“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.” Psalm 23:1-6 (NIV)
As I drove home from a busy day of running errands, my thoughts drifted to the absurd schedule through which I had hurled myself that day. It was a schedule without margins, every moment assigned to something or someone. My stress level grew with every task, threatening to overwhelm my heart and soul in a torrential downpour of anxiety and tension. I couldn’t wait to get home, change into my comfort clothes and sink into solitude and rest. But stress was waiting to greet me, just inside my front door. Children needed clean clothes, hot food, transportation to various events, help with homework and a listening ear. My husband had experienced the same kind of chaotic day I had and was in desperate need of peace and quiet for his frazzled soul. Ah, life!
Stress is a familiar and faithful companion, an unavoidable part of life. It doesn’t matter where we work or live, whether we are married or single; have no children or dozens of them, are filthy rich or dirt poor. We will encounter stress as we strive to honor God by becoming His fully devoted followers. Unless we learn how to manage stress – God’s way - we will become a sitting duck for the enemy.
Stress management is a spiritual discipline. The truth of Psalm 23:1 is the starting place for dealing with stress. Life begins here – in a vital, personal relationship with the living, peace giving God. It is very frustrating to try living the Christian life when you are not one. I know. For years, I tried desperately to be a Christian, saved by knowledge and good works. It simply cannot be done. To know who we are, we must understand whose we are.
I grew up in a Christian home, attending church every time the doors were open. I sang all the right songs, spoke all the right words and did all the right things. I prayed that my works would validate my faith and desperately hoped that by following the rules I would please the Ruler. It was not until middle school that the authentic life and spiritual integrity of a dynamic youth pastor made me hunger and thirst for God. During a Saturday evening worship service, I sat in a church pew, wrestling with God over my soul. After all, I was a very active church member, a soloist and pianist in worship services, and even directed a children’s choir. I argued that I knew all about God – and then it hit me. Yes, I knew about Him but I did not know Him. That night we met. I surrendered all I knew about myself to all I knew about Him. The course of my life was re-set and I was changed forever.
Over the years, there have been times when sin has hindered my relationship with God - but it has not and cannot sever that relationship. Nothing can separate us from His love. However, when we cherish and harbor sin, life inevitably spirals into a swirling cesspool of chaos where stress reigns and self-doubt flourishes. What a powerful promise found in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sin, He is faithful to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. Every time I read that verse, I am amazed by the hope it conveys. When we confess sin, God not only forgives that sin but removes the stain it leaves behind. The stain of sin is one of Satan’s favorite weapons. With it, he births guilt and shame, crippling us spiritually. When we buy into those lies, allowing them free reign, we are telling God that sending His son to die on the cross was not enough. I cannot even imagine what it must do to His heart, as He watches His children settle for so little when He offers so much. Knowing whose we are empowers us to live and serve from His love – not to it – and is the first key in dealing with stress.
I have spent a great deal of my life wondering who and what I am. Much of my stress and frustration could have been avoided by understanding that my identity can only be found in a personal relationship with God. That knowledge frees me to be me. Knowing whose we are brings peace and settles our souls. Today, sit at His feet. Allow Him to draw you into His arms. Listen to His heart and voice. And you will know that you belong to Him. Nothing else matters.