April 30, 2000
What do the following sets of things have in common? A Krispy Kreme donut and a trout. Elian and linguine. An audit and a massage. A jet ski and the Internet. Don’t stress out too much, because there’s only one set of things on that list that could possibly have some connective fiber: it’s number 3, an audit and a massage. You could say that a Krispy Kreme donut and a trout both need liquid. You could say that Elian likes linguine. You could say, “Hey, I could buy a jet ski off the Internet,” but that’s a reach. But I think there might be some sort of connection between an audit and a massage.
You might be thinking to yourself, “That’s kind of a reach, Ed. An audit and a massage. An audit is painful. Having someone go over your finances with a fine-tooth comb makes me break out in a stressful cold sweat. That’s not like a massage,” you say. “A massage is great. You put yourself on a table, and a trained masseuse rubs out that pressure and that stress. You feel like a new person once you’ve had a massage. So, Ed, I don’t see how the two connect. I don’t see how they relate. I don’t see any connective fiber or tissue.”
If you consider all the anxiety and all the pressure and stress that we face, I think there are three major stressors that we all deal with in one way, shape, form, or fashion. The first is relational stress. Some of us are dealing with boatloads of relational stress. The stress of a marriage, of bringing up children, of relationships we have with our family or friends or neighbors. Relational stress is big.
Another of the big pressure points would be financial stress. Financial stress is the number one cause of divorce. People are stressed out about spending habits, saving habits, and investing habits, mortgages, car payments, and credit cards. Financial pressure is a part of life.
Another of the big stressors would be occupational stress. The stress you feel working at this particular company, in this position, with this coworker, with this boss, with this manager. Maybe you’re making a career choice and you feel stressed out about it.
The Bible says this about stress and anxiety, a verse we can all connect with, in Proverbs 12:25, “An anxious heart weighs a man down.” Do you feel like you are relationally stressed out and weighted down? Financially stressed out and weighted down? Occupationally stressed out and weighted down?
At this point, I could take a very obvious and predictable path. I could break down relational stress, financial stress, and occupational stress, and give you nice, neat scripture verses that fit each one like a glove. I could then illustrate it through life experience and scriptural stories, and then point to graphs and charts that would all talk about how to process stress. I could close in prayer. A very predictable path. A good path, but a path that I’m not going to take today. Instead, I’m going to take a different twist, because the Bible oftentimes addresses our daily dilemmas in unorthodox and seemingly counter-cultural ways. I want to talk to you simply about the possible relationship between an audit and a massage.
The apostle Paul knew a lot about stress and anxiety. I mean, all the people in the Old Testament and New Testament dealt with pressure, but Paul dealt with it on another level. One day he found himself chained to a Roman guard, and he needed to write a thank-you letter to some freaked-out Philippians, some of his friends who were just stressed. They were wigging. So Paul penned a letter, and today we’re going to peek over the apostle’s shoulder and see what he wrote to the people who were stressed out. We’re going to see what he said to the Philippians, because the Metroplexians, I’ve heard, are dealing with stress too.
Here’s what Paul says in Philippians 4:6. He says, “Do not be anxious about anything.” Now, it would have been cool if Paul could have stopped there. “Hey, just get a grip. Just deal with your stress,” he could have said. Don’t be anxious about anything. It would have been great if he could have stopped there, but the answers to anxiety are not simplistic. The word “anxious” means to be pulled in different directions. I oftentimes feel that way, don’t you? We’re pulled in one direction by our priorities, and in another direction by our pressures. If we’re not careful we do the Stretch Armstrong thing. You remember Stretch Armstrong? You could just stretch him out. A lot of us here at Fellowship Church are like that. We look cool and calm and tanned and relaxed, but really we’re being pulled apart. Do not be anxious about anything.
Now from this point forward until I stop, I’m going to address my thoughts to those here who are in the family of faith. If you know Christ personally, if you’ve taken a faith step across the line, if you’ve received Christ into your life, the following words are for you. Now I know many of you are not Christians, and that’s okay. I’m glad you’re here. If you’re not a believer, listen very carefully, because this is what can happen to you, and this is how you can process stress. But you can’t do this until you make a faith decision. Listen in, but this is for those of us who are believers.
Paul talks about some conditions that we must meet if we’re going to deal with and process this stuff called stress. Let me continue. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Prayer. I talked about it last weekend. We said, when stress strikes, strike up a conversation with God. That’s what Jesus did during the most stressful event in human history. We’re to do the same thing.
You hear a lot of talk about prayer these days. What is it? What is prayer? Is it rushing into the presence of God with our to-do list and saying, “God, do this, do that. Thanks God,” and that’s that? This word “prayer” means devotion, it means adoration, it means worship. I should express my love to God for who he is, what he has done, what he is doing, what he is going to do in the future. Every time I worship, every time I adore him, every time I put him in the slot that’s reserved only for him, I take my eyes off of myself and put them on God. I take them off me, and put them on thee, T-H-E-E. That is worship. That should be a part of our prayer.
Petition. The Bible says we’re to get into petition. Petition means to ask God for things. Some things? Big things? Little things? Everything, Paul says, everything.
My wife and I have four children. Our youngest are our twins, who are five. Yesterday, one of them ran up to me and said, “Daddy, daddy, look!” She had a microscopic scratch on her ankle. Then later on she ran up to me and said, “Daddy, daddy, look.” She showed me a doodlebug. Now, my children know that I’m going to be keenly interested in whatever they bring to me, whether it’s a microscopic scrape or a doodlebug. Our heavenly father is the same way. He wants us to pray about everything, to show him our microscopic scrapes and our doodlebugs. Do you pray about everything? I’m talking about everything.
Several years ago I was talking to a man who was in the deep weeds. He said something to me that I will never forget. He said, “Ed, I know I need to pray about this problem, but it seems so insignificant compared to the other major problems I’m sure God’s dealing with in other people’s lives across the world.” I said, “Friend, you’ve got it all wrong.” I pointed him back to this concept in scripture that we’re to pray, not just about some things, not just about little things, not just about big things, but about everything. Our heavenly father is keenly interested.
Paul also says we should have an attitude of thanksgiving. An attitude of gratitude. When you pray, do you rush into God’s presence as a thankful person? Do you say, “God, I’m thankful for my body. I’m thankful for my marriage. I’m thankful for this dating relationship. I’m thankful for my friends. I’m thankful for clothing. I’m thankful for shelter. I’m thankful for a church like Fellowship. God, I am thankful!” That does something to the heart of God. It makes it beat fast. Because remember, God has feelings too.
Last month, I took my eight-year-old son on a camp out. He was so happy. Right before we went to bed, I found a Texas Dairy Queen. We ate some really good health food there—a couple of Belt-Busters and chocolate malts. As we were driving to the place we were going to sleep—it was down this dirt road in the middle of nowhere—we saw a couple of deer, a wild pig, and a couple of copperheads. EJ, from the back seat of my truck, said this. He said, “Dad, it doesn’t get any better than this.” He said, “I love you. Thank you for taking me on this trip.” I was driving on that dirt road and started kind of tearing up. I knew EJ was appreciative, but I wanted to hear him say it. God wants to hear you, and he wants to hear me, people that matter to him, say it. He wants to hear our gratitude, to hear our thanksgiving, to hear our appreciation. It’s part of prayer.
When stress strikes, we’re to strike up a conversation with God. We’re to pray, we’re to petition, and we’re to thank him. When we do that, check out the results. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The peace of God. We can’t manufacture the peace of God. We can’t conjure it up. We can’t buy it. It’s the tranquility of our soul. It’s knowing that our destiny is defined. It’s knowing that we have victory over sin. It’s the result of prayer. I’m anxious, I pray, and the result of my prayer is the peace of God which transcends all understanding. And then, Paul says, it’ll guard our hearts and our minds.
Why do you think Paul talked about guarding our hearts and our minds? I’ll tell you why. Because our hearts are where our feelings happen and get conjured up, and our minds are where we think. But the evil one does not want us to have the peace of God guarding our hearts and our minds. The evil one wants to play this [hums “Wipeout”]. He wants to play Wipeout! He wants to wipe out all that stuff from us, he wants us to think about other things that are not godly things. He does not want us to pray.
Paul was chained to a guard, and this Roman soldier was guarding him. I have a friend of mine who plays in the NFL, and he’s an offensive lineman. One day he took me aside—and this guy is 300 pounds of solid muscle—and showed me the techniques he uses to protect the quarterback, to block the quarterback, to guard the quarterback. I’m not that small, about 6’2”, 180, quick as a cat. He said, “Ed, come on, let me show you some of the moves I do.” He did a couple of moves that about broke me in half. I said, “Okay, man, that’s enough, that’s enough.” Well, the peace of God makes the NFL offensive lineman look like nothing! And that’s the confidence we have. When stress strikes, strike up a conversation with God.
It begins with proper prayer. Now from there, Paul takes another angle. Philippians 4:8, he says, “Finally, brothers,” now remember, he’s talking to those of us who are Christians, he’s talking to the Philippians or the Metroplexians. “Finally brothers, whatever is true,” this word “true” means not created truth but absolute truth. “Whatever is noble,” that’s virtuous. “Whatever is right,” that’s just and proper. “Whatever is pure,” that refers to moral purity. “Whatever is lovely,” that’s something that’s winsome. “Whatever is admirable,” that’s something worthy of talking about. “Whatever is excellent or praiseworthy,” that’s something that motivates us to do well. “Think about such things.” Right praying, and then right thinking.
Stress is mostly a mental thing, isn’t it? We have to think right. The moment we step over the line in faith to receive Christ into our lives, he places the person of the Holy Spirit inside of our lives. The Holy Spirit is constantly whispering truth to us. He’s telling us to think on things that build us up, to think on things that reflect the glory and the nature of God. He’s whispering truth to us. Conversely, the evil one is whispering a bunch of lies to us. There’s this constant tension going on. If the evil one could pen Philippians 4:8, this would be his version. He would tell you and me, “Hey, whatever is false, whatever is tenuous, wrong, off-color, ugly, detestable, unworthy of praise, think about such things.” That’s what he would say.
In 2 Corinthians 10:5 it says, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Sometimes we’re going to be assaulted by impure and ungodly thoughts. That’s just part of our depravity. They’ll just hit us. Have you ever even been in church and said, “Whoa, why am I thinking that? I can’t believe it.” Surely you have. Well, bad thoughts, impure thoughts, negative thoughts, ungodly thoughts, will infiltrate our minds. It’s what we do with them. 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We take captive every thought,” every thought, “and make it obedient to Christ.” We run it through God’s grid. We say, “Does this reflect the nature and the character of God?” If this thought does, we’d better nurture it, we’d better complete it, we’d better concentrate on it. If it doesn’t, we just take it and—whoosh— toss it. Toss it.
What kind of magazines are you reading? What kind of books are on your shelves? What kind of web sites do you frequent? What kind of movies do you watch? What kind of music do you listen to? “Oh, Ed, it doesn’t have an effect on me, man!” Take a look around our culture. Take a look.
Right praying leads to right thinking. And right thinking leads to something else that’s right. Philippians 4:9. The apostle Paul was a spiritual stud. To write this is unbelievable; just listen to this. “Whatever you’ve learned or received or heard from me or seen in me,” Paul is saying, “put it into practice.” There’s the peace of God again. “And the God of peace will be with you.” That’s awesome. What a leader. Paul says, if you’ve learned it, received it, heard it, or seen it in me, put it into practice. Can you say that to other people? Can you? Right praying leads to right thinking, right thinking leads to right living. What if everybody at Fellowship prayed like you prayed, thought like you thought, and lived like you lived? What kind of church would this be?
Years ago, my dad gave me this New Testament. It’s a unique New Testament. It’s called the Shoe Leather New Testament. In other words, we’re to put shoe leather, or in this context, shoe rubber, beneath the Bible. We’re to live it out. It’s great to learn stuff and receive stuff and hear stuff and see stuff, but the litmus test is, do we put it into practice? Are we living it out? Because Christianity is life in an aquarium. In a real sense, you’re the only Jesus a lot of people will ever see. And they want to see how you pray. They’ll see the results of your thinking by your living. They’re going to see how you handle stress. What do you do? Do you go behind a rock? Or do you just pray right, think right, and live right? What do you do?
About now some of you are probably going, “Now, Ed, you talked about some possible correlation, some connective tissue, if you will, between an audit and a massage. What’s the deal? What’s up with that?” I’m glad you asked. Ask—and I’m talking to you—ask for an audit. Ask God for an audit. Make this your prayer. Psalm 139:23, “Search me, oh God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts.” Just stop and silently do that right now. Just ask God for an audit.
Now, another thing I want you to do. Request a rubdown. Philippians 2:13, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Here’s what we do. We say, “God, audit me.” And then he does his work, and we go, “Okay, God, I’ll tell you how to handle me. I’ve got some stress right here, relationally. Some stress right here, occupationally. Some stress in my lower back financially. I’m going to put myself on your table, God. Okay, go for it. Just de-stress me. Just rub this stuff out of me. I can’t wait for the results.” And God’s going to smile and go, “Yeah, I understand where you’re pointing. I understand it’s there, there, there. But it’s really,” God’s going to say, “Here, here, and here.” Do that with me. Here, here, and here. It’s really about prayer, it’s about thinking, it’s about living. That is what to do with your stress.
So no matter what kind of stress you’re dealing with—I don’t care what it is, in what realm, or on what level—it’s all about here, here, and here. God will begin to massage it through prayer. He’ll begin to work it out as you think right. Then because you think right, you begin to live right. And then you have the peace of God.
Let’s say it’s relational stress. And let’s just say that you’re having problems in your marriage right now. Let’s say this is your mentality. You’re saying, “You know, I just don’t really feel feelings of love towards my spouse any more. I just don’t really feel it. I think I was kind of hoodwinked into marrying this person; I didn’t really feel it when I walked down the wedding runner. I don’t really feel love.” You do this, this, and this, and here’s what’ll happen to you. You’ll discover that love is not about feelings. Love is about a commitment, a covenant before God. And once you commit to that, get in the covenant with God and with the other person, and act committed, then the feelings will follow.
My wife and I have an unbelievable marriage. But there are some days in our marriage—talk to both of us—that we don’t feel feelings of love and romance. That’s a big part of our relationship, but it’s a part because of our commitment and our covenant before God. The feelings follow. That’s what’ll happen when you begin to run it though God’s grid. When you begin to pray, when you begin to think, when you begin to live it out. Then the stress will subside and you’ll have the peace of God.
Maybe financial pressure is your deal. You’re going, “Whoa, financially, I don’t know what to do.” A lot of people these days are running around thinking that they’re me-made instead of God-made. If you think you’re me-made instead of God-made, if you think you have your stuff and it’s not God’s stuff, then I challenge you to do this, this, and this. Then you’ll see that there’s a big difference between your needs and your greeds. Then you’ll see that you shouldn’t get into impulse buying, or purchasing things just to impress others. You’ll see you’re to budget your money, to spend some, to save some, and to give some. You’ll have a proper perspective on your finances. You’ll discover you’re a manager, not an owner. The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will infiltrate your financial realm and stress will subside.
Maybe occupational stress is your deal. Maybe you’re saying, “Ed, I work for someone, and their jerk quotient is up to here.” You know what? Life is full of jerks, that’s just part of it. And you can pray about this jerk, and once you pray, you won’t call him a jerk, or her a jerk, any more. God will change your spirit about the person. You’ll see that this person matters to God. You’ll see ultimately that you’re not working for this person, you’re working for the Lord. You’ll discover that the market place, your work, can become an act of worship before God. You can see that the way you handle this stress from this person influences others around you. God will massage it out through prayer, through thought, through living. He’ll be glorified, the stress will subside, and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will envelop your career. That’s what I’m talking about.
Early on, I mentioned people here who don’t know Christ personally. I’m probably talking to a number of people. You’re not sure about this Jesus thing. You’re not really sure about Christianity. Today, you can take a faith step. Today, you can bow the knee and pray. You can ask Jesus Christ to come into your life. The Bible says that if you believe to the best of your ability that God sent Christ to die on the cross for your sins and rise again, if you just turn from your sin, admit that to God, and ask Christ to come into your life through prayer, then he’ll do it. And once you pray—it begins with one right prayer—once you pray this ultimate prayer, Christ will come in. The Holy Spirit will come in, and then he will help you in right thinking. You’ll begin to think things you’ve never thought before—good things, worthy things, God-honoring things. And from there, that will translate into a different walk. People will look at you in that aquarium and go, “Wow, that’s a Christ-follower.” That is hanging in the balance for a lot of people here. But it’s your deal; I can’t make it for you.
Well, an audit and a massage. Any commonality? Any connective tissue? You be the judge.