.

So here is what Sarah sensed Jesus telling her for April 22nd:

When Jesus died, he set us free. That includes freedom from compulsive planning.

And that’s exactly what I have been doing: figuring out when I could accomplish certain jobs, deciding whether a few tasks could be postponed, wondering if I’d be able to accomplish everything–on time.

Jesus continued; Sarah wrote more:

When we’re distracted by a whirlwind of thoughts, we cannot hear his voice.

 

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Oh, Lord, that is so true. Sometimes my thoughts are a stress-inducing jumble of “Stay on task! Don’t waste a minute! Don’t forget that! Do this first!” No wonder I feel overwhelmed.

Then Jesus and Sarah hit me between the eyes:

“A mind preoccupied with planning pays homage to the idol of control.”

Oh, my. I never thought of planning as a possible idol, something excessively adored.

But there is truth in that idea. I do prefer to be in control, to feel competent in handling my responsibilities, to know that everything will be accomplished efficiently and in a timely manner.

That sounds an awful lot like pride, doesn’t it.

I don’t think the problem lies in the planning, as if it’s a sin to make a to-do list.

The sin is in the attitude.  I need to ask myself:   Is my planning an effort toward making an impression? Rooting for compliments? Looking for a pat on the back?  I have to be honest.  Sometimes, yes.

Jesus reminded me (through Sarah) that my attention needs to be on him, not on the best ways to complete a task list. I need to listen to him, not the voices telling me to hurry to do this; scurry to do that.

And what will be the result? Stress will melt away, and I’ll enjoy the peaceful, God-enhanced, abundant life he’s promised.  I’ll be more useful to him and compliant to his will instead of mine.

That sounds much more satisfying and enjoyable, doesn’t it.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Heavenly Father, I am so sorry that I’ve allowed a preoccupation with planning to become an idol. Help me to hold very loosely the plans I make, in order to embrace the interruptions and changes ordained by you. Teach me also to release control of the to-do list to you.  Amen.

Photo credits:  www.imgbuddy.com; http://www.picturequotes.com; http://www.eastbabtlife.com.)

 

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With the Sunday morning congregation, she sang enthusiastically and with conviction in her voice:

“Our God is greater, our God is stronger,

God you are higher than any other.

Our God is Healer, Awesome in Power,

Our God! Our God!”*

She raised her hands, palms upward, offering her song as an expression of trust.

Other inspiring songs followed. By the time she sat down, her spirit already felt strengthened and uplifted. Then came the encouraging prayer time and an empowering sermon.

“Thank you, Lord,” she breathed while exiting the sanctuary. “My heart overflows with joy. You are the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid” (Psalm 27:1)?

Then came Monday morning, with its hectic commute to work, dozens of emails to process, a meeting that went too long and accomplished little, a disturbing phone conversation with a disgruntled caller, a notice from the boss asking for the impossible, etc., etc.

In a matter of hours the storehouse of strength was depleted, her joy gone. And on the way home that afternoon, she whispered, “God, I don’t understand. One day I’m on a mountaintop of faith, the next I’m crawling around in the mud of discouragement!”

How do I know the experience of this woman? Because I am she.

There are times I am no better than the Israelites of Moses’ time, allowing frustration, stress, and self-pity to nibble away at my faith.

Just three days after their miraculous rescue at the Red Sea, the Israelites lost their trust in God. (At least they lasted three days!)

Yes, they had witnessed the ten plagues that chipped away at Pharaoh’s resolve to keep his slaves at all costs.  Yes, they had watched as God parted the waters of the sea so they could walk across on dry land. And they saw all Pharaoh’s horses and chariot-driving horsemen drown.

After four hundred years of slavery, the Israelites walked away from the shores of the Red Sea, a free people. And they had done nothing to make it happen. God did it all.

But by the third day, they were tired and very thirsty. They had been traveling through the Desert of Shur and had found no water. Finally they came to Marah where water flowed. But it was too bitter to drink.

Discouragement quickly gave way to complaining. The people railed against their leader, Moses. “What are we supposed to drink?” they cried.

Note what they did not do. They did not cry out to God. But Moses did. God showed him a piece of wood to throw in the bitter waters, and the water became sweet (Exodus 15:22-25).

Scripture tells us this experience at Marah was a test (v.25). Perhaps God wanted to show them that their actions and reactions did not yet back up their words–words they sang when God rescued the Israelites at the Red Sea: “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them” (Exodus 14:13).

Might miserable Mondays be a type of test for me?  Are you facing a test?  And how do we pass such tests?  Listed below are possible strategies.  We can:

  1. Pour out our hearts to God in total honesty as David did: “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2).  Honesty with God puts us in a humble frame of mind so he can help us.
  1. Turn our thoughts to expressions of praise and assurance. Again, that’s what David did. “But I trust in your unfailing love,” David affirmed in the same psalm. “My heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me” (vs. 5-6).  We cannot help but strengthen our faith when we meditate on the beautiful attributes of our God.
  1. Reaffirm that our Heavenly Father loves to bring good out of every circumstance (Romans 8:28).   We can look for the good in our lives instead of focusing on the negative.
  1. Resolve to be obedient to God’s Word. What he told the Israelites at Marah is true for us, too: “Listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes…I am the Lord, who heals you (Exodus 15:26). He is the One who will heal us of discouragement, frustration, and stress–as we follow his instructions.
  1. Take encouragement from the very next stop in the Israelites’ journey: Elim. “There were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water (v. 27)” We can remind ourselves that our personal Elims may very well be just around the corner!

What strategies help when you are faced with frustration, stress, or discouragement?  Please share your ideas/experiences in the Comment section below!

* From the chorus of Chris Tomlin’s song, “Our God” (2010).

(Art credit:  www.pinterest.com.)

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