Photo above: The Hertford Bridge in Oxford, England. Used by Permission. © Tom Ley 01302 782837

Monday, July 2, 2012

Enjoy the Ride!

By Gary Roberts
Robertson School of Government

Nehemiah 8:10 “This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!”

There are foundational moments in life in which the Lord requests us to complete a task that is clearly beyond your strength, natural gifts and comfort zone. When that time comes, whom will you serve? Will I act in faith, get out of the boat, and walk on the water, or will I run as fast as I can in the opposite direction? Irrespective of our decision, we will experience a range of emotions, from excitement, joy, and anticipation, to fear, anxiety, and dread. The key element is how we respond. The analogy the Lord gave me recently is that of a roller coaster. Life is a mandatory roller coaster that we all must ride, and we can either enjoy the trip, or go “kicking and screaming.” We choose how we respond to the situation, either with faith and confidence, with what psychologists term eustress (positive emotions), or with stress (negative or damaging emotions). When Dr. Campo graciously offered me the Interim Dean position, it was like a giant scary roller coaster, with sheer mountain steep climbs and deep canyon chasm dips. It had those warning signs that all with heart and back conditions should get out of line now! The emotions are boiling, and the enemy is screaming in your head you will die or throw up!

However, the truth is that those who love roller coasters and those that fear them are experiencing the same physiological responses, but with radically different emotional interpretations. To the person who loves roller coasters, it is an adventure and an ecstasy producing a wonderful adrenaline rush. To those who would choose to fear, it is a form of torment and torture. We make the choice. God will complete the good work in us one way or another. Stress or eustress, death or life. We make these little choices every day. The Devil uses fear to steal the joy of eustress, or turn eustress into stress. It is another act of deception, designed to steal, kill, and destroy. We need to pray for the Lord’s help to change our stress to eustress for the Glory of God!

Satan uses our “fear of fear” to deceive us into labeling and transforming natural eustress (childlike wonder, excitement) into stress by not trusting God for Romans 8:28 protection (all things produce good). Conversely, when we trust the Lord, we can change our stress into eustress. When we face our fears (Psalm 56:3 When I am afraid I will trust in thee), you are “working out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12)” and pleasing God. When faith and fear are equal, you are still in faith when you stand your ground and move forward. The Devil is liar. You will complete the roller coaster ride and eventually learn to enjoy it! In addition, even if you do run away, the Lord is patient, forgiving, and grace filled.

Remember Elijah bolted into the desert after his great victory on Mount Carmel when Jezebel threatened him and the disciples fled in their moment of testing at the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Did God condemn them for acting on fear? No, God restored and strengthened them all after their abject failures. The Devil is a liar, and even when our fears do come true, God’s grace and protection is greater and He completes the good work began in us (Philippians 1:6).

This was illustrated by my own roller coaster rides with the fear of public speaking (a fear worse than death for many). About 15 years ago, I had a major presentation to the Provost with a colleague. It was an important meeting, but my anxiety over the speaking situation increased significantly given that I had a petty rivalry with my colleague. I had prepared well, but for some reason in the middle of my presentation, I looked into the eyes of the Provost and lost my place. I could not regain my composure What stress! My worst fear as a public speaker came true, the deer in the headlights! What shame and suffering! The Provost had the other colleague do the follow-up presentation the next day to the Board. I felt humiliated with permanent damage, or so I thought.

However, I gradually recovered with God’s gentle grace and teaching. The reality was that even though I “vomited on the roller coaster,” life went on and God taught me valuable lessons. My colleague was supportive, and we reconciled. I repented for my jealousy. My boss still had confidence in me, my promotion and tenure went through, and students still took my classes. God used this situation to humble me. The enemy still uses the memory of this event to instill stress in public speaking situations, but I have learned to respond with God’s word and transform my stress into eustress. Below are seven principles in your battle against stress:

1. Face your fears with the Word: Courage is not the absence of fear, but persisting in its presence (Psalm 56:3, When I am afraid, I will trust in you).
2. Embrace trust and humility and reject pride and perfectionism: We are not responsible for the outcome (God gives the increase, 1 Corinthians 3:7) and allow yourself to fail with grace (God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness, 2 Corinthians 12:9). Our role is to obey by getting on the roller coaster!
3. Reject emotional reasoning or decision making by feelings. Even when our conscious condemns us, God is greater than our feelings and will lead us through the trial (1 John 3:20).
4. In personal conflict situations with others, respond in love, and don’t personalize the situation. Learn to love your enemies and serve just and unjust masters. Use the example of David. When Saul threw spears, David ducked (1 Samuel 18:11)!
5. Our Spiritual job description is the most important element: We need to serve with Love until God relieves us (Don’t get out of line!). Resist the temptation to flee challenging situations. Stand still, and as the Lord opened the Red Sea, God will enable us to walk through our fears and God destroys the Egyptians (our fears) behind us (Exodus 14:11-13).
6. Practice Grace: When others or institutions fail us, reject bitterness. We are all works in progress and prodigal sons requiring forgiveness (Luke 15). Let others get on their roller coaster again.
7. Reject complacency: Learn from Elijah (1 Kings 19). In your battles, you are not alone. The enemy will try and steal the victory and say that you lack the strength to re-board the roller coaster. That is a lie!

I pray for that you will win the battle against stress in your life and experience the joy of the Lord in every life event. May the Lord provide the courage to get on your own personal roller coaster! To Him be the glory!