Stress!!! We laugh about it to ourselves and to our closest friends. Some people actually brag about their stress as though it were a badge of honor. Some people will even squabble with each other over who has the most stressful life. We find posters amusing that show a completely frazzled person on the verge of a breakdown with the caption reading: “God didn’t do it all in one day…what makes me think I can!” In our fast-paced life, we have stress put upon us just by the mere fact that we exist. That kind of stress is not easily controlled, but, how we let it affect us is within our control. But the other aspect of stress that we have extreme control over is the stress that we put upon ourselves!
Too many of us have needless stress in our lives…and it’s our own fault. As a child, we worried (a form of stress) that we wouldn’t get the presents we so desired for our birthday. As we grew, and matured, we stressed over getting good grades to get into the college we wanted. While at college, we stressed over finding a mate, and then graduating and eventually fearing going off into the real world. Once on our own, we stressed about marrying our college sweetheart, finding a job, buying a house, trading in that car that we abused during our college days, and settling into suburbia. Once we finally got to where we wanted to be…we stressed over what it takes to maintain that lifestyle. We were willing to work hard, but we stressed over whether or not our company was stable and our jobs secure. Would we be laid off? Then, children entered the mix and the stress was ratcheted up several notches higher. Multiple children meant multiple trips to multiple activities all in the same day, with overlapping schedules! The cycle goes full circle now. As your children go through school and college, you find yourself experiencing stress over their struggles with the same things you stressed about when you were their age. Only now, the disappointment you’ll feel FOR them is ten times worse than any disappointment you stressed over for yourself. What a life cycle…oh yeah… then you die!
In 2009, a Southwest airline 737 was at 30,000 feet when the roof of the fuselage peeled back from the plane, causing an immediate depressurization forcing an emergency landing. The culprit was tiny STRESS fractures that were barely noticeable upon inspection. Several planes in the 737 fleet worldwide were found to have these stress fractures. Stress affects our body in negative ways as well. Without getting into too much physiological detail, stress can cause stomach ulcers, irritable bowels, high blood pressure, strokes (caused from the high blood pressure), headaches, changes in your mental status and behavior, heart attacks, and several psychological phenomena including conversion disorder, panic attacks, general anxiety disorders, and depressive disorders brought on by feelings of learned helplessness (when the stress controls you and you give up).
In the Bible, the word stress is not used. Though, we can find several stories of people experiencing stress, or being in stressful situations. Some of these people handled the stressful situation well…without stressing themselves, while others seemingly created their own stress. The difference between these two groups of people was whether or not they involved God in their stressful situation. I’ll give you four examples (albeit very brief) of people who did not involve God in their stressful situations, and went in “alone,” with not so good outcomes, and I’ll show you three examples of people who had positive experiences to stressful situations by involving God.
In Luke 10:38-42, Martha had invited Jesus into her home to sit with Mary and herself. Martha began feeling that cleaning the house was more important than taking time to rest, listen and hear Him teach them. She was stressing so much over this, that she got mad at Mary for not helping and then scolded the Lord over allowing Mary to remain seated while Martha did all the work. Martha’s stress, like many of us, was caused by misplaced priorities.
In Mark 5:35-41, the disciples were in a boat with Jesus and He asked them to take Him to the other side. Suddenly, a storm arose and the disciples feared for their lives. Feeling like your life is in danger is probably the most stressful situation you can be in. This storm, that the Lord knew was coming, caused them stress because of their lack of faith. We will have trials that will not take the Lord by surprise, and He’s willing to help us…if we just show some faith.
In Matthew 14:22-33, Jesus had sent the disciples out to sea while He went and prayed. Again, a different storm arose. Jesus then appeared to them, walking atop the water. Peter saw this and pleaded with the Lord to let him walk on the water to meet with Jesus. A miracle was performed and Peter was doing something that was not humanly possible apart from the Lord’s help. Then, because Peter momentarily lost faith, his life, again, was in peril. We oftentimes beg God for miraculous help on our behalf, only to doubt our ability to continue doing this seemingly impossible task, in the Lord’s strength. We then find ourselves faltering, floundering, and going under. All the while, we get stressed about it.
In 1st Samuel 21, we find that David was running for his life from Saul. He backslid so far that he found himself living among his enemies, acting like a madman, sinking to disgraceful lows, to protect himself. Imagine the stress of trying to protect yourself from those who want to kill you by living a less than godly life among your enemies. This was brought on by David himself through the telling of two lies earlier, as he fled Saul. Sometimes we cause our own stress through the sinful acts we commit.
Those were the negatives. Let’s now focus on the positives!
In 1st Samuel, at a better time in David’s life, while Saul was seeking to kill him, very early on, David relied on God and God made sure that David had an ally who helped him to escape. David was able to flee, thanks to the help God had provided to him, in the man of Jonathan. What I want to point out here, though, is the fact that David still found himself in a stressful situation (his life was in danger). The source of this stress was that David was living a godly life and being blessed greatly, which made others bitter toward him, especially Saul, who was extremely jealous. Sometimes we’ll find that people will cause us grief because they are jealous of us, and we are doing nothing more than what God wants us to do. If that’s the case, don’t fret. God will bring you people to help you get past the hurtful and mean things those who are jealous of you may want to bring upon you.
In Daniel 3:15-30, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego underwent the stress of potentially losing their lives for refusing to go against their moral convictions. Their faith in God, however, was stellar. They essentially told King Nebuchadnezzar that God would spare them their lives, and if not, they would be with Him in Heaven. They had such faith, that they believed they could have the best of both worlds…having their earthly lives spared or moving on to eternal life with the Lord. Like these three, we need to realize that if we stick to obeying godly principals, precepts, and commands, we may find ourselves in stressful situations, but God will reward us in one way or another, in front of our persecutors…and it may just draw them to the Lord.
In Daniel 6:1-28, Daniel was faced with a similar situation. Politically, Daniel was elevated to a high position in Darius’s kingdom. His life was in danger because he refused to put the laws of man ahead of the laws of God when they conflicted. His stress was caused by making the Lord truly his Lord. We’re not going to have an easy time of it in this life, while boldly speaking out against those things which our government decrees that go clearly against the Bible. Though Daniel nearly lost his life in the lion’s den, we may face the stress of losing our job for refusing to pick up extra time on Sunday, at the boss’ request, so you can attend church. But again, if we have the faith that Daniel displayed, it will go a long way in ministering to your boss, especially if you are favored by your boss for being a good, godly, and trustworthy employee. Just like Daniel’s king hated being forced to throw Daniel in the lion’s den, so too may your boss be torn over the thought of firing you. Trust God like Daniel did, and put nothing ahead of God.
Do you know what one of the consequences can be of succumbing to stress and anxiety? Remember Martha who was “troubled about many things?” Because she did not take the time to learn from the Lord that day, she probably missed out on some important teachings that would have helped her to grow spiritually. Just like the parable of the sower and the seed in Mark 9, the “cares of this world” are one of the things in verse 19 that will stunt spiritual development. The unsaved will hear the gospel, but be too preoccupied with their busy lives to give it much thought. Whether Martha was a saved lady at this point, or one that the parable spoke of, stress and anxiety will stunt any spiritual growth. The unsaved may remain unsaved while the saved will remain unfruitful babes.
Philippians 4:6 wants us to worry about nothing! But in everything (storms, trials, disappointments, fearful times, and any other stressful situation) we must pray to God for our needs to be met. Needs, such as help to get through the trial in a godly manner that glorifies the Lord, is one thing we should pray for. But, we must be thankful at the same time. Thankful that we have a God that wants to hear our prayers, and answer our prayers. If we do that, and we pray believing, God’s peace will keep our hearts and minds in ways that the unsaved will not understand. So as the economy continues to teeter on the edge, and you are worried about finding a job, bring these anxieties to God and find peace in the fact that He is in control of everything in this world. Cast all your care upon God for He cares for you (1st Peter 5:7).
When you’re called on to minister to someone in need and you don’t know what to say, or your asked to defend your faith, don’t worry about it because God’s got it under control (Matthew 10:19). Don’t worry about the basic necessities of life like food and clothing, because God’s got that all figured out as well (Matthew 6:25-28). If you worry, again, your spiritual growth will be thwarted (Luke 8:4; Mark 4:19; Matthew 13:22).
Let’s wrap this up by looking at the Apostle Paul. In 2nd Corinthians 11:28, we find, at the end of a long list of stressful things, Paul had a healthy concern for the churches. Even a noble thing like genuine concern for the brethren can be stressful. The Apostle Paul had many reasons to be stressed…but he never succumbed to the stress. “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2nd Corinthians 8-9). Paul knew exactly what to do with the stress he encountered. “Therefore I take pleasures in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: FOR WHEN I AM WEAK, THEN AM I STRONG” (2nd Corinthians 12:10).
Paul looked at his stressful situations as an opportunity to magnify the Lord. Paul knew that getting distressed, depressed, or anxious over the stress in his life would have diminished God to the others he was ministering to. I guess that’s the point to make in all of this. We shouldn’t get overcome by the stresses in our lives. We have a God that is in control of everything, including what’s stressing us. He is able to sustain us and see us through. But if we fall prey to the stress in our lives, we diminish God in front of the very people whom we are trying to minister to. That will be a lousy testimony, and the greatness of God will be hidden…that’s the point I’d like to STRESS!!!