Posted by: Mike Willoughby | August 2, 2010

One Day at a Time…

“Just take it one day at a time!”

These are words of wisdom I have heard often from parents, coaches and mentors.  It’s an interesting piece of advice given that I really don’t have any choice but to take life one day at a time.  It is the way life is served up to me.  However, the advice points to an underlying tendency I have to get tripped up and become anxious particularly during times of stress or pain.  Jesus provides the same instruction in Matthew 6:34 when he said,

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. “

I like dealing with spiritual lessons on a practical level so let’s think about how times when this advice becomes especially relevant.  How can we recognize times when we are in danger of becoming prey to fear and anxiety?  First, we need to recognize that our experience is that time does not flow at a consistent pace in life.  Think back to times of great anticipation in your life such as the endlessly long afternoons before Christmas Eve, waiting to go on stage to receive an award or a diploma or sitting in the dressing room waiting for a play or concert in which you were to perform to begin.  Did time seem to slow down almost to a crawl? 

How about during times of extreme stress such as waiting in the principal’s office to discuss a classroom infraction, waiting all weekend for a dreaded job performance review, driving home knowing you have to tell your spouse about the corporate lay-off that caught you up or sitting in the hospital waiting room waiting for news from the surgeon.  Sometimes these time periods are short and intense and sometimes they seem to extend relentlessly over millenniums of relative time as you wonder how you can possibly endure one more second of your existence.  This is when you are most likely to hear from mentors, coaches and parents,

“Just take it one day at a time!”

It’s good advice, but what does that look like in practice?  I believe the spiritual truth behind this one-day-at-a-time advice is to recognize that God is ready to give you enough strength to deal with any situation one moment at a time.  Perhaps he does not equip you with sufficient power to cope with a month’s worth of your current existence or even one day’s worth, but he surely will sustain you for the moment!  Read the following passage from Isaiah 40:28-31 and feel the power of his promise to sustain those who rely on the Lord for strength.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God,
   the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
   and to him who has no might he increases strength.

Even youths shall faint and be weary,
   and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
   they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
   they shall walk and not faint.

How can you wait on the Lord in those times of despair that would threaten to crush you?  What does waiting on the Lord look like?  Let me offer the following practical suggestions.

When going through times of extreme stress that threaten to drive you crazy with anxiety, pause every time you feel the doubts and anxieties creep upon you to make contact with the Lord.  During times when you find your mind begin to be driven to distraction with unproductive and negative thoughts, pause and redirect your thoughts in prayer.  Even small micro prayers that are more like little snippets than full-blown conversations can help you center yourself and help you wait on the Lord.  When you begin to be drawn down by doubt, meditate on God’s providence accompanied by praise and worship music.  When you begin to feel disoriented or numb, turn to scripture and focus on the centering power of God’s Word.  If you don’t know exactly where to turn, just go to the Psalms.  For centuries, the faithful have gone to the Psalms to make contact with the Lord.  If you don’t know how to pray or what to sing and you just need to be lead by the Spirit through the valley you are traveling, combine all three of these approaches and pray your way through the Psalms.

I first heard of praying through the Psalms from Lynn Anderson and I have experienced the simple power of reading a single Psalm and personalizing that Psalm in prayer.  I don’t understand how 3500 year old poetry can speak so effectively for me when I can’t find my own words to express my need, but I know it works.  I also know that in these times of stress and pain when time slows down to a crawl, I will fill my mind up with thoughts one way or another.  They will either be my own unproductive and negative thoughts that lead to anxiety and doubt or they will be the thoughts of the Spirit through scripture, prayer and hymn that position me to wait on the Lord.

After all, who do I trust work things out when life seems most complicated and out of whack – my weak and limited self or the Creator and Master of the Universe?  Let me think…

Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!


  1. Mike, this is exactly what I needed at exactly the perfect time. Amy’s mom passed away Saturday morning and I have been struggling with all the mundane things of life while supporting her through this loss. I forgot how simple it is to use David’s words in his times of joy and sorrow to echo my own feelings. Thank you brother!

  2. Pray the Psalms, it really works and gives peace and perspective to a tough day or week. Thanks Mike!

    • Hi Jason. Mike said you might have some suggestions as to how to start praying the Psalms. This is something I’ve been wanting to put into practice more in my life. I would love to hear any suggestions you have!

  3. Thanks, Mike, for this blessed reminder. The timing of your writing is perfect as I struggled with sleep last night due to worry.

  4. Thank you for your words, and those from the Greatest of Books.

  5. Thanks, Mike, for your insight once again . . . very encouraging and something Bret and I needed to hear. You and your family continue to be such a blessing to our family! Many Blessings ~

  6. Mike,
    This was on target, our minds want to feed us the negative, we need to keep the faith (Bed rock solid) God will get us through never more than we can handle. We must not rush time we might not like what we get tomorrow. I am very blessed to know you and thanks for this push we need to stay on the right path. This was good stuff.

  7. Hmm…I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the need to start praying the Psalms. Anyone have suggestions of how they’ve put this into practice in their life?

    • Hi Katie! My good friend Jason Wade has really put this into practice and it has a very positive impact on his prayer life. You can reply to his comment above and I believe he will see it on his email. Also, I recommend you read the chapter in Lynn Anderson’s book on prayer. I’d be happy to loan you a copy! Mike

      • Thanks! I’d love to borrow a copy.

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