I started my last post “Don’t Worry, Don’t Give Up, Pray Without Ceasing" with this scripture. In that post I told you what it meant to pray without ceasing. I also gave you some things to try so that you can pray without ceasing. I said that once you start praying without ceasing that it becomes automatic.
After writing and publishing that post I was led to write this one about how prayer helps you overcome the challenge of stress, anxiety and worry. My opening scripture says give thanks in everything, Not for everything, but in everything.. We’re taught, and it sounds very religious, not to give thanks for bad situations but to find something good in them (things could have been worse, at least this or that didn’t happen, I’m still in good health, etc). That makes us feel better for a while but if things don’t change right away, we become overwhelmed stressed and worried. That's the difference between faith and feelings. Faith ignores our feelings and looks to God.
If you are a regular reader of my blogs you will recognize a lot of what you will see in this post. In fact much of it is from a sermon that I delivered the Sunday after Thanksgiving 2014. To read the entire sermon click this Link. I am writing this because I have a burden for my Christian brothers and sisters who are going through trying times now and, for those other believers who don’t realize that God has given us the tools we need to deal with the troubles that will surely come.
Let me give you another scripture, one we quote all the time;
Romans 8:28 (HCSB) We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.
If the situation doesn't change right away or even gets worse we begin to question what we started out quoting with great confidence. Between financial struggles, marital issues, health scares, and the run-of-the-mill problems of everyday life, it’s easy to feel weighed down and trapped by your circumstances. In times like these, it’s tempting to just throw in the towel and quit. With all the bad things that are happening and will happen, things like what's happening in many of our cities, terrorism, lots of other bad things that are going on. How about when a police officer on duty or a young girl or boy is killed by a drunk driver, or in a fit of rage a man kills his whole family or to make it more personal when we lose a loved one or lose a job or lose our home and all these things happen in succession.
We struggle with that great scripture now because we try to reconcile that verse what Paul writes earlier in that same chapter,
Romans 8:1-2 (NKJV) 1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
After all we have been told that we are supposed to experience God’s blessings.
Deuteronomy 28:3-6 (NKJV) 3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. 4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks. 5 Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 6 Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out., etc.
Why then are these things happening and how could Paul write this? How is that possible? So what’s the good? Doesn’t make sense, does it?
To be free from the realities of sin and death does not mean that we can live our lives unaffected by the continuing presence of sin and death in this world. Here’s what those verses mean.
It’s the destiny of those who love the Lord to be like Jesus. God is committed to produce in us all the love, all the joy, all the patience, all the long-suffering, all the goodness, and all the gentleness of Jesus. But until that happens we are still subject to the realities of sin and death. It is God's love in Christ that sustains us and empowers us—even in the midst of our experiences of sin and death—"to be conformed to the likeness of his Son". Just look at the next verse.
Romans 8:29 (HCSB) For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers.
God works in all things toward that purpose - to conform us to the image of Jesus.
Job 5:7 (HCSB) But mankind is born for trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.
Job 14:1 (HCSB) Man born of woman is short of days and full of trouble.
1 Peter 4:12 (HCSB) Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you.
1 Corinthians 10:13 (HCSB) No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.
Jesus even said that we would have difficulties.
John 16:33 (NKJV) These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
So then if stress is a part of life, the key for the believer is to realize that Jesus has already provided the antidote—his peace. How we deal with it is up to us. If we choose to try to do it on our own, we face a long, uphill battle that will not end well. The only way we can deal with stress is to first believe in Jesus Christ. Without believing in Him we are on our own, and success in coping with stress is almost impossible. Second, we need to trust Him and obey Him.
Here’s what Rick Warren says about stress;
"Stress is a choice. We get stressed out when we choose to focus on our own limited resources instead of focusing on the unlimited resources available through our heavenly Father."
In life, struggle, pain, suffering, worry and anxiety, create a conflict between what we experience and what we believe. They can give us a badly distorted perspective on life- and on God. At those times, we need God to provide us with new perspective to help us see clearly again. That usually starts when we turn our attention to the God.
Psalm 141:8 (NKJV) But my eyes are upon You, O GOD the Lord; In You I take refuge; Do not leave my soul destitute.
Seeing God clearly can help us see life's experiences more clearly.
As we turn our eyes to the Lord in times of pain and struggle, we will experience His comfort and hope in our daily lives. He will help us to see everything clearly again.
These aren’t the only things that can cause stress but these are big ones.
- The belief that I am in control of my life rather than knowing that God is in control of everything, including my life.
- When I don’t trust people and actually begin to believe the lie that, “If I want something done right then I must do it myself.”
- When I know without a doubt what God has told me to do but I listen to the “experts” who tell me that the very thing God has told me to do is impossible.
- When I try to explain myself to those who don’t really want an explanation; they just want to argue.
- When I refuse to take some time to disconnect and rest, claiming that the devil never takes a day off while not understanding that the devil isn’t supposed to be my example.
- When I take on the “Messiah complex” and start to think about how much I need to do and how Jesus needs me rather than how much I actually need him.
- When I worry about results more than obedience.
- When I focus on the size of the problem rather than the size of God.
- When I fail to share my worries and concerns and admit my mistakes to others for fear that it may make me seem weak and stupid.
- When I become unaware of God’s presence every single minute of my life.
So How Do We Overcome?
The starting point for dealing with stress is Jesus Christ.
John 14:1 (NLT) Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.
We desperately need Him in our lives. We need Him because He is the only one who can give us the strength to cope with the troubles in our lives. Believing in Him doesn’t mean that we will have a trouble-free life or that we will have no stress. It simply means that a life without Jesus Christ makes coping with stress an impossible and often debilitating task.
Believing leads to trusting
Proverbs 3:5 (NLT) Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.
Depending on “our own understanding” often means adopting the world’s ways of relieving stress—things like alcohol or drugs or mindless entertainment. Instead, we are to trust His Word as our ultimate guide to a stress-reduced life.
Psalm 34:4 (NLT)4 I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.
When David wrote this he knew that by seeking the Lord and sharing his troubles with Him that he would find favor with Him. The Lord in turn answered him and calmed him down.
Perhaps no passage in Scripture better captures how to handle stress than this one.
Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
The Holy Spirit tells us, through Paul, not to be anxious about anything, but rather to turn everything over to Him in prayer. Giving our burdens and concerns to a holy and righteous God daily, will mitigate or eliminate the stress in our lives.
Psalm 55:22 (NLT)22 Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.
He will sustain us and never fail us.
Jesus offers peace if we come to Him with our worries and concerns.
John 14:27 (NLT) I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
God is holy and God is good, we can believe in His promises
We can’t let our circumstances dictate and shape what we believe about God. If we do then we will always walk in fear. Remember we have no control over the circumstances.
Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT) For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
God is in control and when we realize that we can walk in freedom from stress and anxiety and worry, which often causes fear.
God is faithful
This is what the prophet Jeremiah writes during a time of great of stress.
Lamentations 3:19-26 (NLT)19 The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words.20 I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.21 Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:22 The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease.23 Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”25 The LORD is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him.26 So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the LORD.
We can all remember a time in our lives when God was faithful.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NLT)16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
Your circumstances do not dictate God’s character. You can always trust Him and know that He is in complete control.
Romans 5:8 (NLT)8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Instead of the word "for" let’s replace it with "for the benefit of", "on behalf of," and "instead of." then the full significance of Christ's death "for" us hits home.
Philippians 1:6 (NLT)6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
You can count on it because of the faithfulness of God who, having begun a good work, would most certainly bring it to completion.
So at the most stressful moments in your life, at the times when you feel most overwhelmed go back, read and meditate on these verses; stop and focus on God, and remember:
- GOD IS SOVEREIGN - He reigns over everyone and everything and has never been stressed out.
- GOD IS UNSTOPPABLE - and so are those who follow Him.
- GOD IS HOLY - God is perfect, which means everything He wants/desires for my life is far greater than anything I could have thought of.
- GOD IS CONSISTENT - I don’t have to worry about Him being in a bad mood.
- GOD IS GREATER - than any temptation the enemy throws my way.
- GOD IS BETTER - than anything the world has to offer.
- GOD IS BIGGER - than any sin or failure in my life.
- GOD IS GRACIOUS - He knows every stupid, foolish, sinful thing I’ve ever done (or will do), and yet He loves me anyway!
- GOD IS ALWAYS - here with me — God has NEVER walked away from me. He doesn’t always deliver me from the fire, but He has ALWAYS walked with me through it!
- GOD IS FAITHFUL - If I fail to see His faithfulness in my past, I will probably not recognize the fruitfulness of my future.
- GOD IS THE ONE WHO PURSUES ME - He pursues me even on the days I tend to walk away from Him.
- GOD IS RELENTLESS - He has NEVER given up on me!
- GOD IS PASSIONATE - His passion and zeal that the scriptures reveal cause me to be in AWE. I could go on and on, but what I want you to see is that when stress comes into our lives it is an awesome opportunity to KNOW GOD. So, if you are stressed out, freaked out and feel like you are about to give out, then “check out” for 10 minutes from your busy life, sit down with a piece of paper, make a list of who the scriptures say GOD IS, and focus on that rather than your circumstances.
I'll finish with this Charles Spurgeon devotional that I read some time ago.
1 Chronicles 5:22 (NLT) Many of the Hagrites were killed in the battle because God was fighting against them. The people of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh lived in their land until they were taken into exile.
Warrior, fighting under the banner of the Lord Jesus, observe this verse with holy joy, for as it was in the days of old so is it now, if the war be of God the victory is sure. The sons of Reuben, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh could barely muster five and forty thousand fighting men, and yet in their war with the Hagarites, they slew "men, an hundred thousand," "for they cried to God in the battle, and He was entreated of them, because they put their trust in Him." The Lord saveth not by many nor by few; it is ours to go forth in Jehovah's name if we be but a handful of men, for the Lord of Hosts is with us for our Captain. They did not neglect buckler, and sword, and bow, neither did they place their trust in these weapons; we must use all fitting means, but our confidence must rest in the Lord alone, for He is the sword and the shield of His people. The great reason of their extraordinary success lay in the fact that "the war was of God." Beloved, in fighting with sin without and within, with error doctrinal or practical, with spiritual wickedness in high places or low places, with devils and the devil's allies, you are waging Jehovah's war, and unless He himself can be worsted, you need not fear defeat. Quail not before superior numbers, shrink not from difficulties or impossibilities, flinch not at wounds or death, smite with the two-edged sword of the Spirit, and the slain shall lie in heaps. The battle is the Lord's and He will deliver His enemies into our hands. With steadfast foot, strong hand, dauntless heart, and flaming zeal, rush to the conflict, and the hosts of evil shall fly like chaff before the gale.
Stand up! stand up for Jesus!
The strife will not be long;
One day the noise of battle,
The next the victor's song:
To him that overcometh,
A crown of life shall be;
He with the King of glory
Shall reign eternally.