I’ve been reading the paper and listening to the news a bit more this week. Our world is spinning in tension. Life is hard. In times of turmoil, we have to endure a lot of change, which adds another dimension of stress to our lives. Consider:
- We change the way we use money – because there is less of it.
- We change our schedule because we lose a job or start a new one.
- We adjust our priorities and how we view ourselves because our new jobs are not in our field of training (and usually pay less).
- We adjust the way we do relationships.
Change is stressful. How can we stay positive and even experience real joy in the midst of it all?
1. Banish resentment and bitterness.
No matter your situation, people have probably hurt you along the way. If you make their wrong-doing your story, you will only see the negative. On top of that, you will miss the real story – God put you here on earth for a reason and He will use all the negatives in your life to help you be more like Him. Daniel was taken from a nice comfy home into captivity. He could have focused on what he lost, but instead, he looked for ways to serve God in his new circumstances. Consequently, He served at least four kings, and was an asset to each administration. He could have been a bitter slave, but instead, he was a joyful God follower who saw major miracles happen.
2. Don’t try to escape.
We all know how to ‘be a good Christian’. We read the bible, spend time with God and with His people, and look for ways to serve. How can you do all that when the stress is so heavy you can barely get out of bed? Years ago, people used to ‘tarry’ at the altar. This meant that they spent time with God in prayer until they either fell asleep or heard God’s voice. They set their mind and body in the pursuit of God. When we are under stress, our first inclination is to pursue relief. Real relief comes from the other direction. If we tarry until we hear God speak to us, we will have the strength we need for today. Right now, we (my husband and I) are standing on three promises: 1. The joy of the Lord is my Strength. 2. “I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He will strengthen thine heart. Wait I say on the Lord.” (Psalm 27:13-14, KJV). and 3. a personal word that God spoke to my heart about our situation. Every day, we make a choice to focus on the problem, or focus on God’s perspective. The days that we go ’round and ’round the problem, are difficult days. We feel drained and exhausted. However, focusing on what God has promised brings energy and even joy.
3. Do what only you can do.
This is a leadership principle that I learned a long time ago. God didn’t put me on earth so that I could be in charge. He put me on earth so that I could learn that He is in charge and that I am limited. I need Him and I need others. Figure out what you need to do, and do it. In our house, no one else can be a good mom or wife, so that is my job. However, other people can cook and clean (there are five of us), so I don’t need to do it all – I do need to be available to listen, ask questions, and listen some more. Delegation isn’t just about offloading responsibilities. It is also about inviting others to be part of your community. In the early church, the apostles discovered that they were trying to do everything and failing miserably. Therefore, they appointed some overseers to take care of the daily living needs of the people. This way, the apostles could focus on what they were really called to do, and they were building and developing leaders within the community.
4. Learn to laugh.
I know it sounds crazy, but when the world is at its worst, you can find humor. Humor usually starts in you – do you take yourself seriously, or do you sometimes look at yourself and think “what was that?” When all else fails, my family loves to laugh – usually at me. When you laugh at yourself, you allow others to relax around you, and you also release endorphins that your brain desperately needs to be positive. Look for ways to laugh. One of the things we have done is establish family night. One night a week, we spend 1 hour with our kids playing a game. All electronics are off – this is family time. We have found this is a great way to keep those bonds real. It also allows us time to tease, cajole and listen – all while beating the pants off of each other.
5. Speak the language of love.
Everyone has a primary love language. If you don’t know about the love languages, you can read about them here, or here, or at the 5 love languages web site. When you are going 500 miles an hour in the midst of life, you need to understand the people around you so that you can love them in a way they will understand. Otherwise, you spend a lot of energy trying to show someone you care, and they couldn’t care less. Also, you will begin to understand yourself better, and you will recognize when people are trying to show you love, even if you don’t ‘feel’ it. We all need people – even those of us who tend toward the reclusive. People interactions go much better when we understand ourselves and understand others.
6. Get prayer support.
No matter what you are going through, you need prayer support. Five months ago, we felt God tell us to put together a prayer team. We invited 20 people to be on our prayer team. Monthly, we give them updates. This prayer team has made a huge difference in our lives. There are days when we know that God Himself has intervened – not because of us, but because people are praying for us. One of the best places to find prayer support is in a bible study or small group. Letting people inside your personal space feels risky at first, but the dividends are amazing.
I don’t know what your stress is right now, but I know that you have a choice – the stress can define you, or you can experience God’s divine intervention and see Him turn a hard situation into a huge place of growth and victory. Do you now the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? (See Daniel 3.)
They were in a hot spot. They were standing before the King of the Babylonian empire because they wouldn’t bow to his idol. They chose to serve God no matter what – even if they died for not bowing. The king decided to oblige them. He had them bound. Now they were tied up, waiting for a miracle, while the soldiers stoked the fire in the furnace. God seemed silent. The only voices they heard were of the king and his entourage – telling them to give it up. Then the soldiers picked them up to throw them in the furnace. Surely God would step forward! Surely He would vindicate himself. Instead, they went flying through the air into the furnace. This is the key point: They didn’t see God’s deliverance until they passed through the mouth of the flames. Once inside the furnace, they discovered that they weren’t tied up any more. They were able to get up and walk around. Even more, one ‘like the Son of the gods” was with them. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were so comfortable in that furnace that the king had to yell for them to come out.
Whatever your circumstances, it is possible to find joy. Focus on what God is doing instead of what you are losing. Look for Him. Listen for His word. Tarry until you hear Him speak. You will find strength and even joy.