Why We Need Variety within Spiritual Disciplines

Below is a guest post by Chris Peek. Chris blogs at Trail Reflections where he offers content that encourages leaders to discover their life mission, live with intention, pursue adventure and become fully alive.

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Why We Need Variety within Spiritual Disciplines

My heart is prone to forget. For seven years, my wife has struggled with a chronic health condition known as POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) – a form dysautonomia. From 2008-2011, we traversed the specialty medical circuit – VCU, Vanderbilt, Toledo, and the Mayo Clinic – as Karen underwent test after test, consultation after consultation.

Over time, it became apparent that she would be forced to manage the disease rather than be cured of it. Through the days, months, and years of pain and struggle, Karen has shown incredible strength and resolve. And as her condition became our new “normal,” our attention turned to growing our family.

Some doctors opined that we should hold off on having children. However, Karen’s POTS specialist in Toledo encouraged us to pursue pregnancy, stating that many POTS patients do really well while pregnant.

Yet after three miscarriages, we contemplated whether or not we should simply give up. Thankfully, we didn’t lose complete hope, even in the midst of some extremely dark days. Eventually, Karen got pregnant once again, and this time, everything seemed to be on track right up through the first several hours of labor.

I have a saying that few things in our lives seem to come easy, and the delivery of our son would be no exception. About 4:30 AM, the doctor burst into our room, jarring me out of my light nap. With a deep concern in his voice, he confirmed that both Karen’s and the baby’s heart rates were unstable. They needed to perform a C-section right away. After the longest hour-and-a-half of my life, she gave birth to our beautiful, healthy son.

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Prone to Forget

Six months later, my heart is prone to forget about the struggle and pain. I am more apt to go about our daily routine of diaper changes and battling acid reflux without spending a moment recognizing God’s blessing of a beautiful baby boy.

Similarly, my heart is prone to lose sight of the cross and the brutal sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. I am so self-absorbed that I am more concerned about paying the bills than God’s work throughout the nations. I can stand in awe of God’s blessing one day and have completely forgotten about His favor a mere 24 hours later.

Maybe that is why the apostle Paul urges us to “Pray without ceasing…” or why the Psalmist prayerfully offers, “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.”

There are so many distractions in our world that it takes discipline to remain in firmly entrenched in God’s presence. Spiritual discipline. That’s not a phrase we hear bandied about too much anymore, even within the walls of the church. Discipline sounds so twentieth century. We live in the century of instantaneous pleasure and success.

I’m probably the last person who should be writing about spiritual discipline because my heart is prone to wander and is filled with inconsistencies. Nevertheless, an ongoing relationship with God cannot exist without spiritual discipline. Discipline is a word we often associate with routine and boredom. Yet by adding a little variety, we can keep our relationship with God alive and vibrant.

Variety within Spiritual Disciplines

We don’t have to sit in the same location to pray or read the Bible. We don’t have to attend the same church service and sit in the same pew we have been sitting in for the last 20 years. If your spiritual walk feels stale, it’s probably because it is. The goal of spiritual discipline is not discipline in and of itself, but to draw into a more intimate walk with the Father.

What are some ways we can add variety to spiritual disciplines?

Worship – This can take on so many forms. Why not look for creative and meaningful ways to worship? Work is worship. Art is worship. Singing is worship. The key is whether the worship points back to God or to self.

Prayer – I like to pray while I am walking on a nature trail. Sometimes I talk to God while driving. Other times, I prefer to pray just sitting in silence. We may need to break away for an hour and spend time with God in His Creation.

Acts of Service – There are an infinite number of ways to serve the church and community. They key involves utilizing our unique calling in a variety of others-centered ways.

Bible Reading – There are numerous, sound Bible translations available to us, and it may help to switch up every once in a while. In addition, we have limitless books, courses, Bible studies, and workbooks available at the click of a mouse. These resources provide a helpful way to inject life into devotional times.

DISCUSSION: Is your heart prone to wander? What other ways can we add variety to spiritual disciplines in order to make our hearts come alive?

 

Finishing Well

startThere are 2,300 people mentioned in the Bible and 100 are prominent figures. Of those 100, only 1/3 finished well. Regarding the 2/3 that failed to finish well, most of them faltered in the last 1/2 of life.

When I look at many people older than me, I see the same trend with many struggling physically, mentally & spiritually. Many seem to have given up on aging gracefully and are just surviving, waiting for their last day to arrive. Many, unfortunately, have even given up on any kind of service to God, though they served Him fervently for much, if not all, of their younger years. “Let the younger ones do the work now,” they say. They are, at the moment, failing to finish well in the last 1/2 of life.

For much of my life, I dreaded growing older because I just didn’t see any older person who aged gracefully. All I saw were people getting more miserable with each passing day, and I knew I wanted no part of getting older if that’s what it was like.

Thankfully, my view of getting older changed in recent years as it is now being shaped by a few individuals who are aging gracefully. They serve God with increasing fervency. They possess joy, wisdom and peace that seems to come from a lifelong process of sanctification, an increasing intimacy with God that becomes immediately obvious in their presence. They still have struggles, but they never lose their focus on Christ. Their faith shines even in the toughest of times. And that, I want.

Likewise, there are that 1/3 of the 100 prominent who still serve as examples of how to finish well. I’m thankful for their example too. Combine the examples of people I know with those I read about, and I’m believing that I too can finish well.

How to Finish Well

finish

When I run in organized races, people I don’t even know cheer me on. Other runners cheer me on too. I also find myself encouraged by the others who finish the race and then go back down the course to cheer on other runners. And even though I know none of these people, I’m encouraged just to be told, “Keep going! Don’t quit. You’re almost there.”

The race of my faith life is also cheered on by people I don’t know, those who have gone before me and finished well. It’s encouraged by those running the race with, though a bit ahead, me too. My running is fueled by the words of Scripture acknowledging that the race is difficult but that finishing well is more than possible.

  1. Fight the good fight. Keep the faith. Cross the finish line. (2 Timothy 4:7)
  2. Complete the task Jesus gives you to do. (Acts 20:24)
  3. Discipline yourself & make sure what you teach matches how you live all the way to the finish line. (1 Corinthians 9:24)
  4. Endure to the end. (Hebrews 12:1)
  5. Stay qualified through the end. (Colossians 1:10-14 & 1 Corinthians 9:24)
  6. Let Christ complete His work in you. (Philippians 1:6)
  7. Stay confident. (Hebrews 10:35)
  8. Live forward, not backward. (Philippians 3:12-16)

To me, these Scriptures say, “Keep going. Don’t quit. You’re almost there.” They, along with the stories of the 1/3 who did finish well and those running just ahead of me today, encourage and cheer me on daily. They fuel my determination to finish well and to refuse to join the ranks of those who, in the last 1/2 of life wax and wane into average at best and flat out failure at worst.

DISCUSSION: What individual from the Bible do you think is the best example of finishing well and why? What motivates you to follow the advice listed above on how to finish your life well?

The Physical has SOME Value

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Living in the Extremes

Some people give their physical bodies a lot of focus from extremes with exercising, weight lifting & dieting to an obsessive focus on appearances through things like clothing, hair, nails, etc. By the same token, I know many who don’t attempt to care for themselves physically much at all past the bare minimum. They pay little attention to what or how much they eat, and physical appearance seems last on their list of priorities.

At one extreme, there are people in top shape physically but doing little for their spiritual fitness because the “some value” placed on the physical is choking out any attention on the spiritual. At the other extreme, many people, while effective for God, limit their potential by neglecting the “some value” placed on the physical self.

In no way am I saying that attention toward the physical and the spiritual should be equal. Balance does not mean equal. What I am saying is that while that which lasts into eternity should hold a larger portion of our life’s focus and should be a higher priority, the physical aspect of this life does have “some value” right now. And we do ourselves – and God – a disservice if we completely neglect or give too much focus to our physical selves.

Understanding the Value

some value 2

To help better understand the balance between priority toward the spiritual and giving “some value” to the physical, consider how a life focused largely on the eternal must also live in as healthy a way as possible in the physical here and now. Let’s look at what 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 & 2 Corinthians 4:1-5:10 say about this balance.

  1. We do need our physical bodies – our tents – even if only temporarily.
  2. Our physical bodies house the Holy Spirit.
  3. We don’t own our bodies, God does.
  4. We are to honor God and aim to please Him with our bodies.
  5. Our bodies also hold precious treasure, namely, the light of the truth of Christ as Lord.
  6. The struggles of our bodies connect us with Christ’s death & His life is seen through them.
  7. The frailty of our physical bodies creates a longing for Heaven.
  8. The troubles in our bodies point to great glory beyond them.
  9. We will be rewarded based on what we do and don’t do in our physical bodies.
  10. Christ bought us with a price. We now show gratitude for His sacrifice through our physical selves.

The more I read in Scripture about the value placed on my physical body, the more I realize the importance of doing the best I can with what I am given in this life. Doing so demonstrates good stewardship of this temporal life given me.

At the same time, what I do in and with my physical body also demonstrates my eternal focus, the even greater value placed on godliness and the honor I can give God in this life even as I long for life beyond this temporary dwelling.

DISCUSSION: How do you see the balance between our physical & spiritual selves playing out this side of Heaven?

Time for a Paradigm Shift?

milkFood Substitutions

Because of a dairy allergy, coconut milk substitutes for cow’s milk. Because of a gluten intolerance, rice-based products substitute for those made with wheat flour.

“That’s got to be hard,” many people say to me. “No, it’s really not,” I respond. “I’m used to it.”

But the comment always reminds me of the beginning of the journey when I constantly felt frustrated. I looked at store shelves and even my own cupboards and saw only what I couldn’t eat.

Over the past five years, my paradigm regarding food shifted dramatically. Through this process, God also taught me more about Himself.

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” (Qui-Gon to Anakin, Star Wars, The Phantom Menace)

cookiesAfter diagnosis of a food allergy & several sensitivities, I slowly adjusted my eating habits. My attention now goes to what I can eat, and I think little about what’s not on my menu anymore. When I focused on what I couldn’t eat, I felt deprived. When I focused on what I could have, I discovered new and enjoyable experiences.

In the Christian life, focusing on what God offers brings exciting and eternally beneficial experiences well beyond anything the world offers. What you “can’t” have no longer becomes what you want.

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Ice creamIf I eat dairy or gluten, my digestion immediately slows almost to a stop. If I keep eating them, my body fails to get needed nutrients, and eventually adrenal fatigue and depression set in along with other unpleasant reactions. The consequences range from immediate and uncomfortable to severe and debilitating. I must live with a zero-tolerance policy regarding gluten and dairy.

I must also have zero-tolerance in certain areas of my spiritual life if I want to remain spiritually healthy. Days need to begin with prayer. Regular fellowship and worship need to exist. Bible study must happen frequently & regularly. Compromising in any of these areas leads to consequences that are devastating.

“Simply the thing I am shall make me live.” (William Shakespeare)

Upon first discovery of my food allergy and sensitivities, I felt like my life was horribly complicated. I struggled to figure out what I could and could not eat and felt not only like a burden when eating with others but an outsider as well.

Now I realize my diet simplifies my life and makes me healthier because most unhealthy foods filling so many dinner tables don’t find their way into my house much. Restaurant choices are limited (cross-contamination), but these limitations also simplify choices and save time. Once I accepted myself physically with regard to food limitations, I realized that simplicity was a gift that helped me and my family lead healthier lives.

As I learn to accept who I am spiritually, my life becomes simpler and more focused. Instead of wishing I was someone else with different gifts, talents and abilities, I find peace and contentment with who I am. Accepting myself as God created me is having wide-reaching impact on my life.

“[Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

The integration of so many substitutions into my life also leads me to be more aware of the life-giving power that substitutions can have. After all, they created a healthier me than has ever existed.

The biggest truth that these substitutions bring to light for me involves the substition of Jesus for my sins, for everyone’s sins. No, I don’t think of this every time I make a food substitution, but I do think of it often, especially when I reflect on the journey my health and eating have taken over the past five years.

The connection between my eating and spiritual journeys exists as one of the major reasons I truly believe God wants to be in every detail of our lives. He also wants to use every detail to shape spiritual paradigms too.

DISCUSSION: How has God used a situation or journey in your life to make a paradigm shift?

Consistent Stretching & Strengthening

Stretching 2Foot and leg pain began when I started running at age 14 because a boy I liked ran cross country. (Incidentally, over 20 years later, not only do I still run, but I’m married to that boy who also still runs.) My first memory of these problems were shin splints. My cross country coach faithfully taped my feet before every practice & meet to help alleviate some of the pain.

My mom took me to the podiatrist who fitted me with orthodics, which I don’t recall really wearing much (okay, not at all). In college, I ran very little, so the pain subsided, and I all but forgot about it.

Then the pain started again after college because I started running again. I also started teaching college classes, which meant a lot of standing, and the pain in my feet and legs gradually increased and returned worse than ever.

Stretching 1After trying orthodics again, expensive shoes & lots of rest, I finally sought to revamp my running form as well as to incorporate cross training activities. Still, the pain increased to the point of not being able to walk without a limp.

Next, I endured the most painful event ever in my life, nerve testing of my feet (seriously, huge crochet needs stuck in the side of my feet). No problems found. Next came hours of physical therapy on pretty much every joint & ligament from the waste down. Painful.

The point? I’ve done a lot to find relief from this chronic feet, leg & hip pain. But only one route brought any consistent relief… stretching & strengthening.

Physical therapy taught me how to stretch the tight muscles in my legs and feet. About the same time, I began to strengthen my core too. When I do these regularly, my feet and leg pain – along with any back pain – almost disappears. Missing a day or two here and there isn’t a big deal, but chronically missing them gradually brings back the pain and tingling sensation.

My lifelong struggle with foot, leg and hip pain and finally finding the solution of stretching and strengthening remind me of the importance of consistent Bible study, prayer and fellowship. When I do these activities regularly, my focus remains steadily on Christ and my purposes set toward His desires. When I don’t, I lose focus easily and find myself lost and unbalanced in a chaotic world. These activities, when done consistently, do for my soul what stretching does for my muscles… prepare me to better handle the stress and strain of life.

So, why don’t I always keep with the habits of prayer, Bible study & fellowship?Probably for the same reason I neglect my stretching & strengthening routine at times. When the pain goes away, I forget what brought relief. Conversely, when I feel the pain, I’m motivated toward the habits that keep me flexible and strong.

The same holds true spiritually. Unfortunately, I’ve sort of trained God that I need to feel pain and/or discomfort in order to keep to the good habits that provide for my protection. He knows I need to be reminded of the basic habits needed to remain strong and flexible in this journey of life.

Does your life reflect this truth? Share your story in the comments.

Muscle Memory

Muscle memory (neuromuscular facilitation)…

“occurs when you have repeated an action enough times to have etched that pattern into your brain. The action becomes automatic, requiring no conscious input on your part.”

memoryGetting dressed, walking and tying your shoes are examples of activities completed by muscle memory. To get a feel of just how comfortable you are in your muscle memory, try changing your routine in any of these activities. Put your clothes on in a different order than usual. Try imitating how someone else walks. Change the way you tie your shoes. You’ll find just how comfortable muscle memory makes you feel and how hard it is to change it.

We also have negative habits established in muscle memory. Clenching your jaw and poor posture are examples. Take that a step further to our thought processes. Do you find yourself saying, “I can’t…” all too easily before even trying something new or changing a routine? These negative habits and thought patterns are examples of muscle memories too.

We need muscle memory to automate tasks that we don’t need to give mental energy toward, which allows us to redirect that energy toward that which requires active thinking and processing on our part. Our lives are filled with muscle memory activities, some of which make our lives easier and some of which present struggles we need to focus on and overcome in order to grow and mature. Muscle memory can both free us for bigger tasks and keep us from attempting them.

Spiritual Muscle Memory

Do you feel stuck spiritually? Consider reprogramming your spiritual muscle memory. If prayers feel aimless and/or worship seems a dry routine, perhaps muscle memory needs changed. And if loving others seems like a forced “should,” then changing spiritual muscle memory might lead to transformation.

The following elements, adapted from what psychologists and athletes alike use when breaking down old muscle memory habits to create new ones, hint at beginning steps for changing spiritual muscle memory:

  1. Repetition. Too often, a positive habit fails to get established in muscle memory because we fail to repeat the process enough times. Only through repetition can we effectively rid ourselves of bad habits and replace them with good ones.
  2. Consistency. Once you find out what works, stick with it. Keep doing what works (repetition) to establish it as a habit.
  3. Comfort. Creating new muscle memories and letting old ones go creates discomfort. Keep comfort zones for times of rest and recuperation that generate energy needed for the discomfort of stretching and growing.
  4. Brokenness. Sometimes, we must break down what is not working in order to create a new habit that will make us stronger. This gets at the idea of rooting out  bad habits holding us back and replacing them with new ones that helps us grow.
  5. Variety. Just like we need comfort in order to work through discomfort, we also need variety in order to not get swallowed up in the repetition of consistency. Establish consistent habits but allow for variety within them.

What can you immediately apply from this list to help you move forward and go deeper in your relationship with God? The principles of breaking down and establishing muscle memory were deliberately discussed generally to allow for more unique individual application. Take some time to consider how you can personally apply these principles, and share your ideas in the comments.

Note: This month’s focus lies with taking aspects of our physical selves and making spiritual connections. Also, this week begins a summer schedule for Struggle to Victory with a scheduled post every Tuesday and periodic posts at other times throughout the month (my attempt at being a bit more spontaneous). I’m open to publishing guest posts as well, so leave any interest in writing one in the comments below.

Solving the Problem of Information Overload

Information 1

Information Overload

“I feel… thin. Sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. I need a holiday. A very long holiday.” (Bilbo in The Fellowship of the Ring)

Can you relate? While specifics vary from one person to the next, many people, myself included, feel spread thin by the constant flow of information and constant access available every minute of every day. And we largely bring it on ourselves through our unbalanced approach to interacting with technology.

This lack of balance leads to too much information coming too fast with no down time allowing for processing any information in a healthy way. Information overload does to our minds what indiscriminate eating and a sedentary life do to our bodies.

Infobesity

Information overload, known as “infobesity” or “infoxication,” has actually been around since the 1970′s. Over time, information overload leads to “information anxiety,” which distracts and negatively impacts an individual’s ability to be productive.

Even before any of these terms existed, George Miller hypothesized that humans have limited ability to process information and that overload results when these limits are exceeded. Evidence of taxed limits include…

  • Confusion
  • Poor decision making
  • Inability to generate original thoughts
  • Inability to have unique ideas

Nichoas Carr and Eric Schmidt agree with Miller and say that information overload could have an impact on though processes by…

  • Obstructing deep thinking
  • Blocking understanding
  • Impeding formation of memories
  • Making learning more difficult

This condition of “cognitive overload” results in diminished information retaining ability and failure to connect remembrances to experience stored in the long-term memory, leaving thoughts thin and scattered.

Simply put, information overload reduces our ability to think, understand, form memories and learn. It limits our capability for retaining information and accurately remembering experiences.

Finding Balance

To a great extent, we cannot control how much information comes our way nor how much we have to use technology. However, we’re not helpless either. We can find balance and avoid feeling spread thin by overindulgence.

Balance comes through setting information boundaries that mitigate the negative impact the constant flow of information has on a person’s ability to think, reason and remember. It also comes through deliberately capturing  and filtering thoughts.

(Note: The next two posts will look at the idea of capturing & filtering thoughts in relation to technology and information overload, and next Thursday’s post focuses on providing ways to find balance by creating information boundaries.)

Creating balance in the atmosphere of the inner self requires developing ways to regulate and filter the information entering our lives. Doing so helps create a state of  information balance instead of information overload in our lives.

DISCUSSION: What symptoms do you see of information overload in your life?

Interview with The Precipice Author, TC Avey

For the month of April, Struggle to Victory is focusing on virtual influences by featuring guest posts, by guest posting on other sites, and by highlighting some of the regular visitors to this blog. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, strengthened & challenged by these people as much as I have on a regular basis, people I am proud to say have an impact on my thinking in ways that matter eternally.

THE PRECIPICE_coverToday’s post brings you an interview with author of The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends, TC Avey.

TC Avey is a Christian devoted to God, family and friends. She is passionate about encouraging Christians to live lives dedicated to Christ as well as to helping them understand the importance of preserving our national freedoms through knowledge and love. She blogs at Wisdom of a Fool. You can also follow her on Twitter. Her book, The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends, is NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon.

 

Why did you write The Precipice?

I love History and Current Events. In 2008 God began changing the way I view both. I can no longer read history, or news stories, and not see God. While God is a gentlemen and won’t force anyone to believe in Him, He can be seen everywhere. From the dawn of time, He’s been calling out to His creation, longing for a relationship. Far too often people explain Him away with science, logic, nature, or as coincidence.

I wrote this book to help people see God in the world around them. He is speaking to us through so many different venues, but sadly many of us aren’t listening. If we aren’t reading His Word, if we aren’t engaged in what is transpiring in the world, we can’t be effective witnesses of His. And we certainly won’t be the prepared bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13) He is looking for upon His return.

Do you think your book evokes fear in people?

I hope it doesn’t, but I can’t control how people respond after reading my book. Here’s something that’s sure to offend some: I think how a reader responds to this book tells more about that person’s relationship with Christ than it does about my book.

My book isn’t meant to inspire fear, but motivation. Motivation to build one’s life upon the Rock. Motivation to have one’s trust completely founded upon Christ and not foolishly placed in worldly goods, conveniences or governments. Motivation to seek God with all their heart, soul, mind and spirit.

I also hope it inspires people to become more aware of Current Events. To be active in our how world is being shaped.

People have more control over what is transpiring in this world than what they take. But having control means being responsible, responsible to Christ and responsible to others.

One of my favorite quotes by Dietrich Bonhoeffer is…

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

There is great evil and great good in this world. Which side will you stand on?

Is there hope that the tides can change?

YES! 2 Chronicles 7:14 says,

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

God doesn’t lie. Therefore, we can have confidence that if we do our part, He will do His. (Again, we have to be individually accountable and responsible.)

Throughout history people have thought it was “the end”…and here we are. No one knows the hour of Christ’s return.

While Matthew 24 (and other places in the Bible) gives us clues to look for, there’s no formula we can use as a countdown to His return.

The best we can do is live is each day as if it is our last and make each moment count.

What advice do you have for those who are scared of end times and/or modern events?

Draw closer to God. Seek Him in His Word. He will give you revelation, peace, and whatever it is your heart needs. He created you, only He can satisfy what’s going on inside. We must stop looking to others for spiritual nourishment or solutions to our problems. Yes, others can help, but they shouldn’t be our source.

Draw close to God and He will draw close to you. Learn to trust Him by getting to know Him. That takes daily commitment. And remember,

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18, NIV)

Christ is that perfect love. Remain in Him, IN the Vine. (John 15) Let His love and work on the cross perfect and settle you.

DISCUSSION: How do you react when you hear of end time events playing out in the news? What other questions do you have for TC about The Precipice, end time events or any other topic?

NOTE: If you purchase The Precipice in its first week of publication on Amazon, you will also receive a BONUS PACKAGE if you email your receipt to the author BEFORE APRIL 14TH.

Ending the Reign of Stress in Your Life

SONY DSCA recent milk commercial shows a crying, distraught cow watching her best friend (a young girl) going to school.  The idea of emotional cows may seem ludicrous, but research actually shows that cows have best friends and do get stressed when separated from them. This unusual fact about stress helps illustrate the far-reaching impact of stress even beyond human uniqueness.

While a stressed-out cow may have little meaning for your own over-stressed life, perhaps the following facts about stress might.

Symptoms & Causes of Stress

Everyone knows that stress impacts physical, mental and spiritual well-being. But do we really realize the extent of its control? 

Symptoms of stress

And those are just the symptoms, not the actual causes. Here are just some of the causes:

Causes of Stress

When we consider the distance stress will take to rule our lives, should we not also consider the great lengths we must be willing to go to if we are to end its reign?

Drawn Tight

The term “stress” comes from the Latin word “stringere” which means “to draw tight.” Can you relate to a feeling of being drawn tight, perhaps as tight as you think you can go, as tight as you’ve ever gone before? Most people can.

Do you even remember NOT feeling that way?

Sure, we find moments of relief watching mindless television, tweeting, or shopping with friends. But the source of stress always awaits our return, ready to tighten the strings once again.

And stress’ domain seems to be growing, doesn’t it? Even in a culture with all we want continually, easily and readily at our fingertips, more people seem chronically over-stressed. Even kids and teenagers experience stress well beyond what their maturity level can handle. Why does stress seem to be getting worse when we have so many ways to relax?

This month we’re looking at stress’ reign in our lives, and we’ll consider the idea that perhaps stress grips so tightly because we let it, and maybe we live with the consequences of stress simply because we fail to create and implement habits to prevent them.

Want to change? Want stress to be a healthy part of your life instead of a fascist dictator? Want to feel like you’re running on smooth terrain instead of wading through thigh-deep mud?

Let’s get into the details of stress in our lives with the goal of finding permanent solutions. Let’s get at the root causes of stress rather than simply treating the symptoms and numbing the consequences of living chronically high-stressed lives. Are you game?

DISCUSSION: What exists as the root cause – going beyond symptoms – of stress in your life?

Dress for Success in Relationships

494936_88709934While my13-year-old may not always, hopefully most of us put on clean clothing regularly. Feeling clean and fresh often motivates in a positive direction for the day ahead. In fact, one of the main suggestions for recovery from depression involves showering and putting on clean clothes every day.

Wearing clothing appropriate for the situation is also important. I won’t exercise in a dress, and I don’t wear my exercise clothes to church. Also, consider the fact that students often perform better on tests when they dress up. Appropriateness in what we wear impacts how we feel about ourselves and shows the importance we place on an activity.

Another example involves getting new clothes, which often revives a stale season of life. Most women (along with their husbands) understand that a new piece of clothing can brighten a woman’s day.

While these changes of clothing are temporary, many seek long-term happiness in changing what they wear physically. In reality, though, our physical clothing has limited impact on our long-term reality.

New Nature Clothing

Our spiritual clothing works in similar ways to our physical clothing, but it holds far greater and more long-term impact. In fact, when our internal clothing reflects that of our new nature in Christ, we discover an eternal perspective that transforms our living, growing and connecting.

Consider how, based on Colossians 3, our new nature clothing impacts us not only individually but also in every relationship.

  • New nature clothing represents a growing knowledge of Christ. (v. 10)
  • The right spiritual clothing creates peace that rules the heart. (v. 15)
  • Style and social position don’t matter with new nature clothing. (v. 11)
  • Continued thankfulness renews & refreshes the “outfit.” (vv. 15-17)
  • Love completes the “look,” bringing unity to the whole “outfit.” (v. 14)

We don’t make our own clothing much anymore but instead have to purchase what we want to wear. Our new nature clothing was also purchased and not something we make on our own. Only through Christ do we have this “clothing” to wear. And not only did He purchase this clothing for us, it never wears out… it never needs replaced.

Renewed

Renewal & Relationships

So how does this continued renewal of our new natures by the spiritual clothing we put on impact our relationships? Our new nature clothing affects the atmosphere of the inner self which then creates the pervading mood that others see and that governs our relationships. In other words, how we dress our hearts determines how we live out love through our relationships.

Relationships provide the opportunity to express the love that our relationship with Christ generates. Only when we clothe ourselves in the new nature clothing of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, forgiveness, thankfulness and love that only come through knowing Jesus do we then have a demeanor that serves to positively cultivate New Nature Relationships.

DISCUSSION: How does your new nature clothing impact your relationships?