Managing Stress

Managing Stress

Stress is part of life. Some stress (eustress, or beneficial stress) is healthy. But too much stress can be deadly.

Archibald Hart, author of Adrenaline and Stress, writes:

Nothing worthwhile can be accomplished without some arousal of the stress response system. It is a biological law that we must work, and even light, to accomplish a worthwhile goal. Challenge and fulfillment are important to health and well being. The lack of it causes us to atrophy in body and mind. But-and and this point is crucial to my whole argument-challenge and stress must be accompanied by, and work in harmony with, relaxation and rest.

We need stress, but we also need to learn to manage it.

Here are some keys to managing periods of high stress.

Cut Back, but Protect the Basics

We can’t always operate under ideal conditions. We need to learn what we need when there isn’t time for the ideal, especially when we’re pressed to just get by.

It’s important to cover the basics:

  • Sleep and rest — It’s hard to function when we’re deprived of sleep and proper rest. While this isn’t always within our control, it’s important to do what we can to get the rest that we need.
  • Core habits — We encourage people to practice three core habits: reading or listening to the Bible, praying, and getting involved with worship and community at a church. You don’t need to practice these perfectly, but you need to practice them consistently. When life gets stressful, scale back on other habits if you need to, but don’t scale back on these.
  • What you need — Learn how God has made you. If you’re an introvert, get some alone time. If you thrive on exercise, hit the gym or go for a walk. Learn what energizes you, and guard that.

My point isn’t to give you more to do. My point is to simplify so that you’re merely covering the basics. Cut back, but protect these basics. They will keep you going in times of stress.

Preach the Gospel

I regularly forget the gospel. I need to be reminded that God is on his throne, that I am forgiven through Jesus, that he has given me new power through the Spirit. I also forget all the benefits that God has given me through the gospel: the promise that he cares, the support of other believers, and the knowledge that Jesus sympathizes with my weaknesses and is praying for me.

I especially forget the gospel when I’m stressed.

In periods of high stress, preach the gospel to yourself. “To preach to yourself is to challenge yourself, push yourself, and point yourself to the truth. It is not so much uncovering new truth as much as it is reminding yourself of the truth you tend to forget” (Joe Thorn, Note to Self). Remind yourself of what’s true, but you tend to forget. God has grace for this moment.

Remember That God Cares

We don’t have to wonder what Jesus would say to someone who’s under stress. In Matthew 6, Jesus says:

…do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:31-34)

Jesus reassures us: God knows. God cares. We don’t have to worry about things, because God knows what we need and will provide.

Later on, Peter reminds us of the same thing. “…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

In periods of high stress, we can remind ourselves: God sees. God cares.

Stress is unavoidable. To survive a period of high stress, cut back, but protect the basics. Preach the gospel to yourself. And remember that God cares.

The Humanity of Jesus

The Humanity of Jesus

We celebrate the news every year: God became human! The Gospel of John says:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

This is hard to understand. Theologians throughout the years have explored what this means. Jesus has two natures: human and divine. Each nature is complete. He is fully God and fully man. Each nature is distinct, and yet Jesus is only one person. (For a summary of these key teachings, see this article at Desiring God.)

The humanity of Jesus is not an obscure theological point. It changes everything. Here are a few reasons why the humanity of Jesus is important.

Jesus Understands

Because Jesus is human, he is able to understand what our lives our like. He experienced life. He knows what it’s like to be tired, stressed, happy, lonely, and more.

Before Jesus became human, people could say to God, “You don’t know what it’s like to be human!” When God became one of us, he not only knew, but he experienced it.

Jesus is able to understand our struggles. Hebrews says:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Whatever you’re going through, Jesus understands. He can even help us when we struggle. “Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).

Jesus Serves As Our Example

Sometimes we need an example to follow. I know I’ve been helped by people who are a little farther along than I am. Right now I’m motivated by some older men who have a joy, peace, and maturity in Jesus that’s very compelling.

My examples are great, but they’re imperfect. Jesus provides the ultimate example of what it’s like to be human. Paul says we’re being changed into his likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18). John says that we “ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6).

Sometimes we lose sight of what God wants us to become. Whenever we forget, we can look to Jesus. God is at work in our lives. He intends to make us more like Jesus: fully alive, enjoying a relationship with our Father, trusting him, and loving and serving others. It’s a beautiful picture, and it’s what God is creating within everyone who trusts in him.

Jesus Shows Us It’s Good to Be Human

I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve heard people complain about our humanity. Somehow we’ve developed the idea that we’re souls trapped in a body, and that the physical is bad. I’ve even heard some say that they expect to become angels later on. Nonsense!

It’s a very good thing to be human. God doesn’t intend for us to become less human. Instead, he wants to restore our humanity. We will spend eternity as humans in a physical body and a physical world. Not only that, but Jesus will remain fully human and fully God for eternity. It’s a great thing to be human!

Jesus Is Able to Save Us

If Jesus had not become human, he could never have died to pay the debt that humanity owed. Hebrews says:

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17)

The Bible teaches that, because of sin, our relationship with God was broken. God was rightly and justly angry with us. Propitiation means that Jesus made things right with God so that he is no longer angry with us. Jesus had to become one of us in order to do this.

Because Jesus became human, we can know that Jesus understands what we’re going through. We have an example to follow. We can know that our humanity is a good thing. No matter how badly we’ve sinned against God, we can know that God has done everything we need to make things right.

The humanity of Jesus matters!

Recover Joy

Recover Joy

The pressure’s relentless. No matter how good you are, you could always be better, faster, richer, more accomplished, and better looking. Not only that, but we’re exposed to world-class performance every day. It’s no longer enough to be the best in your area. You’re now competing against the best in the world.

If we’re not careful, we will live in a constant state of comparison and not feeling good enough. The solution? Recover joy.

Recover Joy in Who You Are in Jesus

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God,” Paul writes (Colossians 3:1). The implication: you have been raised with Christ. His life has become your new life. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4).

You have a new life. You’re secure now. And your future is better than you can imagine. All of this is true, and nothing can change that.

No matter how much we fall short, the greatest truth about us is that if we are in Christ, we have a new identity in Jesus. We can’t fall short, because our new status has been given to us and can never be taken away.

Recover Joy in Your Pursuit of God

Pursuing God can seem like another thing to do. Our lists are already too long. There’s no possible way we could keep up. How can we add something else, especially something so big as pursuing God?

But pursuing God isn’t just another task. It’s far more than that: it’s meant to be our greatest joy. God made us for relationship with him, and our greatest and highest purpose is to know and enjoy him. Pursuing God isn’t another way to work; it’s an important way to recover joy and rest.

Satan loves to corrupt things. He wants our pursuit of God to become a drudgery rather than a joy. He wants us to see God as another item on our task list. To be sure, we will feel like this is true sometimes. But remind yourself: to pursue God is to pursue joy. Ask him to give you joy as you run after him in the middle of your pressure-filled life.

Recover Joy in His Care for You

1 Peter 5:7 tells us to cast our anxieties on God. The reason? “He cares for you.” God’s care over our lives is comprehensive. Charles Simeon wrote:

He watches over them for good: he limits and restrains all their adversaries: he sympathizes with them in all their afflictions: he imparts to them all temporal and spiritual blessings: he hears and answers all their supplications: he accounts them his most inestimable treasure: he communes with them as his sons and daughters: he takes upon him the management of all their concerns.

There’s nothing in your life that God doesn’t care about.

It’s a constant fight to find joy in a world that always wants more, and that leaves us feeling like we never measure up. Recover some joy today. You have a new status that can’t be taken away. God will give you joy as you pursue him. He cares for you. Find joy, not by pursuing it, but by pursuing God. He will give you the joy that we all desire.

Discipleship Defined

Discipleship Defined

What is discipleship?

Here’s a simple definition:

Discipleship is training people to become mature followers of Jesus so that they know, love, and obey Jesus more and more in every part of their lives.

Let’s break that down:

It begins with following Jesus.

The first step to take, if you haven’t already, is to get to know who Jesus is and why it’s important. God is holy; we are sinful. The good news is that God sent Jesus to rescue us from our sins. When we trust Jesus, he not only forgives us but changes us. We must admit our need for Jesus and rely on him in order to be right with God.

It involves training.

Discipleship isn’t passive. God works in us, but we also work out our salvation too (Philippians 2:12-13). We must take action.

It involves knowing, loving, and obeying.

We need to learn more about God. We need to grow in our love for God. And then we need to learn to obey God by avoiding what’s wrong and by practicing what’s right.

Discipleship is about all of life.

It’s not just about our spiritual lives. It’s about everything: our relationships, bodies, work, emotions, and more. As Jeff Vanderstelt says:

It is the ongoing process of submitting all of life to Jesus, and seeing him saturate your entire life and world with his presence and power. It’s a process of daily growing in your awareness of your need for him in the everyday stuff of life. It is walking with Jesus, being filled with Jesus, and being led by Jesus in every place and in every way. (Saturate)

The goal is maturity.

God begins to change us from the inside out so that we don’t just behave differently, but we think and love differently. God changes us to be more like Jesus. Ironically, as we become more like Jesus, we become closer to the person that God designed us to be.

Discipleship Resources

Where should you get started in discipleship?

One of the best places to begin is with three core habits. The three habits are foundational to all discipleship.

If you are looking for a place to start, then reading the Bible is an important first step. It’s one of the most important things you can do to grow in your relationship with God.

We’re not meant to grow alone. Look for a good church so that you can learn and grow with others. God designed us to grow together.

If you want to explore how to build basic habits, then check out How to Grow. By reading and applying this book, you will:

  • Understand how the gospel applies to all of life
  • Recover the joy of spiritual growth
  • Take simple, achievable steps that lead to lasting growth
  • Strengthen your relationship with God
  • Make an eternal difference in the lives of others

You can also check out G4L Coaching for a biblical habit-based approach with support from a coach.

Discipleship is for all of us. Don’t give in to overwhelm. Pick just one of the resources mentioned above and get started. Let us know if you have any questions or if we can help.

Read the Bible

Read the Bible

If you want to grow as a follower of Jesus, one of the best steps you can take is to read the Bible.

In No Silver Bullets, Daniel Im provides the results to a study on the few input goals that consistently predicted a higher score across all eight discipleship attribute output goals.

Here are three of them:

  1. Reading the Bible
  2. Attending a worship service at your church
  3. Attending small classes or groups for adults from church, such as Sunday school, Bible study, small groups, Adult Bible Fellowships, etc.

“When it comes to reading the Bible, hands down, this is the input goal that has a direct impact on the total score of all the output goals,” he writes. The surprising part:

It’s important to understand here that this question was not measuring whether or not an individual studied the Bible thoroughly or memorized Scripture. While those two were definitely important factors that predicted a higher score for the Bible Engagement output goal, this is not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the simple act of reading the Bible on a regular basis.

Simply reading the Bible is one of the best things you can do to grow in your relationship with God.

How to Read

If you want to read Scripture, two steps will get you started.

First, choose a plan. Trevin Wax has put together a helpful list of plans, along with the strengths and weaknesses of each plan. Find an approach that works for you, and one that fits within your lifestyle. It’s best to pick a plan that you can follow consistently rather than one that’s ambitious but unrealistic.

There’s no right plan for everyone, but I’m particularly interested in following the CSB Day-by-Day Chronological Bible edited by George Guthrie. The Bible provides a “Reader’s Guide” each day that helps locate the reader in how to read the portion that day, and how it fits into the overall picture of the Bible. Guthrie says:

A chronological Bible is both a wonderful devotional tool and a learning tool, not a replacement for one’s main Bible. Its great strength is that it helps us read through the Story of Scripture step-by-step, in a way that makes sense, at the same time helping us read the whole of Scripture—not just bits and pieces here and there. Devotionally, it can help us get in a rhythm of making space day-by-day, to meet God in his good Word. Thus it helps with a good habit.

Whichever plan you pick, there’s a second step: follow the plan. Find a time that works for you. Make it easy: pick the same spot and time to read every day, and put the Bible within reach. Keep experimenting until you find a pattern that works for you, and don’t get discouraged when if you fall behind. Simply keep going.

Keep Going

If you want to grow, this is the place to start. No other habit will make a greater difference in your life. Pick a plan, follow the plan, and keep going even when it gets hard or when you don’t do it perfectly. Reading the Bible will make a difference.

Want to learn more? Read How to Grow, or check out an upcoming G4L Coaching cohort.

Why We Don’t Grow

Why We Don’t Grow

We don’t grow for three simple reasons:

  • we don’t have a plan
  • we get discouraged; beat ourselves up when we fail
  • we try to do it alone

Here’s a brief explanation, and what we can do about these barriers to growth.

We Don’t Have a Plan

We all want to grow, but growth doesn’t happen automatically. Desire isn’t enough. Without a plan, we won’t know where to start and where to invest our limited energy.

The solution isn’t a complicated plan. Life is busy, and the more we get overwhelmed, the less we get done. We need a simple plan if we’re going to grow, one that fits into our lives — our real lives with endless demands and not enough margin.

The place to begin is with simple, tiny habits, so small that they’re not overwhelming, but significant enough that they make a difference. We live almost half of our lives on autopilot. Simple habits can build practices in our lives that will make a big difference.

We suggest beginning with three core habits:

  1. Read or listen to the Bible. Find a way to do this that works for you. Study is great, but reading is enough. Find a way to do this regularly, even in small amounts, and it will help you grow.
  2. Pray. Don’t aim to become a prayer warrior who spends hours a day in prayer. Start small. Talk to God about what’s going on in your life. Begin to manage your life through prayer.
  3. Get involved with a church. Yes, attend, but do more. Get to know people. Join a small group or a class. Invite people into your life, because God made you to grow in community.

These three core habits are essential. We never outgrow them. Start slowly. It’s a simple, workable plan that will put you on the path to growth.

We Get Discouraged and Beat Ourselves Up

Sometimes we struggle to grow because we fail. It’s easy to get discouraged with ourselves. We’re not where we would like to be. We have a hard time staying consistent. Sometimes it even feels like we’re losing ground.

The good news: God’s grace is always greater than our failure (Romans 5:20). We never have to beat ourselves up. For those who trust Christ, our sins — all of them, including our present and future ones — have been dealt with at the cross. God gives grace to those who need it.

Even better, we can know that God is at work in our lives. He’s promised to complete that work (Philippians 1:6). It may be slow sometimes, but make no mistake: God will completely change you from the inside out.

No matter how many times we fail, we can keep looking to God’s grace. He won’t quit on you.

We Try to Do It Alone

The final reason we struggle to grow is that we try to do it alone. We live in an individualistic culture. We tend to think that we can do it on our own.

The reality: God made us to grow with others. The best way to grow is in community with others. It’s why he’s given us the church. The church is inconvenient and frustrating sometimes, but it’s essential for our growth. We need the one-another ministry. Not only that, but others need us as well so that they can grow.

We grow as we follow a simple plan, rely on God’s grace, and live in community with other Christians who want to grow.

Want to learn more? Read How to Grow, or check out an upcoming G4L Coaching cohort. Take the next step and grow.