The past year has been exhausting. So many of us are exhausted from the stress, fear, loneliness, confusion, anger, and sadness. Possibly you have been too exhausted and have turned away from God.
Perhaps there is ambient stress that you are not directly experiencing, but you empathize with those who do. Maybe some of these situations are affecting your family and friends.
Are you exhausted?
Maybe you are a small business owner whose business and income are struggling. Possibly, you are an hourly employee at a non-essential company that has been closed. Perhaps you are a working parent responsible for home-schooling, torn between trying to meet your professional obligations but also trying to be present for your children’s needs, the combination of which is utterly exhausting.
Maybe the unknown is uncomfortable for you – it bothers you that the future is unclear and you can’t make plans.
Perhaps your home situation isn’t the best place for you to work or learn or live.
Maybe you are lonely, missing human connection. Possibly the gym is your stress outlet, and know that your gym is limited-access, you miss your people, or you feel bottled up with no appropriate space to vent your feelings.
Maybe you are an emotional eater, currently bored with easy access to food, and you’re stressed about your health.
Perhaps you have lost someone to COVID-19, and you are not only afraid and stressed but also mourning.
Many of us are experiencing some type and level of stress and subsequent exhaustion.
And yet, when we face significant stress in life – whether as individuals or across the entire globe – the situation creates opportunities for tremendous growth. We can use stressful situations to develop greater self-awareness, re-evaluate and adjust our priorities, and grow in faith. During times of stress, it does not mean you have to be exhausted and away from God. If anything now, is the time to look towards him for strength and support.
Let’s look at a well-known passage from the Bible to what Paul has to say about stress.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance, and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Paul is writing this letter to the Philippian church from prison. Not only are his living conditions uncomfortable, but he lives every day with the threat of execution.
Let's talk about stress!
And yet he instructs us to rejoice. To not be anxious about anything.
What I find most encouraging about this passage is that Paul implies that I have a choice. I am not a slave to stress and anxiety. I can choose to feel something different. I can choose to recharge and leave behind my exhausted self with God.
Let’s explore this further. Our bodies respond to stress with biochemical changes that can be acutely performance-enhancing but can also be devastating if not managed appropriately.
Mental and emotional stress is when our thoughts, feelings, experiences, and perceptions of reality induce a physiological stress response in the body.
Humans are the only organism on earth that can create a physical stress response based only on thoughts.
Finding a release from the exhaustion with God.
As such, we are encouraged to create a stress-ameliorating response based only on thoughts. We can increase or decrease stress just with our thoughts. Our minds are that powerful.
It is why it’s so important that we pray without ceasing and that we are thinking about and praising God all the time – it affects our physiology! God can take away our exhaustion and give us gifts of energy! He can heal the stress and pain we hide because he is our savior.
I want to clarify something, not all stress is bad. Eustress, or good stress, is stress that causes a positive adaptation. For example, when you lift weights, that puts stress on your body. If you lift weights at the appropriately challenging level, your muscles adapt by building more muscle mass, making you stronger.
We can apply this muscle-building stress-adaptation concept to faith – we can build spiritual muscle through positive faith adaptations to stress.
You can choose to see stress, crisis, and anxiety as an opportunity to expose your weaknesses and build spiritual muscle. You can reframe your situation and practice spiritual skills such as surrender and trust. God can heal our exhausted bodies and bring peace, serenity, and energy back to us.
You can choose to know that Christ is more important than any crisis.
Building spiritual muscle happens in two phases: First, awareness then, action. First reflection and then repentance. Conviction and commitment. Self-study and surrender.
Let’s start with the first step: awareness – reflection – conviction – self-study.
Stress presents us an opportunity to be convicted, to reflect, and learn where we need to more fully surrender to God and build a relationship with the Holy Spirit. We do not want to ignore stress as it will turn us into exhausted beings, which is not what God intended us to be.
Stressful situations teach us about ourselves, what we are like when afraid or triggered, what we truly value, and what we put our trust in.
Let’s take another one of Paul’s letters, this one is to the Galatian church, and they use it to evaluate what we are like. This excerpt is from Paul’s letter to the Galatian church – chapter 5, verses 16-18 and 22-25.
Gal 5:16-17, 22-25
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. The conflict with each other so that you are not to do whatever you want.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentlenesses, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
This passage exposes the areas where we need to focus.
Shifting from exhausted to energized with God.
Are you walking by the Spirit, led by the Spirit, and keeping in step with the Spirit?
If you are not, observe yourself and use this as an opportunity to learn and grow.
The answer is not to be self-critical or hard on yourself. Guilt, shame, and self-deprecation are not of the Spirit, nor are they productive.
Instead, become curious and observe yourself.
Perhaps the Holy Spirit is using this crisis to show you this about yourself so that you can surrender these things to God.
Perhaps the experiences this past year taught you that your behavior under stress is contrary to the Spirit. Is it your conflict? Are you threatened and triggered? Or are you exhausted and out of touch with God? Maybe you are worried and irritated. That is not of the Spirit that is of the flesh.
Refocus from being exhausted to God.
Maybe you have realized that you lack joy, or patience, or self-control – or any one of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he instructs us to “let your gentleness (or reasonableness) be evident to all.” Your gentleness can not be evident if it is not there.
Consider – why are you focused on the fruit instead of the root? These are the fruits of the Spirit, which we should not expect to produce if we aren’t first rooted in the Spirit. And yet, we continue to rely on our strength to create them, instead of extending our roots deeper.
It is where “Strength & Shield Coaching” gets its name. I often rely too heavily on my strength and fail to remember that the Lord is my strength and shield. He is the source of my strength, safety, giftings, influence, and peace. I named my coaching practice based on Psalm 18 and Psalm 28:7 because I need the reminder to not rely on my strength but to be who God created me to be and rest in His strength.
What a beautiful thing it is to see clearly where we are expecting fruit without investing in roots. We rely on our strength rather than surrendering to God’s strength.
Now that you see these things about yourself, now that you’ve used this opportunity to study yourself – how do you grow? What do you do with what your reflection has shown you about yourself? Let’s talk a bit more about action and commitment.
Step 2 – Action. Repentance. Commitment. Surrender.
In Philippians 4, Paul provides us a to-do list here. These are all actions that we can take. With Christ, I can:
- Be content in every situation
- Put into practice what I have received
- Think only about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy
- Experience God’s peace
- Choose to be free from anxiety
- Be gentle and reasonable – and let it be evident
- Rejoice always
- Help others
- Be unified with other believers
I think we can agree that the items on this list and all the other things included in “all things” are impossible for us. They are only possible with Christ.
Let God transform your exhausted self into peace.
So HOW do we do all things through Christ? Here are five things you can do to keep Christ first in a crisis.
1 – Get in the Word. Not on Pinterest with single verses but in study and meditation. Get rooted with our God.
2 – “Chew on” the Word. Meditate on it. Work it out (Phil 2:12). Think about it all day and let it inform your experience of stress and crisis. Shepherd your thoughts and be picky about the things you believe. Get in the Word to learn to discern which of your beliefs are true.
3 – Pray the Word, and pray with intention. Turn the Word into prayer. If you’re looking for a guide on how best to do this, I highly recommend the book Fervent by Priscilla Shirer.
4 – Be selective about what you consume. You are becoming everything you are consuming. Are you exposing yourself to only that which is true, lovely, and praiseworthy?
5 – Submit your strength to His. Shift your focus from the “I can do it…with His help” to “ONLY with Christ can I do ANYTHING.” We can not produce fruit on our own. God creates fruit in us: peace, patience, joy, and self-control. Only through God, with his Spirit, and with faith in his Son, Jesus Christ, can we produce fruit. (John 15:5)
God can do anything. And that includes healing your exhausted body.
Recently we celebrated the birth of our Lord and Savior – we celebrated the coming of Jesus so that we can reconcile to God.
Maybe you feel stressed or overwhelmed or frightened or confused. But one thing we know certainly is God loves us. We have already won and achieved eternal victory. God loves us when we are exhausted and when rested. God’s love is unconditional, and it does not matter what form we take on because his undying love will never waver.
Here are some reflection questions to guide your meditation around handling stress.
- What on the list of “all things” do you struggle with the most?
- Where in your life have you relied on your strength – where are you continuing to struggle instead of surrendering to God’s strength? Are there other specific “all things” that you need to surrender?
- In what areas of your life do you need to change what you consume – what you listen to, what you watch, what you read, what you click on?
- What are some practical things you can do to meditate on and pray the Word?
Stressful situations provide an opportunity to build spiritual muscle, which happens in two steps: first, awareness, reflection, conviction, and self-study; then, action, repentance, commitment, and surrender. God will never leave you exhausted, for God has love to heal all wounds.
You can choose which thoughts you believe.
With God, optimal is possible.
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