In this unprecedented season of stress, anxiety, fear, and so many other emotions, we believers earnestly implore the Lord asking for a Divine Exchange. We yearn for, reach for, claim, and proclaim that our God is real and that He not only sees, but cares. We reach out to Him in our sincerity and offer Him our frailty for His strength, our weakness for His empowerment, and our fear and anxiety for His peace.
In our confidence, and yet to our surprise, He offers to give us that Divine Exchange and we step into His very Presence and go from stress to strength in a moment that leaves us in breathless astonishment of the good and gracious God that we love and serve. We cease to grasp for control that so obviously is out of our reach. We cease to be the proverbial Commander of the universe and put our concerns back into His trustworthy hands. In that moment we find ourselves residing, no longer in turmoil, but rather in peace, surrender, and resolve. We allow Him to be Lord once again, just as He was, is, and will always be. Hence, somewhere in the process of surrender there is a tumultuous, yet serene, journey that takes us from stress to strength moment-by-moment, hour-by-hour, and day-by-day.
James 1:2-6a (NIV) tells us that trials will come. “(2) Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (3) because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. (4) Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (5) If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (6) But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt..(12) Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
We learn at least four things from this passage:
- Stress is certain to come. James says, “when,” not “if.”
- It can come suddenly. James says, “when you fall into,” fall, not crawl or walk.
- It can come in several ways. James refers to “various trials.” Your stress may be more about financial provision than it is about this pandemic, or health more than your singleness, or social connection more than homeschooling your ‘littles’ so suddenly, or it may be all of these various trials all at one time.
- When we persevere, we will be blessed. James does not say that we should be joyful for the stress/trials, but rather in the stress/trials. A godly perspective of joy and faith releases heaven’s perspective. It helps us to see beyond the stressful situation into God’s perspective through His eyes.
The Greek word peirasmos, which is testing, trial, or temptation, has an expanded definition here. It means ‘a testing that is directed towards an end, and the end is that he who is tested should emerge stronger, purer, and more godly from the testing.’
While Satan tempts us to question God’s goodness, or to give into hopelessness and our own solutions, God allows stress, pandemics, difficulties, and challenges to come into our lives to make us strong through it all. Yes, in the middle of it all, we must come to a resolve that we are either in God’s hands or we are not. If we are in His hands, then we have this solid hope and belief on which we can stand, kneel and bow, that God is God and we can trust Him and come out of the trial stronger than when we went into it. If we are not in His hands, we are destitute and left to our own designs alone. God has given us sound minds on which we can come to practical wisdom, but ultimately, our trust must be in His guidance, His touch, His wisdom and direction.
James says in verse three, depending on the translation you read, that the “…testing of your faith produces perseverance/ patience/endurance.” He tells us that the aim of the testing is to purge us of all impurity. If we meet this testing in the right way, it will produce hupomone. The English word “patience,” or even perseverance, is far too passive to describe what the Greek word means here.
Hupomone is not simply the ability to bear things; it is the ability to turn them into greatness and glory.
I doubt that our world will ever be the same again after this pandemic. This season has tattooed an indelible mark on history. It will be remembered along with other great plagues, wars, and Great Depressions. When the stories of people begin to pour in about how God turned this challenge into greatness and how His glory was revealed through it all, we will never see Him in the same way again.
Hupomone is also the quality which makes a person able, not simply to suffer things, but to vanquish them. They give you the strength to bear still more and to conquer still more challenging battles in the future.
Just as anerobic exercise tears and then rebuilds the muscle tissue to make it stronger, so trials come so that we might become stronger, vanquish them, and be better prepared for the next challenge. I can only imagine that, even as science works hard to catch up with the ever-increasing strength of viruses today, this generation will become stronger in wisdom and in the spiritual realm and will be well able to vanquish trials and turn them into greatness and glory.
In all of this, I would like to humbly offer some practical tips to consider:
- Discern what is the most important thing in life to you and prioritize accordingly.
“The secret is priorities. If you can get your priorities straight, you have the foundational tool you need to control the pressures and tensions in our life and to prevent stress from becoming overwhelming and debilitating.” Dr. Kevin Leman, Say Good-bye to Stress
We are tri-dimensional beings; spirit, soul, and body, and should consider what our highest priority is in each.
- What are your spiritual priorities? Make sure these fit your spiritual temperament.
(i.e. If you best connect with God when you are outdoors, get out and walk. If you best connect with God when you are sketching or painting, start doing that. If it’s through playing an instrument or singing, let God hear you. If it’s reaching out to someone in need, go for it.) Figure out what you do in your relationship with God that brings you the most peace and joy and go do it.
- What are your emotional priorities? Make sure these fit your personality. How do you recharge and restore energy to your soul? You may not be able to hug someone right now, but you can still connect relationally and meaningfully through social media.
- What are your physical priorities? Make sure that these are enjoyable as well as physically profitable. Exercise releases endorphins needed to reduce stress, as well as having other health benefits.
- Discern the root cause of your stress and face it honestly & tenaciously. Assess your stress.
- Group your stress/fear/anxiety into two categories:
–One-time stress, such as a pandemic
–On-going stress, such as chronic health issues
- Is your stress, fear, or anxiety level harmful to your health?
—Is it beginning to affect your health, joy, peace, or sense of well-being?
–-Is it causing you to lose interest in your favorite hobbies?
–-Is it causing you to constantly feel rushed?
–-Are you making more mistakes than usual, or are you performing at a level that is less than your best?
–-Do you feel constant fatigue, lack initiative, feel generally unwell, having muscle & joint aches, a pounding heart, and perspiring without exercising. Are you having stress symptoms, connected to, but unrelated to COVID19?
- Categorize your stress/anxiety:
–Stress factors you can change now.
–Stress factors you can work on over time, but cannot fix right away
–Stress factors that are totally out of your control
–What are you most afraid of?
*Finances – daily, educational, or retirement provision
*Relationships – family, work, friendships
*Health – major, chronic, low-grade concerns
“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God, you’ll be at rest.” Corrie Ten Boom
- Personal Prayer Effectiveness – Flow with your Spiritual Temperament (See Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas)
- “Prayer is as necessary as the air, as the blood in our bodies, as anything to keep us alive – to keep us alive to the grace of God.” Mother Teresa
- “When faith ceases to pray, it ceases to live.” E.M. Bounds
- “The wonderful thing about praying is that you leave a world of not being able to do something and enter God’s realm where everything is possible. He specializes in the impossible. Nothing is too great for His almighty power. Nothing is too small for His love.” Corrie Ten Boom
- Prayer Partners/Friends – Who are the people in your life that you really trust to pray?
—There is power in agreement. Mt. 18:19,20 NIV
–Give a prayer and ask for prayer.
- Health Evaluation – Although I am not a medical professional, from research I have done, many professionals suggest that these health tips help in stressful times.
- Honestly evaluate your Diet & the effects is has on your health and make the appropriate changes needed.
–Caffeine: Research suggests that caffeine raises cortisol, the stress hormone. Chronically high cortisol levels can damage immune health. Cortisol can make handling pressure difficult. Skipping a caffeinated drink can immediately help regulate this hormone and it’s short and long-term effects. On the other hand, some caffeine, in moderation, may help your mood.
–Complex Carbs: All carbs prompt the brain to make more serotonin. For a steady supply of serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical, it’s best to eat complex carbs, which take longer to digest. Good choices include whole-grain breads, pastas, and cereals, including old-fashioned oatmeal. Complex carbs also help you feel balanced by stabilizing blood sugar levels.
–Simple Carbs: A little of these carbs is okay but avoiding a large intake of them is helpful in avoiding stress. They are digested quickly and lead to a spike in serotonin, then a sharp decline. These include sweets and sodas.
–Vitamin C: Studies suggest that Vitamin C can curb levels of stress hormones while strengthening the immune system.
–Spinach & other Green Leavy Vegetables: These vegetables provide magnesium which lowers blood pressure and eases anxiety, among other health benefits.
–Fatty Fish: Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish such as salmon & tuna, can prevent surges in stress hormones and may help protect against depression as well.
–Black Tea: This tea helps to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
–Nuts: Pistachios, walnuts, almonds, or other nuts & seeds, are good sources of healthy fats. They help lower cholesterol, ease inflammation in the arteries of the heart, make diabetes less likely, and protect against the effects of stress.
- Honestly evaluate your Exercise Routine
—Some research studies say that a 12-minute walk improves mood and helps eliminate feelings of boredom and dread.
–-According to the National Institute of Mental Health in 2017, “thirty minutes of daily, gentle walking can boost your mood and reduce stress.”
–Exercise also has immediate effects on blood sugar, minimizing energy peaks and valleys throughout the day.
- Honestly evaluate your Sleep Routine
–The American Psychological Association in 2017 reported, “Sleep is so crucial that even slight sleep deprivation or poor sleep can affect memory, judgment and mood….Many report that their stress increases when the length and quality of their sleep decreases. When they do not get enough sleep, 20% of adults report feeling more stressed.”
–Top 7 Sleep Tips:
1. Schedule 7-9 hours for a full night of uninterrupted sleep. Some people need only 5-6 hours; some need as much as 10-11 hours. The majority need 7-9 hours of sleep.
2. Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine.
3. Do not watch TV, use the computer, or focus on bills before going to bed.
4. Avoid coffee, chocolate, caffeinated soda, or nicotine in the evening.
5. Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet.
6. Use your bedroom for sleeping, relaxing & intimacy only.
7. Exercise regularly, but not too close to bedtime.
–Stay away from or reduce the amount of time that you spend with negative, toxic people in especially stressful times like these. Toxic people add to stress.
–Forgive those who have offended you and release yourself from the tension of trying to please them. Do not continue to put yourself into their negative, hurtful atmosphere.
–Studies show that married people in a trusting relationship, who engage in consistent sex, have less anxiety.
–Reach out to others. You are not alone. We are in this together. Don’t get disconnected. In times like this pandemic, we may have physical distance, but we do not need to have relational distance. Stay connected through social media, the phone, or any avenue possible at a 6 foot distance. Lean into, not away from, others.
–Edify others with your gifts and talents. Share words of encouragement, songs, photo-art, calligraphy, poetry, humor, etc. Mow a lawn or offer to get groceries for a Senior citizen. Sew a face mask for a First Responder. Give a smile or take a photo of yourself smiling or something that makes you smile and post it for others to see.
- Focus on the Positive – Be grateful.
–You may not be able to change your circumstances or stop a pandemic, but you can adjust your attitude.
–A grateful spirit relieves tension and relieves stress. Start a Gratitude List. Write what you are thankful for each day. Let gratitude be your focus.
— IN whatever circumstance we find ourselves, we can thank the Lord that He is with us. (1 Thess 5:18)
Let me now close with a few simple thoughts of wisdom, blending the spiritual and practical together. In doing so, I propose that God does not waste any trial that comes into our lives, whether it is a pandemic or the results of one. He always uses it for our good and for the sake of others, that we might run this race with hupomone and turn it into greatness and glory.
Eph. 1:17-23, Jer. 31:3, Psa. 138:8
- Stop. Remember who you are. You are a son or daughter of the King of kings. He has called you by name and you are His. He loves you with an everlasting love.
- Look. Look to Him. You’re not God; He is. You can’t be all things to all people, and you can’t be everywhere all the time. When you try to be everything everywhere, you’ll burn out, stress-out, and melt down. You can only do successfully what He enables you to do. Psalm 121
- Listen. Meditate on Him. Hear His voice. Offer praise in the silent times. Phil. 4:6-8
- Proceed. Go where He wants you to go and do what He wants you to do in faith……. ON Social Media and without spreading the virus. Mt. 6:25-34, Pro. 3:5,6
Today, call on the Lord and then go with the strength that He gives to you. Trust in Him. Remember, you are not alone; we are in this together. Today, we stand on our balconies and wave to our neighbors. We sing Happy Birthday from our front porches. Today, we light our Christmas lights early to proclaim to the world that Hope has come; there is reason to go on. Today, we do what we can with a six-foot distance between us physically, but a heart to embrace within us. Today, we grieve the loss of friends; we carry the burdens of others. We may be weak, but He is strong. Today, as those realities saturate our souls, we cry out to the living God. Today, we stand in the strength that only He so generously gives.
Tomorrow, we will not be the same. Tomorrow, we will walk, we will run, we will embrace, and we will share the love that our Heavenly Father has so generously given to us in abundance. Tomorrow, we will be changed. We will be a little more aware of our neighbor, young or old, healthy or infirmed. We will be more aware, and we will care. We will help one another find jobs, finish wedding plans, and attend funerals of those lost in this storm. Tomorrow, we will reach out and we will be a little more attune to the needs of those around us. We’ll be better stewards of those around us. We will be changed for the good; we will be better than we were before. Tomorrow, we will go forward. We will step into the future with clean hands and brave hearts.
Let us go forward in faith into the future together, arm-in-arm with each other and with our precious Heavenly Father.