Choose Joy Over Stress – At Your Best

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Running is my favorite way to replenish. To some, that may sound like suffering. To be honest, it is! Early morning wake-ups. Snowy, sloshy roads. Below-zero wind chills or triple-digit heat. But the suffering doesn’t bother me—it brings me joy, knowing I’m improving my physical well-being, cultivating a healthy mind, and connecting with God.

When trials or hard times come along in life, this mindset is more difficult to achieve. It’s easy to be bothered, experiencing anger over what’s happened or anxiety about what could happen. We seek to escape or avoid, hoping to reduce the stress. The situation can become the primary focus of our lives, and when it does, we miss out on the life God has for us.

Lead Pastor Ben Snyder’s bottom line was “refocus on purpose to get through what bothers you.” To get through. Not get around, go over, or sneak by. We’re going to experience difficult seasons, but it’s our choice where we put our focus. If we keep our focus on God, we can rejoice in the hard times and not be bothered.

Romans 5:3-4
3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

When we’re focused on our purpose, on what God calls us to do, our trials are an opportunity for great joy (James 1:2-4). They help us to grow closer to God, to remain in him.

John 15:5-8
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.”

When we remain in Christ, we’ll be like a tree planted along the riverbank: strong in the midst of heat and drought. We won’t be bothered by our circumstances. We’ll be too busy producing fruit, experiencing the life-changing adventure God has for us.

Questions:
When you feel stressed, what do you do to help relieve that feeling?

What are some practical steps you can take to remain in Jesus the next time you feel bothered?

Next Steps:
Make a list of the things that are bothering you. Find a Bible verse to see what God has to say about it.

The next time you feel stressed, take a moment to pause, read James 1:2-4, and say a quick prayer.

If you haven’t already, sign up for GrowthTrack to discover your purpose in the life-changing adventure God has in store for you.

Prayer:

Lord, there is so much to be bothered by. Too often, I take my eyes off you and get wrapped up in the earthly things around me. When I do this, please remind me of your presence, remind me to remain in you. Jesus, help me to keep my focus on you and give me the boldness to live out your purpose for my life. In your name, amen.


This post was written by Ryan Leone, a first-time contributor to the LivingItOut.


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Our Biggest Fan – At Your Best

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For several years, my dad made special notes to go with my lunch. Sometimes they were jokes, other times just sweet messages, and there was usually a hand-drawn picture or pun to go along with it. Everyone at my lunch table would gather around when I opened my lunch box to see what note I would get.

I still have several tucked away—one with a picture of an electric fan, the words, “Lydia, you are FAN-tastic!” blowing away in the breeze. Besides making me smile, the notes reminded me that my Dad was cheering for me. He was thinking about me and praying for me throughout the day.

Our Heavenly Father does this too. He may not send us notes in our lunch boxes, but the sunshine in the morning, warm coffee, and that garden of beautiful flowers are all little gifts from him to make us smile. These small things are to remind us that we aren’t alone. He is right by our side, holding us up, helping us through the stress and struggle.

Isaiah 41:10
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

There are times we try to take responsibility for things we don’t need to. Sometimes, I get so caught up in worrying about how I’m going to find the time to do everything that must be done that I never find time to do things that actually replenish me. God doesn’t ask us to try tackling these things. He wants us to trust that he will provide—he will make a way for them to get done.

Psalm 54:4 NIV
Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Hebrews 13:6
So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?”

On the way into school, my dad often chanted, “I believe, I believe in you!” with hand motions and everything. It used to drive me bananas, but now, it makes me grin. It reminds me that, like my dad, God is my biggest fan. Not only that, but he is my partner and my coach. I can’t do anything without him.

Questions:
Who in your life encourages and cheers for you? In what ways do they remind you of who God is? Is there anything you are trying to be responsible for that you need to release to God?

Next Steps:
If you don’t know anyone who cheers for you the way God does, consider joining a Group. Groups are safe places for people to trust and encourage each other.

Before starting on anything stressful or exhausting, pray about it. God will provide, whether you can see it right away or not.

Prayer:
Father, thank you for encouraging me, for cheering me on. Help me to trust that you will make a way for everything I need. You are all-powerful, and you have chosen me to love and support. You truly are my strength; I have nothing to fear. Amen.


This post was written by Lydia Snyder. Lydia has been a story-lover for as long as she can remember, often found reading books or writing. She is thrilled to be making a difference by inspiring others to take part in the best story ever – God’s story. Lydia lives with her three wonderful siblings and two amazing parents.


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Start With What You Know – At Your Best

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Do you know your purpose?

For years, I’ve known what I want my career to be. I’m a person who thrives on meaning, so I have doggedly pursued that goal. But I realized that even though I knew writing was what I wanted to do, I didn’t know what my purpose was—who I was writing for nor the message I was supposed to bring. That uncertainty frustrated me to no end.

Maybe you can relate. As we learned last weekend, refocusing on purpose is the way we get through what bothers us. But what if you’re unsure what your purpose is? That confusion can feel daunting. There is, however, a way through the anger and anxiety that hinders us.

Hebrews 12:1-2
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

When you don’t know your purpose, you should start with what you do know by keeping your eyes on Jesus and what he says about you. It can be as simple as realizing you were put on this earth as a child of God and to share the Gospel. Look at where God has placed you as a parent, friend, spouse, or sibling.

This proved true for me. As I started taking stock of what I did know, I was primed to notice connections and see threads God had woven throughout my life. Through the process, I recognized my purpose—or at least more of it. I realized I write books to help kids and teens reckon with the brokenness of the world. I remind them that even though the darkness exists, so do light, beauty, healing, and wholeness—and they are so much stronger.

Psalm 119:37
Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word.

If you don’t know your purpose yet, allow God to shift your focus toward what truly matters. Start with what you know.

Questions:
Do you tend to focus on the facets of your purpose you’re unclear about, or do you look at what you do know?

Do you know your purpose? If you don’t, what are some words or phrases you think might be connected to it?

Next Steps:
Attend GrowthTrack and craft your purpose statement. If you’ve already completed GrowthTrack, revisit your purpose statement.

Spend time journaling about your purpose.

Read Psalm 139 to gain a clearer picture of what God says about you.

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank you for creating me with a purpose. Please reveal it to me and give me the courage to prioritize it in my life. Help me to keep my eyes on you, and remind me who I am in you. In Jesus’ name, amen.


This post was written by Sarah Pagel. Sarah is passionate about weaving stories pierced with beauty, light, and sehnsucht. She’s an avid reader of everything from dusty classics to modern fantasy. When not living in worlds made of words, she can be found spending time with her family, taking long walks, or practicing yet another Vivaldi piece on her violin.


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Saved – At Your Best

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We are in the fourth week of our series, At Your Best. This week, Lead Pastor Ben Snyder spoke about what bothers us. He said what bothers or frustrates us is usually caused by anxiety or anger.

  • Anxiety is overthinking an issue, reacting to our environment, and living in the tension of “What if?” It is a feeling of worry and being out of control, and it’s contagious.
  • Anger occurs when something goes wrong or when someone or something has wronged you. It is often an indicator of a deeper issue rather than a reaction to our circumstances. Anger is not as contagious as anxiety.

Sometimes you hear a message and you think, “God is talking directly to me.” As I pondered last weekend’s message, I felt deep gratitude because Jesus saved me from the pit of anxiety. I thought long and hard about sharing this story and being this vulnerable, but Jesus helped me realize that he helped me, and, perhaps, through me, he can help you.

I struggled for many years with deep anxiety. My mind was constantly racing. I was hyper, nervous, and worried most of the time. I believed things that weren’t true. I made scenarios up in my mind. I was deceived and believed lies. When we experience anger or anxiety, we don’t always see things as they really are. We can twist the truth.

Jeremiah 17:9
The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who knows how bad it is?

Pastor Ben said when we are anxious or angry, we can be in 1 of 3 places:

  • Unaware: We don’t think about it. We’re oblivious to the cause of our anxiety or anger.
  • Unwilling: We don’t want to change. We are stuck and stubborn.
  • Unable: We can’t change. We need outside support.

When I was living with deep anxiety, I didn’t realize that I could change and live a life filled with peace and joy. I didn’t realize there was another way to live, especially since many of my family members also struggled with deep anxiety.

Comments about my anxious behavior really hurt my feelings. I remember being called a “spaz.” I wasn’t taken seriously because I was “too emotional.” As a result, I had a deep self-loathing, like I wasn’t good enough. My mind was like a hamster on a wheel—spinning and spinning. I lived in a state of chaos. And if I wasn’t living in chaos, I created chaos.

I tried to change. I exercised, prayed, and studied the Bible. I went to counseling, but I refused to try any medications. I believed if my faith was strong enough, I would be healed. I was deceived.

One of my friends finally confronted me: “If you were a diabetic you would take insulin. This is a medical condition. Why won’t you try medication for anxiety?” I finally put my stubbornness aside and started taking medication—it made a world of difference.

I praise Jesus that he saved me from the pit of anxiety and filled me with his peace and joy. I know I will experience trials, but Jesus is right beside me.

John 10:10
The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

God wants you to have a rich and satisfying life. Please, if you are living in a state of anger or anxiety, stop denying it and do something.

John 16:33
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart I have overcome the world.

Questions:
How is anger or anxiety affecting your life? What can you do to live a peaceful and joy-filled life? Are you unaware, unwilling, or unable to change? Explain.

Next steps:
Confide in a close friend about your struggle with anxiety or anger. Join a Group. Attend GrowthTrack.

Prayer:
Jesus, I praise you that you have freed me from the pit of anxiety and despair. I am so grateful that you love me for who you created me to be and that I don’t need to do anything to earn that love. Help me to love others like you have loved me. Amen.


This post was written by Marsha Raymond. Marsha has been happily married to her husband, Jeff, for 30 years. They have two grown sassy and fearless daughters. She loves spending time with God, her family and friends, reading, riding bicycles, yoga and walking.


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Is Jesus Your Compass? – At Your Best

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This past weekend, Lead Pastor Ben Snyder unwrapped the fact that we have a God-given purpose for why we are here, at this point in history, with our individual personalities, passions, skills, and talents. He also explained how we can continue to live out that purpose in peace regardless of the uncertainty, distractions, or disasters that come into and through our lives.

I remember, when I was 11 years old, we girls had surrounded our teacher and were answering her question, “What do you want to BE when you grow up?” I was astonished when everyone had a job description except me. Over the years, I’ve had a variety of roles from a dog walker to an oil executive, wife, mother, and even a horse trainer. However, true purpose goes beyond our occupation and involves our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It was decades before I realized my purpose—even after I learned that Christ is my savior and committed my life to him.

This week’s bottom line, REFOCUS on PURPOSE to get through what BOTHERS you, reminds us to consider what we are fixing our thoughts on. By making Christ our center of purpose, we are building on a solid foundation versus building on shifting sand as mentioned in Matthew 7.

Matthew 7:24-27
24 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

Pastor Ben’s message was seminal and peace-giving for me. In it, he unwrapped how our relationship with Christ is at the center of our peace and purpose, and that we need to have both. When we focus on our relationship with Christ and our purpose, we will be like the trees planted along the riverbank, “not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought” (Jeremiah 17:8). We will stay our course and be fruitful.

Thankfully, this message explains how focusing on God’s purpose for our lives helps us navigate the distractions of fear, anger, and frustration that attempt to throw us off course.

The LIO devotionals this week will unwrap how to discover your purpose, live it out, and retain God’s peace that surpasses understanding through it all.

Will you step into your purpose?

Questions:
Have you discovered your purpose? If so, what is it?

What irritates and distracts you most from it? How do you turn away from what is bothering you and focus back on Christ and his purpose for your life?

Next Steps:
Plan to attend GrowthTrack if you haven’t done so already.

Determine your responsibilities versus what you need to release.

Forgive yourself for not being perfect, and turn your life over to Jesus.

Find a Bible study or join a Group to help lead you on your path of purpose.

Prayer:
Lord, thank you for your love, which I do not deserve and cannot earn. Help me to accept it for what it is—the greatest gift ever given. Please lead me through my life, helping me seek Jesus, as he is my compass to living a life of purpose that serves and pleases you. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.


This post was written by Martha Smith, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Bible Study. Martha describes herself as a lover of Christ who likes to share faith with others.


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