Why Was Elijah Depressed?

Elijah cave

Elijah has always been one of my favorite Bible characters, and I’m particularly intrigued by the chapter where he fights deep depression (1 Kings 19). The mighty prophet had witnessed amazing answers to prayer, stopping the rain for years before starting it again. He had multiplied a widow’s meager supply of food and raised her son from the dead. And for good measure, he called down fire from heaven and slayed the false prophets of Baal.

Huge victories, to say the least. Impressive demonstrations of faith. Causes for great celebration, we might think.

So how in the world did Elijah become utterly depressed—to the extent that he wanted God to end his life?

Although some people act as if depression has only one cause, in Elijah’s case we see this simply isn’t true. You might come up with a different list than mine, but I’ve found 7 lessons about depression we can learn from Elijah’s story:

  1. Be careful what you listen to. The onset of Elijah’s melancholy can be traced to 1 Kings 19:2: “Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah.”  Every moment of every day, we are bombarded with messengers, aren’t we? God is speaking. The devil is speaking. And we receive countless positive or negative messages through the people around us and diverse forms of media. Beware: The spirit of Jezebel is still speaking, my friend! And if we listen to that diabolical messenger, we’ll inevitably become depressed, just like Elijah.
  2. Avoid the tendency to go it alone. Elijah made two mistakes that contributed to his downward spiral. First, he left his servant behind (v. 3). During the prophet’s dark hours in the cave, no one was with him to cheer him up or offer helpful perspective. But an even worse problem was his disconnect from the God-fearing Israelites who could have been his allies: the “seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal” (v. 16). It’s depressing to feel all alone in a daunting mission—but sometimes we just need to connect with those who would happily be our comrades.
  3. Recognize the physical factors influencing your state of mind. Depression isn’t just a spiritual or psychological condition. Often it’s greatly influenced by factors that are physical or chemical in nature. If you study this chapter in detail, you’ll see that Elijah was extremely fatigued, deprived of adequate sleep for several days. He also was dehydrated and lacking in nutrition until God sent an angel to give him water and food (vs. 5-8). On top of everything else, he had faced a period of great stress, which often results in adrenal exhaustion and other deficits in a person’s body chemistry.
  4. Assess whether you’re in the right place. Twice in this passage, God asks the prophet a fascinating question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (verses 9 & 13). If you’re feeling depressed today, it’s good to ask whether you’re “out of position” in some way. Are you in a job or ministry where you don’t fit? Are you remaining in the wrong city or country, when the Lord has been nudging you to move somewhere else? Are you staying in a toxic relationship, when you know you don’t have God’s peace?
  5. Beware of the egotistical view that everything depends on you. When you try to play God, you will inevitably become both exhausted and depressed. Elijah told the Lord, “I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (v. 10). He knew there was a lot more work to be done in bringing repentance and national restoration to Israel, and he felt the job depended entirely on him! When we get stuck in that kind of overwhelming mindset, we need to pause and (1) cast our burdens on the Lord, and (2) recognize our need to team up with other people in order to fulfill the remaining mission.
  6. Amid whirling circumstances and activities, make sure you don’t lose touch with God’s gentle whisper and still small voice. While it’s clear Elijah knew a lot about intimacy with God, it seems he slipped away from that intimacy amid the busyness of his life and ministry. Can you relate? In the midst of the busyness of “serving God,” it’s all too easy to neglect spending quality time with Him. In this case, the Lord showed Elijah “a great and strong wind…an earthquake…and a fire” (vs. 11-12), but the divine message came with His gentle whisper instead of any of these dramatic events. Ask yourself: Can you still hear the Lord’s quiet voice when you’re by yourself, or do you only feel His presence when the worship band is blaring?
  7. Find hope in remembering your mission—or in finding a new one, if necessary. Elijah had already accomplished a great deal. It was understandable to wonder if his life’s mission had already been completed. But it’s incredibly depressing when you no longer believe God still has an important purpose for your life. A major breakthrough in shedding his depression came when Elijah was recommissioned by the Lord with a new calling—to anoint some kings and “anoint Elisha as prophet in your place” (v. 15-16). Perhaps this is a message for you as well: It could be time to equip the next generation and train your replacement!

Action Steps

Most of us have faced a bout of serious depression at one time or another. Hey, if it could happen to Elijah, you and I certainly aren’t immune.

However, you don’t need to stay in the “cave” or the valley of despair. Learning the lessons from Elijah’s story, you can believe God’s promises and quit listening to the messengers of condemnation and defeat. You can learn to rely on the Lord and your comrades instead of carrying the entire load on your own shoulders.

It’s also important to regularly monitor the physical factors you’re dealing with. Are you getting enough sleep, exercise, hydration, and nutrition? Do you need to take steps to eliminate some of the stress in your life?

Perhaps it’s time to ask yourself the “placement” question God asked Elijah. Are you in the right place…the right role…with the right people?

If, like Elijah, you’ve lost your sensitivity to the Lord’s gentle whisper amid life’s busyness, I pray you’ll hear it once again. And when you do, don’t be surprised if He reaffirms your calling—or gives you a whole new mission.

I’m praying your best days are still ahead!  

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5 Strategies for Overcoming Stress Overload

stress 2

Stress often gets a bad rap. It’s not always bad. Our goal should certainly not be a “stress-free” life, for that kind of existence would be extremely boring and unproductive.

Just as a guitar string needs some “stress” in order to be in proper tune, so do we. If you strum a guitar string that is too tight, it’s liable to snap. But the same is true if the string is too loose. Whether too tight or too loose, if the string is out of tune it becomes more vulnerable to damage.

Of course, a few people have the gift of perfect pitch, able to keep their strings under exactly the right tension. But most of us need to use a guitar tuner or some other device that lets us know how the string is supposed to sound. Instead of the subjective approach, just tuning the instrument by ear, we need an objective standard to synchronize with.

I hope your life is well-tuned today, with just the right amount of stress. But if you’re anything like me, your tendency is to keep juggling more and more balls until you’re in danger of stress overload. Eventually you hit the breaking point, and it’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Over many decades of life and ministry, I’ve become somewhat of an expert in detecting and diffusing stress overload—mostly because I’ve so often been its victim.

Here are 5 of the top strategies I’ve discovered for overcoming this commonly recurring problem:

  1. Remember that God is God, and you’re not.

This principle is so basic, yet so deep. At the root of all stress overload is the human inclination to forget that God is on the throne of the universe. Throughout the Scriptures, we’re told to be still and know that HE is God (Psalm 46:10). We’re reminded that the government of creation is on HIS shoulders rather than ours (Isaiah 9:6-7). And we’re invited to cast our cares upon Him (1 Peter 5:7) and find rest for our soul (Matthew 11:28-30).

Not matter how strong, smart, creative, or resilient you might be, you will do a terrible job trying to be God. So if you feel like you’ve been given “more than you can handle” today, it may be because you’re trying to shoulder responsibilities that only God Himself is qualified to handle.

I’ll never forget my Grandma Fraggiotti singing her favorite hymn, “I Need Thee Every Hour.” The song’s beautiful message somehow was even more penetrating when sung in Grandma’s distinct German accent.

  1. Recognize you’re not called upon to solve every problem and meet every need.

I’ve often fallen prey to stress overload because of trying to do everyone else’s job for them. Years ago I used to love playing volleyball during our church picnics. I was, in all humility, better than most of the other players, so I frequently tried to cover their positions as well as my own. Although I usually was successful doing this for a while, the ball would typically end up falling right where I myself was supposed to be. I was so overextended covering other people’s assignments, that I too often failed to cover my own.

I love John the Baptist’s reply when people asked about his identity. “I am not the Christ!” he told them (John 1:20). You and I need to remember that profound truth as well. We are not the whole body of Christ, but simply a part. In order to fulfill our true identity, we need to be very clear on who we are NOT.

On several occasions, people tried to get Jesus involved in situations He knew He wasn’t called to handle (e.g., Luke 12:13-14). At other times, He refused to fit into other people’s timeframe, because He realized His time had not yet come (John 7:2-8, John 11:3-6).

You will surely succumb to stress overload if you’re always allowing other people’s procrastination to constitute an emergency on your part. Likewise, you must learn to say “no” when you discern that people have an agenda for you that’s not God’s agenda.

  1. Focus your attention on the needs of today, rather than excessively dwelling on baggage of the past or events in the future.

One of my mother’s favorite Bible verses was Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Much of our stress comes either from trying to change yesterday (which is impossible) or worrying about situations that may or may not occur tomorrow.

Remember: God only promises to give us enough grace and strength for TODAY. When tomorrow comes, we’ll have the strength we need then too. But we’ll inevitably find ourselves overwhelmed if we attempt to shoulder the cares of yesterday, today, and tomorrow all at the same time.

  1. Remember the Sabbath principle.

God designed humankind to experience a rhythm of work and rest (Exodus 20:8-11). You weren’t made to work 24/7, nor even 24/6. You need to get adequate daily sleep and set aside consistent time each week for rest and revitalization.

Stress overload is also reduced when you take time to exercise, have fun, and do other activities that provide “energy in.” Stephen Covey refers to this principle as “sharpening the saw.” Few things are as stressful as trying to carry out our responsibilities in life when we’re feeling drained and empty.

  1. Periodically disengage from the cares of life for several days in a row.

While a weekly Sabbath rest break is vital to overcoming stress overload, sometimes we need more than that. I periodically come to places in my life when I need a personal retreat, vacation, or even a sabbatical.

To paraphrase Jesus’ words in Mark 6:31, “You need to come apart so that you won’t fall apart!” He and His disciples were hard workers, pouring their lives out for others. But He also modeled the importance of regularly getting away from the grind of ministry in order to gain new perspective, recharge our spiritual batteries, and regain our emotional vitality.

My favorite car ever was a baby blue 1976 Fiat. But it was a stick shift, and sometimes I forgot to push the clutch when shifting gears. The result was a terrible grinding sound, as the moving gears collided. I learned a valuable lesson from that car: Whenever I’m about to make a major shift or transition in my life, I need to “push the clutch” and momentarily disengage the gears.

By implementing these 5 strategies, you can experience a life of greater balance, joy, and longevity. Instead of operating on overload, your stress level will become like the strings of a finely tuned musical instrument.

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The Perils of Being a Good Juggler

jugglers

I have an exceptional ability to juggle lots of balls at the same time. I don’t mean literal balls. My hand-and-eye coordination isn’t good enough for that. But, better than most people, I’m able to successfully juggle multiple projects, activities, and relationships.

Many of my best friends are only able to focus on one project at a time. Sometimes I envy them, for being a good juggler is both a blessing and a curse.

Almost anyone can successfully juggle one ball from hand to hand. And with a little practice, most people can handle two or three balls. Juggling four or five balls is far more difficult, though. Even if you can juggle four or five balls for a short period, the problem is sustainability.

I’ve found that when you’re a good juggler, people keep giving you more balls. It’s not really their fault, but your boss, spouse, kids, and friends seem to think your capacity is unlimited. So you go from juggling one ball…to two…to three…to four. And everything goes splendidly at first.

Yet when you’re a good juggler, you inevitably end up with one more ball than you can handle. Sadly, you seldom see how hazardous this progression is—not until ALL the balls end up on the floor.

Those of us who are good jugglers typically end up juggling many of the wrong  balls. We have a hard time saying NO. Instead of prioritizing and focusing, we try convincing people of our nearly superhuman abilities.

There’s an old gospel song that says, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” The challenge for good jugglers is that we often forget Who this song is referring to. God is able to simultaneously juggle all the balls in the universe—but we’re not God.

If you’re a good juggler like me, my heart goes out to you. As the Scriptures advise, I hope you’ll learn to cast your cares on the Lord, remembering that He’s the only limitless juggler. May you regularly seek His wisdom on which balls are meant for you, and which ones aren’t.

If you’ve taken on too many balls, running the risk of dropping them all, I pray you’ll recognize your precarious situation before it’s too late. In the end, you’ll be far more productive—and much happier—if you focus on your true calling. That’s where you’ll find God’s grace and strength.

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Your Whac-a-Mole Options

whac-a-mole-arcade boys

When a friend recently asked me how I was doing, my response was troubling.

“My body and mind seem to be slowing down,” I said, “but my responsibilities seem to be speeding up. That’s a bad combination!”

As I later reflected on that conversation, the Whac-a-Mole arcade game came to mind. As the game begins, the moles pop up fairly slowly, but their speed continually increases until the game finally ends.

This prompted me to think of a story about three young boys who took different approaches when they played Whac-a-Mole at the county fair one day…

The first boy just did his best. As the moles first began to emerge, he had little trouble whacking each one. But by the final moments of the game, the moles were getting the better of him. Unable to keep up with the frantic speed, he became exasperated.

The second boy, after watching the plight of his friend, came up with a clever plan to foil the pesky moles. After easily whacking a few moles at the beginning of the game, he calmly went to the back of the machine and pulled the power cord before things got out of hand.

“Why did you do that?!” his friends demanded. “You can’t just stop the game in the middle.”

“I outsmarted those moles,” the boy explained. “I cut the game off before the speed got too fast for me.”

But his two friends pointed out the folly of his logic. By pulling the plug, he had ended his chance of scoring any more points. Yes, he had avoided the frustration and feeling of failure that comes when you can’t keep up—but this impulsive act had diminished his final score.

The third boy had watched his two friends and devised a better solution. He alertly noticed a speed control on the side of the Whac-a-Mole game, and he turned it to the slow, “senior citizen” mode. All the moles still popped up, but practically in slow motion. This young man ended up getting the highest score, because he could easily keep up with the speed.

What are the lessons in this story?

  • If you play Whac-a-Mole at the regular speed, you’re likely to become overwhelmed and frustrated at the end.
  • When you become overwhelmed and frustrated, at times you might feel tempted to simply pull the plug.
  • But the better solution is to adjust the speed control, acknowledging that you aren’t as fast as you used to be.

You’re probably thinking at this point, “Jim, I see no way to adjust the speed control in my life. The ‘moles’ just keep popping up, totally out of my control.”

Believe me, I’ve had similar thoughts. Finding life’s “speed control” seems difficult, if not impossible.

But here are a few thoughts that can liberate you from your Whac-a-Mole dilemma…

  1. First, consider this amazing truth: Some of the “moles” popping up can simply be ignored!

Like a batter in baseball, you mustn’t swing at every pitch people throw at you. You have to be patient…know the pitches you can hit…and say “no” to curveballs that are out of your strike zone.

  1. Next, you need to acknowledge that you’re not Superman or Superwoman.

Yes, it’s humbling to admit you need to slow down life’s Whac-a-Mole game a bit. But that option is preferable to going insane or simply pulling the plug.

  1. Finally, you need to recognize that God has given you permission to rest…to take Sabbaths and vacations…and simple to SLOW DOWN.

“Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?” (Jeremiah 2:25 MSG).

What great advice! Slow down. Take a deep breath. Quit being in such a hurry.

As I’ve reflected on the lessons I learned from the Whac-a-Mole story, I find myself meditating on this great principle from Scripture: “Only in returning to Me and resting in Me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15 NLT).

As we return to the Lord and learn to rest in His presence, life will slow down a bit. Noise will give way to quietness. New strength will come, and confidence will rise. We might even enjoy life—really enjoy life—for the first time in years.

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The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back

camel-1a

Have you ever reached the breaking point? Sometimes you can see it coming, but often it sneaks up and catches you unaware.

Running late to the office on a recent Friday morning, I was carrying my laptop computer case, a huge glass of iced tea, and an apple as I left my kitchen. At the last moment, my computer case slipped, causing me to spill a large portion of the iced tea.

Although this was an incredibly minor event, I reacted as if it was the end of the world. I was irate at myself, not just for spilling the tea, but for reacting in such a dramatic and childish way.

What had just happened? An old proverb immediately came to mind about “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

This was a busy morning, capping off a busy and stressful week. I seemed to go from one deadline to another…one meeting to another…one emergency to another…and one friend after another who needed my listening ear and words of encouragement.

I had handled the load so  well all along the way—until my rush to get to the office caused me to spill my tea.

Like the camel in the proverb, I had seemingly been doing an admirable job of carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. One responsibility after another was loaded on my back, and I accepted each one without flinching or complaining. In fact, I carried the heavy load as a badge of honor, smugly concluding that few people could do what I was doing.

But my perspective was rudely jerked back to reality when I spilled my iced tea. It suddenly became obvious that I’d unwittingly allowed myself to approach dangerously close to the breaking point. The tea incident was as insignificant as a piece of straw would be to a camel—yet it shattered the illusion of my invincibility.

Camels are known for their ability to carry heavy loads for long distances. We celebrate their knack for going many weeks without the need for water.

But even a camel has a breaking point.

Even a camel must maintain proper margins or risk an eventual breakdown.

Right when you think the camel has unlimited capacity, the final straw causes it to reach its limit.

If you are getting close to the breaking point, you are surely not alone. Countless people today are living on the edge, brutally overloading their body, mind, and emotions.

Even though some of our responsibilities are unavoidable, I’ve concluded that many of the burdens we carry are completely unnecessary—the result of our unwillingness to say “no” when we’re in danger of reaching our breaking point.

Two thousand years before I spilled my iced tea that Friday morning, Jesus was reaching out to help me and you shoulder our heavy loads:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light  (Matthew 11:28-30).

When was the last time you experienced this kind of peace and rest? You don’t have to wait until you spill your iced tea before you accept Jesus’ amazing offer. Cast your heavy burdens on Him today, and you’ll breathe a whole lot easier.

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The Ironic Thing About People-Pleasing

peoplepleasing Yes man

I’ve never met anyone who isn’t a people-pleaser on some level. Even my boldest, brashest, “tell it like it is” friends are secretly hoping to find some supportive audience for their message.

Although it’s a fact difficult for me to face, I’m clearly a people-pleaser too. I want people to like my sermons, my blogs, and even my wardrobe and my car. And I still want my kids, my friends, and my boss to admire me and think I’m doing a good job.

This realization hasn’t been easy. It comes after years of declaring, “I don’t care what anyone else thinks of me!” But now I have to admit that I still tend to evaluate myself by how other people are evaluating me.

I’ve concluded that the ironic thing about people-pleasers is that our mission is doomed to failure. We may succeed in pleasing some of the people some of the time, but we’ll never please all  the people all  the time.

So why do we insist on persevering in this foolhardy venture? Why not just drop the façade and acknowledge that play-acting is a dead-end road, inevitably leading to frustration and defeat?

This issue came up recently when I happened to be sorting through some very old family photos. I came across press clippings from the Columbus Dispatch when I was a child actor. Even though the reviews were over five decades old, I still wanted to read what the reviewers said about my performance! Oh my…

Like me, perhaps you’re still obsessed with your press clippings, job reviews, or comments on your sermons or blogs. You’ve given countless other people the power to be your judge and jury.

What a treadmill of futility this creates. Why can’t we just do our performances before an “audience of One,” like the Bible encourages us to do?

The apostle Paul wrote that his sole ambition was to please the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9). He said that if he was still seeking to please other people, he wouldn’t be a true servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).

But even if we know better, people-pleasing is a hard habit to shake. For most of us, it’s deeply ingrained in our personality and psyche.

The Bible is filled with sad stories about people-pleasers. Adam seemed more intent on pleasing Eve than on obeying God. Aaron was so intent on pleasing the Israelites that he was willing to make a golden calf. Samson made the fatal mistake of trying to please Delilah. And although Pilate could find no fault in Jesus, he sent Him to crucifixion in order to please the religious leaders and chanting crowd.

I’ve discovered that one of the crazy outcomes of people-pleasing is that you’ll inevitably offend some people while trying to please others. It becomes an exhausting enterprise, because there’s always someone you have disappointed.

Surprising as it may seem, God is often easier  to please than people are (Matthew 3:17). Throughout His life, Jesus always sought to do the things that pleased His Father (John 8:29), and that would be a great objective for us as well.

After all, people-pleasing is an exhausting, never-ending, insanity-producing quest. We’ll breathe a lot easier when we only have One person to please.

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Feeling Overwhelmed? These 7 Tips Will Help

If you’re anything like me, some days you feel like conquering the world—and other days the world seems to be conquering you. Although I usually respond pretty well when confronted with just one problem at a time, it’s overwhelming when the problems come at me from every side. Some days I feel like I’m playing a game of cosmic Whac-a-Mole, with troubles springing up everywhere.

Yet I’m comforted to know that many others have written about days when they were surrounded by problems on every side. For example, King David wrote about being hemmed in by deadly enemies (Psalm 17:9). He described how he cried out to the Lord when his heart was overwhelmed, saying, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:1-2).

King Jehoshaphat was another person overwhelmed when “a great multitude” of enemies surrounded him (2 Chronicles 20). I encourage you to read the entire story for yourself, but here are a few of the key tips for experiencing victory when problems attack you from every direction:

1. Recognize that God is bigger than your problems. When facing overwhelming situations, it’s easy to feel quite small and vulnerable, if not hopeless. But look at how Jehoshaphat focused on God’s power and sovereignty, rather than trying to defeat the enemies in his own strength: “O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You?” (v. 6)

2. Reflect on God’s past faithfulness. If you’ve been walking with the Lord for a while, you hopefully have many memories of how He came to your aid during past battles. Jehoshaphat called to mind stories of God’s past miracles and promises, and he prayed, “AreYou not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever?” (v. 7)

3. Rely on God’s power rather than your own. In crisis situations, there’s often a temptation to “take matters into your own hands” rather than trust the Lord and ask for His strategies. But Jehoshaphat freely acknowledged that he was powerless to handle things without God’s intervention: “We have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes areupon You” (v. 12). Notice that Jehoshaphat made a conscious decision to fix his eyes on the Lord instead of on his problems (cf. Hebrews 12:2).

4. Cast aside all fear. In a crisis, you need faith. Fear is never your friend. While Jehoshaphat was praying about his dire situation, the Spirit of God spoke an encouraging prophetic word to banish his fears: “Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle isnot yours, but God’s” (v. 15). You see, if the battle is YOURS, it’s quite reasonable for you to feel afraid. But when you realize that God is fighting on your behalf, victory is assured, and there’s no need to fear.

5. Listen for God’s strategy. Yes, the Lord will fight our battles, but victory comes only when we listen for, and obey, His strategy for our situation. In the case of this battle faced by the people of Judah, God’s strategy was to send a team of worshipers before the army: “When they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated” (v. 22). In times of trouble, praise is a powerful weapon, both to calm our hearts and to release God’s intervention.

6. Look for the blessings  amid the battles. In this remarkable story, the Lord not only caused Jehoshaphat’s enemies to destroy each other, but the end result was a huge treasure trove of plunder: “When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away their spoil, they found among them an abundance of valuables on the dead bodies, and precious jewelry, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away” (v. 25). When first surrounded by enemy armies, Jehoshaphat probably would have considered it a great victory just to SURVIVE the battle. But God has much more in mind. He wanted Jehoshaphat and his people to THRIVE, becoming far better off after the encounter than before. If you’re going through a difficult trial today, remember that God can use it to give you far greater blessings in the end than in the beginning (Job 42:12).

7. Enter into God’s rest, even if the battle is still raging all around you. The story ends with this beautiful conclusion: “Then the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around” (v. 30). If your battles have been intense and long-lasting, it may be difficult to envision finding a time of peace and security ever again. But God wants to give your story a happy ending, just as He did for Jehoshaphat.

Jesus predicted we would face some pretty overwhelming times in the Last Days, so we shouldn’t be too surprised when that happens. His advice was simple, though. Instead of focusing on the surrounding circumstances, He told us, “Look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28).

The Message paraphrases it this way: “When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!”

So take courage, my friend. When you look up and turn your eyes upon Jesus, you can be sure that help is on the way.

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I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.

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5 Simple Stress-Busters for a Better Life

I recently started playing my guitar again, and I’ve been struck by the importance of proper tuning. If just one or two strings are too tight or too loose, every chord will sound like discord.

Stress works the same way. If our lives had no stress at all, we’d be like a guitar string dangling in the air. That kind of life is boring, purposeless, and unfulfilling.

However, many of us have grown accustomed to far too much tension on our strings. Not only does that create an off-key sound, but it also runs the risk of snapping the string. Before electric guitar tuners were invented, I broke lots of strings that way.

Although entire books have been written on the keys to handling stress, I want to share 5 of the most important and most practical lessons I’ve learned in my personal struggles with this important issue:

  1. TRIAGE. Perhaps you’ve heard this term associated with sorting out the victims in a battle scene, terrorist attack, or natural disaster. Often it’s not possible for the medical team to save all the victims, so they must prioritize. For example, some of the victims will die even if given medical care, while others will survive whether they are given treatment or not. So often the top priority is to determine where you can truly make a difference—starting with those whose very survival will be determined by whether they receive care.

Of course, this analogy is far from perfect. But like a triage situation, most of us have more problems coming our way than we can possibly handle all at once. We will inevitably be overwhelmed by anxiety unless we determine some kind of prioritization of the needs we face.

To put it rather crudely, most of us feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony: There’s plenty to do, but we just don’t know where to start. That’s why it’s essential to have some kind of grid or criteria to help us decide where to begin.

  1. FOCUS. This principle follows directly on the heels of triage. After triage helps us sort things out, focus enables us to devote our time and resources in the direction of one thing at a time. This is incredibly hard for most of us, especially in the age of multitasking, but it’s a crucial part of reducing our stress.

As a kid, I loved playing with magnifying glasses. It seemed almost magical to start fires by focusing the rays of the sun. In contrast, I noticed that unfocused sunrays only made things warm—there was little impact and no combustion.

If we truly expect our lives to make an impact, there must be focus, for that’s the only way to set the world on fire! Accordingly, a friend recently sent me this acronym: F.O.C.U.S. = Follow One Course Until Successful. That’s good advice, isn’t it?

  1. HONESTY. I’ll never forget the time a friend began an internship with a company that had the mistaken impression that he was a computer guru. As a result, the company was expecting him to do all sorts of things he was completely unqualified for. Talk about stressful! It was a very humbling situation, but the only solution was to honestly inform the company of his true competencies. It was a hard conversation to have, but quite a relief when things were out in the open.

While people typically use lies to avoid difficulties, such schemes always backfire. By its very nature, dishonesty is stressful. When we’re disingenuous, we inevitably create all kinds of unnecessary anxiety.

  1. SELF-AWARENESS. Not long ago, I was introduced to some new friends who specialize in helping people “brand themselves.” They asked me all sorts of probing questions about my mission and vision in life, trying to get me to clarify my true “identity” and purpose.

At my age, you would think I would be pretty good at giving an “elevator speech” about who I am and what I do. However, this was much more difficult than I had hoped. After all, I’ve been an attorney, a pastor, a writer, and a businessman during my varied career, so it’s not really surprising that focus doesn’t come easy for me.

But this is an important issue. Without a deep awareness of our God-given gifts and purpose, we have no way to screen out the distractions in our lives. There’s no grid to help us say “No” to things that are outside our sphere, because we don’t even know what our sphere is.

A lack of self-awareness will also cause us to struggle to know whether to delegate a task or handle it ourselves. Often we end up shouldering things that others should be doing—and this results in a lot more unnecessary stress.

  1. TRUSTING GOD. Perhaps this sounds like a religious platitude, but it must be much more than that. The Bible repeatedly tells us to cast our burdens on the Lord, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7, Psalm 55:22).

There’s NOTHING more stressful than trying to play God instead of allowing God to live His life through us. The old hymn correctly observed, “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer!”

So the wisest advice I can give you today is this: Recognize that He’s God, and you’re NOT! It’s no wonder your life is stressful if you’ve inadvertently switched roles with the Almighty.

Take a moment to review these 5 keys once more. What practical changes do you need to make in order to tune the strings of your heart to the proper pitch?

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I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.

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