As promised, this is a follow-up to the post I wrote on The Good Life. (If you want to refresh your memory, you can read it here.)
This weekend, I listened to a sermon in which the *pastor addressed the topic of stress. He began by laying the foundation of his message with a definition and a principle.
“Stress is an outside force applying pressure.”
The important thing to note in that definition is “an outside force.” Stress comes from the outside. It’s an external pressure. Stress isn’t an internal issue, although we certainly deal with it internally.
He then shared the engineering principle of stress: “If the external pressure is greater than the internal strength, it results in a stress fracture.”
This makes sense to me. If you put too much weight on an object, it will eventually crack under pressure.
So, let’s think about this principle in practical terms. Most of the time, we have no control over our external stressors. We all have relationships to navigate, bills to pay, and responsibilities and activities to steward, maintain, and balance.
Then, put on top of all of that a global pandemic, new financial strains, health risks, racial and social unrest, and the mounting political division that comes in an election year, and it’s no wonder we’re all feeling broken and undone. Our outside pressures are at an all-time high!
When I was in a funk a few months ago, I spent a lot of time focusing on, dwelling in, scrolling through, and rehearsing the woes of all the external stress I was under. And guess what all that did for me? Nothing good!! Focusing on that which I have no control over never helps me. It only sends me further into the pit.
It wasn’t until after my wake-up call that I started paying attention to the only part of the equation that I do have a say in – my internal strength, which is Christ in me.
When it comes to paying attention to my life and building that unbreakable internal strength we all long for, there are two main things I get hyper intentional about attending to in my everyday life (based on two crucial verses in the Bible).
#1: I GUARD MY HEART.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23)
Oh, how I wish we (the church) would stop reciting this verse to young kids falling in love for the first time! Guard your heart, we tell them. Protect yourself from love and heartbreak. But I’m not sure that’s the best understanding of this verse.
In this verse, we are commanded to guard (or keep watch over) the condition of our heart because it’s the place from which everything flows—all our thoughts, words, emotions, and actions.
We guard our hearts by paying attention to what we’re allowing into our hearts. This does not mean we protect our hearts from love and connection. Instead, we set up a guard against lies, deception, temptations, and distractions of the heart. We protect our hearts from anything that could defile, corrupt, tempt, or lead us astray. And lastly, we watch out for things that lull us to sleep, make us complacent, or draw us away from our first love, Jesus.
(I’ll share practically what this looks like for me in just a bit.)
#2: I RENEW MY MIND.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
Over the years, I’ve learned that the practice and the daily fight to renew my mind are among the most vital, most practical things I can do to actively engage in strengthening my inner self.
There is no easy fix for renewing your mind. It is an hour by hour, minute by minute (and sometimes second by second) fight to actively think about what you’re thinking about, recognize the lies, and replace those lies with the truth found in God’s Word. But the work is worth it!!
Okayyyyy, let’s get practical.
The following is what I did and have been doing to get back on my feet again. Having just recently fought my way out of a pretty low place, I share the following with you only to encourage and inspire those of you who may be feeling stuck like I was.
- Out myself. This is always the first step for me. I have to let someone in on the madness that’s happening in between my ears. It’s amazing how freeing it feels to name the crazy, the anxiety, and the fears. It’s also amazing how quickly those all-consuming fears begin to lose their power when I say them out loud. Don’t stay isolated in your thinking. Out yourself!
- Get back to the basics. When was the last time you had a good night’s sleep? When was the last time you drank some water? When was the last time you exercised? These three things (sleep, water, exercise) might sound basic, but they are vital to living. What changes can you make to make these three things priorities again? (P.S. I’m sure healthy eating should be included in this section, too, but if I’m talking about my real life, it’s best I just move on. )
- Limit social media. They say that the endless scrolling on social media is mindless entertainment, but I think it’s doing more to our hearts and minds than we know. A couple of questions to consider when you scroll: Is this life-giving or life-draining? Does this feed your anxiety/fear/stress/frustration/ anger or lead to greater peace? For this season, I’ve stopped the constant buffet of clicking, reading, and watching because these things aren’t feeding me. They’re making me sick.
- Read the Bible. Surely you knew I was going to get to this eventually! There’s just no substitute for time spent reading God’s Word. How can we renew our minds with truth if we never read the Bible? How can we even know how to discern what is true without having a standard or measure of truth?
My morning Bible reading has looked different through the years, but here is what it looks like today. After I make coffee, I turn on just one light—the lamp in the living room next to my big comfy chair where I read my Bible. I want everything else dark so I have zero distractions. I bought a new Bible this year (without commentary) for my morning reading, so this is the one I use. Before I read, I ask the Lord to open my eyes to His wonderful truth, and then I read. Right now I’m reading one chapter in whatever book I left off (with a highlighter and pens for making notes in the margins). Currently, I’m in the Book of Acts. Sometimes a verse or nugget of truth jumps off the page at me, so I think about it for a little bit and talk to God about it. Sometimes I simply finish my one chapter, close my Bible, and get on with my day. But either way, I show up and trust God to do His good work in me. God’s Word is food for my soul. I don’t have to overthink the Scriptures or try to create some emotional experience every time I read. I simply soak in a passage and trust that little by little His Word is finding its way in me and changing me from the inside out.
- Add in some life-giving rhythms to your day. Like I said before, when I’m coming out of a bad place, I’m so starving for the Word of truth and God’s presence that I seek it wherever I can find it. You don’t have to be sitting in a quiet room with your Bible open to spend time with God. Here are a couple of other ways I incorporate life-giving rhythms to my day while I’m doing other things (like while I’m walking, driving, doing laundry, or picking up the house).
- I listen to worship music. I made a playlist of songs that speak to my present condition and current need. These songs have become like prayers to me. Sometimes when words are hard to come by, songs can speak for you.
- I listen to Scripture via the DWELL APP. If you’ve never heard of Dwell, I highly recommend you check it out. Dwell is a unique and beautifully curated Scripture listening app. When you get a subscription, you can choose from 10 different Scripture readers (and different Bible translations) as you listen to a book of the Bible or one of the many different playlists they have created in response to specific felt needs (I started with “I’m feeling stressed”.) There is something really peaceful and powerful about having God’s Word spoken over you. Right now, I’m listening to “Through the Psalms”.
- I listen to truth-speaking podcasts. There are so many great podcasts to tune into these days. I like to keep a variety in my queue to listen to, depending on my mood. Here are some of the shows I’ve been listening to lately: The Next Right Thing (Emily P. Freeman), Things Above Podcast (James Bryan Smith), Made For This (Jennie Allen), The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey, Dream Big (Bob Goff), and sermons series by Mark Batterson, Robert Morris, and Tony Evans.
- I choose silence. Sometimes the absolute best solution to all the noise of the world is silence. If you are willing to do the work it takes to get past all the noise that’s currently blaring in your heart, the peace that’s waiting for you on the other side is worth the fight. I promise!
- I use the PAUSE APP. The Pause App was created by John Eldridge as a tool to help you connect with God in the middle of your busy day. John leads the listener in a 1-minute prayer, 3-minute prayer, 5-minute prayer, and 10-minute prayer. I love listening to the 3-minute prayer right before I go to bed at night as a way of closing out my day with Jesus.
Well, I think I’ve officially talked your ear off. I really hope these little tidbits are helpful for you as you live and work out your faith in practical ways throughout your day.
Blessings to you as you pursue The Good Life with Jesus. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again … He’s everything you’ll ever need and so much more!