“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (ESV)
Jesus didn’t say, “If you are busy and work late every day, you will move mountains,” or “If you manage and control everything around you until your breaking point, you will move mountains.” No, He says if you have FAITH, you will move mountains: “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20, ESV). Faith, not busyness, gets the job done.
What does faith like this look like? How often have you trusted in God for a little while, only to become stressed out, flustered, and lose sight of Him? In Mark, we read the story of Jesus calming the storm. The story starts out so simply: “Let’s across to the other side of the lake” (Mark 4:35, NLT). If Jesus is walking with you, of course you’re anxious to head out for the next adventure. It’s going to be great! “But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water” (Mark 4:37, NLT). While Jesus was sleeping, the disciples immediately jumped to several conclusions: first, they were going to drown; and second, Jesus didn’t care.
How often have you been on a path you just knew God called you to be taking, only to have terrible things happen in the process? I know these feelings from experience: I have been up to my eyeballs, absolutely drowning in stress, and wondering what happened to God’s promise to help me. Where is He in this mess? In difficult times, if your faith wavers for even a moment, it feels like your whole world is falling apart. When things get hard, you can become frightened and wonder when God is going to show up to save you. Or, you can choose to learn from the disciples’ mistake and have faith that, even though it feels like you are going to drown, Jesus is right there with you at every moment.
As soon as He was awakened, Jesus easily commanded the storm to be still. All was peaceful. “Then he asked them, ‘Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?’” (Mark 4:40, NLT). To modernize this concept a bit, Jesus was saying, “I’ve got you. Stop stressing out. I’m not going anywhere. It’s going to be okay.” Trust God to protect you through life’s storms. Trust that He has placed you on this path for a reason. Have faith that He is with you every moment of the journey.
A few years ago, a study found that 23% of people polled reported feeling burned out “very often” or “always,” while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out “sometimes.” Burnout is serious. When you overstretch, it is only a matter of time before your body refuses to function properly. You may develop sleeping issues or high blood pressure. You may experience bad headaches or anxiety. Stress can and will kill you—literally.
In 2020, we are also at an all-time low in employees’ reported sense of well-being. You’d think that as we settled into some sort of “new normal,” things would level out. But in fact, Gallup polls show that as the pandemic stretched out longer, there was a 20% drop in employees’ reported preparedness and alignment with their company. They felt they were not communicated to with a plan for today, for what was going on in the company, or what was coming next. That’s probably because leadership was unsure what was coming next! But employee “malaise” is pervasive. Those that have lost jobs are, of course, devasted. People that currently have jobs are unsure if the company will survive and they will keep those jobs. Those on furlough are waiting for the other shoe to drop.
But Jesus rules the storm. God created everything and everyone. He knows you—from the number of hairs on your head to the greatest and innermost desires of your heart. God cares about your mental and physical well-being. Because He made our bodies, He also made ways for our bodies to send us messages. If you’ve ever touched a hot plate or a curling iron, you know that the body is quick to let you know, “That hurts; move your hand now!” Your body is telling you something in order to keep you safe. C.S. Lewis said, “Pain is God’s megaphone.” Some of us are hard of hearing. When you are hurting or stressed out, your body reacts. When you ignore these physical, mental, and spiritual messages, your body enters into burnout. It goes into survival mode.
Sometimes, stress can be good. A healthy amount of stress will make your body create extra antibodies to help your immune system. Stress can push you to accomplish a dream. However, too much stress and burnout mean you’ve pushed far past this healthy amount of stress and are now struggling. God uses stress to help you lean into Him. He uses it to teach you lessons. It’s time to put on those listening ears.
The storms we are going through right now may be God’s way of getting our attention, urging us to turn to Him. “So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27:25, ESV). When you feel yourself slipping past a normal range of stress or sinking into mental apathy, that should be a pretty good indicator that God wants you to focus on Him. He’s with you. He’s beside you. He’s asking you to stop what you are doing and to trust Him in the situation. God wants your attention, so listen up.
When times get hard, where do you turn? What is the foundation of your faith and confidence? Do you put faith and confidence in yourself and/or other people? Or do you put your faith and confidence in God?
When I was little, I loved the Bible story about the man who built his house on the rock instead of sand. It probably reminded me a little of the three little pigs’ story. In this parable, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7: 24-27, ESV). This story sticks with me as an adult because it’s also a metaphor. I’m an English major, so I just love metaphors. Bear with me while I explain the deeper meaning this parable has for us.
A personal relationship with God is very much like building a house. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it needs ongoing work and maintenance to keep it solid. Most importantly, as you build your relationship with God, you are building it on your love and trust for Him, plus His history of proving faithful in your life. Jesus died to save you. He loved you so much that He gave His life for you. Furthermore, He wants good things for you. These ideas are the foundation of our relationship with Him. This is the foundation for your house.
If you base everything in your life upon the certain knowledge that Jesus loves you, wants good things for you, and died to save you, then you will have the faith and confidence in knowing that no matter what, He has your back. Your faith is based on the truth of Who God is and how He has acted in the past. If, however, you let doubt creep in and you continually ask yourself, “How could God possibly love someone like me?” or “Things aren’t going my way, so God must not want me to succeed,” you won’t have a good foundation to fall back on when things get hard. You’ve built your foundation on sand. Your feelings and assumptions are more important to you than the truth of His Word. You trust them more than His promises. Sure, you might believe in Him, but that doesn’t mean that you built a solid foundation for relationship with Him.
It is hard to choose to build on the truth of God’s Word, trusting Who He is and believing what He’s promised. Reminding yourself that you are worthy and loved, despite everything you’ve done in your life, can be difficult. The grace that Jesus gave us is hard to fathom. The Bible is our guidebook, though. It was written by God to teach us how to draw closer to Him and how to live our best lives. If He tells us to build our house upon a rock because that is wise, then we should make strides to do just that. Life will get hard. Things will fall apart. You will deal with storms at some point in your life. In those times, the foundation upon which you’ve set your house will determine how well you weather that storm.
Take a moment to examine your relationship with God. Ask yourself whether you believe He loves you, wants good things for you, and died for you. If you question these statements at all, pray this prayer with me, “Heavenly Father, I want to know you. I want you to be my Rock, my core. I want to strengthen my relationship with You and feel confident in Your love for me. Help me see the sacrificial, unconditional love You have for me. Help me know that You’ve always got my back and You always want what’s best for me. Remind me constantly of our bond so that when things are tough, I turn to You first, with confidence that You are there and hear me. Father God, when things are hard, help me weather the storm with Your support. Help me feel Your Presence and peace. I love you and I thank you for all that you do. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.”
I went through college believing I should push myself as hard as possible to achieve my goals. That seems like a great plan, except I pushed myself too far. I already had PTSD from the shootings at Virginia Tech and my parents were going through a nasty divorce. I kept pushing and finished a year early with a double major from undergraduate school. I was the youngest person to complete my graduate school program—all of this within five years. I worked and worked to get my degrees done well before it was traditionally expected. I’m not sure why I pushed myself so hard. Was it some expectation or competition with family or to prove I could do something others around me weren’t able to do? I’m not sure, but I can tell you that once I got on that path, I didn’t think I could stop for fear of being called a failure (both by myself and others).
When my graduation for graduate school came, I was numb. I couldn’t even enjoy the moment. I had nightmares, even after graduating, that NC State called back to tell me that they made a mistake and I needed to take one more class before I could officially graduate. When I started teaching, it was no different. I pushed myself well beyond a reasonable number of classes, at two different schools, in order to just barely make the payments for my student loans each month. I was killing myself, working as hard as possible, because I knew no one else was going to do it for me. I felt totally alone in my efforts. I was SO stressed and overcome with anxiety.
That age-old saying crept up every time I thought about my stress level, “God helps those who help themselves.” You know what the problem with that phrase is? It isn’t Biblical. It was, in fact, Benjamin Franklin who popularized this phrase in his Poor Richard’s Almanac. The Bible says exactly the opposite of this adage and is quite clear on this issue. Isaiah 25:4 (ESV) says, “For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall.”
What a relief! I didn’t have to be superwoman. I didn’t have to pretend “I’ve got this!” when I really, really, really didn’t have this. I could lay these burdens down at His feet without shame or fear. God didn’t expect me to do it all alone; He doesn’t expect any of us to shoulder our stress or work alone. He is the answer for so many people who struggle, who cannot help themselves. Our help comes from God and God alone. Only He can help lift the burden and stress from your shoulders.
Don’t try to do everything yourself. You’ll only make yourself feel worse. Instead, give over your trials, tribulations, and heartaches to God. He can handle them. He wants to handle them. He wants to shine His perfect light on the dark places you have been struggling through by yourself.
The next time you hear someone say, “God helps those who help themselves,” take a moment to correct them and to encourage them by saying, “God helps those who cannot help themselves.” Maybe He will use you to help carry those burdens for them. And the next time you need help shouldering the stresses of your day-to-day, remember that He wants to help. All you have to do is to let Him.
When life gets hard, I don’t know about you, but I need a game plan. Perhaps it’s my control issues or that I hate feeling helpless, but I like to know what my next step should be in order to prevent feeling overwhelmed. If I can see a next step, even if it’s a tiny one, I feel like I can move, slowly but surely, out of the stress and anxiety.
When you are feeling overwhelmed, it is helpful to see some next steps that were established by God. These are the good ones—the tried and true truth-bombs scattered throughout the Bible. When things get really hard, first:
Focus on God. Too often, we focus on our problems rather than on Him. If we turn to Him first, we aren’t as hyper-focused on everything that is going wrong. This in and of itself will help—I promise! (Isaiah 26:3)
God is in control. Once you focus on God, realize that He is in control of this situation. Even if it looks like a chaotic, terrible situation, God controls it. You, however, do not. Therefore, stop trying to control everything (this one speaks loudly to me, folks!) and just trust that God’s got this. Nothing is too big for Him. Whatever you are going through, He can easily handle. (Jeremiah 32:17)
Trust Him. Once you realize that God’s in control, trust Him. Trust Him. Trust Him. Trust Him! “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV).
Know He wants good things for you. Once you trust Him, really believe that He wants good things for you. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). If things are not good for your right now, that means He is not done with the situation yet. Remember, He controls everything, so He will also control the outcome. Something good will come from your situation, even if you can’t see it just yet.
Let go of the stress and anxiety. Once you understand that He wants good things for your life, you need to let go of the stress and anxiety. Let it go (cue Frozen’s “Let It Go”). Let go of the what if’s, the uncertainty, and the stress. Let go of the pain and helplessness. Our problems are not too big for God and He is going to make something beautiful out of the situation, so we just need to relax. (Romans 8:31)
Know that you can do anything. If we keep our focus on God, knowing He is both with us and in control, we can let go of our stress and anxiety. We will no longer be overwhelmed. In fact, we’ll have the confidence to know that we can do anything with and through Christ. (Philippians 4:13)
You are so loved. God is right there with you. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the storm, by the inability to see the whole picture and resolution. Ask God to help you hear just one next step. God will carry and direct you into the next steps that will get you through whatever it is you are going through. Spend time with Him. Read your Bible and soak up these encouraging words. You can and will get through this.