Good News for Stressed People

If you’re stressed out, raise your hand.

My hand is raised, and I know I’m not alone. Millions of Americans—Christians included—would say the same. I often don’t know stress is affecting me; I’m usually fine one moment, and crying the next. And as much as I want to blame stress, making myself a victim of its pressures, I know I need to take a deeper look at my heart.

What’s at the root of our stress, beneath the circumstances that seem to cause it? And how does God’s Word speak to our struggle with it?

Moses’ Heavy Burden

Moses found himself in a difficult position after the Exodus. God had delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, bringing them miraculously through the Red Sea and into freedom. Moses and the people had beheld God’s great glory and power in the destruction of their enemies and the provision of divine rescue. They saw him do what they could never do for themselves.

After crossing the waters, the people continued to see God provide, as he sent manna to nourish their hungry bodies and water from a rock to quench their thirst. God also provided wisdom and justice for the Israelites through Moses, who would “judge the people…from morning till evening” (Exodus 18:13). But there was a problem—

When Moses’ father-in-law [Jethro] saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” (v. 14)

Jethro was concerned for Moses, and rightfully so. The Bible doesn’t tell us that Moses was “stressed out,” per say, but there were either indications of this, or Jethro had the foresight to see the coming effects of what Moses was doing.

Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.” (vv. 17-18)

Wearing Ourselves Out

Do you resonate with this account? Perhaps your intentions are good, but you’re wearing yourself out because you’ve taken on too much and not asked for help. Or perhaps you’re obeying God by simply doing what he’s asked of you, but circumstances have become heavy with tension, complications, or hardship.

Like Moses, we’ve seen God’s great works throughout biblical history; more than Moses, we’ve beheld God’s greatest work in delivering us from sin and death through Christ. Yet, like Moses, we may be carrying heavy burdens, unable “to do it alone.”

Jethro’s response to Moses reveals three important truths about stress that we should take to heart:

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How to Make Sense of Confusing Bible Passages

What in the world?

I was reading Psalm 128 and I thought, Surely this passage is used to promote the prosperity gospel:

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,

   who walks in his ways!

You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;

   you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. (vv. 1-2)

I kept reading:

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine

   within your house;

your children will be like olive shoots

   around your table.

Behold, thus shall the man be blessed

   who fears the Lord. (vv. 3-4)

Now I’m even more confused, I thought. What about homes that never see the blessing of children? Does this psalm apply equally to them?

Five Principles for Confusing Bible Passages

Let’s be honest: Scripture can be confusing sometimes. As we grow in our knowledge of the whole Bible story, we run into these passages that can feel like roadblocks on a straight-and-narrow journey. So what do we do with them? How do we make sense of confusing Scripture passages?

1. Read the surrounding verses.

From the pulpit, Pastor Colin Smith often says, “Interpret Scripture in light of Scripture.” This is sound wisdom because all of God’s Word is breathed out by him and is useful for our growth (2 Timothy 3:16). It’s perfect and without error, which means God cannot contradict himself. So, if a verse or passage seems difficult, confusing, or misplaced, we interpret it in light of what directly surrounds it. Ask the following questions:

  • What did the author say immediately before and after?
  • What did they say in the previous chapter(s)?
  • What’s the message of the book as a whole?

Seek answers to these questions, and you’ll find you have a much clearer idea of what’s intended in the initial passage. Let’s apply this principle to Psalm 128:

Psalm 128. The surrounding psalms were written upon the return of God’s people from exile. God had restored their fortunes and blessed them by delivering them from their enemies and bringing them home. What the psalmist writes isn’t, “If you’re good, God will bless you,” but “God has been good to you and has restored that which you lost when you were in exile.” It would’ve been clear to God’s people that this blessing was far from what they deserved for the very sin that sent them into captivity—yet God was faithful and kind to them.

2. Think similar and different.

Now consider the whole of Scripture and where you’ve seen similar words or themes. Ask, Where have I seen this before? You can also ask where you’ve read something seemingly contrary to what you’re reading, which will shed light on the meaning of the present verses.

Psalm 128. I read the word “blessed” and immediately think of Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). The poor in spirit are those who fear the Lord (Psalm 128:1), who recognize their sin and confess their eternal need for a Savior. Jesus says that God’s kingdom will be theirs—and to have such blessing is the ultimate way in which “it shall be well with [them]” (v. 2). So Psalm 128 isn’t necessarily about God promising earthly prosperity—although blessing does come from “the labor of [our] hands”—but eternal prosperity, the good and security of our souls.

3. Consult sound commentaries.

One of God’s good gifts to the Church throughout the centuries has been commentary on Scripture, written by learned, wise theologians who love God and his Word. We should always try to interpret what we’re reading with the help of the Spirit and other Scriptures before reading other interpretations since they can influence our thinking. (Of course, we want to be influenced for good—but we’ll grow more in studying Scripture as we seek our own interpretation first, even if it gets corrected).

Psalm 128. English minister Joseph Caryl clarifies the meaning of verse 4: God extends his goodness both in family blessing and in spiritual blessing. He says,

…the man fearing God shall be blessed more than [with wife and children]: his blessing shall come in the best way (Psalms 128:5): “The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion”; his temporal mercies shall come in a spiritual way, yea, he shall have spiritual blessings: “He shall bless thee out of Zion”; and he shall have blessings beyond his own walls: “Thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel.”

4. Study the passage with other believers.

If a passage of Scripture still confuses you after seeking context and reading commentaries, ask a friend or small group to look at the verses with you. Share your struggles with it, pray together for the Spirit’s clarity and help, and discuss it.

Some of the most enlightening moments for me have happened with other believers, as they explained truth to me in a fresh way and guided my interpretation of God’s Word. Who might you ask to open the Bible with you? What burning questions could you bring to your small group this week?

5. Submit yourself to God’s Word.

Ultimately, the secret things belong to the Lord (Deuteronomy 29:29). We won’t be able to grasp everything we read fully, nor will all our questions be answered. If we could wrap our minds around God—all he is, all he’s planned, and all he’s said—he wouldn’t be worthy of our worship. His ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours, and this is the way it should be (Isaiah 55:9)!

So, at the end of the day, when we can’t fully understand what we’re reading, we choose to trust the One who speaks without error. We trust his invitation that when we seek him with all our hearts, we will find him (Jeremiah 29:13). We trust in Christ’s promise to give us the Helper, the Spirit of truth, who will guide, counsel, and lead us into truth (John 15:26).

And the more we hunger to know him more and treasure the infinite depths of his Word, the more we will worship.

[Post Credit: Unlocking the Bible]

14 Ideas to Make Your Bible Reading More Consistent

For many Christians, reading the Bible consistently is a challenge.

In 2017, the American Bible Society reported that only 20% of Americans read their Bibles at least four times each week. This means that 80% of Americans read Scripture less frequently than that, if at all.

But God says his words are like food—“Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). And no human can survive without food. If we’re not eating, we starve.

And if we aren’t feeding on God’s Word consistently, so will our souls.

Read Your Bible, Feed Your Soul

When our newborn baby entered the world, everything changed—especially our sleep patterns. There were mornings when my husband and I struggled to peel ourselves out of bed to meet with the Lord in his Word. But the struggle was worth it. Most mornings, we fought the temptation to keep sleeping (only by God’s grace) and were grateful we did, as it meant starting our day in communion with him through Scripture and prayer.

It meant feeding our souls.

Hearing God speak through our Bibles was a game-changer for us:

  • He hid his Word in our hearts and would bring it to mind by his Spirit.
  • He renewed our minds, setting them on eternal matters, and gave us eyes to see through this perspective moment-by-moment.
  • He gave us his armor to help us fight sin and temptation.
  • He reminded us that Christ is our highest joy and our most valued treasure.

I’ve heard it said, you don’t remember every meal you’ve eaten, but the meals you’ve eaten have sustained you. We may not recall every Scripture we’ve read, but God sustains our trust in him as we choose to consistently feed on his Word.

14 Ideas to Make Your Reading More Consistent

There’s no one way to open Scripture—everybody’s devotional time will look different—but there is a right way to pursue it: consistently.

As you seek God in his Word, begin by asking him to give you an ever-deepening desire for this pursuit. Call on him to help you put away the distractions of tiredness, tasks, and trivialities. Plead with him for eyes to see the glory of Christ in Scripture, and for ears to hear the good news of the gospel in everything you read.

Then, commit to reading every day—even if only for five minutes at first—and pursue specific ways to make this reading a habit. Here are several ideas for you, in no particular order:

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The Only Way You Can Do God’s Will

I can’t.

Our culture despises those two little words. Hatred for weakness and inadequacy is why we tell our kids never to say, “I can’t.” It’s why we love the inspiring words of Thomas the Tank Engine: “Yes, you can!” The belief that we’re capable of anything, if we set our minds to it, pervades our worldview.

This “I-can” mentality also colors our reading of Scripture, specifically how we understand and respond to God’s commands. If we aren’t careful, we’ll be deceived into thinking we’ve “got this” apart from the power of the gospel motivating and empowering us.

When God’s Will Is Impossible

Consider a familiar passage. Many of us can recite it from memory. It’s one of the few answers we give to the common question, “What is God’s will for my life?” We affirm it—

But struggle to apply it:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

God couldn’t be clearer: His will for his people is a life steeped in rejoicing, prayer, and thanksgiving! We never have to wonder if we’re on the right and godly path with these actions. They are God’s will for us. Yet—

They’re some of the most difficult commands to obey.

Think about it:

  • Why does God command us to “rejoice always”? Because it’s more natural for us to grumble and complain about our circumstances than to see God’s character and purposes at work in them.
  • Why does he tell us to “pray without ceasing”? Because, in an age of distraction and entertainment, it’s easier to give our focus and time to nothingness, wasting it on self-centered, temporary pleasures, than to give ourselves to eternal, Kingdom matters.
  • And what about his command to “give thanks”? We usually forget or refuse to because, somewhere deep within our hearts, we fail to remember that everything is a gift from God. We think we’re entitled to what we want and deserve an easy life.

Friends, I’m preaching to myself here. I often fail to fulfill God’s will in these particular commands. I’d rather complain about what he hasn’t given me than praise him for what he has; and I’d more quickly scroll social media for the umpteenth time than set aside what feeds my pride for the prayerfulness that will expose it. Turns out these basic commands to do God’s will are much harder to obey than they seem.

Yes, on our own, obedience to God is impossible. We need his help and power, secured for us through our union with Christ, to do his will.

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Trust God With the Spiritual Gifts He Gives

Do you trust God in the area of spiritual gifts?

While talking to my brothers and sisters at church or scrolling social media, I want what other people have—specifically, their spiritual gifts, opportunities, and influence. I hear about that wonderful ministry event she spoke at, or I see how widely she’s influencing other believers, and I think, How did those doors open for her? Why haven’t I had that chance?

Or in moments of total pride: What she’s doing isn’t as neat as what I just got to do.

Five Truths to Help You Trust God

In our sinful state, our hearts wander into covetousness, comparison, and criticism when it comes to the gifts God gives his people. Instead of seeing what God has graciously given—our spiritual gifts, opportunities, and influence—we often fixate on what he hasn’t given us.

But we can trust God with the gifts he gives. Because of Christ, we’re free to celebrate the diverse spiritual gifts within his body and rest in what God has given each of us. This is the better way—and Paul draws it out for us in 1 Corinthians 12. Here, he gives us five truths that will help us trust God as he distributes spiritual gifts.

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Turn My Eyes from Looking at Worthless Things

The eyes are the lamp of the body. It becomes what they behold.

Lured by desire and the passions of the flesh, the eyes look upon secret loves too dark for anyone but their Creator to fully see and know. Prone to wander, how they feel it—the pull to gaze upon worthless things…   

Worthless Vanity

She rolls out of bed and gets ready for the day, wrestling through outfits, but finally choosing the deep blue shirt. People say it compliments her eyes. Her friend, the mirror, is also her greatest foe, faithfully awaiting her gaze and reflecting what she wants to see—but only after it condemns her, only after she heeds its brutal, silent critiques.

Do people see how hard she’s working to maintain her figure and erase her years? And if they did, would it matter?

Would the mirror be any gentler, any kinder to her?

Worthless Attention

The bright screen bores itself into his brain. A constant barrage of entertainment, his phone never leaves his sight or lacks for his attention. He fears missing out—yet he doesn’t hear the flesh-and-blood voices around him when they call his name.

A like outweighs a life.

But it’s never enough; the attention feels like an endless black hole. He’s not even sure who he is anymore since he can change his reality at the touch of a button, with the swipe of a screen—  

He’s got others fooled. He’s even got himself fooled.

Or does he?

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It Is Well With My Soul

In the middle of suffering, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”

While sick on the couch one week, I read the Shunammite woman’s story in 2 Kings and was immediately helped. I’d been fighting fear because I was terrified that our infant daughter would catch my sickness, and because I had no idea how I would care for her in such a depleted state.

I’m not proud of the fruit I bore that week: frustration, unkindness, negativity, and even more fear and doubt. But God, in his mercy, convicted and helped me through his Word, through the story of the Shunammite woman’s suffering.

The Shunammite Woman’s Suffering

Here’s the short version (see 2 Kings 4:8-37):

A wealthy woman (our Shunammite) knew that Elisha was God’s prophet; so she convinced her husband to make him a small room on their roof, where he could rest when he passed by. Elisha figured she’d want something done for her in return (which she didn’t), so he promised her a son the following year. She conceived according to his word and despite her doubts.

When he’d grown, her God-given son died on her lap. Without hesitation, she saddled up her donkey and went to find Elisha for help:

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite. Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” And she answered, “All is well.” (vv. 25-26)

All is well? What?! Didn’t her son, her unexpected gift from God, just die on her lap? How could she say this?

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Is the Word of God a Quick Fix?

When you come to God’s Word, are you looking for a “quick fix”?

I was struck by the following quotation, as I read through one of Pastor Colin’s sermons from the radio series The Anatomy of Faith:

God may be saying to you, “Instead of looking for a quick fix to the problems in your life, you need to establish a regular pattern of receiving my Word with faith, so that it will bear long-term fruit that you have not been bearing in years.” You never know what God is going to say to you, but you know he is going to say it through his Word. (Colin Smith)

This statement is striking because it pegs our human tendency to view God’s Word as a “quick fix.” I’ll bet that I’m not alone in wanting to hear God speak truth into my heart. But I’ll also bet that many of us tend to be drawn to Scripture thinking we need an instant solution for our troubles, rather than nourishing, consistent sustenance for our souls.

In effect, the Word of God becomes a means to an end, and—I admit—it’s usually a selfish end! Deliver me from circumstantial trouble. Show me the next step I should take in my own carefully crafted plans. Make sense for me of this enigmatic reality that makes up God’s sovereignty.

God’s Word can easily become information for our brains, rather than nourishment for our souls. Instead of genuinely loving and craving the Word, we can use the Word for selfish gain, hoping that it will give us a way out of worldly troubles and suffering.

Scripture becomes a “quick fix.”

So how can we learn to love God’s Word increasingly more every day? How can we avoid looking to Scripture as a mere “quick fix”? I think there are three key points in Pastor Colin’s statement above that will help us see how we can—only by God’s grace—grow in loving the Word:

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10 Promises for Your Bible Reading

Many mornings, weariness threatens to win.

Like a thick cloud, it opposes my time in God’s Word, obscures my desire to read, and keeps me from seeing the light of truth. My weariness might be circumstantial – a disappointment or an ongoing trial – or it may be physical – a long night of little sleep or the lingering annoyance of chronic pain.

I desire to dive into the depths of Scripture, but weariness wants to keep me in the shallows. I yearn to explore the endless riches of knowing Christ better, but weariness tempts me to apathy and tricks me into settling for less.

I need God’s help when I come to his Word. We need God’s help. Only he can overcome the shallows of our weariness and enlighten our clouded hearts with his truth. He actually promises to do these things when believers read their Bibles—

But do we trust his promises?

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20 Practical Ways to Kill Sin Every Day

Sin perplexes us.

We love it, and we hate it. We embrace it, and we war against it. We act on it, yet we don’t always understand why. Sin is alluring and confusing, pleasurable and destructive. The redeemed heart has been set free from sin’s power, yet still wars with sin’s presence—and sin distances us from the God who willingly came to rescue us from it.

When I asked friends, “What are some sins and areas of temptation we must fight every day?” the response was overwhelming: jealousy, laziness, discontentment, control, discouragement, pride, a sharp tongue, vanity, slander, inadequacy, anxiety, fear, selfish gain, impatience, anger, disobedience, lust, fear of man, and critical judgment of other Christians.

20 Practical Ways to Kill Sin Every Day

Which of these resonate with you? Do others come to your mind? No Christian is exempt from the battle with sin, and it’s wise to consider what and how we’re actively fighting each day. But we do not fight alone:

We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:9-11)

Believer in Christ Jesus, you are dead to sin and alive to God – and your calling is to “consider yourself” in this way. So what does it look like to fight sin on a daily basis, when temptation is all around you and spiritual death is sin’s goal (James 1:15)?

Ponder these 20 practical ways to “consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God” by killing sin today:

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