LESSENING STRESS THE LORD’S WAY – MAINTAIN CONNECTION
February 10, 2019
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed…
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 roots, ascertaining purpose, pinpointing motives and establishing priorities. Now we turn to the topic of how Jesus kept his serenity and sanity by maintaining connection with his Heavenly Father. Yes, we’re talking about prayer.
One of our seasoned saints sent me this the other day–it’s a take-off on the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the Senility
to forget the people I never liked anyway,
the good fortune to run into the ones I do,
and the eyesight to tell the difference.
Prayer, in its simplest definition, is keeping company with God. This morning we’re going to explore the best way of doing that. I hope you will find some helpful and practical insights in this message that will indeed lessen the stress and enhance your serenity and sanity:
- MAKE PRAYER A SCHEDULED TASK
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives this advice to his followers: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” - Matthew 6:6
When it comes to prayer, there is no set formula for “doing it right.” We don’t have to worry about using the right buzz words, the correct posture, etc.
Look at folk in the Bible: Peter knelt. Jeremiah stood. Abraham fell face-downward. Elijah put his face between his knees.
In Jesus’ day, most Jews stood, lifting their open eyes and open hands to heaven. Jesus’ mother, Mary, prayed in poetry. Paul occasionally prayed while singing.
Throughout the centuries, some have shouted to God, others have maintained absolute silence.
The style does not matter. As Psalm 139 reminds us: O Lord, you have searched us and know us…You perceive our thoughts from afar…You’re familiar with all our ways. Before a word is ever on our tongue you know it completely.
The important thing is keeping that appointment to meet with God.
Last year my wife had a conference with the parents of one of her 2nd graders. The child was constantly falling asleep in class…at other times he was uncontrollable, unable to follow simple directions.
When inquiring about his home life, the parents confessed that they let Junior do whatever he wanted to do-they had no set time for dinner, baths, brushing teeth and the like–they felt it was important for the child to have totally unencumbered freedom.
And when my wife asked about his having a set bedtime, they said they let him set his own bedtime–he had a tablet in his room…and if he wanted to stay up and watch wrestling or play video games, well that was okay.
Of course, my wife did her best to convince these parents of the need for good, established habits–that kids are able to function much better when they have structure to their lives. But her words fell on deaf ears. Junior even fell asleep one day at lunch–his face buried in his plate of mystery meat and instant mashed potatoes!
Whether we like it or not, all of us are creatures of habit. Habits are good things…for kids and adults. And the best habit we could ever cultivate is that of keeping a standing daily appointment with God for prayer.
We see Jesus making a habit of getting up early and finding a quiet place to talk to his heavenly Father. He speaks to God with the intimacy of a child talking to a parent. He presses home to us that we come as beloved children to heavenly Parent who loves us in advance and cares deeply about our lives. God is always waiting, always willing, to keep company with us.
And the three general principles Jesus teaches us about prayer are to:
- Keep it honest.
- Keep it simple.
- Keep it up.
You will find an amazing and renewed depth to your life if you carve a portion of time out of your daily routine to spend intentionally with God.
Find that quiet time, even if it is only 10 minutes. Find that quiet place. Do something about the distractions–turn off the cell phone, take out the ear buds. Handle stray thoughts–need the oil changed, gotta get the dog groomed, dentist appt. at 1 pm–by jotting them down on a piece of paper to take care of later. If you wish, use scripture and a devotional guide for focus.
And simply talk, and spend time listening, to God. Relax. Go with the flow–the faces of people, the images of situations–that enter your mind–pray for them. You converse about whatever is on your mind with your closest friend–do the same with God.
Philip Yancey adds an interesting sidenote to this. He writes, “I am learning that prayer need not be “productive” in the normal sense of the term. I spend most of my waking hours trying to make it through the designated tasks of that day. Prayer offers a time to set aside that list of concerns–or rather present them to God–to relax, to let the mind roam freely, to drink deeply, to insert a pause in the day, to trust.”
“A strange thing happens, though. I find that when I reserve that time, I become more productive. I make clearer decisions and fewer impulsive mistakes. I waste less time worrying. I seem less bothered when things go wrong. The vertigo slips away.”
[Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006, p. 295]
Yes, keep it honest. Keep it simple. Keep it up. Make such prayer time an intentional habit. Schedule that appointment with God. In that daily list of tasks you carry out, this is one task that should be first and foremost.
And it will truly make a difference in your life…
But there is more to prayer than simply being on task. God also desires that we would….
- ALLOW PRAYER TO BECOME A CONSTANT LIFESTYLE
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:6-7
“Prayer is a state as much as an act, a fact that easily gets forgotten when we confine it to one or two isolated instances a day.” [Yancey, p. 299]
God desires that we remain in perpetual contact with him throughout each day…that prayer might become less a task and more a lifestyle for us.
Now, for me, this can be a bit of a challenge…but for my daughter and son it’s a breeze….
I grew up with the notion that everything in life had to be very regimented, very linear, very compartmentalized. You get up, you exercise, you make a few minutes for God, you eat your pop tart, you go to work, you have lunch, you work some more, you come home, you eat supper, you watch Jeopardy, you watch the Nationals blow another lead, you pray again, you go to bed.
Yet, my kids find it totally plausible to sit at a computer working on schoolwork, while instant messaging friends, while listening to their I-pod, while texting another friend, while eating a Hot Pocket. They remind me that it is possible to multi-task.
And yes, it is possible to “pray without ceasing”–to be enough of a multi-tasker that we can keep prayer running through our veins throughout the day while we are involved in a myriad of other ventures.
Rather than see prayer as a task we are constantly striving to achieve, we can come to view it as a continuous state we rest in, keeping God as part of our ongoing, unfolding day.
It’s amazing how well your day goes when you remain in constant and silent conversation with God. The molehills tend to never become mountains when you stay grounded in Him.
What if we could somehow learn to keep a prayerful attitude of gratitude throughout each day? We would awaken with the 118th Psalm on our lips–This is the day–not tomorrow, not yesterday–but THIS is the day the Lord hath made and I will rejoice and be glad in it! We learn to live in the precious present….being aware of the blessings God has placed all around us and in us.
Philip Yancey says his friend, Dr. Paul Brand, (the noted physician who died in 2003) has a unique Litany of Thanksgiving he goes through at the start of each new day. He calls to mind various parts of the body–his heart, his brain, cells, the immune system–and praises God for the intricacies that make life possible. Brand says, “As a doctor, I hear about the few parts of the body that don’t work as designed. I need a constant reminder of the miracle that so many trillions of cells in my body function flawlessly every day!” [Yancey, p. 319]
A prayerful attitude of gratitude would indeed change our outlook toward each day….as would a prayerful attitude of compassion.
I am certainly no paragon of virtue, and the things I preach to you I struggle with myself….but occasionally I feel like I get it right.
I was in that ultimate den of iniquity called Walmart one evening. After 3 laps around that mammoth store I finally found what I was looking for. I was getting a bit agitated as a couple in front of me argued incessantly with the clerk at the check-out over a coupon that had expired.
Now, I’m normally not in a prayerful state of mind in Walmart–but for some strange reason as I happened to notice that harried clerk dealing with those nasty people–a pang of sympathy went through me–and I quietly said a prayer for her. “Lord, help that poor woman!” was my prayer.
After those idiot customers finally left cussing under their breath, I placed my items on the counter. I looked the poor woman in the eye and told her, “You look like you have had one heckuva day–I’m sorry you have to deal with people like that.”
And all of the sudden she broke down and started sobbing. “They’re not the problem….my 2-year-old daughter is at my aunt’s home with a high fever and she needs her momma, but if I don’t work my hours we don’t eat….” And for the next couple of minutes she poured out her troubles to me- a total stranger. I just stood there and listened. And finally, as the next customer pulled up to her counter, she smiled faintly, thanking me for listening. I told her I would pray for her, and she thanked me again, saying she would be okay.
That encounter would have never happened had not I been in a state of ongoing prayer with God. I’m convinced such encounters are not coincidental–when we remain in a state of prayerful compassion, God reveals the needs of others to us, and uses us to be his solution to those needs. That’s how God’s work gets done in this world. And I’m struggling to learn that.
Many times we view prayer as bringing requests to God that God may not have thought of, and then twisting his arm into granting them.
What would life be like if we saw prayer as a tool God instills in us, increasing our awareness of the needs he sees around us? As such, when we encounter persons while in an ongoing attitude of prayer, we are able to see them as God sees them, and enter into that stream of compassion that God already directs toward them.
As you go about your day, keep your eyes and ears open, holding persons and situations you encounter before the Lord, willing that he would have his will with them, knowing that your prayer for them focuses God’s power upon their circumstances.
And such prayer produces some tremendous change not only in the prayee but in you, the pray-er, as well. You become a much more patient, kind, decent human being…in essence, you become Christian.
Maintaining that connection with God is essential to lessening stress in one’s life. And, the bottom line is this: the true value of prayer is not about getting what we want–it’s about becoming what God wants us to be.
Yes, that happens as we make prayer a scheduled daily task in our lives, a habit we uphold with great diligence. But more importantly, it happens as we allow prayer to become a constant lifestyle—a state of connection with the divine we carry with us in every moment of every day–being aware of his hand in the lives and situations that surround us.
It was my 5th grade year that schools were integrated in Mecklenburg County. And I had my first black teacher, Frances Tisdale. Looking back upon that lady, I can truly say she was a saint.
In the midst of all the community turmoil and hatred going on outside the school, Mrs. Tisdale’s classroom was always an oasis of serenity. She loved us all–red, yellow, black and white, we were precious in her sight.
Her voice always remained calm and never raised. She could make the hardest math problem seem simple. She was firm with her discipline, but not vindictive. In those days before free lunch programs, we’d sometimes notice her quietly passing her sandwich to Jimmy Hatcher, who often came to school hungry, while she made do with an apple or orange.
Mrs. Tisdale did have one strange quirk, though. Throughout the school day, whenever we were doing some reading or spelling work or some other chore at our desks, I’d glance over and notice Mrs. Tisdale with her eyes closed and her lips seemingly mouthing silent words. She would do this several times each day.
After several weeks of the school year had passed, a few of us persuaded one of the black kids in the room who knew Mrs. Tisdale from church to ask her why she closed her eyes and talked to herself. We figured she wouldn’t get mad at him.
Mrs. Tisdale split her side in laughter when she learned of our curiosity. And she told us, “Boys, the Bible tells us to “pray without ceasing.” So when you see me at my desk with my eyes closed and talking to myself, I am praying for each one of you. I’m praying that God will give me the strength to be a good teacher for you, that we will all learn to respect each other despite our skin color, and that you will grow up to be good and intelligent young men and women who will make this world a better place…”
I never really had a teacher pray for me. That was cool. And certainly I needed it. And come to think of it, the 5th grade with Mrs. Tisdale was the best year I had in over 21 years of elementary, secondary, college and graduate education.
What would our days be like if we kept close company with God as Mrs. Tisdale did? As Jesus demonstrated, that is the way to lessen stress the Lord’s Way!