Stressed? Need a Break?
Look around you. The world we live in is full of stressed and worried people. According to the American Physiological Association, over one-third of people in America experience extreme levels of stress, and one in five people experience their highest level of stress fifteen or more days out of each month. When we’re upset over “pressure” at work, or anxious about finances, or worried about what the future might hold, we refer to it as “stress.”
Are you stressed?
Do you need a break?
Psalms 37:1-7 – Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.
This passage contains a progression of five steps, through which we are enabled to move from our current position of stress and worry into a place of complete rest.
This is the first step in our progression. The word fret means to be vexed; to be chafed or irritated; to be angry; to utter peevish expressions. I believe that this is a fairly accurate description of what we typically term as “stress.” I personally identify with this word, “fret.” I have pressures in my life that “cause” me to fret. School offers exams, papers, and assignments which I have to complete well in order to get the grade. Relationships are an ever-present source of anxiety and irritation. Work often chafes against my idea of a “good day.” Finances continually vex my patience. Essentially, every aspect of life offers pressures of various intensities to create stress in our lives. How then, can we not fret? Fretting, in short, is saying “I don’t trust God enough to work _________ out. I have to figure it out for myself.” There will always be pressure in life. The question is how we will respond to it.
In our passage, Psalms 37, we are told to not fret “because of evildoers, neither be envious against the workers of iniquity.” This sentiment is echoed in Psalms 73:3, “For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” As Christians, we have a tendency to look at our unsaved friends and think that the way in which they are living looks like a lot more fun. We look at the prosperity of those in the political and business realm who seem to have everything anyone could possibly want and wish that we could have their power, influence, or money. Fretting against the pressure and boundaries of our authorities and circumstances becomes a part of our everyday lives.
The Christianity we live is not a life of freedom, but one of lusting after the supposed liberties enjoyed by the world. We have been living in a false dichotomy, my friends. We are living a Christianity that is not Christianity at all. I believe the lack of knowledge of the freedom that is in Christ stems first from a misunderstanding of the bondage that is in the world. Humanity is in bondage to sin and to death. Though we may think that sin looks like fun, as a Pastor friend once stated, “it will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” Before Christ, we were all dead. Dead men don’t walk. Dead men don’t talk. If you thought Christianity was restricting, try being dead. When you are dead, you can’t do anything at all. The world around us is not dying, it is completely dead. Without Christ, we are at enmity with God and cannot please God in any way. As slaves to sin and death, we are not able to come to God. This then, is the grace of God: that the very God who cannot even look on sin, reached out to mankind in love to save us from our sin. Ephesians 2:1 explains it well, “And you hath he quickened (made alive), who were dead in trespasses and sins.” Christ has made us alive. Think of the freedom that comes with life! Romans 8:1-2 states that “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” God has taken out our hearts of stone, and placed within us new hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36). In Christ we are alive. We are free. Yet many of us continue to live as if we are still in bondage. We worry about the little, everyday things. We fret and chafe against the pressures in our lives. Christ has raised us up from the dead, and broken the chains of our bondage, yet we remain held down by those same chains. We must throw off the chains and start living like the free men and women that we are. Yet keep in mind, brothers and sisters, that freedom is not the opportunity to do whatever we want, but it is the power to do what we should. We have been freed from the need to fret, for we are children of the living God. Do we always experience that freedom? No. We must diligently pursue life as we are. We are free, so we must choose to live free. This requires the “renewing of the spirit of our minds.” In 2 Peter, we are told that we are prone to forget what God has done for us. We must put off the old man, renew our minds, and put on the new man which has already been made holy by Christ in God (Colossians 3). We have been given all that is necessary for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:1), it is now for us to live in the riches and freedom of the grace we have been given.
Trust in the Lord
If we truly trust God, we cannot fret. Trust is reliance on God. Fretting is reliance on self. The two cannot co-exist. Isaiah 26:3 states that, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” God promises peace to those who trust Him. We cannot trust God and fret. Trust in the Lord is the solution for worry. Trust is the expression of our faith. It is the action of stepping out onto the rock-solid promises of God. It is moving forward into the uncertainties of life because I am certain of the God who is there. Our faith is proven by the action of trust. Scripture tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart. Lean not on thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy path.” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Noah’s faith in God was evidenced by the obedience and action of trust in building the ark though it seemed completely illogical and unreasonable. After all, it had never rained. They didn’t live anywhere near an ocean. Why would you need a huge boat? But Noah obeyed. He trusted God and worked for over a century to complete the work that God gave him to do even when he didn’t understand and even when men mocked and ridiculed him for his trust in a God that He could not even see.
Job 13:15 reads, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.” Job did not use his circumstances as an excuse to doubt God. Nor did he say that “if God isn’t serving my interests, then I will stop living as I know He wants me to live,” but instead he committed to doing what was right regardless of his circumstances. The very statement, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord” is a declaration of Job’s trust. Yet, Job did not always trust God. Throughout the majority of the book of Job, Job’s attitudes of self-righteousness and statements of “God couldn’t possibly do this to me” show his pride, arrogance, and lack of trust in God. It is not until God comes to Job and begins to ask him questions which reveal Job’s smallness and God’s bigness that Job comes face to face with who God is, chooses to trust Him once again, and is then blessed by God. This predicament is not strange to me. 1 Corinthians 1:25 states, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” I read this passage and quickly realized that in my own wisdom, I get so prideful. I proclaim that God’s plan for my life isn’t right or isn’t good enough. Yet even if I were the most intelligent person on earth (which I’m not), my wisdom would still be beneath even the foolishness of God. Who am I to arrogantly proclaim that God cannot do a good job of directing my life? When we really see who God is and understand how small we are in comparison, we will see how blatant our pride and arrogance is to not trust Him.
Trust is a choice. We must choose to trust God in the very same areas where we so often are tempted to fret. I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t know why I’m going through __________ (circumstances), but I do know that God is sovereign and God is good and He has a plan for my life (Jeremiah 29:11). This confidence and trust in the truth of who God is sets us free from the bondage of fret, worry, and stress (John 8:32). Why can we trust God? Because He is sovereign. Because He is good. Because He is God. Psalms 9:10 states, “And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.” When we know who God is, our trust becomes an expression of gratefulness in who He is. To wait on the Lord is to trust a sovereign God for the future, throwing myself wholeheartedly into what He has for me now. So often I want to know right now what God is preparing for me – but that is not trust. I must take one step at a time, focusing on what He has given me right now, and trust Him to take care of the future, for He has promised that He will complete the work that He has begun in me (Philippians 1:6). Psalms 27:3 expresses David’s confidence in God, “Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.” The Hebrew word translated here as “confidence” is the same word which is often translated “trust.” Trust is not tiptoeing forward to test the ice, but rather it is confidently and boldly walking forward on the promises of God and knowledge of who He is.
Not only do I know who God is, I know what I am supposed to do. Psalms 37 says, “trust in the Lord and do good.” Ephesians 2:10 explains that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” I have been created to do good works.
Delight Thyself in the Lord
To delight oneself in the Lord is complete and absolute trust. It is enthusiasm and excitement that is evidenced outwardly. Delight is defined as a “high degree of pleasure, satisfaction of mind, joy, a permanent pleasure not dependent on sudden excitement.” How can we delight in the Lord? Our delight in Him stems from our knowledge of who He is. The song, “Amazing Grace,” concludes with “When I’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun. We’ve no less days to sing His praise, than when we’ve first begun.” God is infinite and we are finite. Therefore, all of eternity could be spent learning about God and there would still be more to learn. This very thought should bring us joy.
Psalms 23:1, which states, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” is an expression of delighting in the Lord. It is evidence of our trust and delight in Him when we can say with David, “Lord, you are all I want.” David’s delight was in the law of the Lord (Psalms 1; Psalms 119). We are able to find security in the boundaries and laws of God. Rather than fretting because of the boundaries in our lives, we should find joy in the freedom and security that comes from them. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” The Psalmist found joy in the Shepherd, because He knew the Shepherd. We can never delight in one whom we do not know. Do you know the God that is your provider (Psalms 23:5)? Do you know the God that gives rest (Psalms 23:2)? Do you know the God that restores your soul and leads you in righteousness (Psalms 23:3)? This is the God in whom you can delight.
God has taught me time and time again that I can delight in Him both on the mountains and in the valleys. The spring before I went to Miracle Mountain Ranch as an apprentice, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. As a naïve seventeen year old, I assumed that cancer of any form meant certain illness and probable death. I immediately began to fret. Questions flew through my troubled mind. What if my mom dies? What if I can’t go to MMR as an apprentice because I have to finish homeschooling the younger kids? What if she gets really sick? In my distress, I was not trusting God at all. I could not delight in Him. But then God used this trial in my life to teach me more about Himself. He brought me back to a passage I had memorized years earlier, Psalms 119:68, “Thou art good, and doest good; teach me Thy statutes.” Though I still fought with that, I knew that it did no good for me to worry, for I was not in control. Whatever happened to my mom, God was in complete control and God was good. Thus, I had to make the decision to actively trust and delight in the Lord regardless of my circumstances. I praise the Lord that He did heal my mom, but I also praise Him for His sovereignty in taking my family through that trial, if only that I could learn that He would be just as good and just as sovereign if He hadn’t healed my mom.
Commit Thy Way to the Lord
Commit. Go all the way. There is no turning back. Literally, to commit is to put into the hands or power of another, to entrust, to throw upon. Commitment leaves no room for complacency or apathy. Alex and Brett Harris of The Rebelution, wrote, “Complacency is a blight that saps energy, dulls attitudes, and causes a drain on the brain. The first symptom is satisfaction with things as they are. The second is rejection of things as they might be. ‘Good enough’ becomes today’s watchword and tomorrow’s standard. Complacency makes people fear the unknown, mistrust the untried, and abhor the new. Like water, complacent people follow the easiest course — downhill. They draw false strength from looking back.” God calls us to come and die. You won’t die for Christ if you never get off the bench. Anyone can be a benchwarmer. Christ is calling for men and women to leave their lives on the field. He wants 100% or nothing. In Revelations 3:16 He says, “I would rather you be cold or hot than lukewarm, lest I spew thee out of My mouth.” Both cold water and hot water are refreshing and/or comforting in the proper contexts, but lukewarm water is never good.
When I look at the circumstances around me, when I question what God is doing, I must remember that He has not called me to understand. He has called me to commit my way to Him, and then promised that He will bring it to pass. I cannot continue to say “hey God, I think you should…” I have to let go completely in order to truly commit. Psalm 24:10 states, “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.” “Small,” in this verse means “narrow.” A narrow view of God keeps me from seeing His purpose in adversity. If I am committed, then I will not faint or quit when the trials come, but will continue to trust wholly in God and keep going regardless of circumstances – because I know that God is bigger than the trials. When my view of God is big, then my trials become small.
The concept of commitment reminds me of ski jumping. Perhaps you’ve seen the ski jumping in the Olympics, or played Wii Fitness ski jumping. As the skier goes down the ramp towards the jump, he has to be totally committed to the jump. If he wavers in his commitment, that half-second waver will cost him. He won’t have the speed necessary to make a long, smooth jump. Or his timing and balance will be off and he will crash. To put anything less than one hundred percent into the jump means certain injury. Our human nature is to avoid commitment. In Deuteronomy 32, we see that the children of Israel had seen God’s faithfulness proved over and over again, and over and over again they doubted Him, they trusted in their own wisdom, and they failed to commit fully to Him. We are no different. How we walk reveals what we really believe about God. When I fail to commit fully to Him that reveals my lack of trust in Him. Often, I have found, that it means I doubt either God’s absolute sovereignty over my life, or His absolute goodness and love for me.
I wrote in my journal this fall when I was really struggling to understand God’s will for my life – “I feel like I’m on the edge of an enormous cliff that I can’t see the bottom of and God is asking me to jump. So I jump, but I first grab a rappelling harness to let myself down slowly. But then God tells me, ‘No, cut the rope. I want you to let go – I will catch You.’” This is a picture of commitment – to free-fall into the arms of God.
We can never commit before we learn to trust. No one will give complete control of themselves to someone/something that you don’t trust. This is a progression. We stop fretting when we learn to trust, as we learn to trust, we must find our delight in the Lord. As we come to a point of total trust and enthusiasm in Christ, we must commit ourselves entirely to Him and hold nothing back. Only as we begin to walk in absolute surrender can we find rest.
Rest in the Lord
Rest comes in total trust and total surrender, and results in total peace. Rest is defined as quiet, repose, to not be agitated by fear, anxiety or other passion, a state of reconciliation to God. Scripture says that we are to be still and know that God is God. From the very beginning of creation, God gave us a pattern for rest, as He also rested on the seventh day. We were created with a need to rest, spiritually, physically, and mentally. This is more than a fifteen minute “pit stop,” it is taking time to completely stop, be still, and find rest in God. Hudson Taylor wrote, “To let my loving Savior work in me His will…Abiding, not striving or struggling….Not a striving to have faith, or to increase our faith, but a looking at the faithful one seems all we need. A resting in the Loved One entirely.”
Our greatest potential for failure is after our greatest victory. We see this in Scripture as Elijah comes from his victory on Mount Carmel where God rained down fire from heaven to consume the water-drenched altar and prove to Israel that He was truly God. Following this, Elijah sent Ahab down off the mountain in his chariot, prayed for rain, and then outran Ahab’s chariot to the town of Jezreel, approximately 40 miles. I don’t know about you, but running forty miles is one thing. Outrunning a chariot for forty miles is crazy. After this, Elijah was exhausted and literally crashed (1 Kings 18-19). God, before dealing with Elijah’s depression, fed Elijah and made him sleep. God was not unaware of Elijah’s physical need for rest, but met those needs even before addressing the doubts and fears that Elijah was running from. It was here, after his physical need for rest had been filled, that Elijah found God in the still, small voice and re-entered active ministry.
We live in a busy culture that always says “go, go, go.” Rest does not come naturally in our culture, but we must learn how to rest in the Lord. We must learn to lie down in the green pastures that He provides for us (Psalm 23) and be still and know who He is.
The entire process, from “fret not” to finding rest in the Lord, revolves around our understanding of who God is. This is not a system of what we must do to be successful, rather it is a chronicle of knowing who God is and what He has done in order to give us freedom and victory in Him.
Joshua, when entering the land of Israel and taking over leadership from Moses, was told by God to be strong and courageous. Yet before God told Joshua not to fear, to go out courageously, lead, and fight, God told Joshua who He was. Specifically, God proclaimed to Joshua that He would never leave or forsake him. Because of this, Joshua was enabled to be strong and courageous.
Elijah, when he was depressed, doubting, and fearful in the cave after his great victory at Mount Carmel, was not just told to “go and do,” rather God first showed him who He was in the still, small voice (1 Kings 19).
Who is the God that you are living for? Isaiah 40 presents us with a God in whom we have no need to fret, in whom we can trust, delight, and commit ourselves to, and in whom we can find perfect rest. This is the God who has given us victory and freedom in Him.