Dealing With Stress

This text began a multi-day conversation with my son, a college freshman, as he attempted to prepare for his first round of college finals. This discussion not only stirred memories of my own college days over 20 years ago but also brought fresh ones to back mind from when I took my GRE a couple of weeks ago.

Because of this discussion, I began thinking about how I’ve dealt with stressful situations and seasons in my life. I realized that I’ve progressed in how I handle them and even in being able to mitigate their impact by the way I live life as well as by the mindset I choose before, during and after trials.

A Part of Life

Every person deals with stressful situations. You’re either going through one right now, have just gone through one or seem to be having an endless string of them. They are just a part of life.

Instead of expending energy to avoid them, the better approach is to expect them and be prepared for them as best we can. Realizing that the situation my son was going through was just a part of his lifelong development of learning and growing, I sought to help him not only get through his current tests but to learn an approach that would benefit him in the future as well.

The approach is nothing new, and many people will pass off this information as simply a “good reminder.” While we do need reminders since in the emotions that accompany stress we often forget how to best deal with it, we also need to realize that we are still learning and growing and adapting with each stressful situation we face. This never stops, and neither should our intention to improve how we move through life’s stressful situations.

Not IF But WHEN

We also have to remember that it’s not a question of IF we’ll go through trials and tests (stressful situations), it’s a matter of WHEN they’re going to happen. Knowing this, we can continually work on how we handle the load stress places on us. 

There are 5 areas that need continually addressed and maintained in order to ensure that we’re dealing with life’s stress to the best of our ability.

1.) Physical

Staying properly fueled, hydrated and rested are minimum requirements. Not doing these almost negates the other items we’ll discuss. In addition, stretching and exercising regularly will help us stay as ready as we can physically for the stresses of life. They’ll also help relieve tension in the midst of stress. We need to be sure to do what we can to head into any stress from a place of physical strength.

2.) Mental

Stress and burnout don’t come as much from what’s actually going on, from the situation itself, as they do from our thoughts about the situation. This is why we must continually renew our thoughts (Romans 12:2). It’s also why we have to remember that worry is distracting and mentally exhausting. Ask, “What would I tell someone in my shoes?” to gain an outside-looking-in perspective. Both of these approaches have served me well for strengthening my mental approach to life’s stresses.

3.) Spiritual

Addressing the spiritual aspect involves regularly making time for God through daily Bible study and prayer as well as through weekly church attendance. Also, staying grateful for blessings helps more than I can ever express. In my son’s situation, for example, him being grateful for the ability and the opportunity to learn and study at a quality university helped him realize how much he’s blessed to be where he is right now. My spiritual state is also immensely healthier as I listen to the Holy Spirit guiding and comforting me. The spiritual aspect of my life is essentially the glue that holds all the others together. Without strength here, nothing else will stay strong for the long term.

4.) Relational

Feeling alone infects any other positive going on in life. This can be especially true during heightened times of stress and burnout. It’s also why staying connected to others is so very important. This also involves asking for help and not stubbornly trying to do it all on your own. I’m grateful my son knows the truth of this and regularly connects with myself or my husband when stress begins to build and often before it gets too weighty for him. He’s great at listening then, too, which is essential in staying connected and warding off feelings of loneliness. And finally, laugh often too. My son is terrific at this. Actually, he’s often the source of this for me. Being strong relationally and refusing to be lonely is essential for living victoriously through the stress and burnout life tends to dole out.

5.) Situational

Making sure this area is working well involves doing what you can and not trying to control what you can’t control. In other words, prepare based on the information you have. Do your best. Simplify where possible. Refuse to dwell in areas you cannot control. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed with what others are or are not doing since you have no control over them. For my son, that meant studying as best he knew how, and it meant not letting his imagination for what could go wrong get away from him. We all have made a situation worse by getting outside of the facts and what we control, so we all understand the need to limit doing so again in the future.

A Pattern of Life

Life is a pattern of ups and downs. The details differ from one person to the next, but the pattern exists for everyone. Look back on your own life, and you’ll see this to be true if you haven’t discovered it already.

As we learn from these seasons, we realize that the areas discussed above work together to either bring us victoriously through stressful times, or they make us feel like we just can’t win. Fortunately, we have a lot of control over what happens.

I’ve stopped trying to keep stressful times from existing in my life. First because it’s not possible. Secondly because the stressful times, really more than the good ones, help me learn and grow in ways I wouldn’t otherwise.

Don’t you find this to be true as well?

Ordinary to Extraordinary

In His Majesty’s Secret Service

Mention of the British Secret Service brings to mind images of James Bond. Age probably determines exactly who Bond looks like… Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, etc. Regardless, Bond is always well-dressed, has cool cars, gets to use cool gadgets, and even has cool enemies.

In all likelihood, picturing a British Secret Service agent does not generate an image of C.S. Lewis. This is why fans of Lewis’ — whose most well-known works include The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity — are surprised to find out that Lewis actually was part of the British Secret Service during WWII.

WWII Turning Point

The details of Lewis’ recruitment to the British Secret Service remain a mystery. However, some interesting facts exist regarding the unique role he played.

  • Lewis’ public speaking prowess made him better-suited for his assignment than his contemporary J.R.R. Tolkien, who actually had a better knowledge base for the job than Lewis.
  • Lewis was tasked to “help win the hearts of the Icelandic people” and thus secure Britain’s presence in Iceland for the remainder of WWII.
  • With a speech to the Icelandic people, Lewis “provided a touchstone between the Norse people and the English” that essentially accomplished this goal.

Knowing a little background about Iceland’s role in WWII is helpful in realizing the significance of what Lewis did as a Secret Service agent.

  • April 1940 — Germans invaded Norway and Denmark. British troops counter the Germans in Norway but were too late to do so in Denmark.
  • May 1940 — Germans invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France.
  • May 1940 (Same morning of above invasion) — British troops invaded Iceland, a strategic location for a naval and air base in the Atlantic region.

The British needed to remain in Iceland in order to help defeat the Germans, but they needed the cooperation of the Icelandic people to accomplish this.

“Though British control of Iceland was critical, Britain could not afford to deploy its troops to hold the island when greater battles loomed elsewhere, beginning with the struggle for North Africa. Holding Iceland depended on the goodwill of the people of Iceland who never had asked to be invaded by the British. If Britain retained Icelandic goodwill, then Churchill could occupy the island with reserve troops rather than his best fighting forces.” (C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent)

Lewis’ speech, “The Norse Spirit in English Literature,” to the Icelandic people helped turn the tide of war. Britain won their favor and were able to remain in Iceland. This presence was critical to winning the war.

Unexpected Service

Personally, I love the idea of this great literary scholar and lay theologian — and one of my favorite authors — also being an agent for the British Secret Service. Not only does it make for great conversation, it also provides a terrific illustration of Scripture.

“A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men.” (Proverbs 18:16)

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” (1 Corinthians 12:4)

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” (Romans 12:6)

Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)

Lewis put his literary talents to work in an unexpected way and ended playing a major role in defeating the Germans in WWII. Yet, Lewis never touted this involvement that we know of. It appears he simply allowed himself to serve the greater good.

The work Lewis was given to do as a Secret Service agent, was directly in tune with his talents and abilities. In fact, his well-known voice is once of the reason he was likely chosen for the task since it would increase the likelihood of the Icelandic people listening to the message.

Uniquely Crafted

Learning that C.S. Lewis was a British Secret Service agent encourages me. It tells me that God can and does use the talents and abilities He gives us in obvious as well as unexpected ways. On the days when I wonder about my own usefulness, stories like these remind me to always be ready for any type of service.

Stories like this one also remind me that God uniquely crafts and genuinely calls every person. Like Lewis, I get to spend my days applying the gifts and abilities God gave me and at the same time staying ready for a call out of my ordinary and into the extraordinary.

Working Toward Balance

Escape?

Don’t we all dream of escaping from life from time to time? A warm, tropical beach. A quiet house on the lake. Just a place where the noise of life stops, and we can hear ourselves think and breathe.

For most of us though, total escape is just a fantasy because it just isn’t practical. Family. Work. Church. Lots of commitments. Plus, life doesn’t stop just because you take a break.

Still, the lure of time and space to think lurks in the back of most people’s minds at least occasionally, and we usually make one of two choices when we become aware of these thoughts.

  1. Push any personal desires, wants or needs to that area of the mind specializing in forgotten hopes and dreams.
  2. Pursue selfish ambitions regardless of the impact on others.

Two extremes. Neither a great choice. Fortunately, there is a third option. We can also choose a more balanced approach somewhere between giving in to selfish desires and forgetting all sense of individual needs.

Choice #3 requires a more constant effort because it resists natural tendencies, whereas the first and second choices provide absolutes that push to extremes that seem easier to maintain. In other words, saying “no” or “yes” to everything is easier than saying “no” or “yes” to some things.

A 3-Step Process for Balance

This three-step process can not only help bring a sense of balance, but it can also help keep it there for the long haul.

  1. Plug In. Whether introvert or extravert, sanguine or melancholy, everyone needs connection. Connection with others happens in a variety of ways from personal interests to church attendance. Plugging in regularly to Christ on an individual, one-on-one basis is, of course, the most essential relationship and needs emphasis. Plugging in revolves around the idea of filling up the reservoir to be able to nourish others.
  2. Recharge. Failure to recharge batteries often enough, and in many cases at all, results in complete failure at some point. Recharging is about balance. Recharge regularly by eating healthy, exercising, and drinking enough water. Oh, and get enough sleep too.
  3. Unplug. Unplugging means alone time, a treasure so many of us crave and fail to get enough of regularly. Pick one or two things you enjoy that allows you time to unplug. Then, make them a priority. Finding small pockets of time for unplugging can be an quite effective method for finding balance if done consistently.

Many who read this will say something like this…

“Sure, that would be wonderful, but there’s no way I can make that happen in my busy life.”

You’re right! YOU cannot make that happen. Without a deliberate an intentional plan and the help of those closest to you, this process is not going to happen for anyone.

3 Essential Elements in the Process

Three elements that must exist for anyone to truly be able to take care of themselves in a way that allows for as consistent of a state of balance as possible.

  1. Be Deliberate and Intentional. Carefully consider how taking care of yourself not only makes you healthier as an individual but positively contributes to the health of your family as well. Purpose to find ways to regularly plug in, recharge and unplug.
  2. Focus on Small Things. Chances are that a week-long vacation alone is not going to happen for most of us, and even a weekend away is probably iffy. But, working in small pockets of time for plugging in, recharging and unplugging can add up over time to make a huge difference. Don’t be afraid to schedule time on the calendar for this either.
  3. Be Determined. Time to plug in, recharge and unplug will not happen by itself. Well, it won’t unless we run ourselves so ragged that illness or depression force us to stop. We must make a determined effort to schedule time for ourselves because it simply won’t happen otherwise.

Think of how balance is achieved when someone is riding a bike or standing on one leg… by making constant small adjustments. That’s the idea we’re getting at with the above steps and essential elements.

Keep moving forward. Keep making adjustments. Keep working toward balance.

Spiritual Restoration

Health Benefits of Nature

Research shows that spending time in and near nature has a significant positive impact on a person’s quality of life. Business Insider actually lists eleven ways nature does this.

  1. Improved memory
  2. Improved mental energy
  3. Stress relief
  4. Better vision
  5. Reduced inflammation
  6. Improved concentration
  7. Sharper thinking & creativity
  8. Anti-cancer possibility
  9. Immunity boost
  10. Better mental health
  11. Less chance of dying early

Sitting on my deck under a shade tree. Going for a walk or jog at least once daily. Regular bike rides. Kayaking. Hiking. Just some of the ways I’ve learned the truth behind what this research shows.

Ecological Restoration

Our connection with nature goes beyond the health benefits it brings though. In fact, nature can actually teach us some valuable ways to amplify the above benefits. It can also show us how to use them to restore us from a damaged state.

One of those ways is through the concept of ecological restoration. If you visit public parks or nature centers, you’ve likely come across this term on a sign or in a brochure at some point. Ecological restoration is…

“The practice of renewing and restoring degraded, damaged or destroyed ecosystems and habitats in the environment by active human intervention and action.” (Ecological Restoration Alliance)

The goal of ecological restoration is to revive the native habitat and its ecological functioning. Examples include:

  • Removing or controlling non-native plants & wildlife
  • Erosion control measures
  • Reintroduce or reinforce native species
  • Controlled fires to promote mature growth, limit insect growth & prevent disease

Ecological restoration is “intentional activity that initiates or accelerates recovery.” The purpose is to restore the ecosystem to what it was before it was disturbed or to an improved state from what it was previously.

An ecosystem usually needs restoration when humans have in some way negatively altered it. Those ways include littering, pollution and even destruction in some way.

I realized that I often feel like I need the type of restoration described here. I sometimes feel like I’ve been destroyed or damaged by my culture and just life in general enough that I need to take deliberate steps to stop the damage and discover and/or create a restored state.

Essentially, ecological restoration boils down to removing negative elements and influences and placing in positive ones. Sometimes, that includes using what at first seems detrimental — fires for instance — to clean out those bad elements to allow the good ones room to flourish.

Is that really any different from what God wants to do for us?

Spiritual Restoration

Everyone needs spiritual restoration to some degree from time to time. From outright moral failure to neglecting time with God because of busyness to an unexplainable dry season, we all need some sort of intentional activity to aid in our continual restoration.

Fortunately, Scripture contains a slew of wisdom for the purpose of our spiritual restoration. And since we can’t go into detail on all of what it offers here — it is living and active after all (Hebrews 4:12) — we’ll focus on a few passages that emphasize nature’s overall role in the process.

“On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.” (Psalm 145:5)

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:7-10)

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

Nature tells us about God. It lets us know who He is and what He’s capable of doing based on what He’s already done. And this knowledge lies at the heart of any type of restoration we need.

Research on the health benefits of nature really just supports what Scripture already tells us. Nature, God’s creation, connects us with him in ways that give our lives vitality like nothing else can. It restores like nothing else can. We only need to expose ourselves to it.

“I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.” (George Washington Carver)

Shipwrecked Faith, Part 2

In Shipwrecked Faith, Part 1, we defined a shipwrecked faith and talked about how the struggle to avoid one is real for everyone. In this post, we’ll look at avoiding shipwreck as well as how to recover from one.

How can you avoid a shipwrecked faith?

Paul’s advice to Timothy to “fight the good fight” is still wholly applicable for us today. More specifically, he told Timothy to be aware of false teachers, which basically means anything that doesn’t line up with living out your faith according to the Gospel. It’s anything that veers you away from living a holy life and not offending God. Refusing to follow false teaching and insisting on living out the Gospel results in avoiding a shipwrecked faith.

For an even more detailed answer, let’s look at what Paul says next. He tells Timothy that those who suffered a shipwrecked faith failed to keep a good conscience. They knew the truth of the Gospel but chose to live contrary to it. They made a deliberate choice.

Think of your conscience like the ballast for a ship. Without proper ballast, a ship is unbalanced and cannot be maneuvered accurately. So, a captain can know the right path to take but not be able to steer the ship that way if the ballast isn’t working like it should. Likewise, we cannot live out the Gospel, our faith, if our conscience has been discarded.

In order for this truth to be fully applicable to our lives, we need to understand what exactly our conscience is and is not. Your conscience does not define right and wrong. For the Christian, the Gospel does that. Instead, your conscience directs how you live out your faith, whether according to the Gospel or contrary to it.

Let’s break down the truth of what Paul tells Timothy. How can we live out the truth of the Gospel by keeping a good conscience and thus avoid a shipwrecked faith?

Preserve a Good Conscience

Preserving a good conscience means refusing to drift. Recognize that drift begins imperceptibly and happens gradually, especially if we fail to consider it as a possibility.

Drift happens through compromise. Compromise comes when we tolerate what we should not tolerate, things like torn sails, overloaded ships, complacency and arrogance. It happens when we refuse to challenge the sin in our lives. Sin destroys a good conscience and leads us away from living out the Gospel.

The blood of Jesus can restore a good conscience. Under the blood, there’s no guilt, shame or fear of punishment. In Christ, we have peace and rest as our consciences once again function properly, and we become able to live our faith in the Gospel.

Preserving a good conscience also involves keeping short accounts with God and others. This means following a continual process of confession, repentance and forgiveness. It means again and again returning to the Gospel.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Determine to Be Separate

Being separate from the world requires that we know God’s Word. We must meditate on it regularly and actually fear not obeying it. We need to cast it as our anchor again and again and wait for God to show us the way through it.

Being separate also involves declaring Christian warfare. That means we decide to keep up the struggle of becoming righteous rather than giving in to the world, flesh and Satan. We decide to refuse the easy and and to instead fight for our faith.

“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

Finally, being separate means knowing without a doubt what you believe…

If we truly hope to be separate, we must continually return to these Gospel truths and choose to live them out regardless of what others think, say or do. Separate is necessary if we hope to avoid the drift of our conscience.

Keep An Active Faith

An active faith is one that is alive and growing and focused living out the many directives detailed in Scripture.

“But as for you, O man of God, flee from these things; aim at and pursue righteousness [true goodness, moral conformity to the character of God], godliness [the fear of God], faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:11, AMP)

Paul’s advice to Timothy here gives clarity on how to live an active faith… flee from the bad (anything contrary to the Gospel) and pursue the good (that which conforms to and confirms the Gospel). An active faith refuses to be lazy and instead insists on actively living out the Gospel in every way possible.

What if your faith is already shipwrecked?

What if you’re already adrift and off course? What if your conscience has already been thrown overboard and left behind? What if your faith has run aground and the waves are tearing it apart?

What if you’re in a place where you’re refusing to take responsibility and instead continually blaming others for your circumstances? What if you’re already ignoring the limits God provides? What if you’re already compromising convictions?

The answer is the same no matter how far gone you feel you are right now.

Return to the Gospel. Get to know God’s truth again and rededicate yourself to living it out.

  • Rebuild your conscience based on faith in the Gospel.
  • Reestablish your conviction to live separately.
  • Reactivate the activity of your faith.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1)

Easter Memories

Easter Memories

Easter Sunday holds a prominent place in my childhood, church-going memories. The smell of Lilies. New clothes. The Easter bonnet my mom wanted me to wear and that I hated. Easter breakfast after a sunrise service. Traditional church service. All good memories.

As an adult, Easter memories still rest strongly in my mind. Same smell of Lilies. Spring colors. Easter hymns like “Crown Him with Many Crowns” that I’ve never not known. Easter dinner followed by a rather competitive egg hunt at the in-laws.

Outside of the usual Easter routine are several Easters spent away from home, including one on a mountaintop at sunrise in Vermont. Another involved the first half of the day riding in a car traveling home to Michigan from Missouri. No Lilies. No Sunday best attire. Worship via the radio (one of the songs was “Crown Him with Many Crowns), and McDonalds for Easter dinner. We did make the annual hunt though.

As I grew and matured, Easter eventually evolved from a once-a-year Sunday celebration to a year-round sense of purpose. Celebrating the risen Christ exists now as a way of life, a year-long state of mind rather than a capstone day in the church year.

Ticket to Heaven

A lot of the same elements still exist, but my view of the reason behind the celebration itself evolved away from simply a focus on the objects that represented it. I no longer only saw Easter as just a day to acknowledge that a far-away God sent his Son to die for my sins. I began to see beyond simply having a ticket to heaven.

Today, Easter now represents a relationship with Jesus.

Reasons for Change

Over the years, experiencing struggles and letting Christ lead me to victory in and through them matured my faith. Faith remains a simple but crucial act of the spirit. However, it now lives in a maturing state as the Holy Spirit’s leads and guides into the relationship that now permeates my existence.

My view changed also because worship changed. Some songs stayed the same, yet my participation exists very differently today than in my childhood and even early adulthood. Increased involvement in worship somehow increased the depth of the Easter message.

My understanding of God’s love for His Son also grew when I became a parent. Would I sacrifice one of my sons to save another person’s life? No, I wouldn’t. Yet, God did just that. Being a parent gives some inclination of how much He loved me to give up His only Son. Something I would never do.

My Best Friend

Somewhere within all this change, I realized Jesus also wanted to be my friend in addition to being my Savior. In other words, Jesus became a real person in my life.

Jesus became my best friend as my view of Easter grew. This satisfied a deep longing I remember having even as a young child.

I’m not sure I can adequately express what Easter now means to me or how it exists as a state of mind rather than a yearly holiday. All I can do is share this testimony and invite others to open their hearts to the transforming power of the Easter story too.

5 Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Research proves sleep is important. In fact, it plays an essential role in a person’s ability to be productive and healthy.

While experts say that everyone needs 7-8 hours of solid slumber every night, many individuals argue they can be at their best with less. Regardless, the fact remains that a good night’s sleep, however you define that, is essential.

While I still sometimes struggle getting a good night’s sleep, doing so is no longer a constant struggle like it used to be. Most nights, I now sleep a full 7 hours and wake feeling refreshed. This doesn’t happen by chance. I’ve learned that I have a great deal of control over how well I sleep, something I didn’t always believe to be true.

5 Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

These tips are mostly based on my personal struggle with sleep over the years. However, what I learned by trial and error is actually supported by what experts recommend too.

  1. Consider supplements. Some people swear by prescription sleep aids, but I never liked the results and side effects. Some people take melatonin every night before bed to help them fall asleep quickly. For me, drinking tea with valerian and/or chamomile works best. Everyone is different, and it’s okay to experiment a bit in order to find out what works.
  2. Evaluate your environment. While my husband can sleep with the lights on or off and with noise or quiet, I need almost total darkness and complete silence. The temperature of the room matters too. I don’t like to be too cold, but my mother loves to have the window open when it’s freezing outside. Getting a consistent environment can go a long way in getting a good night’s sleep.
  3. Experiment with tools. Tools for sleeping include eye masks, ear plugs, white noise (a fan, for example), a body pillow, and an electric blanket. Again, play with these different tools to see what helps you sleep better. While the electric blanket is the only one I use at home (we live in Michigan, and the nights can get quite cold, especially when my husband is traveling for work), I do use ear plugs sometimes when traveling (like when camping). I have also used an eye mask in the past when I wanted to take a nap or could not control the room’s lighting.
  4. Change your bedtime routine. Caffeine and alcohol or wine too close to bedtime can affect how a person sleeps, and so can viewing any type of media screen (television, smart phone, computer, etc.). Think about what you do after 8:00PM that may be contributing to your sleep problems.
  5. Think about how you rest. Some people struggle sleeping at night because they replay their day over and over again in their minds. They struggle with how to relax. Counteracting this happens in a variety of ways. Ideas include writing down thoughts before going to bed and finding ways to relax during the day to prevent stress building up. Some people find that a power nap every afternoon helps them relax and feel less stressed at the end of the day. Others use full-body muscle relaxation techniques, and still others employ stretching and exercise to reduce stress.

Find What Works for You

The combination of techniques is unique to every individual. In addition, work toward as much consistency as possible with your routine. This includes getting up and going to sleep at about the same time every day, even during vacation and on weekends.

The benefits of a good night’s sleep include increased productivity, consistent energy levels and improved relationships. It also results in a more positive outlook on life. In fact, a good night’s sleep is an essential building block for EVERY area of life.

Don’t neglect this crucial proponent of good health. Simply put, being well-rested is one of the best ways to be ready to “make the most of every opportunity.” (See Ephesians 5:15-16). This was a huge motivation for me to improve my sleep routine. Getting a good night’s sleep goes a long way in helping me to be consistently at my best.

If you consistently sleep well, how do you make that happen? If you don’t, what will you try to hopefully change that?

Unbroken Perseverance

Unbroken

Toward the end of the movie Unbroken, Louis Zamperini is again being tortured by a Japanese prison camp officer. This man, known as “The Bird,” took a special interest in Louis.

Even after Louis broke his ankle, The Bird forces him to hold a railroad beam above his shoulders. The Bird ordered Louis shot if he dropped it.

When Louis’ strength waned after a half hour holding the beam, something clicked inside of him. His eyes gained a look of focused persistence, he took a new grip on the beam, and then he pushed it up as high as he could.

The rest of the POWs watched as The Bird falls to his knees with the realization that no matter what he does, he cannot break Louis.

Perseverance

This scene reminds me of the instructions the writer of Hebrews gives after talking about how God disciplines those He loves.

“So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs. Mark out a straight path for your feet.” (Hebrews 12:12)

Scripture speaks in many places about perseverance. It even tells of the benefit believers gain from it.

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

Perseverance also plays a significant role in our individual spiritual growth. It serves as critical in our progress toward what God promises.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Responsibility

Our perseverance isn’t only for our benefit though. After being told to take a new grip, stand firm and mark a straight path, the writer of Hebrews tells us our endurance also sets an example for others.

“Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but will become strong.” (Hebrews 12:13)

We simply cannot live with just our own survival in mind. Others — our kids, spouses, friends, family, coworkers — see and follow our example. We have a responsibility to show them how to follow Christ.

This responsibility exists in our daily lives as we faithful serve Him. It exists when we refuse to let distractions consume us. And, it exists in the trials that would pull us into the muck and mire if we fail to take a new grip.

We fulfill that responsibility when we stand, even if on shaky legs, and focus our attention on Christ. We set an example when we follow that straight path regardless of what life sends our way. As we choose to persevere no matter what, others follow our example. In doing so, they discover new strength for their own efforts to persevere.

Be Still & Know

Be Still

In high school, I stepped between two girls getting ready to fight one another. One was my friend. I don’t remember the other girl. With fist raised and poised to fire, my friend  would hit me if she let it fly. Instead, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Only because it’s you.” Then she walked away.

In Psalm 46:10, the “be still” phrase gets at stopping this same sort of activity. The original word — rapa — means to “slacken, let down, cease.” It’s used in the sense of someone stepping between two warriors in battle and telling them to stop fighting, to stop their frantic activity.

So, the idea to “be still” goes beyond just taking a little time to relax. Beyond stopping the frantic pace, acknowledgment of the pointlessness of the activity is also important. In other words, we must stop and realize that our frantic activity will not produce any positive outcome.

Are you Frantic?

Frantic is one of those words that sounds ridiculous the more you say it. And when you consider all of what it means, it’s equally absurd to live in that state.

Frantic (adj.): desperate or wild with excitement, passion, fear, pain, etc.; frenzied

Interestingly, Jesus’ parents were once frantic in their search for him.

“His parents didn’t know what to think. ‘Son,’ his mother said to him, ‘why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.’” (Luke 2:48)

I find comfort knowing that the mother and father entrusted to raise the Son of God were also frantic parents at times. Makes my sometimes frantic parenting seem a little less unreasonable.

Of course, we have plenty in our lives beyond parenting that can make us frantic… Cleaning the house like crazy to get ready for guests. Scrambling madly at the end of the quarter to meet quota. Racing from one task to the next hoping to be somewhere on time once in a while. We’ve all felt frantic at some point, and I’m guessing no one really enjoys it.

Mental Time Out

While we can’t always avoid being frantic — though we often can with some planning and simplifying — we can choose to not live in it. We can choose to not let it be our standard mode of operation. To do so, however, we must intentionally cease and decide to “be still.”

In the broadest sense, this means we need mental time outs. Especially in the busiest times of life, we need mental down time. Our brains need periods where they don’t actively focus or engage and can just wander. In fact…

“Time off is what your brain thrives on.” (Shape Magazine / March 2017)

What’s more, our bodies usually give us signs that we need this time off.

  • Can’t think straight
  • Under-accomplishing
  • Forgetful
  • Making mistakes

Again, we all have moments where these happen, but we need to pay attention when patterns emerge, when we begin to dwell there. After all, we can reap some pretty amazing benefits if we allow ourselves to “be still” on a regular basis.

“After you take a mental time-out, you’re better at creative thinking and coming up with clever ideas and solutions.” (Shape Magazine / March 2017)

& Know

Looking at that start of Psalm 46:10 again, but this time in several versions, helps draw out this idea of down time or time outs.

“Be still…” (ESV)

“Cease striving…” (NASB)

“Stop your fighting…(Holman)

“Be in awe…” (ISV)

“Let go [of your concerns]!” (God’s WORD ®)

“Let be…” (JPS Tanakh 1917)

Long before research proved we needed time to reflect and sort things out mentally, God told us as much. And while the mental experts say to let our minds wander, God’s word gives further instruction as to how to truly give our minds the crucial rest they need. We find the answer in the second part of the “be still” phrase that begins Psalm 46:10.

“…and know that I am God.”

What does knowing God is God do for our efforts to stop the frantic in our lives? Matthew Henry tells us in his commentary on Psalm 46:6-11:

“This shows the perfect security of the church, and is an assurance of lasting peace… in silent submission let us worship and trust our almighty Sovereign. Let all believers triumph in this, that the Lord of hosts… has been, is and will be with us; and will be our refuge. Mark this, take the comfort and say, ‘If God be for us, who can be against us? With this, through life and I death, let us answer every fear.”

This hits home because, truly, what is the source of our frantic activity? Fear. Fear of not doing, being, saying, making and creating enough.

I’m not sure how this exactly plays out in your life, but I know for me having God as my constant stability gives me what I need to “be still” even as life races on around me. Sure, some days are more difficult than others, but I know that going to that still place where I know God is God keeps the frantic from consuming me.

Defeating Discouragement

Promise of Deliverance

After about 400 years of being in Egypt, God sends Moses to deliver the Israelites. The Egyptians respond to Moses’ announcement by increasing the work the Israelite slaves had to do each day.

After this, God tells Moses to remind the Israelites that He promised to deliver them. He tells Moses to remind them about His covenant with them (Exodus 6:2-4). Unfortunately, the Israelites do not respond positively to this reminder.

“So Moses told the people what the Lord had said, but they wouldn’t listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the increasing burden of their slavery.” (Exodus 6:9)

Their present circumstances so discouraged them, they could no longer hear God.

Defeated by Discouragement

We too can become so discouraged (beaten down in spirit) because of what we see as impossible burdens that we cannot hear from God anymore.

An unsaved loved one. A rebellious child. Bad luck. Lack of progress. Physical illness. Mental illness.

The circumstances of life can wear us down and often lead to us no longer hearing God. As the discouragement increases, we sometimes become convinced it will never end.

Or, we might still hear God speaking, but we let those who are discouraged impact our response to His voice.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go back to Pharaoh, and tell him to let the people of Israel leave Egypt.’

‘But Lord!’ Moses objected. ‘My own people won’t listen to me anymore. How can I expect  Pharaoh to listen? I’m no orator!’ (Exodus 6:10-12)

To many, staying enslaved seems easier than going through the process leading to freedom. Getting out from under discouragement is hard work, and the unknown often feels more uncomfortable than the known even if the known is not good.

Defeating Discouragement

When we get too easily taken up by our troubles that we no longer believe God’s promises, discouragement has the upper hand. But Scripture offers several steps for getting out from under the blinding burden of discouragement.

  1. Admit dependence. Realize you can do nothing without God. (John 15:5 & Psalm 62:5)
  2. Focus on facts over feelings. Feelings are often blind guides. Refuse to indulge them and always remember that focus determines reality. (2 Corinthians 1:20 & 4:17-18)
  3. Receive comfort. Don’t deprive yourself of the comfort God makes available through His Word and His divine care and direction. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 & John 14:26)

The fact is that discouragement often grows before it dissipates. That’s life. It’s also why we cannot depend on ourselves or our feelings to relieve our discouragement.

“In the process of deliverance, things often get worse before they get better. ‘Anguish of spirit and cruel bondage’ (Exodus 5:9) often restricts us from hearing and receiving what would help us live.” (Dick Brogden, Live Dead Joy, January 19th)

Refuse to let circumstances steal your focus. Refuse to let feelings dictate activity. Choose to live based on the secure and enduring promises of God.