Rocks on the path at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Can you remember?

How do you handle stress? Stress is something everyone will eventually experience, and that’s probably a good thing. There can be good stress. Good stress is the stress that urges you to do better, to improve yourself, to keep growing. And that kind of stress helps you become a better employee, a better friend, a better person.

But bad stress seems more prevalent in everyone’s lives, at least it screams the loudest. So you’d think we’d want to manage good stress and avoid bad stress in our lives, right? Well, ideally, that would work, but this is real life. And stress is everywhere. Yes, it’s a choice for us to let it control our lives, but most of the time it will come upon us before we even realize it has us.

You can’t avoid stress. But you can change the way you react to it.

Rocks on the path at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Rocks on the path at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s passage is Isaiah 43:1-7 (the Message):

But now, God’s Message,
    the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,
    the One who got you started, Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
    it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
    The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you:
    all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
    That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
    trade the creation just for you.

“So don’t be afraid: I’m with you.
    I’ll round up all your scattered children,
    pull them in from east and west.
I’ll send orders north and south:
    ‘Send them back.
Return my sons from distant lands,
    my daughters from faraway places.
I want them back, every last one who bears my name,
    every man, woman, and child
Whom I created for my glory,
    yes, personally formed and made each one.’”

I don’t usually post only from the Message version, but this passage just has such wonderful ways of talking about difficult issues in life. Reading over it again, there isn’t any practical application for how to deal with stress, but there is a very important point:

Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.

Do you get that? Sometimes I forget. It’s so easy for me to get overwhelmed with everything I have to do in my life, especially this time of year. And when I get overwhelmed with life, I forget who I belong to. God paid a price for me. In accepting the salvation He offers (to everyone), I have freely chosen to give my life to Him. So it doesn’t belong to me anymore.

I paid a huge price for you:
    all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
    That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
    trade the creation just for you.

For Him to say this? I’m not worth that much. Just think about what God paid to have a relationship with you. It’s amazing. And I struggle with buying birthday gifts for people I love? Look at what God has done. Look at what He gave just to be able to have a conversation with me.

He’s God. And He loves us. How can we understand that? I’m not sure we can. Because you can say “I love you” over and over and over again and not really mean it, not really think about what it means, not really understand the weight of it. But when you back it up with action, when you show love, that’s different.

So I suppose the question isn’t how you deal with stress. It’s can you remember how much God loves you? And can you remember what He’s promised to do for you when you’re struggling with life?

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
    it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
    The Holy of Israel, your Savior.

Only God can make a promise like that. So if you’re in over your head today, remember you’re not alone. If you’re struggling to stay afloat in the circumstances life has thrown at you, remember that God won’t let you sink. And if you’ve finally reached the place where you can’t fall any farther, you still have somewhere to go. If you believe in Christ, God won’t ever give up on you, and He won’t ever let you go.

Maybe there’s a practical application to deal with stress, but the first step is remembering what God has promised you. The rest will fall into place.

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Stray milo at sunset

What does your brain think about?

What occupies your thoughts most frequently? Do you think about work? Do you think about what you get to do on your day off? Do you think about your hobbies? Or your friends? If your brain ever has a chance to wander, what do you think about? It’s a fair assumption to say that you are going to spend your time thinking about the things (or the people) you love.

I’m not sure why that is. But I’ve noticed that the human brain tends to spend more time proportionately thinking about things we love than it does about things we hate or dislike . . . unless you’re just a miserable person in general. Then you focus on things you don’t like or the things that are wrong in your life. But that’s not the topic for this morning.

Stray milo at sunset

Stray milo at sunset - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 139:17-18. And this verse isn’t about our thoughts–it’s about God’s thoughts.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.  They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!

I don’t know if this amazes anyone else, but it leaves me speechless to understand that God thinks about me. And not just passing thoughts. Enough thoughts about me that they outnumber the grains of sand on the beaches. That’s a lot of thoughts.

That God would take so much time to think about me is beyond my comprehension. It doesn’t really make sense. But that’s what this verse says. And the rest of the chapter talks about how God knows every inch of us, knows what we’re going to say before we say it, knows what we’re thinking before we think it, knows everything there is to know about us. So I don’t think I’m misunderstanding the concept here.

I can’t help but compare it to how many times I think about God in a day. I wouldn’t say my thoughts number into the grains-of-sand level. More like, having-to-count-on-fingers-and-toes level. And compared to how much God thinks about me, that’s pretty pitiful.

Most of the time, my thoughts are consumed with my busy schedule. If it’s not my schedule, the writing nerd in me is thinking about the book I’m working on or the next short story I need to finish or a skit that needs to be written. I’m doing better about leaving work at work, but it still pops up too. And, boy, do I spend a lot of time thinking about church, which isn’t the same thing as thinking about God by the way.

I get so busy. I am constantly running around like my hair is on fire. With all the responsibilities I have taken on, some days it’s like I can barely keep my head above water. There’s too much to do at work. There’s too much to do at home. There’s too much to write. There are too many people I need to communicate with. Too many and too much of everything. And all of them are jockeying for position in my head.

So in all that thinking about my life, when does that leave me time to think about God? My hour-long commute? Two hours, if you count the round trip? And that’s not really thinking about God. That’s my prayer time. When was the last time I just sat and thought about God? When was the last time I just sat at all?

I’m not really a thinker. I’m a doer. And I’m a fixer. So sitting and thinking is difficult for me. But taking some time to sit and think about what God means to me might help my perspective. Because if I can slow down and remember who my God is, I can do anything.

God loves me enough to think about me. And not just once or twice a day. Constantly. So am I constantly thinking about Him? Not really. So maybe that needs to change.