Biblical stress relief is a thing

Stress is normal, right? It’s how we’re supposed to live. It’s how we demonstrate that we’re effective workers.

I mean, if I’m not stressed out about something, does that make me a sub-standard employee? Does that make me lazy or disinterested? Everybody knows that the best employees are always rushing, always exhausted, always stressed about something, right?

I don’t think so. I don’t think we’re physically capable of carrying that kind of stress for an extended period of time. So how do we change it? How do we fix it?

I’m not an expert, but I have lived with a lot of stress in my life. And I’m tired of it. I don’t want to do it anymore. I know that following Jesus isn’t easy (John 16), but Jesus also says that His burden is light and those who seek rest should come to Him (Matthew 11:30). So where’s the middle ground?

That’s how I found Exodus 14.

Yes, Exodus. The Old Testament, Moses and the Burning Bush, ten plagues of Egypt–Exodus. Just about everybody knows the basic story.

The Basics

Moses (Charlton Heston) and Rameses (Yul Brenner) in The Ten Commandments

Moses (Charlton Heston) and Rameses (Yul Brenner) in The Ten Commandments

God tells this shepherd dude, Moses, to go to Pharaoh (King of Egypt) and demand the release of the Hebrews, the slave nation Egypt was working to death. (Cue Charlton Heston: “Let my people go!”) Pharaoh, of course, doesn’t budge. (Cue Yul Brenner: “So let it be written; so let it be done.”) God smites Egypt with fleas and frogs and boils. Oh my! Pharaoh relents, and the Hebrews go free. But that’s not the end of the story.

God tells Moses to lead the Hebrews (a.k.a. Israelites) to the Red Sea. Basically, God directs them into a dead end. The Israelites don’t know that. But God makes sure that Pharaoh knows. And God sets it up so that the Israelites, His beloved people, are like sitting ducks. Even more than that, He “hardens Pharaoh’s heart” so that the King of Egypt will come after the Israelites.

Pharaoh does. He and his whole army chase them down, and God parts the Red Sea so that His people can safely cross. Then, God collapses the Red Sea on the Egyptian army as they’re in pursuit. Not a single one survived.

It’s sobering to remember just who God is and what He’s capable of, isn’t it?

So where’s the stress relief?

Look. God got them into this situation. He told Moses where to set up camp. He knew it was a dead end. He knew they were vulnerable. And then He went and ensured that Pharaoh and his entire army would come after them. Why?

“I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will charge in after the Israelites. My great glory will be displayed through Pharaoh and his troops, his chariots, and his charioteers. When my glory is displayed through them, all Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the Lord!” (Exodus 14:17-18)

God put His people in this situation so that all of Egypt could know who He is. God let the Israelites face terror and annihilation so that the world could know His great name and know that if they turned to Him, they could be saved.

But what matters about this whole story is the fact that God got them into that mess, and He was the only one who could get them out of it again.

[su_pullquote]God got them into that mess, and He was the only one who could get them out of it again.[/su_pullquote]

Are you following Jesus today? Are you living for God, doing your best to keep His Word, to trust Him? I am. But that doesn’t make life easier. In spite of doing everything God asks of me, I usually get more trouble. But instead of handing my troubles to God, I clutch them tighter. I try to fix them myself. But I didn’t run into this trouble because I was doing my own thing. I ran into trouble because I was following Jesus.

That means it’s not my trouble to fix. It’s His.

I shouldn’t stress myself out trying to solve problems I can’t solve. But that’s where my stress mostly comes from. Instead, I need to trust that God will provide a solution My when it’s time.

It’s not a “get out of jail free” card, though. You can’t look at every situation in your life this way. The first thing you have to do is check your heart. Are you actually following God? There’s a chance your own actions have led to this difficulty you’re facing.

But if your heart is clean before Him, if you’re honestly following Him with everything you have and trouble still finds you (it will), remember this.

“The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Exodus 14:14

Isn’t it possible that the things that are stressing you out right now—the ones you can’t control—have actually come from God? Maybe God wants to show how awesome He is through your life. Maybe God wants everyone to know His name through you.

exodus14-14Hold on to that with both hands. Recognize that He’s the one who calls the shots. Let Him work. Get out of His way. Stop trying to control things yourself and trust Him like you say you do.

My God moves mountains and parts oceans. He can do the impossible because that’s who He is. And when I consider all the trouble in my life, I need an impossible God to help me. And if that means He has to let me sweat a bit in order to help everyone else recognize who He is, bring it on.

My life is in His hands. So why should I be afraid of anything? He got me into this. He can get me out of it.

Can you give God the glory for your failure?

In the last couple of months, nearly a year really, I’ve been struggling and fighting with God about His plans for my life. He’s so funny. Just when you think you have Him figured out, He shifts you in a different direction.

I’ve been arguing with Him for ages, and now that I’ve made my decision, I’m wondering what exactly was holding me back for this long. I know it was fear partially, but fear of what? I know part of me feared to succeed and not be prepared enough for success, but most definitely the larger part of me feared to fail.

I’m a perfectionist, so I don’t like failure. I’m a people pleaser, so I don’t like disappointing others. Put those two characteristics together, and you’ve got a dangerous combination. But here’s a question we really need to ask ourselves: Should we really be afraid of failure?

Processed by: Helicon Filter;  MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAToday’s verse is 1 Corinthians 10:31.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

I understand sometimes that the Bible uses figurative language, which means it’s important to understand the context. If you just pick up a Bible verse and take it literally without understanding who it was written to or why it was written, you could have a faith system based on “eat, drink, and be merry” and “then, Judas hanged himself.”

Context is important in Scripture, but sometimes you get a verse that doesn’t require context. It’s so plain, you don’t have to break it down. This is one of those verses.

Whatever you do, do it for God’s glory.

That means, if you succeed, if you fail, if you win, if you lose, you can do all of it for God’s glory, but what does that look like practically? Can you actually fail for God’s glory? Can you actually lose for God’s glory?

Doing anything for God’s glory used to confuse me. I didn’t know how to handle it practically, but as I’ve gotten older, I think I’ve started to grasp the concept a little better. Glory is kind of an old-fashioned word, and in churchy context, it tends to glow in stained glass colors, which I’ve always found make it difficult to fit into real life. Glory is the credit you give for the events and circumstances in your life.

Did you win an award? Who gets the credit? Did you get a great job? Who gets the credit? That’s the context we think about in giving credit to someone. Usually credit is only associated with what we call positive things. If our life encounters negative things, we don’t give credit. We pin blame.

If you get laid off, you don’t give anyone credit for you. You blame people. If you lose someone you love, you don’t give credit for it. You point fingers. But what would happen to our lives and our perspectives if we start giving God credit even for the terrible things that happen to us? Not in a way that accuses Him but in the way that demonstrates we believe He has something better in mind.

That would take your failure and turn it on its head, because if you fail for God’s glory–if you fail and give God credit for allowing you to fail–is it really failure? No, not at all. Everything that happens in our lives happens for a reason, even if it’s something bad. You can learn something from everything that happens to you, and God is big enough to take every horrible thing in your life and turn it into something beautiful. But before He can do that–or, rather, before you can see Him doing that–you have to be willing to give Him the credit for what’s happening in your life.

It’s not easy, because blame feels so much more natural. Well, it is natural. We’re geared to tear others down, to hurt people with our words, to shift responsibility from ourselves to those around us. That’s natural, thanks to our sinful natures, but if you’re a Christ-follower, you aren’t called to a natural life. You’re called to a supernatural life.

Has something awesome happened to you? Give God the credit for it. Has something terrible happened to you? Give God the credit because you trust He’ll make something beautiful from the ashes.

Don’t be afraid of failure or success. God is enough to work with both, and if you have Him on your side, nobody will be able to stop you. Not even yourself.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

How do you live for God’s glory?

I like practical advice. When I ask a question, I’d like a straightforward answer. Life doesn’t have to be complicated, and faith doesn’t have to be confusing. Unfortunately, so many times that’s what it becomes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m so thankful to have grown up in the Church (capital C … because the Church is something bigger than a building), but we do have our own language. Don’t we?

What I find ironic about religious jargon is that most church people can’t even define it. It just sounds good when said out loud. And those phrases that sound good said out loud rapidly become catchphrases we Christians spout off, but do we ever really think about what they mean?

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 10:31.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Is it just me or does “do all for the glory of God” sound a little foggy? Maybe it’s because we don’t talk that way. Somehow this powerful little statement became a widely used phrase that you hear everywhere in religious situations.

For the glory of God this. For the glory of God that. And obviously it’s important, because it’s in the Bible. But what does it mean? If that’s what God wants from us, then I want to do it. But how do I do it?

Well, first of all, we need to break the phrase down and identify what it’s actually talking about. What is glory? If you look it up in the dictionary, in most cases it will say that glory is something people give people they want to honor or praise or worship.

I was curious, so I did a little word study over at BibleHub.com. I don’t speak Greek, so I could have it wrong. But from what I can tell, the original Greek word used (δόξα) literally means “what evokes good opinion, i.e. that something has inherent, intrinsic worth.”

Have you ever thought about it that way? Saying that you want to live in a way that brings glory to God is a florid, dramatic statement in my opinion. Maybe that’s just because I know so many extroverts, but even the word glory makes me think of people with their arms spread wide, shouting to the sky. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But can I really drink a cup of coffee to the glory of God?

Today’s verse says to do everything for God’s glory, so how would drinking a cup of coffee fit into that?

Thinking about it from this other perspective might clear it up a bit. As Christ-followers, we are to live the kind of life that gives people a good opinion about God.

How does drinking coffee fit into that? Well, for one, we can do it. That’s a huge blessing for me, and it’s probably an even bigger blessing for the people around me, especially in the mornings.

Because of God’s covenant with us through Jesus, we don’t live under a set of laws. We’re under grace, which means that God will grant us salvation through Christ free of charge, with no expectation, because we couldn’t afford it anyway. So we can eat meat. We can eat vegetables. We can drink coffee and Coke and–gasp!–yes, even alcohol!

There’s nothing we can do that will separate us from God’s love. There’s nothing a Christ-follower can do that will cause God to reject him or her. The only unpardonable sin is refusing to accept Jesus in the first place.

But that still doesn’t answer the question. How do I live for God’s glory? What do I have to do to live a life that will give people a good opinion of God?

Like I said before, I like practicality. And it doesn’t get much more practical than this: Find out what God wants you to do and do it.

That’s it.

There’s no magic formula. There’s no special chant. There’s no secret handshake. You read the Bible or seek Christian counsel to learn how God says to live, and then you live that way. And when someone asks you why, you tell them you make your choices because of what God says is right.

That’s what it comes down to. Choices. Everyone has choices. We face choices every day, ranging from what color socks to wear or what career path to take or whether to speed on the way in to work or not. The question isn’t how do you live life for God’s glory. The question is how does God want me to live?

Love God. Love people. Do what God says is right.

Storm clouds over the fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God’s voice is glorious in the thunder

Have you ever told God what to do? I hate to admit to it, but I do it frequently. I think I know best. I tell Him what I expect out of life, and I expect Him to give it to me. And when He turns around and does something that I don’t expect–usually something I don’t want–I get upset. I worry. I stress out. And while I don’t exactly doubt Him, I certainly don’t feel like trusting Him.

Where exactly do we get the idea that we can tell God what to do? I’m not sure if that’s just part of the human condition or not, and maybe it’s an older sister complex. I have always tended toward the bossy side. But seriously who gets to boss God around? Nobody. Especially not me. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. My proud heart is always full of words and possibilities and opportunities that I think I need to take advantage of, and God is crazy for not letting me do what I think is best.

Anyone else ever catch yourself thinking that way?

Today’s verses are actually an entire passage. I don’t do this often, but the whole chapter was just so good, I had to put the whole thing up, especially with what’s been going on throughout Kansas in the last few weeks with all the flooding and storms. The chapter is from the book of Job, and the person speaking in this chapter is a guy named Elihu, who sort of puts Job and his useless three friends in their places. But regardless of what is happening in this chapter (which is relevant, of course), the words Elihu says here are timeless. They’re still true today. And they are words we all need to remember as we tackle life’s ups and downs.

Storm clouds over the fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Storm clouds over the fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Job 37

“My heart pounds as I think of this.
     It trembles within me.
Listen carefully to the thunder of God’s voice
    as it rolls from his mouth.
It rolls across the heavens,
    and his lightning flashes in every direction.
Then comes the roaring of the thunder—
    the tremendous voice of his majesty.
    He does not restrain it when he speaks.
God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
    We can’t even imagine the greatness of his power.

“He directs the snow to fall on the earth
    and tells the rain to pour down.
Then everyone stops working
    so they can watch his power.
The wild animals take cover
    and stay inside their dens.
The stormy wind comes from its chamber,
    and the driving winds bring the cold.
God’s breath sends the ice,
    freezing wide expanses of water.
He loads the clouds with moisture,
    and they flash with his lightning.
The clouds churn about at his direction.
    They do whatever he commands throughout the earth.
He makes these things happen either to punish people
    or to show his unfailing love.

“Pay attention to this, Job.
    Stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God!
Do you know how God controls the storm
    and causes the lightning to flash from his clouds?
Do you understand how he moves the clouds
    with wonderful perfection and skill?
When you are sweltering in your clothes
    and the south wind dies down and everything is still,
he makes the skies reflect the heat like a bronze mirror.
    Can you do that?

“So teach the rest of us what to say to God.
    We are too ignorant to make our own arguments.
Should God be notified that I want to speak?
    Can people even speak when they are confused?
We cannot look at the sun,
    for it shines brightly in the sky
    when the wind clears away the clouds.
So also, golden splendor comes from the mountain of God.
     He is clothed in dazzling splendor.
We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty;
    but even though he is just and righteous,
    he does not destroy us.
No wonder people everywhere fear him.
    All who are wise show him reverence.”

Apricot blossoms - SAfe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Why are we here?

I’ve been in a pretty dark place for the last two months. There have just been so many issues, so many things happening, so many upsetting circumstances, so many sad moments. Don’t get me wrong; I believe it all happens for a reason, but it can be very difficult to remain positive and uplifting when everything around you is crumbling.

Slowly but surely, it feels like things are starting to brighten up again. Sort of like what happens when spring really hits and little flowers burst out along the lines of the dead branches of trees. It’s that little reminder that life goes on and everything has a purpose and God has a plan.

But that’s not to say the difficult times won’t come again. On the contrary, with the world in the state that it’s in, dark moments seem to hover constantly, just waiting for the opportune moment to drop on all of us. And on those days, I need more than a few happy little flowers to brighten my perspective.

Apricot blossoms - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Apricot blossoms – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Romans 11:33-36.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.

If you have a moment, you really should read all of Romans 11. One of the things I love about Paul is that he references existing Scripture, and Romans 11 is a great example of how the Old Testament and the New Testament complete each other. Just in this passage alone, Paul quotes both Isaiah 40:13 and Job 41:11.

Can we really know what God is thinking? Can we really grasp what He’s doing?

Well, to a certain extent, I think we can understand His motivation. If you are a follower of Christ, you have the Holy Spirit living in you. So you have direct access to God, which gives you an inside track to what God is planning (as long as you’re listening, mind you). But even if you can understand God’s motivation, I don’t think we can ever grasp the fullness of what God is doing in our lives. Because even though we’ve been made right with God, we are still human. We’re still flawed. We’re still limited. And God isn’t any of those things, and many times His decisions won’t make sense to us. So we just have to trust His heart.

If you think you know enough about what God is planning to tell Him what’s what, I’ll leave that up to you. But I can tell you that I don’t know enough to be giving God advice. I don’t know enough to be giving anyone advice. That’s why this blog is all about the Bible instead of just what I think about the world in general.

And even though I feel like I’ve sacrificed a lot for God, I haven’t given Him nearly anything in comparison to what He’s given me. So I don’t dare get into the mindset that God owes me anything. How could I even think that when He’s done so much for me?

For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory.

Can any one of us claim something like that? No.

I get so wrapped up in my daily life that I forget what really matters. I get so discouraged by my failures and my flaws. I get so disappointed by people and the way they treat each other. But here’s the deal, guys: That’s life.

Our lives are broken. Stuff happens. And God is bigger than any of it. He’s big enough to take all that bad stuff and turn it into something beautiful. Because it’s all for His glory anyway. And that’s why we live: for His glory.

So don’t let the darkness of this world get you down. And don’t let the shortcomings of people around you make you doubt that God is working. (If nothing else, that should be a confirmation of it.) And if you need more than a few cheery flowers to help you remember that God has everything under control when your world is spinning, remember why we’re here.  

We’re here to praise Him. We’re here to acknowledge that He is the One who matters, that He made everything, that He will be until time doesn’t exist anymore. Earth is just a stepping stone, a temporary stop on the road. And when our time here is done, we’ll all move on to something else.