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!

Telling It Like It Is

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You’ve probably learned by now that I have many favorite verses and passages in the Bible. There are those I turn to for comfort and those I cherish when I need strength. So many times, I read through my morning devotions and say aloud, “Ooh, that’s a good verse” or “I need to mark that!” Often, I’ll jot the verses down in my journal so I can study them out a little more at a later time. But if I had to choose one favorite verse of Scripture, it would have to be John 16:33.

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
— John 16:33

Let’s break it down. First off, Jesus tells the disciples why He’s sharing this passage with them—so they might have peace. It seems a bit odd since the chapter is a blend of bad and good news. Jesus would be leaving, but the Comforter would be with them. Jesus would no longer be there to teach them, but they could ask anything of the Father. They would all forsake Jesus, but He would not be alone. From good to bad, then bad to good. It doesn’t sound like the recipe for peace, does it? Neither does the next portion of the verse.

“In the world ye shall have tribulation.” Not exactly a pep talk. At this point you’re probably wondering, Why is this your favorite verse? Of all the wonderful verses in Scripture, why would you pick this one? Honestly, there are two reasons. The first one deals with the final phrase of the verse, but I also appreciate this particular portion because, unlike many of today’s philosophies, this verse doesn’t set me up for disappointment. It tells it like it is.

In the modern day of self-help and pulling oneself up by his or her bootstraps, it’s easy to become disillusioned. We’re told anyone can do anything, be anything, and have anything. And when those lofty dreams fall through, we find ourselves overcome by discouragement and depression.

Even certain Christians contribute to this disillusionment by painting the Christian life as one of ease. No worries. No troubles. No heartache or sorrow. Always happy. Living the life of our dreams without a care in the world. Once again, when our lives don’t live up to that expectation, we judge ourselves, convinced we must be doing something wrong.

Jesus cuts through all the disillusionment. No sugar coating. The truth, plain and simple. Life is hard. At times, it will be unfair. There will be storms, tears, heartaches, and questions. Some days, we will struggle to put one foot in front of the other and will possibly even consider quitting the fight. Yes, this is real life. And while it sounds grim, at least it’s the truth and doesn’t set us up to believe in something that will never be. I appreciate that! But even more, I appreciate the “but” that comes next.

“Yes, life will be hard. . .BUT. . . don’t worry about it because I have overcome the world.”

Can I get an amen? No matter how big our problems get, God is bigger. Whatever challenges we face in this life, God has already overcome them. He’s not intimidated by the things that rob us of sleep and steal our joy. He is never overwhelmed by a doctor’s report or an unexpected bill. He’s already taken care of things, and He wants us to know that. Why? So we might have peace.

Peace in the midst of the storm.

Peace when the battle is raging.

Peace when we feel like giving up.

Peace when we’re not sure if we’re coming or going.

Before we faced the first trial of this life, Jesus made us a promise. “The world will be rough, but I’ll see you through it.” And if we believe that promise and cling to it with all our heart, we’ll have less stress and more joy. Don’t be afraid. God’s got this!

Beware the Shadows

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A few days ago, Barnabas and I were out for our daily walk.  It was a lovely, sunny day, and overall, we were having a wonderful time.  Suddenly, as we emerged from the tree-lined path, out of nowhere, a dark shape formed in the bushes beside us.  Barnabas immediately jumped and scurried behind me for protection, but only for a moment because that's how long it took for him to realize that he had literally been scared of his own shadow.

I can't blame him for being startled.  Shadows are scary things, or at least they can be when we allow them.  If you think about it, we do our fair share of running from shadows too.  Maybe not the physical kind (if you can call a shadow physical), but certainly the mental, emotional and even spiritual kinds.  

The truth is that many times we don't run from our problems; we run from the shadows of our problems, from the darkness that looms over us, threatening to engulf us with its black tentacles.  What was once a problem suddenly becomes a catastrophe because that's the nature of shadows--they're much bigger than their source.  We turn our troubles into shadows when we allow ourselves to dwell on them until they become giants in our minds, casting gloom and darkness over every area of our lives.

So, how do we deal with these shadows?  Well, we could do what Barnabas did, and hide, but we can't hide forever.  No, the best way to destroy a shadow is to remember what created it in the first place.  Shadows are formed when we turn away from the light; therefore, they can be extinguished by turning back to the light.  Stop focusing on the situation, and focus on the Son.  Forget the problem and turn your thoughts to the Problem Solver.  As the old hymn says, "There is no shadow of turning with Thee."

Please understand I am not belittling anyone's troubles.  Trials are difficult, frustrating, and sometimes even debilitating.  But we tend to give them more power over us than they should have by allowing them to have a stronghold in our minds.  We must beware the shadows.  We must keep our face to the light.  Only then will we know the true joy and satisfaction of overcoming our trials by the grace and strength of God.

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