Interrupt Your Anxious Thoughts

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David taught us how to pray after we’ve been stabbed in the back. Aren’t you glad that you can pray this prayer just once and everything is all better?! 

Oh, wait. It doesn’t really work that way, does it? At least it hasn’t for me. After I’ve been hurt, it takes quite a while to get to a place of healing. We have cliches for this sort of thing—phrases like “Once bitten, twice shy” and “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” 

We begin to react to the past instead of reflecting and responding in the present.  

It’s interesting that those who compiled the Psalter placed Psalm 55 where they did. There is no introduction that gives us a background or setting, but David still seems to be looking for those “Ziphites” that betrayed him to King Saul. 

Here’s an important physiological and psychological truth: Our brains cannot tell the difference between a real threat and an imagined threat. Our physical bodies react the same way in response to any threat. 

It’s interesting to note that both Selahs in Psalm 55 are in the middle of a sentence, almost as if David is interrupting his own thoughts. Which, I believe, is exactly what he’s doing. 

As this psalm opens David is still praying, but he’s praying about his internal threats: 

  • my thoughts trouble me 
  • I am distraught 
  • I notice the conversations and the stares of potential enemies  
  • my heart is in anguish 
  • I feel like terrors of death, fear and trembling, and horror are closing in on me! 

This leads to David’s fight/flight response (although really, it’s his flight response): “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest—I would flee far away and stay in the desert.

David has been listening to himself, and he finally at least attempts to put a halt to these distressing thoughts with his first Selah—which means “pause, and calmly think of that.” 

Most of our natural reactions are driven by fear. But fear—by its very nature—is limiting. Fear keeps us tunnel-visioned on the perceived threat. Fear closes us off to accepting any new information. Fear limits our creative responses. Fear perpetuates more fear. 

So David tries a second time to Selah. He is attempting to interrupt his negative thoughts—to stop listening to himself and start talking to himself. To move from a self-preserving reaction to a God-glorifying response requires a Selah pause to reflect. Reflecting on things like:

  • Where will these thoughts ultimately take me? 
  • How has God responded before? 
  • What does God’s Word say? 
  • Could I imagine Jesus responding the way I’m responding? 
  • What changes can I make? 

I love David’s conclusion: “But as for me, I TRUST IN YOU.” He’s saying, “I’m not going to listen to those negative fears anymore. It’s time to put my trust in God.”  

David had to do this “evening, morning, and noon”—again and again and again! Until finally he could say, “I will cast all my cares on the Lord and He will sustain me; He will never let me fall” (Psalm 55:22). 

This is what Jesus promises us, “Come to Me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our Selah series, you can access them all by clicking here. 

A Surprising Way To Relieve Stress

Paul writes some pretty straightforward words to the Christians at Philippi about how to overcome anxiety.

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about a problem-free nor a stress-free life. That’s simply not possible. Our bodies were created to deal with stress in a healthy way. But stress that is unhealthy, or unnecessarily prolonged, or not flushed properly from the body becomes anxiety. Anxiety is the culprit responsible for a whole list of bad things!

When we face a stressor, our bodies release a hormone called cortisol. The main function of this hormone is to prepare us to fight or flight. Sometimes this looks like over-engaging in problem-solving, and sometimes it looks like complete withdraw from life. Sometimes cortisol leads to sleeplessness and a diminished appetite, and sometimes it makes people sleepy and craving comfort food.

But the bottom line is the fight-or-flight response is very me focused!

The strategies Paul lists for us take the focus off me and put it on God. He especially counsels us to pray to God and to praise God. Between these two healthy responses is something unexpected. He writes, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

What in the world does gentleness have to do with relieving stress?!

First, let’s consider the motivation: The Lord is near. I think this could mean:

  1. The Lord’s name is near, as in we are called “Christians” and so we should act in a way that glorifies God.
  2. The Lord is near to help us.
  3. The Lord’s return is closing in where we will have to give an account of how we have lived our lives.

Then there is this word gentleness. This word means:

  • moderation
  • considerate of others
  • patience toward our situation and toward others
  • or as The Message says: Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.

Cortisol is naturally removed from our physical bodies through rest and exercise. Anxiety is naturally removed from our emotional lives the same way—resting in God’s presence (honk!) and gently and considerately exercising a blessing for someone else.

THE BEST WAY TO DE-STRESS IS TO BLESS! 

When anxiety builds:

  1. Honk
  2. Bless
  3. Repeat

Don’t let stress win by making you self-centered. Defeat stress and anxiety by praising God and blessings others. And then make that a daily habit!

The Power Of Laughter

“Laughter increases the number and activity of some white blood cells called ‘T’ and ‘B’ cells, natural killers that fight viral infections and some types of cancer cells. It multiplies the antibody IgA, which fights upper respiratory tract infections. A hearty chuckle builds up gamma interferon, which stimulates the various components of the immune system.

“Laughing speeds up our heart rate, and some have likened this to ‘internal jogging.’ It’s an aerobic activity that works the diaphragm and increases the body’s ability to use oxygen. That’s why after a big laugh you often feel the need to sigh and take a big breath of air. It sure beats thirty minutes on the treadmill.

“As we laughed, our blood pressure temporarily is elevated; however, that is followed by a prolonged, mild decrease in blood pressure. Laughter also lowers various hormone levels—the kind associated with the fight-or-flight response—and makes us feel less stressed, more relaxed. That’s why people say things like ‘I laughed so hard I couldn’t get up’ or ‘I laughed so hard I fell over.’

“Science is figuring out that laughter is good for the body, something the Bible told us long ago—Proverbs 15:30; Proverbs 17:22.” —Lynn Eib, in Peace In The Face Of Cancer

To read other quotes from this exceptional book, click here and here.

7 Tips For A Better Night’s Sleep

Psalm 4.8It’s no secret that being tired can lead to a lot of not-so-nice consequences. Everything from automobile crashes, to poor work performance, to foot-in-mouth statements, to giving in to temptations, to health issues are all traced back to not getting enough peaceful sleep.

But did you know that sweet sleep is something God wants to give you?

Psalm 127 says, “God grants sleep to those He loves.” Guess what? God loves you, and wants you to have a peaceful night’s sleep!

Here are some benefits to getting solid sack time:

  1. Muscles are repaired—the body “turns off” muscles during sleep so they can repair themselves.
  2. The hormone leptin, that regulates your appetite, is adjusted.
  3. Your blood pressure is lowered.
  4. Your heart rate is lowered.
  5. The energy-producing cells we all need are restocked.
  6. Your immune system is re-energized.
  7. Memories are consolidated from short-term memory banks to long-term memories.
  8. The hormones that allow you to concentrate are replenished.
  9. Your “database” of decision-making options is re-calibrated.
  10. Bottom line—you get healthier physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.

All of this God wants to give to those He loves. “God loves me, so I’m going to sleep peacefully tonight!”

The problem is we often sabotage God’s blessing of sweet sleep by our own poor decisions during the day. So here are seven things you can do to cooperate with God’s blessing of sleep:

  1. Reduce stress. Stress causes your body to release cortisol, which prepares your body for fight-or-flight. This means when you’re trying to quiet down for the night, your body is still screaming, “Go, go go!” Stress is mainly triggered by worrying over things outside of our control, so check out what Jesus said to us about not worrying—Matthew 6:25-34.
  2. Reduce late-day caffeine. Caffeine has a half-life of six hours, so if you are pouring it into your body late in the date, you might fall into bed exhausted but the caffeine is keeping your brain buzzing. As a result, you don’t have the normal deep sleep patterns.
  3. Eliminate emotional caffeine. Arguments with other people release cortisol and adrenaline in your bloodstream. If these disagreements are happening later in the day, your body is fighting against God’s plan for your tranquil sleep. So take care of any disagreements quickly (Ephesians 4:26).
  4. Exercise. Getting some movement into your daily routine flushes cortisol and adrenaline from your bloodstream.
  5. Go to bed and get up at the same time. There’s a reason God made the sun to rise and set at predictable times. Your body also functions best on a predictable schedule.
  6. Reduce “blue lights” close to bed time. The blue light waves of dawn tell our bodies to stop releasing melatonin, the sleepy hormone. The red light waves of dusk tell our bodies to increase melatonin so we can go to sleep. But when we’re staring into the blue light of our phones and tablets, our body is being sent a conflicting signal.
  7. Pray. Two great passages you can pray before bedtime are Psalm 4:8 and Proverbs 3:24. Claim those promises of sweet sleep!

God loves you. He wants to give you the blessing of peaceful sleep. If you’re going to sleep peacefully tonight, make sure you are not sabotaging what God wants to give you.

If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series, you can access the complete list by clicking here

7 Quotes On Brain Health From “Brain-Savvy Leaders”

Brain-Savvy LeadersCharles Stone gave us a very practical book in Brain-Savvy Leaders (you can read my full review by clicking here). Obviously out brain works best when we’re healthy, so check out some quotes from this book on brain health.

“Gratefulness is actually good for brain and body health.”

“At the end of our chromosomes lie protective caps called telomeres that are linked to longevity. Apparently, the longer your telomeres, all else being equal, the longer you live. Long-term stress shortens them, and mindfulness apparently helps lengthen them. For a Christian, mindfulness practices, such as meditation on Scripture and reflective prayer, which we often do in our devotional time, may possibly help us live longer.”

“The hypothalamus acts as a controller to the master hormone gland, the pituitary gland. … Chronic stress can damage our body and even kill neurons in the hippocampus. However, since the hippocampus is one of the few structures that can grow neurons, called neurogenesis, when stress decreases and cortisol levels out, the brain can regrow neurons here.”

“When we feel bored we don’t get as much oxygen and blood flow. When the brain lacks engagement over long periods of time (we are bored), dendrites can atrophy. When that happens, we can lose brain real estate.”

“Neuroscientists have found that stuffing, denying, or a ignoring our emotions reinforces them, affects short-term memory, increases blood pressure, and robs our brain’s prefrontal cortex of the mental energy it needs.”

“Chronic anxiety and stress cause what scientists call allostatic load…. When our body secretes too much cortisol over long periods of time, these problems can affect us: impaired immunity, weight gain, greater emotional reactivity, heart problems, decreased memory, and diminished brain functioning.”

“Exercise increases a key protein necessary for a healthy brain.”

I shared some quotes about how we learn from Brain-Savvy Leaders earlier, and you can read them here.

Being Quiet

I love technology. But along with all of the technology comes a whole lot of noise. Not necessarily the noise that your ears pick up, but the noise in your mind.

  • We’ve got Facebook for the latest social updates
  • Twitter and blogs for the latest news and commentary
  • Flickr, Twitpic, and Intragram for the latest pictures
  • LinkedIn for the latest business interactions
  • Smart phones for instant messaging

And if we miss out on any of those things, we feel left behind.

Here’s the ironic thing about all of this social media. Trying to keep up with everything and everyone raises the level of cortisol (a stress hormone) in our bodies. And cortisol actually increases anti-social behavior.

Look what multi-tasking does to our brains


In the midst of trying to tune in and keep up with all of these other voices, we often miss out on the most important Voice.

Jesus says: Listen! I am standing and knocking at your door. If [not when] you hear My voice and open the door, I will come in and we will eat together. (I added the bracketed commentary.)

Today I’m trying to quiet all of the other voices and just listen to The Voice. So today is a media/technology fast.

  • No blogging (I wrote this post yesterday)
  • No Twitter or Facebook
  • No texting
  • No iPod or TV or computer time

I’m taking time to make sure I’m tuning into the most important Voice. I challenge you to try it too. Listen to see what Jesus has to say to you.

Spread It Out

What do you do when you get bad news? Scientists know that when we hear bad news, our stress hormone cortisol immediately surges into our bloodstream. This hormone unleashes a bunch of other things in our bodies: blood pressure goes up, heart rate increases, pupils dilate, sugar stores are released. In other words, your body prepares for action.

What about your brain? What does it do? Immediately your brain starts searching for a way to cope with the stress of the bad news. And the typical response is to return to well-worn pathways. In other words, do what I’ve always done before.

So perhaps the question is better stated: What have you done before when you got bad news?

  • Did you sulk?
  • Did you cry or get angry?
  • Did you get paralyzed, not knowing what to do?
  • Did you call a friend?
  • Did you just shake your head and try to ignore it?
  • Did you spread it out before God?

Huh? Judah’s King Hezekiah got some very bad news from a very mean general named Sennacherib. What did he do? He did what he had done before…

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD…. “Give ear, LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.”

Hezekiah had the same physiological and psychological responses that you and I would have when facing such a huge threat. But his first response was his well-worn response. He did what he had always done before with bad news: he spread it out before the Lord.

We can start making a new pathway for our brain to follow. Instead of fight-or-flight, or ignoring, or paralysis, or calling a friend—take it to God and spread it out there. He knows your situation better than anyone else and He wants to help you.

Start making new neural pathways in your brain today by taking everything to God—even the so-called “little” things—so that when the really bad news comes, your brain will tell you to do what you always do: spread it out before the Lord.

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