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Don't Stress Out

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Introduction
Tis the season to be jolly—but for many, Christmastime is not filled with joy and peace.
According to a survey from Think Finance and reported on nbcnews.com, 45% of Americans would prefer to skip Christmas.
It’s a widespread problem. Nearly a quarter of Americans reported feeling “extreme stress” come holiday time, according to a poll by the American Psychological Association.
Holiday stress statistics show that up to 69 percent of people are stressed by the feeling of having a “lack of time,” 69 percent are stressed by perceiving a “lack of money,” and 51 percent are stressed out about the “pressure to give or get gifts.”
In other words, many of us are stressed out during “the most wonderful time of the year.”
For me, it is where expectations and reality (or perceived reality) crash into one another—and it sometimes is not a pretty sight.
This is powerfully illustrated by one of my most favorite people in the Bible: Joseph.
Joseph was a faithful and favorite son of Jacob.
Two dreams Joseph received indicated that he would be a leader of his people (expectation)
But, his jealous brothers sold him into slavery (reality).
Slavery, falsely accused of a terrible crime, imprisonment—through it all he maintained his trust in God.
It can be done.
In the New Testament, The Apostle Paul gives us a way through:
Philippians 4:4–7 NLT
4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! 5 Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. 6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Is it possible to experience genuine peace this Christmas season?
In the words of Paul, I find five explicit actions and one implicit action we must take to overcome stress and live in God’s peace.

Reflect on God’s Joy

Philippians 4:4 NLT
4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!
With all the things that draw us toward stress, it also can obscure our vision of God’s joy—the joy He gives to each one of His children.
This joy is a natural, spiritual result of experiencing God’s amazing grace.
Worry and stressing out are diminished as we reflect on the fact that Jesus saved us.
Something else can happen when we reflect on the joy we have through Christ.

Think about others.

The reality is that many around us suffer from anxiety and worry.
When we allow the joy of the Lord to captivate our hearts and minds, our desire transforms to wanting others to experience the same joy.
Philippians 4:5 NLT
5 Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
We become considerate of others.
Thinking about others and helping others is a powerful stress reliever when we are anchored to two essential truths.
First, we are saved now—not just in the future. Whatever we experience, whatever suffering, or persecution, or hardship—we are saved.
Second, Jesus is coming back—and we want to be found doing the things that please the Lord. Loving others pleases the Lord.
Now, when we reflect on the joy of the Lord, and when we show compassion to others, it prepares us to make a decision—a choice.

Choose not to worry.

This is a command—an imperative: (vs. 6) “Don’t worry about anything...”
But, worrying is a natural tendency living in a fallen world.
Even Christians can be susceptible to “stressing out.”
It is why Jesus spoke about anxiety in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:25-34), where he stated the most common causes of anxiety:
Physical attributes (getting older and death).
Clothing.
Food and drink.
The future.
Even in contemporary life with all its complexities, the same simple concerns cause anxiety.
It starts with a decision, a choice not to worry. That is easier said than done.
So, what are we to do instead of worry?

Pray about everything.

Prayer is a cure for anxiety.
Even though there are secular studies that demonstrate the value of prayer, I want to draw our attention to the instructions we receive from Scripture—as a believer in Christ.
This is a spiritual action—an activity that believers must learn to embrace—the spiritual discipline of prayer.
Philippians 4:6 NLT
6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
Unpacking this principle:
Pray about everything. Just life exercising, we need to practice praying. It needs to become a habit. Nothing is off-limits.
Tell God what you need. Verbalize and explain your request—to God. Develop the discipline of conversing with God. Be specific—and ask with the right motives.
James 4:2–3 NLT
2 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. 3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
Be thankful. Demonstrate your genuine love and gratefulness unto God. Appreciate God’s grace.
Receive the peace. The result in this journey of prayer is the peace of God.
It is a peace the exceeds our expectations and invades our reality.
It is a peace that protects.
It is a peace that is essential as we live in Christ Jesus.
When we engage in biblical praying and experience the result of that praying—which is God’s peace, then the next step becomes much easier to accomplish:

Focus on the right things.

Philippians 4:8 NLT
8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
What do you think about?
We need to develop the habit of thinking about those things that are good.
Too often however, we think about those things that encourage stress, pain, frustration, and imaginations that invite turmoil.
Success or failure many times begin with your thoughts. If you think you will fail, most likely you will fail.
Essential for maintaining the peace that God wants you to experience is thinking on those things that are “true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.
Right thoughts invites the attitude and atmosphere of praise and worship.
This leads me to a final thought about overcoming stress in your life. It is subtly implied.

Engage in life with fellow believers.

Paul is not addressing this message to just a single person. It is addressed to the church.
“Don’t [you] worry is not in the singular, it is in the plural.
Stress explodes when you feel alone—when you feel know one cares or understands.
We need one another—we need encouragement and compassion.
Concluding Illustration
Joseph’s dream seemed to turn into a nightmare. The promise of leadership led him right into slavery. A false accusation led him into the prison. But God raised him up.
But, it was when he met his brothers—the same brothers that sold him into slavery—that Joseph experienced the fulness of God’s grace and mercy.
He was able to forgive, give hope, and lead his family from famine into plenty.
Conclusion
Make this season not about stress, but about God’s peace:
Choose not to worry.
Pray about everything.
Focus on the right things.
Engage in life with fellow believers.
But, the most important way to experience God’s peace is having a relationship with God.
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