LESSENING STRESS THE LORD’S WAY – ESTABLISH PRIORITIES
February 3, 2019
Over these past few weeks we’ve been discussing what it means to lessen stress the Lord’s way. Jesus teaches us that we can find relief from the strain of everyday life through identifying our roots, ascertaining our purpose and pinpointing our motives. Jesus also offers some sage advice on the importance of establishing priorities.
Now, it’s quite evident we all have stuff we need to get done each day just to survive. If we don’t focus on the priorities of providing for our loved ones and ourselves, life is not going to turn out very well. And so we wake up, get up and do what needs to be done.
And yet, there are other priorities that often get thrown into the mix that convolute and dilute and end up overwhelming us. And, like the proverbial frog boiling ever so slowly in the kettle, we often don’t realize what a stressed out-mess we are until we are over our heads and going under.
I see it all the time, especially on the harried faces of families who schedule every waking moment of each day with endless activities. They buy into believing their kids will not grow up to be well-rounded, productive over-achievers like the neighbors’ kids down the block unless they squeeze in one more event in one more hour in one more day.
If you’re feeling caught in the spin cycle right now, perhaps it’s time to put the brakes on…take a deep breath…relax…and hear these calming, insightful words of Jesus:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Yes, Jesus is telling us there are two primary priorities we need to be about that enable us to find balance and peace in life. The first is this…we need to learn to
LOOK UPWARD IN TRUST
Every Friday morning, when I’m working on my sermon, I’m always startled and intrigued by the party going on outside my home office window.
You see, this past Christmas, we purchase several of those unique bird seed wreathes from the UM Women. I almost ate one myself…they look delicious! I tie them in a lower limb of the cherry tree in our front yard.
And precisely at 7:30 am, a pair of cardinals show up and begin swinging on the bird seed wreath, pecking away at the seeds. A couple of blue jays soon join the feast. And then, since they are messy eaters, knocking seeds to the ground below, a gang of sparrows will arrive on the scene, foraging on the leftovers falling like manna from heaven!
It’s a crazy, noisy time as all my feathered friends chirp and chomp in rowdy bliss. Yes, they have to work to find their food, but they don’t seem the least bit stressed about it. Evidently it is engrained in them that they can trust God to provide, and God indeed makes a way for them to find sustenance.
God has placed within each of us that same capacity to look upward in trust, to live in the security that God will make a way for us, even during the times in life where there seems to be no way. He will provide us the insight, aptitude and strength to take care of our basic needs.
Walter Kelly once commented, “Much stress comes from wasting today’s time to clutter up tomorrow’s opportunities with yesterday’s troubles.”
When it comes to determining our priorities, do we live in a state of confusion? We need to learn to dwell in the moment, living one day in a time, having faith that God cares greatly for us. We certainly cannot add any length to our lives by overloading ourselves with anxiety.
We need to awaken each day with the prayer, “Lord, you provide the birds with ample food, you clothe the flowers in beauty…I trust you will help me to take care of the needs of my loved ones and me.”
When it comes to lessening stress in our lives, that is the first priority Jesus must establish in our lives…the priority of always looking up in trust.
And then there is a second one that is even more important:
LIVE OUTWARD IN LOVE
Jesus says “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Do you want stress to lessen in your life? Then make seeking the Kingdom of God the main thing!
And yet, this begs a question: just how do we go about seeking the Kingdom of God?
Follow me here: Remember when we prayed the prayer Jesus taught us earlier this morning? “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:10
Well, in the Lord’s Prayer, we learn the seeking of God’s Kingdom is the seeking of God’s will.
And what is God’s will? Jesus says it is to love one another. “This is my commandment, love one another as I have loved you.” -John 15:12
Yes, God’s will is to love one another… unconditionally.
Not judge one another…love one another…unconditionally.
Bill and Hilda’s kitchen window looked out upon their neighbor’s back yard. Their neighbors were a young couple, Mark and Maggie, with three small kids. The young couple was very environmentally-conscious. One day they put up a clothesline in their back yard, and began hanging their wash out instead of using the energy-consuming electric dryer.
Well, this amused and perturbed Hilda to no end. The first day she saw the clothes of her young neighbors hanging on the line, she smugly told Bill, “Look at those shirts–they’re dingier than dirt!”
The next day Maggie hung out some sheets. “Will you look at that!” Hilda told Bill, “I’ve never seen sheets as grimy as that– I need to go over and teach that poor girl how to use bleach!”
A couple of days later, Maggie hung out some more linens on the line. As Hilda peered out busy-bodily out her kitchen window, she was quite surprised. “Bill, I wonder what happened? Maggie’s wash is clean and bright as snow!”
“I’ll tell you what happened, dear,” Bill replied, “I went outside before you got up this morning and took the Windex to our kitchen window!”
Am I the type of person who is always noticing the dirty clothes on someone else’s clothesline? Do I always make it a point to see the worst, the negative, the bad in everyone and everything? Do I judge everyone by my standards, or do I try to love by God’s standards?
Perhaps the window on my life needs cleaning. Perhaps I need to pray with the psalmist David, “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”
Perhaps I need to ask Christ to enable me to see the world around me from the vantage point of love…love that does not impose preconditions.
God’s will is to love one another unconditionally…and sacrificially.
In 1 John 4:20, we hear these words: Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen. Our faith is not a private and personal matter. We can never experience the stress-free, peace-filled, transforming presence of God until we roll up our sleeves and love our neighbor sacrificially. We see God’s face in the faces of persons we reach out to.
Yes, love is a verb…a sacrificial commitment, not a feeling. God’s will, God’s love, seeks the highest good for others often without any emotional attachment.
It is the kind of love that sometimes even risks one’s own life for the sake of another. Back a few years ago there was an accident on I-81 near New Market. John and Martha Higgins, a retired couple in their early 80’s, were heading south from upper New York State to Atlanta to visit some relatives.
They watched in horror as a compact car several hundred feet in front of them swerved to the right, glanced off a guard rail, went back across the highway, up an embankment, and overturned three times. Smoke and flames began pouring out from under the crumpled hood.
Mr. and Mrs. Higgins slowed down and pulled over. They were hoping other motorists would follow suit.
As they hurriedly approached the car, they heard the barely-conscious groans of two girls trapped inside the car. They were two college students returning to JMU from Northern Va. to begin the fall semester.
The Higginses screamed for help, but no one stopped. Realizing they were the only hope for these two girls, this elderly couple somehow managed to fight through the smoke to loosen the girls from their seatbelts, then they jerked and pulled with all their might until they freed them from the burning automobile.
The Higginses had no cell phone, so Mr. Higgins ran out in front of slowed traffic on I-81 and stopped a car, demanding that the occupant call 911. Soon rescue squad personnel were on the scene attending to the girls. They were taken to RMH and treated for a few broken bones.
The two girls and their parents were grateful beyond words and tears for John and Martha Higgins having saved their lives. The Higgins responded by saying that’s what Christian folks are commanded to do out of love for their fellow man.
Yes, seek first the Kingdom of God...and to seek God’s kingdom is to live outward in love…unconditionally, sacrificially…loving others as God has loved us.
The most stress-free, peace-filled person I’ve ever known was my Aunt Mozelle. She was like a grandmother to me. Her kitchen was a second home to me, a place where I could go as a teenager to find a listening ear and a gentle, but often firm word of wisdom shared in her lilting Western North Carolinian dialect.
In an era filled with unrest… when everyone across our community seemed to be at each other’s throats over skin color and lifestyles and the Vietnam War, Aunt Mozelle’s kitchen was an oasis of tranquility to folks from all over Chase City. Her kitchen door was always open to everyone…no matter who they were or what they had done or what they believed. They were welcome to come in and sit at her table and have a cold glass of milk and a warm meal and a slice of her famous carrot cake that always stood tantalizing underneath the clear glass container on her kitchen counter and most of all some attentive, caring conversation.
This dear woman, who had lost a son, a daughter and a husband, had no fear of anyone. My daddy and aunts used to fuss at her for letting anyone in her house, but to no avail. Early on in life she had learned to look upward in trust, leaning on God for strength. And every time I was in her presence, I witnessed her unconditional, sacrificial love in action, for me and whomever else was the recipient of her gracious hospitality.
In a world that often is stressed-out by competing, clamoring priorities, Aunt Mozelle was a shining example to me of what it means to establish God’s priorities in one’s life…looking upward in trust and living outward in love.
I’ll never forget her legacy…and I pray I might somehow achieve at least a portion of it in my own life!
Perhaps you might as well!