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#36 Be grateful

#35 You are not the GM of the universe

#34 Slow down

#33 Talk less; listen more

#32 Sit on your ego

#31 Be kind to unkind people

#30 Forgive

#29 Take your work seriously, but not yourself

#28 Laugh

#27 Laugh more

#26 Say "Thank you, God"

#25 Keep favorite scriptures

#24 Make friends with Godly people

#23 Give God the problem immediately

#22 Find time to be alone

#21 Write thoughts and inspirations

#20 Be inspired

#19 Get organized

#18 Eat right

#17 Exercise

#16 Read the Bible

#15 Enjoy life

#14 Silence is golden

#13 Prepare ahead

#12 Live within your budget

#11 Separate your worries from concerns

#10 Take one day at a time

#9 Pace yourself

#8 Allow yourself extra time

#7 Less is more

#6 Simplify

#5 Delegate

#4 It's ok to say no

#3 Start your day unrushed

#2 Rest

#1 Pray

As I mentioned earlier this summer, I thought it would be fun to explore a variety of subjects that are restorative and a little fun -- to have some recreation, laughter, and relief from the pressures of life. So, as my gift to you for all the labor you do at your jobs, in your homes, and at the church… I want to offer 36 ways to reduce stress for Christians. Anyone stressed? Obviously, you cannot put all 36 things into place. I would suggest that you pick a few of the items I mention and write them down to reduce your stress.

America is becoming a nation of angry, short-tempered people. From road rage to airplane rage, grocery store rage, and violence at youth sports events, the media has been reporting these emotional outbursts with unprecedented frequency. All of the technology that has been promised to make our lives easier has helped to decrease our quiet time, our uninterrupted time, and our personal time.  We’ve become a nation of frazzled, unhappy, stressed out people.

Let’s start with the Biblical text… from Psalms… a good place to find quiet, meditative, re-building material for a stressed out Christian.  Read Psalm 56.

We’re going to count down the top 36 ways to reduce stress in your life, starting with

#36:  Every night before bed, think of one thing you’re grateful for that you’ve never been grateful for before. Oprah talks about keeping a gratitude journal each evening before bed. You don’t have to go that far if you don’t want to, but take a moment to think of something for which you are grateful. It can be a person, a situation, a personal accomplishment, a gift, or even the weather. Just fall asleep thinking of the thing you’re grateful for.

#35:  Remind yourself that you are not the general manager of the universe.  If you have to, write it down and put it on your desk. You are not in charge of the universe. In case you have been operating that way, this step will do a lot toward reducing your stress. As the Desiderata says, “whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

#34:  Slow down. Do it. Take a deep breath. Put out of your mind your agenda for the rest of the day. Just slow down your breathing. Slow down your thinking. Slow down and be at peace.

#33:  Talk less; listen more. Enough said!

#32:  Sit on your ego. Sometimes allowing others to be right, to be first, to speak their minds, to be the best is a good way to reduce our own stress. It’s okay to allow our egos to be subdued. In fact, if you look at Jesus’ life, he constantly sat on his own ego.

#31:  Be kind to unkind people (they probably need it the most). There’s a little voice inside us that wants life to be fair and people to be nice. It’s very tempting to give rude people their come-upends. But, usually that increases the blood pressure, heart rate and stress level of you and me. Conversely, when we’re nice to rude and insulting people, we end up less stressed and happier ourselves.

#30:  Develop a forgiving attitude and remember that most people are doing the best they can. Holding on to someone else’s mistakes is a good way to be stressed yourself. Let it roll off your shoulders. Forgive and even forget – it is not only healthy, it is specifically what Christians are called to do.

#29:  Take your work seriously, but yourself not at all. Of all the first world countries, the United States is the one where the least time-off, vacation, and holidays are given to employees. We are working hard and stressed to the max. Taking our jobs seriously is important, but it’s important to be able to laugh at ourselves.

#28:  Laugh.

#27:  Laugh some more.

#26:  Remember that the shortest bridge between despair and hope is often a good, “Thank you, God.” Or, as Meister Eckert said, “If the only prayer you offer is ‘thank you’ that will suffice.”

#25:  Keep a folder of favorite scriptures on hand. Mark them in your Bible; write them on your bathroom mirror (seriously!), but use the scripture to uplift your spirits.

#24:  Make friends with Godly people. Every friend is worth having but there is something special and inspiring about some friends. Nurture those friendships that enrich your life.

#23:  If you are stressed out or having problems, talk to God right then. Don’t wait until it’s time to go to bed or it’s time for prayer. Pray right then, silently, to yourself, with eyes open… it doesn’t matter. Just offer the problem to God’s care immediately. The problem may not change, but your outlook will. We have a couple of guys in our congregation who love to sit on the bank of the river just a block from church. I like to think that at least one of the reasons is that they find it a place to commune with God.

#22:  Every day, find time to be alone. Schedule it if you have to but do not cheat yourself from a few minutes of solitude. Psalm 56 says it beautifully:  “stroll at leisure with God in the sunlit fields of life.”

#21:  Write thoughts and inspirations down. Years later, those same inspirational quotes will give you strength and peace in stressful times.  A collection of your own thoughts and inspirations is a priceless treasure. I have a notebook that I kept since college - back in the last century - with quotes and sayings and poems that I find meaningful. Looking back at those I wrote years ago. I find that I still enjoy those readings as much or even more.

#20:  Listen to a tape while driving that can improve the quality of your life.  Perhaps it’s Mozart, or a comedian or an inspirational speaker, but find something that enriches and deepens your life.

#19:  Get organized so everything has a place. Time management experts will say that you should only touch paper once – and deal with it. When things have a place, stress about those things is reduced.

#18:  Eat right. Ever want to fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon because of what you ate for lunch? Ever eat so much that you’re miserable?  Eating the wrong things and the wrong amounts increases stress, not only on your body, but also on your mind.

#17:  Get enough exercise.  I have friends at the YMCA who say they don’t exercise for vanity, but for sanity!  Exercise cleanses the mind.

#16:  Carry an inspirational book, or a Bible, with you for times when you are waiting with nothing to do.  Don’t read those “How to make you wife love you in 10 easy steps” tabloids – read worthwhile and hope-filled books.

#15:  Do something for the kid in you everyday.  Get in touch with the inner child.  Laugh.  Play.  Sing.  Dance.  Enjoy life.  Be a child once a day.

#14:  Keep your mouth shut. This single piece of advice can prevent an enormous amount of trouble and stress.  If you’re wondering, “Should I say this?”  The answer is likely “no.”

#13:  Have back-ups; extra keys hidden somewhere, extra change for emergencies, back up plans for emergencies. Things will go wrong – avoid some of the stress by preparing ahead.

#12:  Live within your budget; don’t use credit for ordinary purchases.  

#11:  Separate worries from concerns. If a situation is a concern, pray about it. If you can’t do anything about it, try to forget it because worrying does nothing except cause you more stress and worry.  It’s pointless.

#10:  Take one day at a time.  Sometimes it’s good to take one minute at a time and in deep stress, it’s best to take one breath at a time.

#9:  Pace yourself. Spread out big changes and difficult projects over time; don’t lump 2 or more hard things all together.

#8:  Allow extra time to do things and to get places. That way when some irritating driver who is actually going the speed limit gets in front of you, you don’t have to honk and get high blood pressure.

#7:  Less is more. Although one is often not enough, two are often too many. Think about it in terms of donuts. One is good. Two makes you feel greasy. Life is the same way. Too many things doesn’t reduce stress, they increase it.

#6:  Simplify and un-clutter your life. A clear desk, a clear head and even a clear schedule are all helpful when you’re ready to pull your hair out!

#5:  Delegate tasks to capable others. My kids say I’m really good at this!

#4:  Say ‘no’ to projects that won’t fit into your time schedule, or that will compromise your mental health. A wise person once told me that my “yeses” to projects meant nothing unless I said “no” to some projects. It’s true that if you are selective about what you do, you are not only more productive and focuses, but also saner.

#3:  Get up on time so you can start the day unrushed.  I’ll admit I set the alarm for the last minute and then push the snooze button once or twice.  It’s not a good way to feel confident about the day when you aren’t sure if you remembered the deodorant!

#2:  Go to bed on time.  Consistent, adequate sleep is foundational for health and well-being.  God created our bodies to need sleep for rejuvenation.  God didn’t make a mistake.  And the Number One thing you can do to reduce stress (drum roll, please…)

#1:  Pray. You’ve heard “when all else fails, read the directions!” This is that kind of advice… when all else fails, pray. There are just some things in life that are out of our control. That’s where our faith comes in. All stressed out? Pray. It may not solve the problem, but it will sooth your soul.