Thursday, March 5, 2015

When You're Busy and Stressed, Find Peace & Rest


Here's an excerpt from my book "Powerful Prayers for Challenging Times." The e-book is only .99 cents today through Sunday (March 5 - 8, 2015). I pray you will find the peace and relief you need.

Jackie M. Johnson

When You’re Busy and Stressed

Prayers for Peace and Rest

I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.
Jeremiah 31:25

It was late when I finally finished eating dinner. Tired and bleary-eyed from a long week at work, I opened the kitchen cupboard to put away my spaghetti leftovers and stopped suddenly.

What am I doing?
I shook my head and laughed and put the food in the refrigerator where it belonged. I was exhausted.
The past few months had been a whirlwind, and tension was taking its toll. Of course, putting Italian food in the wrong place was the least of it. Most nights I was up late working, folding laundry, or doing “one more thing” before going to bed, wondering why the days were so long and the nights so short.
I don’t think I’m the only one who has too much to do and never enough time.
Recently, Amanda’s company had layoffs. While she’s glad to still have a job, she’s overloaded with work now that her firm employs significantly less people. Rachel is a stay-at-home mom with three kids under age four who laughs when you say the word rest, since she never seems to get enough. And Darnell, who works three jobs just to get by, wonders when he will ever get a good night’s sleep.
Indeed, we are a generation of busy people—working hard but hardly living. Getting enough rest, replenishing rest, is often at the bottom of our priority lists.
 
But why?

So Many Reasons, So Little Time

We all have our reasons why we don’t make rest a priority. Some are self-imposed. Some people stay continually busy in order to avoid pain and disappointment. Others live a life of constant activity because they’re trying to please others or keep up appearances.

I’ve heard bleary-eyed nine-year-olds complain about their packed weekly routine of soccer, piano, and dance in addition to school and homework because it’s what their parents want. 

Of course, people have busy seasons in life, like a couple with a newborn baby or an accountant during tax time. But for some, being busy all the time seems to be a badge of honor. Have you ever run into someone you haven’t seen in a while and said, “Hi! How are you?” and she replies, “Good. I’m so busy these days.” 

In the exhaustion of daily living, we often complain, “There’s so much to do and never enough time” instead of saying a quiet prayer, “Lord, I am so tired. Please help me.” And that’s exactly what God will do when you ask him. There is a better way to find a better life, but sometimes false beliefs keep us stuck on a hamster wheel of perpetual motion.

Lies We Believe about Rest

To be sure, there is a time to work. God uniquely created each of us with talents and abilities to make a contribution in life. We may be good at what we do and find satisfaction in a job well done. But there is also a time to cease from our labor. 

Being driven is one thing; being a slave to what we do—bound by guilt, condemnation, perfectionism, or people pleasing—is bondage. Unknowingly, we are living a lie. 

“The lie the taskmasters want you to swallow is that you cannot rest until your work’s all done, and done better than you’re currently doing it,” said Mark Buchanan in The Rest of God. “But the truth is, the work’s never done, and never done quite right. It’s always more than you can finish and less than you had hoped for.”[i] 

If we address some of the lies and release them, then physical rest and inner peace—soul rest—can replace worry and fear, and things can begin to change. Read each one listed here and talk to God about what is keeping you from getting the rest you need.
       Lie: I can do everything and do it all on my own. A person who believes this lie thinks she has to make everything happen, do everything for everyone, and do it all by herself. Some may call her a martyr; others may call her a control freak. She believes her way is the “right” way and that she must save the world. The truth is that we are sorely deceived when we think we are a junior Jesus. We don’t save the world; he already did that for us. It’s the ultimate deception when we think we are like God or we are God (Gen. 3:5). 

       Lie: Rest is a luxury for a privileged few. I used to think this when I was short on funds and working three jobs just to stay afloat. It didn’t seem fair, but I felt guilty when I rested. Then I came across the book When I Relax I Feel Guilty by Tim Hansel and learned that I had a right to rest. In fact, rest was God’s idea (Gen. 2:2–3).

       Lie: I don’t deserve to rest. Rest is a gift. You don’t earn it. A slave-driver mentality is not from God but the enemy, the one who is out to destroy you. The truth is that when you come to know Christ you are set free (John 8:36). 

       Lie: Rest is a waste of time. In reality, taking time to renew your weary self is time well spent. It’s an investment that will pay off physically, mentally, emotionally, and relationally because you will be a better you—for others and for yourself. Stopping periodically to get refreshed ultimately helps you get the job done more effectively. 

       Lie: If I rest, I won’t get it all done. This lie goes back to the fundamental question of whose agenda we are following. A major heart shift happens when we begin to realize that life is about God’s plan, his story. We live for God, not for ourselves. He will enable us to get done what he wants accomplished each day when we are surrendered and willing.

The Value of Rest

I am a lot like my German grandmother, Lena. She constantly bustled around the kitchen making spaetzle and sauerkraut, and it took some doing to get her to actually sit down at the dinner table with the rest of us. Like her, I want to get stuff done. I have many lists and find satisfaction in crossing off what I’ve accomplished. While it’s true that being productive can be a good thing, I’ve often gone to extremes, and it has taken me time to learn the value of rest. 

Rest is essential for many reasons. 

Rest is necessary, both physically and emotionally. It’s essential to life and good health. Sometimes we are so preoccupied with trying to gain more in life that we often fail to realize what is lost in the process. In the demanding pace of life, we may lose perspective, forget things, or mess up our priorities. We lose peace of mind and connection with God and others. Our health and relationships suffer. We feel cranky, scattered, or alone.  

In our efforts to be efficient, we may not always be effective. Often, we lose heart. 

And we need to find it again. 

Perhaps we don’t value rest because we’ve forgotten what it means. Our perception may be skewed by a culture that praises busyness and devalues silence, stillness, and reflection. 

Rest brings margin to your life, spaces that allow you to replenish and restore beauty and balance. Without it, life is an endless cycle of work, chores, and errands. And that’s not what God intended. Joy, peace, fun, and play are essential parts of life too. 

Consider a score of music. Without well-placed rests, beats of silence, a song would run on and on; it would fail to achieve its true purpose. And it would surely weary the listener’s ear. So composers use whole, half, or quarter rests—longer or shorter beats—to make beautiful music. Is there a way for you to find some well-placed rests in your own life? For example: 

A quarter rest, which is brief, could be a ten-minute walk to clear your head and say a short prayer. Often, I get my best ideas when I get up from my desk and have a change of scenery.
A half rest could be a weekend away or even getting a restful night’s sleep.
A whole rest, a longer period of time, could be a much-needed vacation or spiritual retreat. 

Replenishing rest looks different for everyone. Whether it’s lingering over a cup of tea with a friend, taking a nap, or enjoying a one-minute vacation gazing at the Hawaiian beaches on your wall calendar, think about how you can get refueled in your life, because when we’re well rested, we are better equipped to serve God and others— and enjoy our lives. 

Rest is trusting God. Busyness is the amount of activity in your life; stress is how you handle it—or don’t. You were never meant to do life on your own or carry the weight of the world like boulders in a backpack. When you release your worries to God, you’re saying that you trust him. Instead of being anxious, you can rely on the fact that God said he would take care of all your needs. God is always at work, even when you’re asleep. When you are feeling overwhelmed, say to yourself, “I cannot, but God can.” God can do anything; nothing is too hard for him, even restoring peace to your whirlwind life. 

Rest is God’s idea. God gives you permission to rest. In fact, it was his idea from the beginning. In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, we learn that God created the heavens and the earth “all in their vast array” (Gen. 2:1). Imagine the sheer delight of God as master artist and architect, forming star-studded galaxies, planets that spin, and gravity to tether us all to the earth. After he created, he rested (whatever that looks like for God) and gave us a pattern to follow for our own lives.
The heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Gen. 2:1–3, emphasis added)
Jesus knew well the importance of rest. He had three years, only a short time, to accomplish his mission, yet he often left the crowds to get away and pray. He invites us to lay down our burdens and find real rest in the “unforced rhythms of grace,” as the Message explains:
Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matt. 11:28–30)
Jesus knew that in order to be about his Father’s business, he needed to be connected in prayer to God the Father. How can we be empowered to live our full lives? By releasing our cares and making prayer a priority.

Making Prayer a Priority

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to pace ourselves.  

Instead of constantly getting caught up in the urgent things in life, we can find a way to attend to the important things when we remember to pray. Take a look at your schedule. Have you built in any time for prayer, for rest, for fun?  

As you reprioritize, ask yourself what you can delegate or let go of (either for now or forever). Then make a decision to put prayer on your to-do list each day. It will not only build your relationship with God (the primary purpose) but also give you the power and strength to accomplish what he wants done for that day—and beyond. 

When you choose to make prayer a priority, you are really choosing God. That’s because prayer is a one-on-one conversation with your Creator. He knows you better than anyone, even better than you know yourself! Build your relationship with God as you would with a close friend. Talk, listen, and find out more about his character. You’ll gain insight, wisdom, and strength to face life’s challenges. 

You may not always have a large block of time to pray. Some women I know pray as they’re feeding their baby or driving to work. But make every effort to be alone with God in a quiet place, to spend time with the One who loves you most. That’s where you will find the power to live and the peace you crave. 

Choose to make prayer a priority every day. Talk with God, trust in him, rest on the inside even as you work. You may even look up, smile, and say a simple, “Thank you.” 

Your days may be full, but your heart doesn’t have to be empty or anxious. Powerful prayer begins as you release your cares, connect with God, and allow him to work through you. Then enjoy the love and peace, freedom and power that are yours.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. (Ps. 62:5)

Strengthen Me, Lord

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:13

Lord, it feels like there’s so much to accomplish each day, and sometimes it’s hard to rest. I’m afraid I won’t get it all done. I’m afraid I will fail. Yet, you promise to strengthen me. You are the mighty God! Help me to focus on what you can do, not what I cannot. Empower and encourage me. Give me the lasting strength only you can give. Replenish me so I can live life better and stronger. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Getting My Priorities in Order
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matthew 6:33

Lord, I have my agenda, but what do you want done today? Help me to prioritize all that needs to get done. In the midst of life’s busyness, help me to be centered on what’s truly important and not always get caught up in the urgent. Help me to put you first, for I know that from my replenishing time with you all else flows. I will seek you first. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Finding Hope, Joy, and Peace
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

Lord, in the middle of my stressed-out life, I’m glad that you are my hope! As I strive to balance work, family, and life commitments, I need to remember to ask for help from the One who can do all things. Forgive me for trying to do it all on my own. Renew my energy and my joy. Invigorate me for all you have for me in this season of life. May I find inner calm despite outer circumstances. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Rest for the Weary
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28–30

Lord, I am so grateful for rest. It was your idea in the first place! Instead of tossing and turning at night with eyes wide open, I give you my worries and cares, my lists and schedules. With open hands, help me to release all I cling to so tightly. I need rest for my spirit and my body. Let me live from a calm and grounded center as I come to you each day. In Jesus’s name. Amen. 

[Excerpt from Powerful Prayers for Challenging Times by Jackie M. Johnson (Revell/Baker Publishing Group)]



[i] Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 93.
 



Saturday, February 14, 2015

Single on Valentine’s Day: Take a New Look at Love


 
So it’s the big heart holiday and you don’t have significant other with whom to celebrate. No boyfriend or husband. No girlfriend or wife.

How will you respond?

Will you bemoan your state of singleness and complain to all your friends that there are no single men—at least good ones—left on the planet or choose to trust God for his perfect timing for whatever He has for you?

Don’t get me wrong. We all have our days. Who hasn’t grumbled with the girls about being alone? We can let our needs be known, but we don’t have to stay in a place of despair.

We have choices.  

You may want to click on my LIVING SINGLE blog post about how Cupid is a procrastinator, but God is always on time.

And, here are some other ideas:

You can choose to embrace all kinds of love on Valentine’s Day and celebrate the love of friends, family and others in your life. While you may not have eros or romantic love today, you can rejoice in the phileo or friendship love that’s all around you.  

And, of course, there’s the agape love of The One who loves you most, the One who created you, sustains you, provides for your needs and will never leave you: God Almighty.

Nothing compares. 

You can learn to become a woman of love. A woman of love makes smarter choices in relationships because she loves herself, others and God. Loving yourself means you can be yourself, not an exact replica of the man you’re dating.  

You have enough self respect not grovel when he says he no longer wants to go out with you. You say “no” when you really don’t want to spend time with a guy, instead of leading him on by trying to be nice.

You speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).   

You can have faith, despite your circumstances. Faith is confidence, trust, assurance and reliance on one who is completely reliable.

Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.” (Deuteronomy 7:9)

“One way or the other,” says Susie Larson in The Uncommon Woman, “You are called to faith—the stretching, reaching, I don’t-know-if-I-can-do-this kind of faith. And when you shift all of your hopes and dreams into the arms of the Most High God, you will find Him faithful.”  

Consider praying, even now, for the spouse God has for you.  Pray for his walk with God, that he will be a man of integrity, a man of his word, communicate well, be loving and affectionate, or whatever you need. Ask God to lead and guide each of you to each other—and when you do eventually meet that He will to protect and guide your relationship.  

Remember, God has good plans for you. His word says, “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).   

Hope is confident expectation. Whether your life will include marriage or not, only God knows, but you can walk on with hope knowing that He will provide for all your needs.  

Eugene Peterson says, “Hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. It is a willingness to let God do it in his way and in his time.”  

Happy Valentine’s Day. May you have an abundance of love in your heart today and every day.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

After a Breakup: 10 Things to Heal a Broken Heart


When you break up, it can feel as if the sun has set on your relationship. Goodbye day, hello dark night.

If you or someone you know are reeling from the pain of a dating relationship that has ended or a divorce, I feel for you.

And, I want to offer some hope and encouragement to help you get through it--and move forward into joy. How? Well, here's a good place to start.

Check out this post I wrote on the LIVING SINGLE blog about 10 Things to Heal a Broken Heart. And read the other posts on that blog and this blog, A NEW DAY CAFE. You'll find that you are not alone. You'll find practical help and hope from the One who loves you most, Jesus Christ.

There's hope here.

One day, maybe soon, you will find that the sadness has subsided. The anger is gone. I'm not saying it's easy, but it is truly possible to heal--and, Lord willing, find love again. Only healthier and better next time.

It's time to heal, my friend. The rest of your life is waiting...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

We All Make Mistakes: Finding Forgiveness



Intentional or unintentional, we all make mistakes; no one lives error-free. It is part of the human condition.
A few years ago utility worker in Arizona mistakenly tripped off an electric transmission line and cut power to 1.4 million homes. One small action caused an entire blackout in San Diego—and probably embarrassed the worker.
The thing is a mistake will most often cost you something—your time, your money, your reputation, or something else. If you miss one payment on your credit card bill, your rate will go up considerably. Ignore the fine print on a document, and you may wind up with results you never expected.
We all make mistakes; it’s what we do after a blunder that makes a difference.
We can wallow in regret. We can run and hide. Or, we can choose to learn from the mistake.  

Failure can turn to triumph when we ask God for forgiveness, receive it, and learn to discern the ways of wisdom. Certainly, we need wisdom to do things differently and make better choices, but first we need forgiveness. 

The mistake you made could have been a small oversight. On the other hand, it could have been willful disobedience, and you need to call it what it is: sin. It’s not a popular word today, but a wrongdoing against God is an offense toward him. Sin separates; it disconnects us from God. So in order to be right with God again, to reconnect the relationship, we need forgiveness. 

When we ask God for forgiveness, he extends it and opens the door to right standing with him again.  

First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” That is very good news. 

Even when we mess up, God keeps right on loving us. He is constant and faithful, a loving God but also a God of justice.  

So when you feel like you’re being disciplined, it’s for a reason. Because he loves you, he wants things to be made right.  

After you’ve asked for forgiveness and he has given it, don’t keep beating yourself up emotionally. You may have done something bad, but you are not a bad person. God loves you—always. He may be hurt by your actions at times, but restoration is possible. That’s why grace is so amazing. In addition, when God forgives you, it paves the way for you to forgive others.  

Forgiveness is a gift. We need to receive his gift of forgiveness—to walk in it, to let go of the past, and to move forward.  

And, it you’ve hurt another person by your mistake you can ask God for the integrity and courage to say you are sorry and to ask him or her for forgiveness. 

Don’t keep mulling over the mistake in your mind. God forgives and forgets; we need to do the same by forgiving ourselves, walking in the truth, and thanking him for all he has done. It may take some time for your heart to catch up with your head and feel forgiven. But whether you feel it or not, the fact remains that God has forgiven you. The feelings will follow. 

Remind yourself how loving and gracious God is; he does not treat us as our sins or mistakes deserve. He treats us infinitely better. Read Psalm 103:8–12 for a good reminder about God’s compassionate heart.
Prayer for Forgiveness
Lord, I have messed up. I have sinned against you and others in making this mistake. What a mess. I was wrong, and I am sorry. Thank you for your faithfulness and that you never turn your back on me. I ask for your forgiveness. Help me to receive it, to walk in it, and to move forward by faith. I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The JOY of Serving Others


 
I think it was Mark Twain who said, “The best way to cheer your self up is to try to cheer somebody else up."  

Whether you’re going through a relationship breakup, or bummed about something challenging in your life, it helps to take the focus off yourself and your her own problems.  

My friend Barbara did that. She was going through a breakup and wanted to move her perspective from self to God—and make a difference for His good purposes.  

Barbara said, “It felt right, and it gave me purpose.”  

Despite her circumstances Barbara found that when she was blessing others with acts of service and kindness, God blessed her with joy. Instead of waiting for another man to come around, she could “wait on” or serve others. “Like a waitress who serves other people, I can wait on God while waiting on God.” she concluded. Whatever we do for others, we essentially do for Jesus Christ. (Matthew 25:40).  

I have to remember that my life is not just about me. God created us for Himself and part of that is serving other people. “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)  

The reason we serve, though, is not because good works will save our souls. No, God gave us grace for that. It’s not to earn points for favor with God. We serve others because God asks us to, and because He has done so much for us.  

It is out of a heart of delight, not just duty that we choose to serve others.  

So we go across the ocean, not just to tell, but to demonstrate love to a ten-year-old boy in the Czech Republic who has never heard of God’s love. We show up on Saturday mornings at the rescue mission to serve food to those who don’t have enough eat. Or even, like my friend Anne, we offer to drive our non-churched friends to church so they can hear the truth about God’s love and forgiveness and be forever changed.  

"If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:10) 

Think of the Christian life as a two-sided sponge—the yellow spongy side absorbs the water and the rough, green side scrubs. Likewise, we absorb God’s truth (through reading the Bible, hearing a speaker, or reading a book, for example) and then we go out and serve.  

First the Word, then the work.  

You may be surprised at the divine appointments God puts in your path as you open your eyes to the needs around you. It doesn’t even have to be an organized service project. Serving can include something as simple as being kind to the woman behind the counter at the dry cleaners. When you take the time to say “hello” and smile, even when you think you are in too much of a hurry, it can make a difference in one person’s day.  

Dwight L. Moody once said "I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And that which I can do, by the grace of God, I will do."
 
What are you willing to do to serve God by serving others today?
 
You may just end up being, as C. S. Lewis said, “surprised by joy.”

 

 

 

 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Feeling Lonely? Why Connection is So Important




So it’s the holidays, a time when many people feel lonely. Alone. Disconnected.  

It’s “the most wonderful time of the year” or so the Christmas carol lyrics tell us. But in the months between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, there seems to be a great emphasis on families and couples. And for those who are not coupled—or don’t have a family (or one they want to be around)—it can be the most difficult time of year.

The truth is that we live in society that is more disconnected than ever. The Internet has radically changed how we do ‘people connection.’ On one hand’s it’s a fantastic tool. From my living room in Colorado, I can email my Dad in Minnesota or Facebook with readers in Brazil.  

Love it! 

Other the other hand, technology can limit one’s face-to-face-interactions and in-person friendships because he or she chooses screen time over face time (and I don’t mean the Mac app, I mean talking with someone in person). On Facebook, for example, they may go wide (have a lot of ‘friends’) but not go deep (as in having meaningful relationships with good friends).  

Connecting is vital to our emotional health. Building friendships and living connected increases our joy. We were created to need each other and to serve each other’s needs.  

In fact, you can build connections in all different areas of life:

  • Spiritual community with people at church, or in a small group, Bible study, missions team, serving opportunity or one-on-one.
  • Social community through a shared hobby, a singles group, local theatre group or coffee with friends.
  • Intellectual community with people from work, a book group or other group with shared interests.
  • Physical community in joining a sports team, dance class or getting workout partner for the gym.
  • Neighborhood or city community can be built be showing up at your local playground, a neighborhood block party, or mentoring a disadvantaged youth.
  • Virtual community is a way to connect with others, but make sure it’s not your only connection with other people.
Of course, the first person to make a connection with is the most important one. Through prayer and our relationship with God we have the most primary and meaningful connection possible. Even when you don’t know what to say, the simple prayer of, "Help!" will reach the loving ears of God.  

To overcome loneliness, you may want to start by asking yourself why you feel lonely. Ask God to make His presence real and close to you today. Ask Him to help you have hope things really can change in your life.  

You can also ask God to give you courage to reach out to another person today or to bring caring relationships—like friends, family, or other new people into your life.  

Lastly, ask what is one thing you can do today to build a bridge to another person? Those ideas may help you get started as you pray about overcoming loneliness and learning to live better connected.  

Jesus said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). When you know God, you are never alone.  

Prayer
Lord, I feel so empty and alone. I know I’ve been isolated and need contact with other people, but sometimes it’s hard to change. Will you help me learn how to build bridges to other people? What a comfort it is to know that You are always with me, and that You never leave. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 
 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Learning from Loss


A Lesson from a Redwood Tree

The redwood trees in California have a secret. These centuries-old giants—three hundred feet or taller—have a unique ability to withstand fire. In addition to their high branches and the dense bark that provides protection, redwood trees lack a flammable resin on their bark (which most other types of trees have), rendering them almost fireproof.
 
Even if the heat of a forest fire becomes so intense it does burn the tree, the roots often survive because they are buried in the cool, moist soil. And in time, new sprouts begin to appear.
 
Triumph after tragedy.

You may have suffered unspeakable losses; you may feel as if your life will never be the same. But as with the redwoods, new life—a different life—can sprout again.
 
As you get back to the roots of truth in your life, regrowth comes. The heart is surprisingly resilient. Remember, you are God’s child. He is with you always. God loves you with an everlasting love. He is your comfort, and he will work out all things for good.
 
Trust God for new hope—and healing.