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.

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Don’t forget who the story is really about

When I’m writing a story, sometimes I get lost in it. I’m not sure how other people do it, but when I write, I’m really just watching a story unfold and committing the events and dialog to paper. Sometimes I don’t even know how it’s going to end. There are stories I’ve written where all my attention has been focused on what a character looks like or what a character says or what happens next in the story, and those are all important things to know. But it’s in those moments when I get so caught up in the details that I forget the point.

Some people will say that character is the most important part of a story. Others believe it’s plot–the chain of events that unfolds in a book. But I disagree with both of those. They’re important, yes, but not the most important. The most important part of a story is the message. Every story has a message, a lesson to learn, a point to communicate. And if you get so tied up in the characters and the voices and the settings and all the million little picky details, you run the risk of letting the message slip through your fingers.

Today’s verses are Matthew 17:1-8.

Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus. Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus.

Put yourself in the shoes of Jesus’ inner circle–Peter, James, and John. The original three amigos. Can you even begin to imagine what they saw that night? In the blink of an eye, the veil covering Jesus’ earthly form pulled back, allowing them to see a piece of who He is. And if that weren’t enough, two legends from Jewish history decided to stop by for a visit.

Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah! My gosh, you don’t even have to know the Bible very well to know who Moses is. And Elijah may not be as familiar to you as Moses, but he’s the guy who called down fire on Mt. Caramel. These guys are heavy hitters. And their bodies had long since returned to dust.

So you can’t exactly blame Peter. I would have been excited too. Moses and Elijah! But Peter missed the point. Just like we do so often.

We take Jesus for granted because He’s always around. His name is everywhere, and we get used to Him, sort of like Peter did. Yeah, Jesus is a big deal, but He was always with them. Seeing two Old Testament prophets wandering around like they hadn’t been “dead” for a thousand years? Now that was something to write home about.

But God set Peter straight. The story isn’t about Moses. And it’s not about Elijah. The story is about Jesus, and it always has been. From before time began and long after time runs out, the story will forever and always be about Jesus. He’s the message. He’s the point.

Have you started to take Jesus for granted in your life? Are you more excited about something God is doing rather than the fact God is the one doing it? Take a step back. Take a moment to think about what actually matters.

It’s great to celebrate the details. It’s wonderful to focus on specific aspects of a job or a relationship or, like in my case, a novel. But don’t let those details get so big that they overshadow what really matters. Don’t forget who the story is really about.

Sacrificing for the right reasons doesn’t feel like a sacrifice

I’ve heard it said that the best definition of love is sacrifice. If you love someone, you’ll sacrifice for them. But what does it mean to sacrifice?

In American culture, the concept of sacrifice has such a negative connotation. If you sacrifice something, that means you’re giving something up, and everybody knows giving something up stinks. But I have a problem with that definition, especially when it comes to the concept of sacrificing for God.

When you sacrifice for God, is it really a sacrifice? Have you ever thought about it that way? Because when I sacrifice something–my time, my energy, my focus, my finances, etc.–for God, I always get back more than I’ve given.

See we think of sacrifice as giving something up and never getting anything in return, but that’s not the case. Well, maybe it’s the case if you’re sacrificing for selfish reasons. Nothing done with selfish motivation ever pays a return–not really.

But turn that around. When you sacrifice for selfless reasons, you’ll be hard-pressed to see your choice as a sacrifice. I know tons of people who sacrifice every day. They sacrifice their time and their emotions and their money. They sacrifice possessions and privacy and personal desires. They sacrifice all kinds of things, but because they’ve got their perspective straight, they don’t see it as a sacrifice at all. They see it as an opportunity to do something kind for someone else.

desertToday’s verse is Hebrews 11:24-27.

It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward. It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.

Just about everybody knows the story of Moses, whether it’s The Ten Commandments version of his life or the Prince of Egypt version. And we all like to focus on the fact that Moses talked to God and went before Pharaoh and said things like “Let my people go!” and brought the plaques on Egypt, etc. etc. etc. (no, wrong Yul Brenner quote…. so let it be written, so let it be done).

But how often do we focus on the fact that Moses had every right to stay in Egypt and claim a position of lordship? Moses might not have been born Egyptian, but he’d been raised in the palace. He could have stayed. He could have claimed title and land and riches and status. But he didn’t. He chose to walk away from it, and he ended his life doing what God had called him to do.

Talk about sacrifice, right? Walking away from a life of privilege to herd sheep at the hind end of the desert? Releasing his rightful claim to comfort and security in exchange for a barefoot conversation with a burning bush? But if we could talk to Moses today, regardless of all the crap he had to go through leading the Children of Israel, I don’t think he’d say that he sacrificed anything. On the contrary, he had a front row seat for some of the greatest miracles in recorded history.

Perspective is everything.

Are you in situation right now where you feel like you’re sacrificing and no one is recognizing it? Well, I hate to be the rain on your parade, friend, but sacrifice has absolutely nothing to do with recognition. If you sacrifice, you aren’t necessarily going to get to see your name up in lights. If you sacrifice for someone you love, they may not even notice. But if you’re sacrificing for the right reason, it won’t matter.

If you give up something you want expecting something in return, that’s not sacrifice. That’s bartering.

If you keep seeing your sacrifice as something you “had to do” for whatever reason, you’ll never move past it. If you keep bringing it up, you haven’t sacrificed anything. You’re still holding on to it. And you can’t walk that line. You can’t say you’ve sacrificed something if you’re still clinging to it.

But if you let go of what you want, especially if you’re letting it go for God’s sake, and you don’t pine after what could have been, you’ll be surprised at the turn your life will take. Maybe at the beginning, it’ll feel like you’re walking away from the best dream you’ve ever had, but when it’s over, you’ll be standing on a mountaintop talking to God like He’s your closest friend.

Just because you give up something you want doesn’t mean your life is going to be unhappy. It doesn’t even mean that you’ll end up losing out. In fact, you might even end up with more than you had to start.

Dirty dishes in the kitchen of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Being honest with God

Some days I get tired of responsibility. I’ve always been a responsible, mature person. Even when I was a child, somehow I still ended up as the adult in the room. The grownups always looked to me to keep things in order, to keep the other kids in line, to be the one who took care of things. As an adult, it’s the same way. Responsibility just tends to gravitate toward me, and most of the time I’m fine with it. But I have some days when I just want to shirk all of it.

I think maybe that’s why I hate doing dishes. It’s my own way of rebelling against being a mature, responsible adult. I just leave the dishes rotting in the sink and go watch a movie.

Responsibility is exhausting. But if you look at my responsibilities versus the responsibilities of people in history, I really don’t have that much. I mean, it’s not like I’m leading a country or a nation. When I think about responsibility, the first person who comes to mind is Moses. Now that was stress.

Dirty dishes in the kitchen of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dirty dishes in the kitchen of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Deuteronomy 34:10-12.

There has never been another prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. The Lord sent him to perform all the miraculous signs and wonders in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, and all his servants, and his entire land. With mighty power, Moses performed terrifying acts in the sight of all Israel.

Moses was responsible for leading the nation of Israel out of captivity. How many million people? I can’t remember. But it was a lot. And they were difficult. But if you read Moses’ story, you’ll see how God helped him.

What I find ironic about Moses is that he didn’t consider himself leadership material. He looked at himself and his abilities and told God there was no way he could be of use, but God saw something else in him. And through God Moses became one of the most successful leaders in history. Even the secular world will admit to that. It’s not every day that one man can lead a nation across a desert for 40 years. That takes a special leader–and a special God.

I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for Moses to have to undertake that level of responsibility. I’m sure it exceeded anything he ever thought he’d have to deal with, and maybe he thought it would be done in his lifetime. But it wasn’t. Even so, he never gave up. Granted, he wasn’t perfect; nobody is. But even to this day, if you want to know about leadership, Moses is a good person to study.

But what do you do when you’re so weighed down with responsibility that you can’t focus? How did Moses handle those days when he was exhausted by the weight of the responsibilities he had to carry? I haven’t studied this like I should, but I do know that Moses got frustrated frequently. And I don’t blame him for that. The people of Israel were frustrating people. But I’m not sure they’re more frustrating than people we work with or live with or deal with on a daily basis. People are people, no matter where you are or when you are.

What I love about Moses is that he was never fake with God. He struggled. He sinned. He fell on his face, and God helped him back up again. Moses told God exactly what he thought, and God listened. God never gave up on him, never stopped helping him, never turned His back. And that’s what I struggle with the most–being real about my failings. I’m a perfectionist. I want to do everything exactly right, and I don’t like it when people know I make mistakes. And there’s something in me that says if I don’t tell anyone about how frustrated I am, those frustrations will just go away.

The irony? God knows it all. He knows already. If you’re frustrated with the responsibility you have, He knows it. Don’t try to hide it from Him. Hiding it will make it worse. Just tell Him how you feel. There’s something awesome in the freedom to vent to God, knowing that He knows your heart better than anyone else.

Want to know how to endure responsibility? Don’t hide it. Don’t hide the frustrations you feel, not from God. Maybe you don’t need to share your frustrations with the people you’re responsible for; they probably won’t understand. But you don’t have to hide from God. It’s actually a bad idea to hide from God. It’s actually stupid. So don’t even try it.

Be honest with Him. Be honest about what you think you can’t do, and you will be shocked what happens. Because when you start being honest with Him, you’ll feel peace. It’s happened to me before, where I’m ranting and raving to God about the things He’s gotten me into and all of a sudden, I just feel better about everything and He gives me the answer I need to deal with whatever situation I’m facing.

Responsibility is exhausting, but God is greater than any responsibility that’s on your plate. He’s waiting to help you face it. You just have to ask Him for help, and you have to be willing to listen to what He’s trying to tell you and do it. But whatever you do, keep up the conversation. Moses knew God face-to-face, and while none of us have that, we do have God’s Spirit in us.

Be honest. Be grateful. And He’ll help.