I love revisiting the promises of God. But I have to be careful not to make God’s promises into something they are not.
In Matthew 11, Jesus gives a promise– “I will give you rest.” But sometimes, I read more (or less) into this promise than Jesus meant.
28 “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.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV) via biblegateway.com
First, Jesus bids us come to Him. There are times I want rest, but I want it on my terms– I want ease, comfort, rest, and renewal in the middle of my own plans, activities, and even rebellion. When we pray, we need to come to Jesus, not demand that He come to us.
Next, Jesus offers rest to those who are weary and burdened. Similarly, Jesus said He came to save those who were lost, NOT those who already saw themselves as justified. If I come to Jesus asking for perpetual rest– never willing to trust Him when He asks me to exert myself or carry a burden–I will never know complete rest or fulfillment in Him.
In the very next verse, Jesus offers a yoke– certainly not a symbol of rest for most of us!–and He offers to teach us to find rest. Rest is not a gift like grace or love, even though Jesus “gives” it to us. Rest is a reward. And Jesus makes it clear that He will be with us every step of the way as we work and rest in Him. A yoke has many bad connotations– slavery or bondage, burdens, toil, and hard labor in the hot sun–but it can also have a positive meaning. Oxen who are yoked together share the load– with the lead ox taking the brunt of the burden, and the yoke-fellow carrying a lesser share. Imagine one ox trying to pull the load alone! Yet that is what many of us are doing– trying to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders and pushing away the One who wants to share our load and lead us in the best and most restful paths.
We don’t do much work with teams of horses or oxen in my community. We have powerful machines that make quick work of heavy loads– our burdens have less to do with loads of grain or logs, and more to do with mental and emotional stress. But Jesus reminds us that He is “gentle and humble in heart”–that the rest He promises is rest for our souls.
What a wonderful promise in these turbulent times! Will we take up this offer? Will we claim this promise of our Loving Father to share our burdens and bring us to a place of rest?
Psalm 23:2a King James Version (KJV) 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
Many years ago (never mind how many..) there was a television show called “Green Acres.” It was a comedy about a couple from New York City, who moved to a small town in the country. The husband was excited about the move– he was tired of the rat race and bustle of the city; his wife, however, was reluctant to leave all the opportunities– she missed the shops and activity.
More than fifty years later, you can often see these shows on networks like TV Land. They are still popular among some viewers, who like the nostalgia and the gentle humor. These shows all have happy endings. They don’t involve grotesque murders, lots of foul language, preachy lectures on social issues like homelessness, domestic abuse, or drug addiction, or copious amounts of sex, violence, or nudity. They don’t talk about war and gangs, poverty or prejudice, or urban sprawl. They celebrate family, fresh air, hard work, community, truth, justice, kindness, and humility.
What does “Green Acres” (or Andy Griffith or any other old TV show) have to do with Psalm 23 and Pursuing Prayer? Not a lot, but I would like to look at the phrase in verse 2– “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures..” Not the same as “Green Acres,” but I think the green pastures of God are viewed by the world in much the same way as “Green Acres;” scorned by a small and vocal group, but quietly cherished by many others.
Our Shepherd causes us to lie down– to find rest and nourishment and refreshing– in green pastures. That doesn’t mean that He won’t lead us through times of bustling stress, struggle, anxious moments, or rugged paths. But He will make us lie down. He will cause us to stop our frantic rushing, and renew our strength in green pasture. He doesn’t offer green pastures as an “escape from reality”, but as a reminder that dealing with reality requires us to see beyond the immediate stresses of the day and listen beyond the distracting noises around us.
God’s green pastures won’t look like “Green Acres” with old tractors and fresh-mown hay. They may not look like the small town simplicity of Americana. In fact, God’s green pastures may not be places at all, but practices– spending time in Scripture, time in prayer, times in fellowship and encouragement, time in meditation, even time in service to others. You may find green pastures in the heart of a barrio, or in the quiet of a walk in the forest, or in praying as you climb a flight of stair or fold laundry. But you will find spiritual nourishment and renewal in God’s green pastures, wherever they are and whatever they look like. https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/treasury-of-david/psalms-23-2.html
God’s green pastures will have many critics, who will ask that you cancel these practices. They will call them old-fashioned, failed practices– naive, simplistic, even laughable. But as we respond to God who make us lie down in green pastures, others are watching– and taking heart. The critics in our life may be loud and insistent. It may seem like they have the power to “cancel” our rest, and pave over the green pastures to build another fast food restaurant. But there are others silently watching, longing to experience the kind of rest and refreshment they see in us– the kind that cannot come from sophisticated treatises on war or crime, or harsh critics’ disdain, or yet another trip to an upscale shop or fast food restaurant or spa.
A few years ago, I left a full-time job– a job I loved–to help my husband open up a second-hand store that also sells amateur radio equipment. Most people would look on our store as a failure–it doesn’t make a lot of money; we don’t have hundreds of sales in a week; it hasn’t made us famous or important. But it gives me the opportunity to spend time talking and listening to the customers we do have, many of whom are lonely. It gives David the opportunity to do the same. And it gives me time to pray more, spend more time in God’s word, and write and edit this blog. It has allowed me more flexibility to spend time with my family. And it has reminded me that God is our provider and protector in ways I took for granted when I drew a bigger salary and had a more prominent position. From a worldly perspective, this is a move I would never have chosen. I spend most of my days lonely and unpaid–hardly a recipe for worldly fulfillment. And many days, I actually miss the bustle of deadlines, the drama of staff conflicts, and the extra money in the bank. And some days I am frustrated and ungrateful and restless–God has led me to the green pastures, but I refuse to lie down and receive the rest He wants to give me. And God may choose to make me get up and move through valleys, up hills, or over rocky paths to the next pasture. But for this season, in this pasture, He is teaching me to lie down–to be less busy about my business, and more open to His.
The world may offer us Times Square; God offers us fresh air. The world may offer us clever ways to spend our time and money– God gives us peace that passes all understanding. God’s “Green Acres” is the place to be–resting where and how our Shepherd leads us.
We live in a weary world– weary of war, weary of chaos, weary of worry, and weary of sin and its consequences. From the time the alarm rings to the time we finally lay down our weary heads, we are bombarded by stress, misunderstandings, distractions, disappointments, questions, harsh words, harsh images, demands, doubts– I’m tired just listing them…
Even so, we are surrounded by promises (mostly false) of peace and rest, satisfaction and success. “Buy this!” “Try that!” “New!” “Improved!” The voices call out, offering temporary bliss, or temporary escape from the weariness all around. “Jingle Bells!” “Happy Holidays!” “Tidings of Comfort and Joy!” It is tempting to let Christmas become just like all the other worldly distractions–shiny, loud, stressful and fleeting, full of promise, but leaving us empty and cold in the end.
But Christmas IS different, because it doesn’t celebrate what the world has to offer. The celebration includes lights and bells, songs and gifts, food and friends and family– but at its heart, Christmas celebrates something “out of this world!” Jesus came to a weary world long ago, and no matter how weary the world was, or is, or will be, Jesus brought all the hope and healing of Heaven in the small package of a tiny infant child in a crowded town in a conquered land.
On that Holy Night, God crashed the party– He did more than watch from a distance, more than speak from the skies above or send angel messengers–He arrived, actively participating in the struggle, the bone-weariness, the hunger and thirst and chill and stress of living among His fallen and fractured creation.
And the weary world rejoices–can you hear it? Above the bustling noise of people shouting, and car horns blaring, and advertising slogans, and piped-in Christmas songs…Can you feel it–beyond the comfort of a warm blanket and hot cocoa, beyond the hugs of friends or the smiles of strangers or gifts from loved ones? Can you see it–beyond the glare of city lights, undimmed by the darkness of hatred and greed?
The lights and songs will fade away, but the Love, Joy, and Peace of God that came to the world that first Christmas is for all time!
“Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices, ‘O Night Divine. O Night, when Christ was born. O Holy Night!'”
It is not popular to write about weakness. We all have moments when we feel weak, overwhelmed, defeated, and depressed. Sometimes, we are just physically exhausted, and emotionally drained by the piling up of little stresses and routine tasks. Sometimes, we are overwhelmed by loss or grief, guilt, or worry about situations beyond our control.
We want such feelings and situations to go away, to be replaced by peace, comfort, and contentment. And while well-meaning people tell us that “this too shall pass,” or “God has a plan,” or “you will get through this– I’m here for you,” we are still weak, weary, and worn down by the struggles of the day.
Jesus gave some incredible and inexplicable advice to people who would follow him. He said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11: 28-29 from the Christian Standard Bible via biblegateway.com)
The first part of his advice offers great comfort– “come to me…and I will give you rest.” But then, without even a breath, Jesus tells us to take up his yoke! A yoke does not seem to offer rest– I want the burden to be GONE–I don’t want to put on a yoke like an ox or a plow horse. How could this be comforting or restful?
But this is the promise of God– not to make all our burdens disappear (though he often chooses to give us total relief from a particular burden)–instead, He asks us to put on his yoke. He will share the burden with us, and He will teach us how to make the load bearable, even lighter, by following Him.
And, though we have moments of exhaustion and setbacks, God’s purpose is not for us to give up or be defeated by our circumstances, but to be victorious over them, and turn to Him. In order to “take up (his) yoke” we must take the burden off our own shoulders and give it to Him. He will distribute the load, direct our path, and set the pace. And not only that, He will take our hand and speak words of wisdom and peace as we carry the load together. And THAT is truly comforting!
*”Grant Us Peace!” (In Latin, Dona Nobis Pacem) “When Peace like a River attendeth my Soul…” “Peace be with you..” “Give Peace a Chance..” Peace that passes all understanding–Phil.4:7
We spend our days rushing, working, worrying and stressing, always hoping for a time of peace, believing that if we work hard enough, rush fast enough, hope fervently enough, we will be rewarded with peace.
But this is contrary to the Biblical pattern. God has already given us a blueprint for peace, rest, and contentment. And it doesn’t involve working harder! It involves trusting more. God wants us to work, yes, but He also wants us to rest, to seek times of solitude, meditation, and silence. This is not a suggestion given to a lucky few–it is a principle to be practiced by all of us. God wants to give us peace for the asking—not for the earning.
When prayer becomes a priority, and not just something that happens in our “spare” time, or after all the “important” things get done, we should find that peace is a by-product of our pursuit. Taking time for prayer gives our mind a new focus, calms the rhythms of our heart and body. It forces us to step aside from the frantic pace of life– to lift our eyes (or close them) away from the flickering light of the tablet or phone, to sit (or stand or kneel) still and apart from whatever task is beckoning, and listen, not to the blare of the radio or TV or street noise, but to the underlying sounds of life–heartbeats, breathing, the slow ticking of a clock, or the retreating rumble of the world.
Most importantly, through our time spent in prayer, we access the source of peace– The Prince of Peace! And it is this same Prince of Peace who will “grant us peace” if we just ask. You may not be able to set aside hours for blissful meditation. But if you ask, God will help you guard your time, and help you find those few precious moments of prayer and peace– peace with Him, peace from Him, peace that passes all understanding.
In Chapter 2 of the Book of Daniel, there is an interesting story. Most often, students of the Bible focus on the prophetic meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. But I want to look at the context, and see what this story tells us of Daniel, his friends, his boss, and his God. (see text here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Daniel+2&version=NIV )
First, let’s look at the extraordinary presumption of Nebuchadnezzar. (God will deal with him severely a few chapters later!) The ruler of the vast Babylonian empire, Nebuchadnezzar’s word is absolute. His whims and moods control the destinies of all his courtiers, as well as all the people under his domain. Princes, satraps, governors, advisers, military leaders, and common citizens all live in fear of his absolute power, even as they try to curry favor and rise among the ranks.
Nebuchadnezzar is not (at this point) crazy; he is not a foolish man. He has led campaigns to destroy several strong enemies, and has wisely appointed a number of officials to administer his sprawling empire. Daniel (and his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) are among several captured youth who are being assimilated into this administration. But this story shows the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s descent into madness and humiliation. He has had a dream (some translations suggest it was a recurring nightmare) that disturbs him greatly. It has him agitated. It causes him to act in an irrational manner. He calls in all the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and sorcerers of the kingdom. He is desperate for answers.
We don’t know how many various men (or even women) were called in, but they represent all the best minds of the entire Babylonian empire. And Nebuchadnezzar wants the impossible–not only are they to correctly interpret his strange dream; they are to do it without any clue about what happened in it! As they try to reason with their king, he accuses them of wanting to mislead him, and threatens them with death and the destruction of their homes and families! This is a very real threat– the king’s word is absolute, and his wrath inescapable. Nebuchadnezzar’s bizarre actions and irrational fear are signs of much worse to come. As powerful as he is, the king is plagued by insecurities throughout his reign. Pleasing, or even appeasing such a man must be like constantly walking a tightrope.
The story seems to suggest that Daniel and his friends were not included in the first summons before Nebuchadnezzar. Perhaps they were still too young to be included; perhaps they were still in training. But it is clear that they will be included in the execution orders if they cannot please this tyrant. This marks the second trial faced by Daniel in his captivity, but it is the first time he comes to the forefront of Nebuchadnezzar’s notice. While the king raves and threatens his other counselors, he listens to Daniel’s plea for more time. In the end, he is awed by Daniel’s interpretation, by Daniel’s courage– and by the God Daniel serves.
No matter what irrational situation we may face today, no matter what impossible task we are given; no matter who threatens us or makes ridiculous demands– God is more powerful. He causes kingdoms to rise and fall. He knows the future, and nothing is outside his control. Even the most dire circumstances and impossible situations can lead to opportunities …opportunities that showcase God’s omnipotence and sovereignty.
We experienced some storms last week, and while we didn’t have a lot of damage from the winds and rain, my husband and I lost our internet connection over the weekend. No wireless internet meant no Facebook, no WordPress, no e-mail, and no cash register at our little shop downstairs. We had to do every transaction by hand until we could rig up something so our smart phone could accept cards; no new chip cards, no Apple Pay or PayPal. And while our phone could begin to accept limited credit payments, it could not provide any printed receipts, nor could it do double duty– we either had a phone or a point-of-sale device, but not both!
It was an inconvenience, but not a disaster. I thought about thousands of people who are stuck in the aftermath of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, and blizzards who have no electricity, no phone lines, no cell service, no roads, no water or sewer lines–cut off from common necessities and basic communication. Suddenly, an emergency becomes even more tragic because of the isolation, and the inability to ask for help or to hear any message of hope. (Of course, my husband would like me to put in a short plug here about the advantages of amateur radio– the radios can run on battery power and still connect over hundreds of miles!)
Isolation is an earthly concept. God is eternally Triune. He created us for relationship; from the very beginning, he declared that it is not good for “man” to be alone (Genesis 2:18) God instituted marriage, and families, and communities so that we would stay connected, and he himself came to walk and talk with mankind in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. It is mankind who hid from God and broke off communication– one of the effects of Sin is the desire to run away, to separate, to isolate and cut off relationships and break off contact.
That is one reason that prayer is so basic; so essential. It is a lifeline to the one who loves us best, who knows what we need, and has the power to hear us, to help us, to lift us up wherever we may be, whatever our circumstances.
But sometimes, even when we want to talk to God, it seems impossible to speak or feel like he hears us. Sometimes, we are the ones who can’t come up with words, or can’t settle our minds to seek his face. Sometimes, we pour out our hearts and wait in silence for an answer. Why should it be that just when we need it most, prayer seems the hardest?
I wish I had a pithy, perfect answer. I don’t know. I have a few incomplete thoughts, though:
what comes easily has less value to us. Cheap and pointless conversation doesn’t make us work hard, but it also leaves us empty and unsatisfied. Crying out to God is hard–it humbles us, it strips us bare and uncovers all our pretenses and subterfuge. The true depth of our need is ripped out of us like a tumor, and it hurts, but it is a healing hurt. Waiting in silence can cause us to become restless and to doubt, but it also can cause us to listen more attentively– we strain to hear the answer; we stop the white noise of busyness and half-hearted hand-wringing, and listen with our whole being. And the smallest whisper– that still, small voice– has the power of the first rain after a long drought. We are revitalized and our strength renewed as never before.
sometimes, though not always, we find prayer difficult because we have not really prayed for a long time (if ever)– we have developed a habit of saying words to the empty air and thinking that the words themselves hold some power of hope or magic or self-fulfilling prophecy. When life’s realities cannot be wished away with simple words, we search for distractions, for other types of words, for other “realities”, when we should be searching for our maker and the lover of our souls.
sometimes, it is a matter of unacknowledged or unconfessed sin that keeps us from breaking through in prayer. However, there are many people who will use this as a default position, and that, too, is wrong. Jesus had such difficulty in praying at Gethsemane that he sweat drops of blood— NOT because of unconfessed sin, but because his heart was that overwhelmed. Still, we should examine ourselves to see if we have started to move away from God– better to turn back than to go father afield.
sometimes, as with Christ in the Garden, our hearts are just overwhelmed in the moment– it’s hard to breathe! It’s hard to go on; it’s hard to ask for help; it’s hard to keep the faith. Just because it’s difficult, don’t give up– even if all you can do is groan or whimper–even if it feels like God has closed up the heavens and left you alone–don’t give up. God DOES hear, he DOES care. Sometimes, we are inches from victory– don’t give up!
And what can we do during those times? Again, I wish I had better answers, but what I have, I want to share– some from my own experience, some wisdom from others, some of both:
Learn to “pray outside the box”–
Sing–sing the blues, sing an old hymn, sing along with the radio, sing like nobody else is listening
Write it out– write a letter, write an angry letter if you have to– write a rant, write a poem, write out all your questions
Move– dance, pace, run, punch a pillow, do some sit-ups, mop the floor, scrub the sink– as you get a rhythm going, add your thoughts or questions to your movements
Cry it out– it’s ok to cry, moan, sob, weep, or just stare into space and rock yourself to sleep after all the tears have dried up. Jesus wept (John 11:35)– what makes us think that we can’t?
Count your blessings
Make a list of what you have; what you have to be grateful for; what you have experienced and enjoyed now or in the past
Make a list of your questions, concerns, needs, wants, wishes–Now think back ten years and make a list of what you wanted then, and how many of those concerns have been answered, altered, or forgotten.
Put yourself in another time or place– what do you have here and now that others lack? How do your present troubles compare to what others have had to deal with?
Ramp up your pursuit of God in other areas–
Search for answers in His word
Seek the companionship of someone you trust who will help you keep on going
Seek out counselors, web sites, and/or a church group or family who can keep you from becoming isolated
The single most important thing is to continue the pursuit– seek God with all your heart–and you will find him sufficient through the silent times, as well as through the roaring of the fiercest storms.
My mother and I shared a wonderful morning shopping and enjoying the spring weather. We both arrived home, only to be greeted with the news that one of our extended family members had died in an accident. Just the day before, another member of our family had passed on at age 94. Both of them left a legacy of faith, hope, joy, and kindness that leaves us grateful, but grieving their loss.
And it is a loss– even though both of them were Christians, even though we have the great hope of being reunited with them in Heaven, even though both of them led full lives–they were unique on this earth, and everything that made them special and irreplaceable to friends and family is now absent; a gaping, aching hole, lined with teasing flashes of memories, echoes of laughter, and unanswered questions.
Some days, the hits just keep coming– an unexpected expense, a misunderstanding at work, a fender-bender during the commute, a plumbing nightmare, a migraine, the phone call with bad news. Each new pain rolls over us, throwing us off balance, and trying to drag us under.
“Even so, it is well with my soul.” The story of this favorite hymn has been told many times, but it bears repeating. ( It Is Will With My Soul. wikipedia.org ) The author of these words had lost everything– his only son had died; shortly afterward, he lost almost all his money and property in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. A friend, knowing of his troubles invited him to bring his family to England for an evangelistic campaign. Mr. Spafford (the above-mentioned author of the hymn) had to stay behind and sent his wife and four daughters ahead. Their ship, the Ville du Havre, was struck by another vessel and sank. All four of the daughters were drowned, and only his wife survived to send him news of the tragedy. As he made the heartbreaking voyage to rejoin his wife, he passed the place where his daughters had most likely gone down. At that moment, Mr. Spafford felt a welling of peace and hope beyond human understanding, which led him to pen the words that have given comfort to so many in the years since:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Nothing can prepare us for the sorrows that sweep over us at unexpected moments. Nothing can stop them, and though we know they will come, no one knows how high they will rise, or when they will crest and break around us. No one except the one who set the boundaries of the sea, the one who has walked on its waters, and the one who can calm the storm.
God doesn’t remove the sorrows or tragedies from our life or prevent them from washing around and over us. But for those who trust in him, there is a promise that we will not be consumed. We may be in a storm-tossed boat in the middle of a raging sea, but at our faintest cry, Jesus will walk on choppy waves to be by our side and bring comfort. He will teach us to be in awe of him as he commands the winds and waves to obey him. He will teach us to trust him in the good times and the bad. He will teach us to say, “It is well with my soul!”
Earlier this week, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (otherwise known as Prince William and Kate Middleton), welcomed their third child. As with most royal births, there was a lot of fanfare and speculation well in advance of the actual delivery. Early tabloid reports hinted at twins; bookmakers were figuring odds for delivery dates, names– even what the Duchess would be wearing as she brought the newborn outside for his first “sighting”. As of the writing of this blog, the name has yet to be announced, which is cause for more speculation and anticipation.
Preparing for a newborn is exciting, and filled with certain expectations. We imagine what the baby will look like, what kind of personality s/he will have, all the wonderful discoveries to be made. But we need to be careful not to let our expectations become idols. There’s nothing wrong with hoping for good outcomes, but it can be dangerous to get locked into a particular expected outcome. Children surprise us (in good ways and other ways) be being themselves, and not who or what we expect them to be.
When we pray, we sometimes come with certain expectations–that God will answer in a certain way or on a certain timeline. This is not the same as having faith. Faith says that God will hear our prayer; that he knows best, and that he will act in accordance with his own love and mercy. It doesn’t mean that he will give us what we want when we want it, or that he will give us what makes us comfortable and happy. His answers may seem difficult or even painful to accept– certainly not what we were expecting. When he chooses to answer in ways that don’t meet our expectations, we wonder why. When he chooses to say “wait,” or even, “no,” we may feel cheated and even resentful, instead of thankful that our prayers are heard by a loving God. Often, we have built up such expectations of what “the best” should look like that we miss the real miracle God is giving us instead.
Worse, there are times when our expectations reveal a lack of faith or a lack of understanding of God’s ways. We pray for peace, but what we really want is ease and comfort. Peace– real peace– is often revealed in times of stress, hardship and loss! We don’t want stress; we don’t pray for stress, but stress and hardship are going to come into our lives at some point. Praying for peace won’t bring stress, any more than not praying will keep it away! We expect the peace to come without the battle; we expect the growth to come without the growth pains; we expect to win the race without having to run!
Sometimes we won’t even pray for what we really want or need because we expect that God will “test” us or give us difficult circumstances if we ask for certain things (like patience or peace). We see God as some sort of cosmic con artist, who teases us with the promise of good things, only to laugh as we suffer. But this is a wrong view of God. God doesn’t play games or “trick” us by giving us hardship when we ask for healing, though it may feel like it at the time. Suffering and hardship are not the gifts of God– his amazing gift is the ability to redeem even the worst of circumstances and bring joy and rest and peace that passes any expectation, any dread, or any understanding we have. Often, our very desire for extra patience, peace, and joy are opportunities for us to learn more about God’s grace–and more about ourselves.
Life seldom meets our expectations–God is waiting to exceed even our wildest dreams! Don’t just pray expecting something good might happen. Pray expecting God to SHOW UP!
It can be a dog-eat-dog kind of world out there. Every day, I hear of people who are facing difficult and trying circumstances– health issues, loss of a job or home, loss of a family member or close friend, depression, oppression, harassment, rebellious or estranged children, abuse, academic failures, exhaustion from being provider, caregiver, etc.– even just daily stress. It can really take a toll. But it becomes even more difficult when we isolate ourselves.
When I get stressed, I tend to withdraw. I don’t want others to think of me as a failure, or to think less of me in my struggles. But this is one of the worst things I can do. First, it means more worry and stress because I’m bearing the burden alone! Second, it forces me to cover up my level of anxiety or depression be pretending that things are fine then they aren’t. That would all be bad enough, but it gets worse. Isolating means my focus turns inward– my problems become bigger, not smaller; I’m so close to the problem, I’m not able to “look outside the box” for solutions, because my box keeps closing in on me. I can’t see beyond my circumstances to understand if they are temporary, or if they necessitate some life changes on the other side of whatever crisis I’m dealing with. And, worst of all, the only voice I listen to is my own, rehearsing and reminding me of the difficulties or failures I’m facing.
We all need an encouraging word now and then; a voice telling us that we are not alone; that all is not lost; that there is hope. I have been blessed with wonderful family, friends, and neighbors who are great about encouraging me, even when I try to shut them out or pretend that everything is grand. Sometimes that encouragement comes through conversation; sometimes a card or text message or a shared piece of scripture; sometimes it comes through prayer. I may not even know who prayed, or what words they used until days or weeks later, but their faithfulness in praying has become a lifeline when I feel isolated and overwhelmed.
This does not negate my need to pray and ask God for wisdom, healing, or strength for myself, nor does it suggest that God doesn’t answer my prayers. Instead, it shows a pattern– God often answers our prayers by incorporating and using those around us. God’s goodness and his love are shown best in teamwork. We run the race to win, but we race together as teammates, not competitors. We share sorrows, struggles, and joys. We come alongside; we lift others up, and they lift us up in return.
Encouragement does so much, we sometimes underestimate its power. In a world of sniping, criticism, name-calling, and finger-pointing, encouragement does the following:
It lets someone know that they are seen and heard– that they are being noticed, thought of, and valued. This shouldn’t be uncommon, but in a world where we are connected to so many be technology, and to so few face-to-face, it is HUGE!
It give us perspective to realize that we are not alone in our problems and not unique in facing difficulties.
It reminds us that hope and help are gifts to be shared, not something we must earn.
It gives us a purpose and a mission to be part of God’s redemptive work– Jesus gave encouragement and hope to those who needed it most, not to those who “deserved” it.
It can be a dog-eat-dog world out there, but we are not dogs. We are children of the King. Let’s send out some encouraging words today!
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. (Proverbs 25:11 (ESV)
Also see James 5:13-16 on praying for one another.