The month of January is always incredibly hectic. My daughter (now 8 y/o) was born in December and had some serious health issues at birth. While those are stabilized now, we have a flood of doctors appointments every year in January. My two oldest sons are on a youth wrestling team, and here in the frozen Northeast, January is wrestling season. So now we add on traveling to practice two nights every week. Combine these things with all of the other commitments that a family with 4 kids (and occasionally some extras) has, and there is not much down time in January for our family.
Winter in New England also means shoveling snow, spreading salt on icy paths, scraping car windows, and heating bills. All of this is the backdrop to a story last Thursday. We were scheduled for a delivery of home heating oil, and due to sub-zero temperatures which is even colder than normal, the oil company was not quoting what the price would be. Our tank had gotten low enough that I had even brought a few 5 gallon cans of fuel home and added to the tank just to ensure that it would make it through. When my wife messaged me, to let me know that the oil had come, and what the price was, while it was not unreasonable by any means, it was not what I had expected. Just like that, my mind started a runaway journey, everything was not alright anymore, the world had stopped playing by my script.
I imagine you probably know what that feels like, when there is finally one too many stressful things and now your peace is gone. In its place are emotions like fear, anger, resentment, worry, and unease. Nothing had changed in that moments time, except for my perspective.
The mindset I am prone to enter is that of the conspiracy theorist, the guy that doesn’t trust anyone and is sure “they” are scheming against him. While I have never really figured out who “they” is, that just must be what is happening. Sounds a little silly I know, but that is how it works when my perspective slips. For about an hour and a half I worked up an elaborate conspiracy in my mind, starting with the cold weather, and going all the way to the politicians in Washington DC, and there was nothing resembling peaceful thinking, or the joy of the Lord going on in my mind at all.
Finally it was time to take a break and eat my sandwich. I grabbed my cooler, and walked of to the cold break room. Had I mentioned that we had almost all of the heaters freeze up at work that week, and the break room heater was still not back online? I grumbled my way through a prayer over my sandwich, and as is my habit opened my Bible even though I did not feel much like reflecting on God’s Word at the time. Of course, my bookmark was in Isaiah, the book I had just started working through next. I briefly considered jumping to a more “uplifting” passage, but decided to stick with where I was reading, even though some books are more challenging than others.
I am so glad that I continued on in Isaiah, because a couple of verses into the passage, God stormed into that room and met me.
Isaiah 8:11-13 For the Lord spoke thus to me with His strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, Him you shall honor as Holy. Let Him be your fear, let Him be your dread.”
Right there, in a cold New England break room, God spoke right to my heart through the centuries old writings of Isaiah. Even to the exact word that had been running through my mind; conspiracy. You see, I had let situations become my focus. Instead of focusing on God, His truth, His Word, and how to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel, I had turned my focus to other things, and in so doing lost my peace.
Sitting right there, I prayed for forgiveness, for lack of faith in God’s goodness, for forgetting who He is, and for allowing fear a place in my heart. In that moment, as soon as my eyes were back on Him, peace was restored. Again, nothing had changed, except for my perspective.
Jesus knows how prone we people are to focusing on situations and worrying about them. During His famous “Sermon on the Mount”, He actually addresses this exact thing.
Matthew 6:25-26,31-33 Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, an the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
The answer to our worry, to our stress, is found in our priorities. If we follow the words of Jesus and seek first the kingdom of God, we will find the fruit of the Spirit.
Galatians 5:22-24 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
What does it look like to seek first God’s Kingdom? Well that is something I am still working on figuring out on daily basis. Here are a couple of things I know. I know when I spend as much time everyday with God as I can, He always meets me. I know that when I look in each situation throughout the day for what Jesus would see in this situation, I find Him. I know that when I am focused on what I can do to be a living Gospel, I find the peace that passes understanding. I know that when I start seeing conspiracy, I need to change my priority and my perspective.
I would encourage you when you feel the stresses of life, to take a few minutes, unplug from everything, and get alone with God. When we take the time to put into physical action what we verbally acknowledge, things change. So when you are feeling stressed, don’t merely say you want to focus on God, rather do something physically tangible and be prepared to be surprised at how God will meet you.