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Be like Paul: Dealing With Stress

the apostle Paul writing from his jail cell

It's very easy to get caught up in the day to day grind, allowing stresses to mount up, and frustrations to build. We are especially volatile when the unexpected interrupts our day: sump pump issues leading to basement flooding, a mailbox that's been knocked over by a driver, an unexpected bill, and so on can send us into a frenzy. We see our journey to "success" as being impeded by these things, while in truth what is impeded is our routine. It's the unexpected interruption which throws us.

In the midst of our struggles, we find outlets to help us manage these irritations. Scrolling social media, watching shows, exercising, drinking alcohol, pornography, traveling, golfing, and other activities ranging from healthy to destructive help to pacify us, until the next stressor comes along and reignites the cycle. These become as normal to us as our work day. When dealing with stress, we put off handling the source of the problem.

As is often the case, it is about our perspective. Said another way, our heart posture is off. We have been looking at Philippians these last few weeks in church, taking a closer look at the writings of Paul. The Philippians - named after their colony of Philippi, which was named after King Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great - were a greek colony in which Paul frequented to speak of Jesus's life and teachings. (Paul, of course, was later imprisoned in Rome for his heresy, which is where he wrote Philippians.)

Paul's life is a demonstration of the separation from the rat race described above. He is facing a situation that should deal him a great amount of stress, but it leaves him unaffected. While our hearts and actions are pointed toward selfish gain, leading us into anger when we are interrupted, Paul chose a different way. Paul's goal was not of the self, but of the Lord. Paul's mission was to spread the Gospel, and he knew that nothing could stop him.

In Philippians 1:18-19, Paul speaks of rejoicing, in spite of his position in chains. Although he describes others as preaching the Gospel under selfish pretenses, he knows that the Lord's name being spread is still a good thing. He continues in verses 20-23

"20 For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better."

Paul is able to find joy in his position, even in a jail cell and shackled to wall. He can do this because his purpose and heart are in the correct place. How silly it is to compare our problems to Paul, creating our own prisons out of additional yard work, work projects, children's practices, and daily chores when our hearts should be on the mission eternal.

When our hearts are on selfish desires, we are more quickly infected with the poisons of selfishness. We are able to be shackled. Paul was unable to be torn apart, even as he was beheaded by the Romans. His influence from the letters he wrote from jail made his presence larger and helped grow Christianity throughout the Mediterranean world.

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