Richard Swenson says, “We have more questions than answers, more problems than solutions.” Few know where we are headed, but it is universally acknowledged that we are stressed out.
In his book Shoulder to Shoulder, Dr. Rodney L. Cooper defines stress as “The response of a sympathetic nervous system to a perceived or actual threat.” He adds, “This technical definition probably won’t mean much to you. Basically it says that stress is the way our body responds to perceived or actual danger. Our blood pressure skyrockets and our muscle strength increases. We’re ready to fight or fly. Stress isn’t the cause but the effect.” In essence, stress is a reaction to danger – real or imagined.
What are some examples of stressful situations?
• If your spouse has a bad day at the work and comes home and blasts you
• If you are a school teacher and are blamed for not keeping discipline when there is no means of enforcing it
• If you are fired without reason or warning
• If you are in middle management, and senior management does not back you up
• If, after down-sizing, you are loaded with more and more work and expected to do it in the same time frame
• If you constantly put yourself down
• If you are allowing others constantly to put you down, intimidate you or abuse you
• Stress, by others or yourself, triggers the stress response to produce such diverse disorders as migraine, anxiety attacks, depression, nervous stomach and diarrhea, asthma, eczema and a host of other maladies
What are the most stressful crisis events?
- Death of spouse
- Marital separation
- Jail term
- Death of a family member
- Personal injury or illness
- Job loss
- Marital reconciliation
What happens when we are hit with one crisis event and then, before we have adjusted to it, we have a second or third? The stress compounds!
Principles for the Stressed
- Divine design
Stress is a fact of life, especially for the godly. Somehow, we have gotten the crazy notion that if we follow and obey the Lord, He will protect us from difficult trials. But the Bible repeatedly shows that it is often because you follow the Lord that you encounter various trials. Conformity to the world will likely result in fewer stressful situations. But the fact that you follow Christ makes you a special target. Jesus explained this very plainly, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (John 15:19 NASB) We also need to understand that trusting in the Lord does not insulate us from the roller coaster of emotions that hit when we face stressful situations.
In Psalm 31 we find a pattern in David’s life which has application to our own. David is seen as first gaining the victory, but then the waves of distress sweep over him and he plunges into despair. Then he once more gains the victory. Although David was a man who sought God, he experienced a wide gamut of emotions during severe trials. Clearly this indicates that we too are liable to the same spectrum of stress and emotions. The key is to not be passive. We mustn’t permit our emotions to keep us down.
Whatever the crisis, the bottom line is that God is good. A recognition of this immutable aspect of God’s character produces stability even in the most difficult crisis events.
Humans are strange creatures. We run faster when we lose our way. Instead of pausing to regroup, we ricochet from place to place. Three words describe our times: hurry, worry, and bury. In contrast to our natural tendencies, when the pressing demands of time are upon us, we need to stop and get oriented. We need to remember that the Lord is God and that He is in control of all our circumstances. He is our stronghold.
- Divine Knowledge
- God understands our weaknesses and knows exactly what we are going through (Heb. 4:15)
- God gives us the grace we need to overcome our weaknesses. His power is perfected in our lives when we recognize our weaknesses and rely upon his grace (2 Cor. 12:9).
- God understands that we need help and He uses other believers to assist us (Gal. 6:1-2)
- God can use us for good works in spite of our weaknesses (Eph. 2:10).
- Divine plan
God gives us a true means of escape. In this it is different from the world’s plan and it always works. We just need to choose God’s plan over the world’s plan (1 Cor. 10:13).
- Divine presence
Jesus says, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). His spiritual presence is with us until our task on earth is finished. As the book of Hebrews informs us, Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us. So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (13:5, 6).
- Divine character
Whatever the crisis, the bottom line is that God is good. A recognition of this immutable aspect of God’s character produces stability even in the most difficult crisis events. During the times of stress, despair and desperation, the individual needs to rely on and confess the goodness of God (Rom. 8:31, 32).
Psalm 31 makes it clear that David knew God in a personal, practical, and deep way. Note the many attributes of God that David recites throughout the psalm: God is a refuge and shelter (vv. 1, 19, 20). He is righteous (v. 1) and will judge righteously (v. 23). He is a rock of strength (vv. 2, 3). He hears and answers prayer (vv. 2, 22). He is a stronghold and fortress (vv. 2, 3), David’s source of strength (v. 4). He is the God of truth (v. 5) and of lovingkindness (vv. 7, 16, 21). He is all-knowing (v. 7) and gracious (v. 9), in that He forgives and doesn’t cast off the rejected (implied in vv. 9-13). He has unlimited storehouses of goodness for those who fear Him (v. 19), even if they are going through the worst of trials.
- Divine helper
Another remarkable spiritual resource in the midst of stress and trials is the indwelling Holy Spirit. He is called as our Helper. His help is available at all times and in all situations. He helps his children to experience and maintain the inner peace that passes human understanding in the midst of stressful times (John.14:26, 27).
- Divine guidelines
a) The time to prepare for stress is before it hits.
Psalm 31 makes it clear that David knew God in a personal, practical, and deep way before he got into this crisis David had begun to know God through His Word (Ps. 19) as a boy tending his father’s sheep. So when this crisis hit, David had resources in God to lean on.
b) Trust in Him.
- “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted [or, ‘tried’] beyond what you are able” (1 Cor. 10:13)!
- Believe that God is your helper. Hebrews 13:6
- Know that Jesus always loves you and seeks your best. Romans 8:35
- Don’t let your heart be troubled, but rather believe in God. John 14:1
c) Recognize that God is at work and in control.
- Psalms 46:10 .You will never discover the tent of power God can build over you if you keep running. Stress will ultimately win out. So, Relax, Stop and trust in Him.
d) Believe in the power of prayer
Earnestly pray to God and believe that He hears and understands you. Psalms 5:1-3
- Pray when you’re anxious and receive His peace. Philippians 4:6-7.
e) Be encouraged and edified by the body of Christ
God created believers to live in fellowship to support and strengthen one another. God gave different members of the body different gifts so that each would need to live in a state of interdependency (1 Cor. 12:12).If one part of the body hurt, the entire body should reflect the pain (1 Cor.12:26). One part of the body cannot fully function apart by itself, but only in relationship to the rest of the body.
f) Face stress with a proper attitude
- Look at your trials with joy because God will use them for good in your life (Jam1:2-4).
- Know that God causes all things to work together for good in the life of a believer.
A Psalm for the Stressed
Psalm 46 was written from the context of severe stress. Martin Luther, who was under continual stress and satanic opposition, in studying this psalm saw that ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” As a result he wrote the hymn “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.”
The first verse of the psalm could be paraphrased as: God is our instant help when we are in a tight squeeze. That is what it really says. The word ‘trouble’ in the Hebrew means “to be restricted, to be tied up in a narrow, cramped place.” This is what stress is. The message of the Psalmist to us during those times is that God is a refuge and strength. When you are pressed, when you are under stress, when you are pushed down and your weakness is displayed, God is building a tent of refuge. He is protecting you. He surrounds you with His divine care and strength.
Look at development of the Psalm:
- There may occur natural calamities that bring fear and stress, but the response is “I will not fear” (46:1-3).
- There may occur civil disturbances, the city under attack, but the response is “I will not be moved” (46:4-7).
- There may occur a time following those awful experiences depression set in, but the response is “I will not strive” (46:8-11).
Because God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (46:1)
Everything is in His control–especially the timing of our life. He said that His grace is sufficient and I, for one, have found that to be true. His strength is made perfect in weakness. The final words of the Lord Jesus as He died on the cross were a quote from Psalm 31:5: “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). He endured the supreme stress of bearing our sins by entrusting Himself to the sovereign, personal God! So must we!
How are you coping with the stress in your life? Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China who endured many pressures including narrow escapes from death, used to say, “It doesn’t matter, really, how great the pressure is; it only matters where the pressure lies. See that it never comes between you and the Lord—then, the greater the pressure, the more it presses you to His breast”. God’s remedy for stress is for us (to) trust in Him, the sovereign, personal Lord.