Whoa There, Thoughts!

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I mentioned to you a few days ago about how my thoughts were keeping me up at night. It’s like a vitamin commercial I saw a few days ago where this man walks into a dark room full of bright neon signs. The signs read all kinds of familiar thoughts, and one by one, the man turns off the lights. When he reaches the last—and only unlit—sign, he pulls the cord, and the words, “Nighty Night” light up. What a perfect picture of my nightly battle to calm my mind and get to sleep.

The trouble for me is that my mind not only spins at night; it turns all day long. I find it difficult to focus on the task at hand because my mind is already fretting about what comes next or if the next paycheck will arrive before the next bill or if scientists are going to discover that lettuce is fattening. You know, the usual. The psalmist who penned Psalm 94 understood the turmoil of various thoughts yet still found comfort and delight in the Lord.  

In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.
— Psalm 94:19

The multitude of thoughts. Yep, I get that. Delight of the soul? Well, sometimes, but not typically when my thoughts are on a never-ending roller coaster. Weariness? Sure. Fatigue? Absolutely. Delight? Is that even possible?

It is, and I discovered the secret in my daily Bible reading yesterday. Well, I say it’s a secret, but the truth is, it’s in the Bible in full view of all who read it. Somehow, I’ve just missed the power of this verse until now. But now that I’ve seen it, this verse will join my ever-growing list of favorites.

Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.
— Proverbs 16:3

As I read through Proverbs 16 yesterday, verse three jumped out at me. I read it again and again, then looked up the various words of the verse to gain their full meaning. I’m so glad I did!

The word “commit” means to roll (which is very similar to the word “cast” in I Peter 5:7). As Christian author, Lysa Terkeurst put it, “This may sound unusual, but consider this: we roll heavy things. We roll things we can’t carry. We roll things too awkward or burdensome to bear alone.” She’s right. To commit our works to the Lord means to roll them on Him and allow Him to carry them. We don’t have to.

The word “works” is no mystery. It refers to our actions, deeds, or paths. When we commit our works to the Lord, we’re essentially handing Him our calendars and to-do lists. We’re saying, “Lord, there is too much here for me to handle, so I’m giving it to you. Please lead me to do what You want me to do when You want me to do it, and please help me live in Your strength today. Thank you for reminding me I don’t have to face today or any other day on my own.”

We could stop right there and be blessed, but we haven’t even gotten to the best part. The verse says if we commit our works unto the Lord, our thoughts will be established. So, what exactly does that mean? I’m so glad you asked!

The word “established” is defined as “to be firm, stable, or fixed; to be prepared, arranged, or settled.” Oh, hallelujah! That’s what I want. I desire my thoughts to be stable, fixed on the Lord instead of my to-do list or my troubles. I would love for the Lord to prepare and arrange my thoughts instead of allowing every idea that pops into my head to have free rein. And did you notice the last word in the definition—settled? That’s my word for 2019. Coincidence? Definitely not!

No wonder the psalmist could say he found delight in the comfort of the Lord despite the multitude of thoughts within him! He’d discovered this “secret” as well. It would seem he had learned how to roll his problems, decisions, and worries onto the Lord thereby allowing God to direct, settle and stabilize his thoughts. And if he can do it, my friends, then we can too.

Are you seeking comfort today? Are your thoughts keeping you up at night and running you ragged during the day? If so, I invite you to roll those burdens onto the Lord. Better yet, He is encouraging you to do just that. The outcome is a lighter load and a brighter spirit. Who doesn’t want that, right?

Peace as a Characteristic of Love

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I went to bed at the regular time last night. After the busy weekend, I knew I was still tired and figured I would have no difficulty sleeping. If only that had been the case! I tossed and turned the entire night as my brain insisted on running down the list of things to do for the next day and rehearsing the things I did (and didn’t accomplish) that day. Every action, every word was carefully run through the microscope as my brain churned into overtime.

That brings me to today’s characteristic in the fruit of the spirit: peace.  The word “peace” is defined as freedom from disturbance; tranquility; quietness; calmness; security; of Christianity, the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is.” Peace is the exact opposite of what I felt last night as my thoughts tossed and turned me about like clothes in a dryer.  As far as the last part of that definition is concerned, I didn't doubt my salvation, but the portion about fearing nothing and being content was sadly lacking. My mind was troubled and anxious, not so much over any one thing but many little things. And so peace and rest eluded me.

When I studied out the connection between the fruit of the Spirit and the love chapter, the concept of peace gave me pause. At first glance, I had trouble linking one of the attributes of love with peace. We could say that peace is not easily provoked, but temperance is a much better fit for that characteristic. Likewise, peace does not behave itself unseemly, but goodness is a better representation of that.  

Then I came to the phrase, “hopeth all things.” That’s it! That’s how love exemplifies peace. Hope is quiet confidence or expectation. It’s so much more than a wish or desire. Hope is a firm belief—one that doesn’t waver no matter the circumstances. It is security, an anchor for our souls.

Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;
— Hebrews 6:19

In that anchor—that hope—there is a tranquility, a calmness. There is contentment and a freedom from disturbance. This hope doesn’t focus on the problems of the present but the promise of the future. It offers peace and rest, and it all begins with love. A love for God that is so strong we cannot help but to trust Him. A love for others that dares to look beyond their current faults and failures to see what they are capable of. And even a love for ourselves that cares enough to say, “Don’t lose sleep over those things. They are temporary. Set your sights on the eternal, and rest in the light of the things to come.”

Love brings forth peace. And peace is hopeful, untroubled like a placid lake. Steadfast. Sure. Calm.

Do you know what? I just took my first deep breath this morning, and it felt so sweet. Peace is possible, and that’s the best news I’ve heard all day!

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.
— Isaiah 26:3

This scene from the movie, Kung Fu Panda, always come to my mind when I’m talking about peace. This is me, on a typical day, trying to calm my mind and find peace. “Inner peace. In-, in-, in-, inner peace.” Enjoy this short clip!

God Urges Us To Be Careful For Nothing

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As I leaned into Jason’s sweet embrace, he commented, “I can feel the muscles in the back of your neck twitching. That’s nothing but stress.”

He wasn’t being cruel or argumentative. He was making a point. I need to learn to relax. The terrible thing was I didn’t even realize I was stressed at the moment. Sure, there’s been a lot on my plate lately, but I thought I was handling it all pretty well with the Lord’s help. But when Jason pointed out my stressed-out muscles, I realized I wasn’t doing as well as I thought I was. While I was functioning and completing my tasks, my thoughts were still full of anxiety. At that point, I did what I usually do when I realize I’m stressed out—I started stressing about my stress!

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
— Philippians 4:6

The word “careful” in this verse means “anxious.” So, God is telling us, “Be anxious for nothing. Don’t fret about anything. Don’t stress. Don’t worry.” Does anyone else find this extremely difficult?  

I often read that verse and say, “But Lord, you don’t understand. I have so much to do, and time is running out. I don’t feel as well as I could, and that’s slowing me down even more. Oh, and I thought I had enough money in the bank to pay that bill, but it turns out I didn’t, and now the bank account is overdrawn. And. . .”

Sound familiar? There’s just a couple of problems with my well-meaning (and heartfelt) excuses. First off, God does understand. We made that clear yesterday. Nothing is hidden from Him, including the source(s) of our anxiety. He gets it, probably even better than we do. But also, if we’ll look at our key verse one more time, we’ll see it doesn’t matter what our circumstances are. Be careful for NOTHING. Or let’s turn it around and say, “Don’t be anxious about anything!” Don’t be anxious about your to-do list. Don’t fret about your health. Don’t worry about money. Don’t stress about anything.

That’s a tall order! In my warped thinking, if I don’t stress over it, it won’t get done. But the truth is, stressing has never helped anyone. Anxiety only robs us of sleep, our health, and eventually our sanity. No, worry isn’t the answer. So, what is? When life feels overwhelming, and we can’t figure out if we’re coming or going, how can we remain calm and peaceful? Fortunately, God tells us in the same verse and the verses that follow.

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.
— Philippians 4:6-9

Scofield calls this "the secret of the peace of God." According to the above passage, here's how we can stop stressing and live peacefully no matter our circumstances:

1. Don't worry

2. Take it to God in prayer

3. Be thankful

4. Think positive

5. Consistently do what we’ve learned

Instead of being anxious, we need to take the situation to God and leave it there. We can then be thankful for such a loving, caring Father who bears our burdens, and we can trust that He will work all things for our good and His glory. After that, we do what we know to do and stop stressing about what we don’t know. And we repeat that process over and over again.

I won’t tell you it will be easy, especially at first. But it is possible. And the more we practice this plan for peace, the easier it will become. Imagine if this five-step formula was our first response to a crisis instead of our last. How much happier and calmer would we be? Let’s find out!