Self, Schedule, and Stress

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on the reasons why I don’t grow closer to God.

Mostly I’ve noticed that there are a few basic barriers in my life that keep me from looking and acting more like Christ. All of them are related to priorities. And they all stem from issues of brokenness deep inside my soul. They are self, schedule, and stress.

I divide my struggle into these three categories for a couple reasons. One is that I think many people will be able to relate to these three areas of the Christian life. Another is because I do believe that, while technically all of my struggles are related to sin, some of it is not blatant and intentional sin. In describing the everyday struggles of life, some would simply find sin in every action or a demon under every rock. I instead see much of my struggle as not related to direct disobedience to God, but indirect influence of the world around me. And I actually think that distinction helps attack the problem at its roots.

Self

Most of my life is about me. There, I said it. And don’t pretend as if yours is not the same.

I find myself constantly thinking about what I have to do. What I need. What’s important for me. What people think about the things I do. And while that is certainly a natural and sometimes necessary way of thinking, it should not consume my thoughts like it many times does.

I’ve found that the main reason I cannot break this habit of thinking about “me” is directly related to the influence of the world around me. And that influence is most evident within the use of social media. Social media by its very nature draws attention to me. Even in my best attempts to utilize it to draw attention to important things (God, problems in our world, my child, etc.), inevitably the desire that drives my social media use is directly related to….me. Not altruism. Not others. But me. My curiosity. My need for information. It ends up being about self…

And the only thing I’ve found to counteract this influence on my life is…worship. Focusing all of my attention on someone far more valuable than me—God. It sounds simple. But it’s extremely profound. That God designed us to worship, and that only my worship of Him will correct the tendency in my life to worship myself, is not simply a Biblical principle—but a practical reality.

Schedule

Is your calendar your task-master too? Because it is for me. There is nothing I can do nowadays, it seems, that cannot be done without first consulting my calendar.

Maybe this is a “necessary evil” of life. Or maybe its a result of our culture’s influence that simply goes unaddressed.

The real struggle is not whether or not to keep a calendar. I actually think a calendar is important to control the craziness…but just like thinking about self at times is a necessity. But, just because a calendar might be a necessity for certain reasons it should still not run our lives.

My schedule is constantly packed, and I am sure yours is too. I am constantly adding things that seem important at the time but that soon run me ragged and start to feel less important over time. My schedule has become a huge barrier in my life to growing in Christ. The world around me is constantly moving and is pulling me in tons of different directions. People need me over here, someone else needs me over there, and I need to be back there…my schedule quickly begins to drive my life.

The Bible prescribes one thing to fight against the tyranny of our schedules: Sabbath rest. Intentionally not “doing” work in order so I can acknowledge who actually accomplishes things in my life: God. The only thing that can truly free me from being controlled (and constantly stressed out) by my schedule is Sabbath rest. Not just a nap. Not simply a “day off.” Not an American vacation. But Sabbath rest. Resting, recreating, and relating with others and God in such a way that it reminds me of what’s truly important and who’s truly in control of my days.

Stress

If you are like me, then you have a love/hate relationship with stress. Some times stress causes me to “do my best work.” Many of us perform best under pressure…especially those of us who grew up playing sports…

However, while stress in and of itself is not particularly sinful, it typically causes me to react in such a way that creates distance from God. Stress overwhelms me, destroys my trust, makes me irritable, distracts me from the real purposes of life, and even at times can make me want to be lazy instead of doing my best.

When my life becomes stressful in a way that is hindering my relationship with God I know that I have forgotten a basic aspect of that relationship: prayer. Just like the issue of self actually has to do with worship and the issue of schedule actually has to do with rest, the issue of stress actually has to do with prayer.

I stress because God’s desires are no longer mine. I stress because my plans don’t line up with God’s plan. I stress because my relationship with God becomes based upon my performance for God and not upon my intimacy with God. I stress because in practice I am no longer trusting in God, but am rather trusting in myself.

As I spend time in prayer—listening to him, aware of his presence, talking to him—the less the stress of this world influences me. In prayer, I lay my concerns at his feet and know that he will do what’s best for me. In prayer, my desires become like his desires because I am reminded what his desires are and can trust him to conform mine to his. In prayer, I become once again a child trusting a Father and not a teenager trying to prove my independence.

So what now?

None of this is news to a Christian at the end of the day. These aren’t profound truths that no one has ever taught before. In fact, it’s actually just a basic version of a “rule of life”—something that has been around for centuries. However, it is the real truth of where we all typically struggle each and every day.

Do you find yourself in the same place? Do you find yourself making excuses for your own lack of spiritual growth because of these things too? Do you find yourself, like most of us do today, in the midst of the swirling influences of the culture around you without a sense of what to do to fight against them?

Then join me, as I am joining all of those who have gone before me and all of those who walk beside me, in re-instituting the basics of a relationship with God: worship, rest, and prayer. And as we commit ourselves to meet with God, with our families, and with other believers, on a consistent and daily basis in the practice of these things, God will transform us in the midst of our struggles of self, schedule, and stress to look more like Christ thru the power of his Spirit.

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