Stress and Sovereignty

Stressed_Man_StockPhotoStress in life is inevitable.  Especially if you are involved in a vocation that centers around serving people.  For me, I’m a husband, father, pastor, and friend.  I love what I am called to do, but there is stress involved.  This is a given, even with life going relatively smooth.

Over the last year and some change, we have been through quite a lot.  We had an adoption fall through, my wife and baby almost died, we were blessed with a newborn, and recently my older daughter passed out and knocked out a tooth.  On top of all of this, there are some other difficult issues going on in my extended family.  All of these things produce stress, on top of the day-to-day of being a husband, father, and pastor of a new church.

The issue lately for me isn’t whether or not I have stress, it is, what is the most God-honoring response?  To be honest, I haven’t always done so hot in handling it in the most productive manner, but by God’s grace, I am aiming to do so now.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. –
Proverbs 19:21

It is tempting to try to control every aspect of our lives, but this simply cannot be so.  God is in control, we are not.  He made it this way for His glory and for our good.

Last week I was having lunch with a close friend and was talking about life, stress, sin, and redemption.  In seeking some input from him, I shared with him that it feels like that I can immediately know what to do when counseling other people, but feel so stuck when it comes to my life situations.  He then asked me an important question.  He asked, “If you were going to give me advice about this what would you say?”

Immediately I had some advice to give myself regarding stress, sin, and sovereignty.  I’d like to share with you what I came up with:

  1. Make a List of What You Can Control:  The first thing I came up with was to make a list of the things that were within my control.  An example of this would be our family budget.  Confession: I’m not the best at a strict financial budget, partially because for years we weren’t sure what we were going to make from month-to-month, and partially because I’m not a naturally detailed oriented person.  While I had not gotten us into serious financial trouble or anything close to it, I was feeling stressed by the disorganization.  I can control my budget.  Examples of this could include: Diet, Exercise, Quiet Time, Giving, Serving, Dating your spouse, etc.  Make a list of what you can control.
  2. Make a List of What You Cannot Control:  Beyond the stressors of things that I could control, there were a ton of things that at the end of the day, are out of my control.  So, I began making a list of things that were out of my control that were causing me stress.  As I made the list, I realized that I was allowing myself so much time to worry about things that were completely out of my control.  Not only was it not productive, but it was also harmful to me.  Examples of this could be the choices of others, the stock market, the return of Jesus, and a ton of other things.
  3. Make a Plan for What You Can Control:  For the things that I can control, I began to strategize these things.  For instance, I purchased a budgeting software for our Macs and iPhones called You Need A Budget (YNAB).  I know Mint is free, and it is another good option, but I opted for YNAB, because of the training and features it offered.  Another thing is my diet and exercise.  I can control what I put into my pie-hole, and I can go to the gym a minimum of 3 times per week.  I can choose to go to bed earlier, and put myself on a better sleep/wake cycle.  I can choose to turn off my phone and spend time with my family.  So, I worked on a plan to bring more order to the areas of my life.
  4. Commit to Prayer that Which You Cannot Control:  The list of things beyond my control is quite surprising.  I’m not God, so I am not sovereign, and I cannot know what the future holds.  A lot of things are out of my control.  As a result, I have resolved to commit the things that cause me stress, but are out of my control to prayer (See Philippians 4:6-7).  This has not only relieved some of this stress, but it has also increased my prayer life and my faith.

This has been helpful for me over the past few weeks, and I hope it is an encouragement to you.  There are things that are well within our control that we are called to manage well.  For the things out of our control, we are called to confidentially pray and trust our sovereign God.

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