February 17, 2005
Encouragement for Today
How to Deal With Stress
Mary Southerland - Director of Development, Author, Speaker (firstname.lastname@example.org)
"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Yea, 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever." Psalm 23:1-6 (NIV)
While waiting for the red light to change, I noticed a bumper sticker on the car in front of me. "Just when I thought I was winning the rat race, along came faster rats!" My thoughts drifted to the absurd schedule I had hurled myself through that day. It was a schedule without margins, every moment assigned to something or someone. My stress level grew with every task, threatening to overwhelm my heart and soul in a torrential downpour of anxiety and tension. I couldn't wait to get home, change into my comfort clothes and sink into solitude and rest. But stress was waiting to greet me, just inside my front door. Children needed clean clothes, hot food, transportation to various events, help with homework and a listening ear. My husband had experienced the same kind of chaotic day I had and was in desperate need of peace and quiet for his frazzled soul. Ah, life!
Stress is a familiar and faithful companion, an unavoidable part of life. It doesn't matter where we work or live, whether we are married or single; have no children or dozens of them, are filthy rich or dirt poor. We will encounter stress as we strive to honor God by becoming His fully devoted followers. Unless we learn how to manage stress - God's way - we will become a sitting duck for the enemy.
Stress management is a spiritual discipline. The truth of Psalm 23:1 is the starting place for dealing with stress. Life begins here - in a vital, personal relationship with the living, peace giving God. It is very frustrating to try living the Christian life when you are not one. I know. For years, I tried desperately to be a Christian, saved by knowledge and good works. It simply cannot be done. To know who we are, we must understand whose we are.
I grew up in a Christian home, attending church every time the doors were open. I sang all the right songs, spoke all the right words and did all the right things. I prayed that my works would validate my faith and desperately hoped that by following the rules I would please the Ruler. It was not until middle school that the authentic life and spiritual integrity of a dynamic youth pastor made me hunger and thirst for God. During a Saturday evening worship service, I sat in a church pew, wrestling with God over my soul. After all, I was a very active church member, a soloist and pianist in worship services, and even directed a children's choir. I argued that I knew all about God - and then it hit me. Yes, I knew about Him but I did not know Him. That night we met. I surrendered all I knew about myself to all I knew about Him. The course of my life was re-set and I was changed forever.
Over the years, there have been times when sin has hindered my relationship with God - but it has not and cannot sever that relationship. Nothing can separate us from His love. However, when we cherish and harbor sin, life inevitably spirals into a swirling cesspool of chaos where stress reigns and self-doubt flourishes. What a powerful promise found in 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sin, He is faithful to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". Every time I read that verse, I am amazed by the hope it conveys. When we confess sin, God not only forgives that sin but removes the stain it leaves behind. The stain of sin is one of Satan's favorite weapons. With it, he births guilt and shame, crippling us spiritually. When we buy into those lies, allowing them free reign, we are telling God that sending His son to die on the cross was not enough. I cannot even imagine what it must do to His heart, as He watches His children settle for so little when He offers so much. Knowing whose we are empowers us to live and serve from His love - not to it - and is the first key in dealing with stress.
I have spent a great deal of my life wondering who and what I am. Much of my stress and frustration could have been avoided by understanding that my identity can only be found in a personal relationship with God. That knowledge frees me to be me. Knowing whose we are brings peace and settles our souls. Today, sit at His feet. Allow Him to draw you into His arms. Listen to His heart and voice. And you will know that you belong to Him. Nothing else matters.
My prayer for today:
Father, I thank you for loving me and for making me your child. As I face each day, help me to remember that I belong to you. I am yours, Lord. And because I belong to you, I have everything I need and can dwell in peace. Today, I choose to trust and rest in you. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Identify the most stressful areas of your life. Read Psalm 23 every day this month, committing each one of these areas to the Shepherd. As you walk through each stress-filled day, lean on the truths of this psalm. At the end of the month, evaluate your stress level.
I encourage you to list the sins that stand between you and God. Face them, deal with them and turn away from them. Perhaps you have sinned against someone. Don't wait another minute. Ask their forgiveness. Sin that has never been confessed is a stronghold of the enemy from which he dispenses guilt, condemnation and stress.
Do I really know God, or am I just going through the motions of knowing God?
Is there a hidden and cherished sin in my life? What am I going to do about that sin?
Why is it so hard for me to understand and accept the truth that I belong to Him?
"You, Lord, give true peace. You give peace to those who depend on you. You give peace to those who trust you. So, trust the Lord always. Trust the Lord because he is our Rock forever." Isaiah 26:3-4 (ICB)
"...since we have been made right with God by our faith, we have peace with God. This happened through our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 5:1 (NCV)
"Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord." 2 Peter 1:2 (NIV)
"'I leave you peace; my peace I give you. I do not give it to you as the world does. So don't let your hearts be troubled or afraid.'" John 14: 27 (NCV)
Stress-Busters (tape set) by Mary Southerland
Coming Out of the Dark by Mary Southerland
Radically Obedient, Radically Blessed by Mary Southerland
Originally published Thursday, 17 February 2005.