I know that for many people at the moment life seems really out of control. At the least, it is certainly different. The interesting thing is that while it’s not always possible to eliminate stress, it is possible to manage it. You see, it’s not a matter of how much stress you bear but how you carry it that will actually make the difference.
Jesus experienced enormous stress and pressure, and yet it didn’t seem to disturb His peace of mind. In spite of things that were stacked up against Him - opposition, constant demands, lack of privacy, personal threats - His life reflected a calm sense of balance and purpose. What was His secret? Well, take a closer look at His lifestyle that reveals to us a number of key “stressbusters”. In fact, with the following little list, you might think about pondering one of these each day over the coming week:
1. The Principle of Identification: Knowing Who You Are (John 8:12)
Eighteen times Jesus publicly defined Himself. Many of these statements are centred around the incredible words, “I am...” There was no doubt in His mind who He was.
If you are unsure of your identity then this will allow others to pressure you into their moulds and philosophies. Remember, trying to be someone you are not will cause you stress!
2. The Principle of Dedication: Knowing who you want to please (John 5:30)
You can’t please everyone. Even God can’t! Just about the time you get “Crowd A” happy, “Crowd B” will get upset with you. Jesus never let the fear of rejection manipulate Him, so remember, no-one can pressure you without your permission.
3. The Principle of Organisation: Set clear goals (John 8:14)
“I know where I came from and I know where I am going.” Now, I don’t know if you have come to realise this, but preparation prevents pressure while procrastination produces it. You will be someone who works either with priorities or with pressures. I know the kind of person I want to be!
4. The Principle of Concentration: Focus on one thing at a time (Luke 4:42-44)
My dad used to say to me when I was much younger and out hunting with him that you can’t chase two rabbits at the same time! Jesus knew how to handle interruptions without being distracted from His primary goal. Keep your focus sharp and in the right direction.
5. The Principle of Delegation: Don’t try to do everything (Mark 3:14)
We get tense when we feel like it all depends on us. Jesus enlisted 12 disciples, so don’t allow perfectionism, or the fear that others may do a better job, to keep you from involving others in the task. This will not only preserve and energise you, but it will release passion in others too.
6. The Principle of Meditation: Make a habit of prayer in your life (Mark 1:35)
No matter how busy Jesus got, He found time to get alone to pray everyday. A daily time alone with God is a great stress decompression chamber. So use this time to talk to Him about your pressures and problems, to honour and praise Him, to evaluate your priorities, and to discover His rules for successful living that will come as you spend time with Him and in His Word.
7. The Principle of Relaxation: Take time to enjoy life! (Mark 6:30-31)
Balance is the key to stress management. Work must be balanced with fun and worship. Mars Confectionery came up with one of the great advertising slogans when they promoted that “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play”. I am not so sure that a Mars Bar will achieve that completely for you, but a balanced life certainly will! Find that balance and find it together with God.
Spend some time thinking over these stressbusters. Maybe one or two will carry greater wait for you at the moment than the others. But in all of this, give yourself to God and to His shaping of your life.
Have a great week … and remember to keep firing for Jesus!
Getting Your Priorities Right
A lot of people are looking for joy in all the wrong places. We want to find it in a bigger church…or a more effective ministry…and sometimes even the accolades of our peers. Yet we do this in vain because that’s not the place where we will find joy.
Paul talks about his own priorities in his letter to the Philippians. He said: “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8)
This is Paul’s “Profit and Loss Statement” where he talks about his confidence that nothing compares with knowing Jesus. Everything else is worth losing. Friends, your priorities are out of balance – even out of place – if they aren’t squarely focused on the person of Jesus Christ and if you don’t elevate Him to the position of honour in your life. This is one of the reasons why Paul could stay joyful despite being in prison as he is writing this letter.
Notice the phrase, “I consider (all things) rubbish that I may gain Christ.” The translators were being polite. The word isn’t rubbish - it’s dung…it’s manure. Paul is not mincing his words! He says that everything we have is worthless garbage without Jesus. No matter what it is…everything - fame, money, power - nothing can replace the simple joy of knowing Jesus!
You find joy when you keep your priorities straight. Please don’t lose your joy over things that aren’t important. Christ is important, and there are a lot of less important things that can cause you to lose your joy: People don’t do what you want them to do…they don’t show up when you want them to show up…they don’t help when you want them to help…they’ll let you down…even you will let yourself down! If you keep your focus on these things, it will be easy to lose your joy.
Paul is telling us in Philippians that it doesn’t matter what kind of accolades or achievements you have in life - you can have all of that and still be unhappy. Paul points out in Philippians 3:8 that life consists of trade-offs. All of this, and more, was counted as loss so that he may be found “in Christ.”
Jesus said something similar about trade-offs. He told us that we can’t serve two masters. You’ve got to decide what, or who, will be number one in your life. Many of us want Jesus plus something else. Paul says he gave up everything in order to know Christ.
The reasons our priorities are off and our lives are joyless is because we know we have to give up certain things in order to truly live for Christ. We’re afraid that we may, somehow, be restricted. But we can hardly escape the reality. When we come to know Jesus and count Him as Lord, we give up everything. The funny thing is, when we do that, we realize we’ve never had it so good. He takes what we’ve given to Him and He reforms it, reshapes it, adds new meaning to it, and gives it back to us in a new way. Jim Elliot, the missionary martyred by the Auca Indians in Ecuador, said, “He is no fool to give up that which he cannot keep for that which he cannot lose.”
So what is there that you are afraid to give up? What maybe out of priority in your life and even in your ministry? Has a relationship with Christ been replaced by other goals? It’s time to rearrange your priorities - and recapture your joy.
Have a great week…and remember, keep firing for Jesus!
Heavy or Light?
Hi there, I trust your week is going well and that there are things happening for which you can rejoice. Here is something to think about mid-week…
A woman confidently walked around the room while leading and explaining stress management to an audience. She was holding a raised glass of water. Everyone knew she was going to ask the ultimate question “Is this glass half empty or half full?” However, she fooled them all - "How heavy is this glass of water?” she asked with a smile. The answers came in thick and fast ranging from 8oz. to 20oz.
Again, she caught them out: "The absolute weight doesn't matter. It actually depends on how long I hold the glass. If I hold it for a minute, that's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you'll have to call an ambulance. In each case it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes."
She continued, "And that's the way it is with stress. If we carry our burdens all the time, eventually, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won't be able to carry on. As with the glass of water, you have to put it down and rest for a while before holding it again. When we're refreshed, we can carry on with the burden - holding stress longer and better each time practiced.
So, don't carry your burdens through all of the day and into the evening. Don’t carry your burdens through the night and into the next day. Put them down somewhere along the way. You may actually have to take them back up again at some future time, but then you will be refreshed a little to be able to carry on. It may not always be the ideal, but at least you will be better prepared to manage than if you had tried to continue unrelenting.
Remember the words of Jesus: “Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Here are some thoughts regarding stress gleaned from a number of sources. I hope that they will put a bit of a smile on your face:
Be the kind of person that when your feet hit the floor each morning the devil says, "Oh damn, he/she is up!"
Pray with me: “Lord, thank You for everything that is happening in my life today. While I may not always appreciate some things, there is nothing that together with You I cannot manage. Thank You for Your strength, Your presence, and Your grace. Amen”
Is it Jesus or Barabbas?
There are many things to think about with Easter coming up. Here is something to ponder:
“Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them…” (Mark 15:15)
All the gospel writers tell us of Barabbas. He was a murderous revolutionary, hardnosed and with blood on his hands. The interesting thing about him is his name. Bar-Abbas literally translates as “son of the father”. And in a most dramatic historic coincidence, according to some old and very reliable manuscripts, there is evidence that his name probably was Jesus Barabbas - Jesus, the son of the father. I don’t see how we could read and understand that sort of information without knowing that this is again God silently guiding all the events behind the scene, bringing things to light that otherwise would never be known.
This crowd is confronted with choosing between Jesus, the son of the father, who rules by force and makes his living by his wits; and Jesus, the Son of the Father, who rules by love and is ready to sacrifice Himself.
Why did they choose Barabbas? The answer seems to be that they were disappointed with Jesus. This was the very crowd that, just a few days before, had welcomed Him into Jerusalem with shouts of praise. The city was filled with people He had healed. The eyes of the blind had been opened, the deaf made to hear, and the lame to walk. He had awakened within the people the hope and desire that He was indeed the Messiah, come to deliver them from the bondage of the Roman Empire. All their ideas of Messiah centred on the thought that He would be the one who would set them free of Rome. But now, when they saw Him standing helpless before the Roman governor, and saw His apparent unwillingness or inability to make any defence against the accusations, all their loyalty to Him collapsed. In anger and disappointment, they turned and chose Jesus, the son of the father, who lived by force - Barabbas the murderer.
The reality is that we too face the same decision these Jews had to make between Barabbas and Jesus. Have you ever been disappointed in God? Have you ever expected Him to act in a certain way because of what you understood about Him and His life and His nature - but He did not do things the way you thought they should be done? There have been those times for me when I have been ‘disappointed’ in God. I have been all but convinced that He did not live up to His promise because I was sure that I knew what He was going to do. And, in that moment, I have been ‘disappointed’ – albeit a human emotion and realisation. My heart was filled with uncertainties that bordered on anger that God would act a particular way, despite the fact that God has told us all, again and again, ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,’ declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts' (Isaiah 55:8-9).
We can’t figure out God even though we do try. One things is certain: He will be true to Himself…He will never lie…He will never deceive us. But we do need to acknowledge that God is far more than we can handle. He is bigger than we are. And like this crowd, when we get upset or even shake a fist at God or threaten to turn ourselves away from Him, there is always another Jesus Barabbas waiting in the wings for us to follow.
Pray with me: “Lord, I realise that life is confronting me all the time with decisions to choose Barabbas or Jesus. Forgive my weaknesses. Grant that I may choose Jesus, before whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Amen”
One of the greatest helps in feeling hopeful is to know God wants us to feel hopeful. It is not very comforting to believe that some people are saved but then not to know if we are included in that. My own heart has been enriched by the assurance of my own salvation, and I want you to know this for yourself as well.
Way back in 1654 Thomas Brooks published Heaven on Earth. The subtitle of this 300-page book is “A Treatise in Christian Assurance.” It was reprinted in 1982 and is not too bad a read. If you are hungry for a Bible-saturated, passionate meal of solid protein, then get this book. Brooks writes:
Beloved in our dearest Lord, you are those worthies ‘of whom this world is not worthy,’ (Hebrews 11:38). You are the princes ‘that prevail with God,’ (Genesis 32:28). You are those ‘excellent ones’ in whom is all Christ’s delight, (Psalm 16:3). You are His glory. You are His picked, culled, prime instruments which He will make use of to carry on His best and greatest work against His worst and greatest enemies in these latter days.
I have been reading through the Book of Hebrews recently. Hebrews 6:17 says, “God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised...” This really grabbed me! It was so fresh, so needed, and so precious. God desires to show us very clearly that His saving purposes for us are unshakable. God wants me to enjoy the security of His good plans for me.
So many religions (and even some brands of Christianity) say, “Yes, God saves people. But no, you can’t be sure if you are included. You can’t be sure your works are good enough or your faith is strong enough.” This is deadly...and it’s wrong. God has done and said so much to give His people assurance and security and it’s therefore an assault on His integrity to say that we can’t have it.
1 John 5:13 - “I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”
2 Corinthians 5:1,5 - “We know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens…He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”
Hebrews 10:22-23 - “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.”
Thomas Brooks tells the story of Alexander the Great, who gave away his gold when he went on a hopeful expedition. When asked why he did this, he said, “For the hope of greater and better things.” The same, and even more, is for us. If we are confident of greater and better things, we will have the freedom to live radically for Jesus.
Pray with me: “Lord, thank you for today … for the hope You give and the assurance that comes with it … and, most especially, for Your presence as my strength. Amen.”
Pastor Stephen writes weekly with his thoughts for MBC.