I can remember a time in our lives when Becca and I would take multiple trips a year. I also remember a time in that same season of life when we would be gone on vacation for almost ten days. We would take trips – like riding the Amtrak from Memphis to New Orleans – just because we could, no real reason. Sometimes, I can remember being away from home and thinking, “Man…we’ve been gone long enough, I’m ready to get home.” Looking back, I have really grown to hate those people.
What is the difference between those people then and the couple today I see standing in front of the mirror brushing their teeth? Besides the days gone by of being D.I.N.K.S. (Duel Income No Kids), two rugrats wrestling around on the bathroom floor, and a lot more gray hair than I am ready for, we have more stress in our lives.
Mr. Webster defines stress as “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation” – which actually sounds more intense than I thought the definition would be. In my experience, in layman’s terms, stress is anything unexpected and out of your control. While stress may have multiple definitions and be explained in a variety of ways, what we can all agree on is it’s an epidemic that needs addressing.
Seek True Perspective
Long before stress becomes a raging inferno, it is sparked by a little match. Often that tiny spark combusts the mind whenever we embrace an unhealthy perspective. Unhealthy perspectives can be of ourselves, of others, our money, our career, our children, our reputation, our situation – just to name a few.
A healthy biblical worldview will include understanding who we are and who God is. Any time we have an over-inflated perspective of ourselves we are prone to stress. Likewise, whenever we have a perspective of God which makes Him small, helpless, and irrelevant we will stress. An accurate perspective of who we are and who God is starts with the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 6 – but also includes right doctrine of suffering. Isaiah 43:2 is a powerful reminder that, in God’s sovereignty, He does not always choose to prevent trials and tribulations. Spurgeon once said, “Sometimes God puts His children to bed in the dark.” Meaning, there are times He allows challenges. But these challenges are not without purpose and they will never be experienced without His presence.
Trust One Another
Without fail, nearly every time my four-year-old son tries something new he wants to do it on his own. It is human nature. When things become difficult we often pursue independence from instead of dependence on others. If you are experiencing stress, it is worth a self-inventory. Are you isolating yourself because of pride? You think you can handle the situation on your own or you think no one else needs to know with what you are struggling. Or what about because of pity? You would rather others watch you struggle and feel sorry for you than ask for their help.
A quick survey of the “one-anothering” in scripture will show you we have been created for community. Galatians 6:2, for example, reminds us to “bear one another’s burdens.” It is nearly impossible for someone to bear your burden if you do not share.
*It is worth reminding, FACEBOOK is not community. Airing your stress on social media is not the one-anothering to which Jesus calls us. *
Rely on God
Similar to a healthy perspective, stop and ask yourself, “On whom am I relying?” If it is yourself, the Lord teaches us in Jeremiah 17:5-6, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.” Is your stress fueled by your attempted to trust in yourself? What about your trust in others to satisfy your needs?
Fast forward (how far, who knows!) to a season when Tom Brady, famed quarterback for the New England Patriots, has retired. Fans now have to accept a rookie QB under center. It’s fourth and goal with no time left and the Pats down six. Bill Belichick is still coach – the five-time Super Bowl winning head coach. In the pressure of the moment the rookie quarterback runs over to Coach B and says, “I got this coach – we’re going to run a bootleg right!” Then jogs back to the huddle. The play is run and the team is stuffed on the one-yard line.
In the same way no player would ever speak instead of listen to a Hall of Fame coach, so should we as Christ followers never, not listen to God. There is something diabolical about stress – the more we have it the quicker we are to stop listening to and relying on God.
Expect Great Things
I would certainly not consider myself a glass is half empty kind of guy. However, especially when tired and stressed, I am prone to be negative. To doubt. To throw up my hands and say, “probably won’t work.” But this is certainly not the heart of a man who has faith in God. Jeremiah 17 continues in verse 7 and 8 with some really great expectations, ““Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Stress has a way of reducing us to a “I gotta see it before I will believe it” kind of Christian. A doubting Thomas. Remember Paul’s writing in Colossians 4, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” When you are stressed, don’t give in to navel-gazing and hollow prayers. Pray and expect God to do great things in the midst of your life challenges.
Study the Bible
During my earlier years of living here in Memphis I was a College Minister at Faith. I wish I could tell you how many cups of skinny, non-fat, extra hot, mocha, latte frappucinos I had with young people who desperately wanted to know God’s will for their life. If only I knew what God wanted! they would lament. I would follow up their well-intended outcries with a simple follow-up question, “When was the last time you read your Bible?” Crickets. No answer. This baffles me. It baffles me because I am often in the same boat. We tend to read, listen to, and study everything but the only truth that is God’s revelation of himself to us. Yes, wise counseling is important and friendly advice is good. I am a big believer in mentors. Yet, there is no other collection of writing that contains more wisdom, more encouragement, and more truth than the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
No there are not always direct, specific answers in the Bible – 1 John 3:19 does not say, “Thou shalt take the job in Denver.” But there is a general will which always illuminates God’s specific will for your life. Not to mention, the Bible is a cover-to-cover love story of redemption. A meta-narrative which comforts those of us who are in Christ Jesus and restores the stressed-out soul.
Saturate with Prayer
This is another classic weakness of the Western Christian. We don’t read the Bible consistently and we don’t pray passionately. James 5:16 confirms it is fervent prayer that is effective. Let me clear the air: praying for ninety seconds while in bed before you fall asleep is not the definition of “fervent.” Take this for consideration. If I told you all you have to do is have a five-minute phone call with me once a day for 365 days in order to receive a million dollars, I think some of you would gladly talk for ten! Yet, when we consider our prayer life, especially during a season of stress, we stop well short of consistent, continual prayer.
Though there is little, if anything, I can agree with about the Islamic faith, I will say their commitment to prayer is a commitment we as Christians should admire. As I understand it, five times a day, no matter what. Are you that serious about including God’s presence in the midst of your stress? Are you humble enough to stop and acknowledge the need for God not just in the morning or during bedtime prayers – but fervently throughout the day? When you are, you will experience God’s intervention in your stress in ways you’ve never known before.
While this article is not a fool-proof way to eliminate or prevent stress, I do believe it is a biblical approach to combat, manage, and ultimately overcome such a common epidemic.