Monday, February 27, 2012

God’s Stress Plan

We live in a stressful world that seems to make impossible demands on our lives. This affects everything from our mood, to how we relate to our families and, most importantly, how we relate to God. God knows how we are because he made us. He knows we need to relieve stress; that is why he gave us a stress plan. There are many places in God’s Word where he tells us how to deal with stress, and here is one that has meant so much to me.

Isaiah 30:15 “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”

The secret to this plan is to develop a quiet time in your life where you learn to trust God. This quietness, in time, will become a way of life. It’s God’s offer that, if we abandon all other hope but him and disbelieve every other truth but his, he will be our strength. Notice, however, the last few words of the verse “but you would have none of it.” How do we refuse God’s offer? Well, we do it all the time. Every time we hurry into a business decision without consulting him or every time we form a new relationship and leave him out we do it. Every time we think we can find our own happiness apart from God we do it.[i]

Judah said, “No thanks God. We will ride off on swift horses” (Isa. 30:16). How many times do we ride off in the opposite direction of God’s offer in search of our own solutions?  God warns Judah that their search would be futile and would end up in loneliness “like a flagstaff on a mountaintop.” I’ve done it plenty of times, and I’ve felt the loneliness of abandoning God’s offer of meeting with me. We often ride off in search of self-validation, but that is not what we really need. What we really long for is God-validation.

I am encouraged to see the next verse because it tells me that despite the fact that I may have refused God’s offer of communion, he still waits for me to come back. In fact, God longs to be gracious to me.”

Isa 30:18 “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!”

Join me this week as I take God up on his offer to relieve my stress as I quietly talk to him and trust him. When I do, I receive strength for weakness and victory for surrender. God, give me a quiet spirit that completely trusts you. Thanks, God, for being so gracious.

[i] Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. Isaiah (Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL 2005) p. 169.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Filling the Emptiness

I am shocked by how many unhappy people I meet on a day-to-day basis. Many of the people I am referring to live unfulfilled lives. Depression is a major problem in our world today. It is a state where people experience extreme changes in their moods. Most common is a low, sad state where life looks empty and dark and the simple challenges of life seem completely overwhelming. It affects our emotions, our motivation, our ability to think straight and, ultimately, our behavior.  The most common descriptions people give of their feelings during depression are that of being “miserable,” “empty,” and “humiliated.” They experience little pleasure in life and may experience anxiety, anger or agitation. Some begin their day in depression, while others end their day that way, and still others have patterns of depression on the weekend. Most people who suffer from depression do not realize they are in company with Isaac Newton, Beethoven, Darwin, Van Gogh, Tolstoy, Spurgeon, Moses and Queen Victoria. Yet, for most, the subject of depression is rarely discussed, and they live in a state of disapproval, suspicion and guilt.

For most people depression has its roots in some kind of disappointment. It comes when they strive to be appreciated as a child by parents, teachers and others and are not. They react to criticism and rejection, which sometime come in the form of a trauma, by isolating themselves. They get angry when things go wrong, accenting their failure to acquire coping skills. They feel unloved, inferior and inadequate. All this and much more becomes the basis for depression, leading to unhappiness in their lives.

They develop an attitude of defeat. They avoid challenges because they don’t feel up to the task. They consider themselves second-class people. Thus, it is understandable that they would develop an attitude of entrapment. They don’t see any alternative escape with or without the help of others.

Jesus spoke to the depressed when he said these words:

Matt 11:28-30
“‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’"

John 7:37-38
“On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’" 

What a beautiful invitation from the one who offers to give us rest. Rest in the area we most hurt, our souls and spirits. Jesus is able to lift the burden we have become accustomed to carrying. He not only promises us rest, but he promises to transform us into a person who is overflowing with something to share with others.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Inviting Jesus Into a Memory

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a bad memory or two, but some people seem to have too many to count. Those bad memories have contributed to dysfunctional patterns of thinking. These people have been hurt so severely, they have tunnel vision. They see most everything as a loss and not a gain. They focus on the problems and not the solutions.

When my father was just a small boy living in West Texas, he went to his one room school house. His education was intermittent, leaving him with gaps in his learning. When he failed to solve a math problem, the teacher ridiculed him and even shook him. He never forgot that experience or the feeling of his inadequacy, especially when it came to math. His formal education ended that year with his completion of the 5th grade. Later on, during World War II he was selected for officer’s training and, according to his captain, would have made a fine officer. However, when the training focused on math, my father walked out of the class and out of the program. There simply had been too many terrifying memories of a 5th grader who couldn’t do math.

That memory never left my father; neither did the wound. I have learned that the best thing any of us can do with bad memories is to invite Jesus into that memory. Jesus is not subject to time. He is eternal, and he can travel through time. He will stand with us in that moment when we first stood all alone. He stands with us in that moment when we were filled with disappointment and sadness. In that moment when we felt stupid, useless and inadequate, he comes to change those feelings of loss. These are wounds that never heal and memories that never go away on their own. The enemy uses them to taunt us all through our adult life. When we invite Jesus into the memory, he comes to correct the lies and defend us from the slander. He comes to set us free from those enslaving memories. I believe this is what the Apostle Paul was writing about in his letter to the Corinthians:

2 Cor 10:4-5
“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Maybe you’ve had some similar moment of failure in your life that has formed a bad memory. Perhaps you believe what the memory tells you every day—that you are “stupid,” “not worthy” or “not capable.” Invite Jesus into your failure today, and he will set you free of the guilt and shame. He will take that thought and make it obedient to his will.