Sunday, June 28, 2009

Shalom: Peace

The concept of peace has been a thread that has run through the story of God's people since the beginning of time. God, as the God of Peace has been such for his people since he created Israel to bring Him glory through the very peace he gave them.
For them, peace was shalom. For the New Testament Christians, it was eirene. Both carried the meaning of completeness, wholeness; healthy, complete. Shalom also means, "at rest".
In the Old Testament, God instructed his people and blessed His people through peace between the nations around them, and with Himself.
When he blessed them, they were at peace. "And the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side." 2 Chronicles 20:30
When they were punished, they were without peace ..." If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea. " Isaiah 48:18
In the New Testament, we are called to live in unity through a "bond of peace" (Eph 4:3). And are reminded that we are only to find the peace we seek in Christ Jesus, our Prince of Peace(Romans 5:1).
We are promised peace, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit...Romans 8:6 "The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace."
Peace is something that while we all desire it, only those of us who have Christ in us can claim it. Christ is the only way to true peace. This peace is the rest, completeness and health that comes with a sense of all those things on every level of our being. We are at rest in body, mind, spirit and heart. This peace is not dependent on our circumstances, but on the soul level trust in God and his promises.
As Christian women, we have the power within us through the Spirit to rest inside of our many responsibilities and tasks. We are able to find the purpose in all of it, and find comfort in even the most difficult of situations. When we allow the Spirit to fill us, we have the ability to overcome the thoughts and emotions that prevent that sense of well-being (Phil 4:7), to find a place where we are able to experience "peace that passes all understanding."
What a beautiful blessing we have.
May you find your way to peace today. May you be able to put aside the part of you that is preventing you from fully experiencing the peace that is from God. May you allow the Spirit to fill you, by thinking on ", whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy ...and the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:7

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Week 3: Peace is Good

This week we are focusing on what we gain by decreasing our stress, instead what we are missing by having it! A refreshing change, dont you think?

In class we did alot of scripture referencing, and we want to do no less here.

Peace is something that everyone wants, and those in Christ are promised to have in abundance. Through the Spirit we are able to fill the hole in our spirits that desires peace more than anything. We have peace at our disposal through the God we serve, and the Son who died for us.

Peace is mentioned 247 times in scripture. Of the gifts of the Holy Spirit it is mentioned second only to love. It is referred to in all but one of the books of the New Testament, and all of the letters of Paul. It is an ongoing theme throughout the entire Word of God, mentioned in all but 14 of the 66 books of the Bible. God and Jesus are referred to as the God of Peace, and the Prince of Peace.

What is so great about this thing, called peace?

Peace is...a reflection of God's character in us. "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through." I Thess 5:23

Peace is ...the message we speak to those around us. "You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” Acts 10:36

Peace is...the result of our eternal perspective. "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17

Peace is ...what happens when we allow our minds to be of Christ and the Spirit. "The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace." Romans 8:6

Peace is ...the way of the righteous. "The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever” Isaiah 32:17

Peace is... a blessing from God. Psalms 29:11 ..."The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace."

Peace is ...a beautiful prayer for another believer. "May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" Hebrews 13:20

Peace is give all our oppressive thoughts and emotions to him.”Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:6

Peace is ...God's desire for His church. …”If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

There is so much to learn of peace ..and we will keep focusing on learning more about this incredible gift of God in us.

For now, consider that when we are full of anxiety, fret and stress we prevent this wonderful experience from filling us to its full potential. Not that its not available to us, but when we are using up our senses with those light and momentary things, they arent available to be filled with the calm that comes from our experiencing Christ, the Prince of Peace in us.

Calm, rest, safe, trust ...peace.

Ponder Point: What does peace mean to you?

Verse of the Week: "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

Discussion Questions: Do you feel that stress takes away your peace? In what way?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Not My Own

Another motivating factor for me, in respect to getting my stress levels under control, is the fact that my stress is not only my own.

As mothers, wives, administrators of our homes, the female influence in our churches and as we work in all the roles that come with those things, we have major influence on those around us.

When I am stressed, and allowing that stress to effect me in such a way that my life, mood, attitude is not reflecting that of Christ, then I am hurting the influence I may have for Christ in my world. When you think about the influence you have, with husbands, children, friends, shop clerks, customer service reps, strangers ..etc, etc., etc. ...we have alot of potential damage or encouragement to give.

Often, its the mother or woman of the house that sets the mood. If it is one of stress and anxiety, there is no way around it not effecting your home as well. If you have children, your stress effects both their stress levels, and what they perceive to be stressful. If you have a husband, your stress has direct effect on your relationship..right? What about how you speak with the customer service rep on the phone when there is a problem with your bill? Or the check out lady has messed up your coupons :)

When we allow our stress to overwhelm us, we cant be fooled into thinking that it only affects us. Think about times when someone close to you is stressed out the max, how did you feel when you were with them? Do you feel at peace, or a bit stressed yourself?

It makes this whole effort to de-stress ourselves an important focus. Its not only for our own sake, but for that of the kids, hubby and those around us. It doesnt mean that choas will not happen. But, it means that when it happens we are calm in the center of the storm. We need to be the ones that they look to for focus, redirecting, and control.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Week 2: Stress is Bad - Part 2

Stress can be a tricky thing to define because it is so specific to each person. Because of that, you need to define stress for yourself so that you know it when it hits you.

For our purposes, I have defined stress as:

· Anything that causes one to feel tense, overwhelmed, generally negative, or have a "not going right" feeling.

· Anything or lack of something that causes us to feel anxious, uptight, inadequate, worried, chaotic, or disordered. In general, it makes us feel bad.

· A feeling that can move from a little "blech" feeling to that outright "what am I going to do!" feeling in a matter of seconds.

· Its a weight in our hearts, a weariness in our souls. Its worry, fret, and anxiety.

Stress is a generally negative feeling.

But, its not enough to just say that stress makes you feel "bad". To combat it you need to be aware of exactly how it feels to you. How does stress feel physically to you? Is your chest tight, breathing labored, heart racing? How does it look mentally? Are your scatterbrained, having difficulty concentrating? What do your emotions do when you are stressed? Do you feel weepy, irritable, lost?

Knowing what YOUR stress feels like is very important to face your stress.

When you identify what that feels like, you can note it every time you feel it. You may be surprised with what you find is causing tension. It may be that its no "big thing" but a rather a thousand little things.

Do not underestimate the power of little stresses! Alot of any one thing can add up to be more than you can handle. Because of that, we employ what we call the Stress Snowball.

The Stress Snowball is a way of thinking that allows us to give attention to the little stresses, to make more resources for the big stresses. Every time you get a small stress under control, you are freeing up resources for dealing with the next stress. By focusing first on the things in our lives that we can control, no matter how seemingly insignificant we can be better prepared for the things we cant control.

So whether its so many clothes in the closet the laundry doesnt fit, that the car is a mess, the library books are overdue, or that you haven't cleaned out the fridge in a year, take care of it. If its something you can control, take care of matter how small.

When I started noting this to myself, I found that there were alot of little things that created a general sense that I was out of control. I found I didnt have enough forks :), that lead to frustration every time we ate dinner, making my husband question where the forks were, which lead to me feeling inadequate because I hadnt kept up with the dishes that day, and irritated at the my husband for questioning my housekeeping abilities (which he wasnt doing) ..and so on. Something little like not enough forks has potential for big stress, and simply buying more forks eliminated that stress totally. Now, I have reclaimed that stress energy for something else!

Some other little things I have noticed in my house and life ...a rug that kept curling up leading to lots of tripping, the dog food where a toddler could get to it and make large messes, burnt out light bulbs making rooms too dark for comfort, a messy car, too many plastic dishes that came tumbling down whenever I opened the cabinet, no time for resting during the day, not eating enough during the day and binging at night, the laundry always behind ....getting control of just these things has added some energy back into my reserves!

So, like a snowball starts off small and grows ...start focusing on those little things, and you will be surprised with how much better you handle the big things!

Pondering Point: How does my stress feel? What is causing my stress?

Verse of the Week: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." Deut 6:5

Discussion Thoughts: What are some little things that you discovered were stressful to you? Does your definition of stress differ from ours? If so, share!

Week 2: Stress is Bad - Part 1

I was amazed when I started really looking at stress and its effects on our lives! If you weren't motivated before, a look at how stress can affect our bodies, minds, hearts and spirits will be what you need to get the ball rolling.

I was literally brought to tears when I was researching to find some of the symptoms of stress on our bodies. The list is pretty much endless with some major ones being high blood pressure, chronic pain, respiratory issues, decreased immune response, infertility, gastric problems and so on ..most of the 15 leading causes of death in the US can be linked either directly or indirectly to high levels of sustained stress.

Mentally speaking, stress does a number on us when stress becomes anxiety and worry. Our mind can use stress to diminish our value in our own eyes, or give us reasons to perpetually fail to trust God and His promises. Stress can be linked to many depressive and psychiatric disorders.

As far as our hearts are concerned, stress is a weight that we carry with us into every relationship, including our relationship with God. Since God uses our hearts to instruct, love, reach out and guide us we are selling ourselves short when we fill it with worry and anxiety instead of His peace.
Our spirits suffer the most, when we starve it of all that it needs to be at rest in its Creator. We separate ourselves from the gifts of the Holy Spirit when stress speaks louder than He does. We are left with a spirit lacking in rest and quiet comfort.

Stress is bad. It is harmful on many levels and has devastating effects if it is allowed to become a lifestyle.

How is it that it gets to be such a monster exactly?

Because stress does not stay a simple "not right" feeling that it starts out as. Its not just a temporary tension that will go away if left on its own. Not even close.

Stress is a jumping board for all kinds of emotions, reactions, misunderstandings, criticisms, self-loathing, judgements and damage to our whole person. We have to head its damage off at the pass, and get it under control before it gets to be more than we can handle.

We do well to reclaim the resources we have for Christ and His purpose for us. To be able to recapture the wasted energy of our bodies, minds, hearts and spirits and be able to apply it to God's work in our lives ...that is a great task indeed!

God wants us to love Him with all of us, and so we need to free up every part of us that is being wasted on unworthy causes, like stress.

So, keep reading. We will next look at HOW for goodness sake? :)

Pondering Point: What effects has stress had in my body, mind, spirit and heart? Pray that God will show you...He will.
Verse of the Week: "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Deut 6:5
Discussion Thoughts: What are some general ways that you have noticed stress affecting you or others around you? Do you feel that those things are damaging to your relationship with God or God's people? How?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Woman, Woman

A friend of mine pointed out a beautiful section of scripture this week that my thoughts have returned to often the past few days.

I have read it, like I am sure most of you have, lots of times. It creeps into alot of "women" talks and such. This week, I am seeing it differently and hearing Jesus say something I haven't heard before...

In Luke chapter 10, Jesus and his disciples descend in true man form upon the house of Martha and Mary. I am sure that they were so excited ..and a bit stressed. It seems that Martha was alot stressed, as the scripture says she was "distracted by all the preparations that had to be made." Well, you cant blame her..right? She had opened her home to a flock of unexpected guests, and one of them was Jesus for goodness sake! She had alot to do to live up to the expectations of a hostess during that time.

I am sure she was fuming when she looked around to find Mary relaxing with Jesus. I would be.

When Martha, after some heated mental arguing with Mary I am sure, "mentions" to Jesus ..."Lord, dont you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her help me!" vs.40

I can relate.

But then, for all her human justification, Jesus looks at her calmly and says ..."Martha, are worried and upset about many things." vs.41

Can you relate to that instruction? Again, so can I. I can hear him saying gently, "Courtney, Courtney, you are upset and worried about many things..."

(I am! I have so many roles, so many jobs, so much to do, so much to be done! I am a mom, a wife, a friend, a christian, a daughter, a sister ...and everyday I have more and more that needs to be done, and I have to do it all well because I love you and I love your Father! )

But, then He gently goes on ..."but only one thing is needed." vs. 42a


"Mary has chosen what is better," (...sisters are so annoying)

And here is the kicker ...and the part that I love the most related to our stress ..."and it will not be taken from her." vs.42b

Do you ever feel like the things that distract and upset you take away from you that one thing that is needed?

I sure do. That story for me is like Jesus sitting right beside me and telling me those very words.

I think that by allowing stress to run our lives, we are letting the Martha part of us take the Mary part of us away from Jesus ..and it ought not be so.

Let's keep working on this stress thing, it will be worth it when we can sit at Jesus feet and just listen to what his has to tell us, free of all those darn distractions!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Week 1: The Stress We Confess

This week's discussion is focused on recognizing the degree of stress we all face as women in general, and Christian woman specifically.
As wives, moms, grandmothers, sisters, friends, working women, or single women we carry the weight of the lives we lead. To add to that we bear the spiritual burden of being everything we need to be as a Christian, and working for God's Kingdom.

God knows us, though. And that is why He never intended for us to bear this load alone. The Spirit was sent from the beginning to be a helper for us!
Christ told His disciples before He left them the final time that, “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” John 14:25-26 - NTSB
Equipped with the gifts of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, kindness, faithfulness and self-control), we are able through the Spirit to accomplish all the tasks that we are called to ...I find peace in that truth.
We are also told in 2 Peter 1:3 .."that His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness."
If you are anything like me, then you don't know where your "everything" has gone! We think often, "there is only so much of me to go around!" and "how am I gonna get all this done?" If I have everything I need, and the Spirit is there to help me along ..then why am I so overwhelmed and feel so depleted with nothing else to give?

For me, I realized rather profoundly that it has so much to do with stress, and how it affects my body, mind and spirit.
Does stress directly prevent the movement of the Spirit in my life? Not necessarily.
However, because stress affects us through its energy-draining qualities, mind muddling characteristics and heart wearying symptoms, it may keep us from fully experiencing the gifts promised through the Holy Spirit residing in us.
When we are overwhelmed, overworked, overextended, overtired and frustrated with all the stresses that come with our abundant lives we aren't in the state of body, mind or spirit to experience those gifts.
Decreasing our stress levels goes beyond it just being "good for us" - we are called to a higher purpose, and so we must get rid of everything that is hindering us from being everything we need to be in Christ.

Are you ready to get rid of some of this stress? Me too.

Personal Pondering Point: What stresses do you feel the most when it comes to the life you lead? Which ones seem the most prominent and to be the most weight-bearing?
Verse of the Week: 2 Peter 1:3 -"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness."
Some thoughts to get our discussion going ...
  • Of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we are promised, which ones do you find the most comforting? Why?
  • Which of your many roles do you find the most stressful? Why?
  • Has anything regarding stress or the Holy Spirit really struck you hard this week?

Welcome to our Bible Study!

Welcome to the first week of our Living Peacefully Less Stressed bible study!

We will be working together for 12 weeks to decrease our stress levels and encourage each other to being able to receive all the gifts God wants to give us ..especially peace!

Having the Spirit in us promises that we will be filled with godly love, perfect joy, unbelievable patience, profound kindness, unexplainable goodness, undeserving gentleness, undying faithfulness, unwavering self-control ...and undeniable peace.

Stress, though can hinder our full experiencing of those things that are meant for us in Christ.

It can cause us to be distracted and lacking in focus. It can weigh our heart so that we arent able to fully experience those blessings of the Spirit. It can muddle our thinking so that we do not ponder on the truths of God, and keep us from finding the peace that comes from meditating on them. Stress can interfere with our relationships, which take away from our getting to know God better. It can drain our energy so that we arent able to fully engage in God's purpose and will for our lives.

We want to take a good hard look at stress (what we have), peace (what we are missing) and come up with a plan to be able to decrease and increase those as needed! :)

If you are joining us in person, every Wednesday night ...yay! Just come here once a week and get on board with our mutual pondering :) Be looking for a post related to each past week's class discussion ...these posts will be a supplement to our conversations in class, and will hopefully serve to continue that line of thought.

If you are not joining us in person, we still would love for you to participate!

Any and all of you, please comment, suggest, disagree, agree ...whatever. Comment and share so that we can inspire each other to a great level of motivation to defeat this looming monster in our lives!

If you are a Blogspot blogger, you can become a "follower" and have the posts be part of your dashboard. If you are on Facebook, then you can also join the Living Peacefully Less Stressed group and get updates that way. Or, you can do it the "old fashioned" way and just check in here once a week!

Either way, I am so excited to you are here! :)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Living Peacefully Less Stressed ..the Class

I am so excited about creating a summer long bible study and discussion group for the ladies at my church, Summerville Church of Christ! We will be starting next Wednesday, June 10th.

My vision is that it will not be contained to the grounds there ..but through the blog it will include anyone who wants to participate in this exploration of how stress affects us and what we can do to be more effective for Christ's Kingdom by decreasing our stress levels.

The posts the next 12 weeks will be related to the discussion we have in class, and via the posts' comments will hopefully continue and add to the encouragement we can gain from each other in this area!

I am feeling so compelled to encourage my fellow christian woman (and men, Jason ;) to a place where we are more ready to accept the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

I have set up a Facebook group, named "Living Peacefully Less Stressed" for those who may want to follow our posts that way. I hope that regardless of how you follow, you will comment and encourage other women in your same position!

Cant wait to get started!

For now ...can you tell me what causes stress in your life? It can be specific or general, what I want to know! Consider it research :)
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