What the Bible says about stress
In today's world it is virtually impossible to avoid stress. Almost everyone is carrying some amount of it, in varying degrees. Many find it increasingly difficult to simply survive in the world we live in. In desperation, people are seeking relief for their problems through any remedy they can find. Our culture is inundated with self-help books, therapists, time-management workshops, massage parlors, and recovery programs (to name just the tip of the iceberg). Everyone talks about returning to a "simpler" way of life, but no one seems to even know exactly what that means, or how to attain it. Many of us cry out like Job, "The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me." (Job 30:27).
Most of us are so used to carrying the burden of stress, we can scarcely imagine our lives without it. We think it is simply an unavoidable part of living in the world. We carry it like a hiker trudging out of the Grand Canyon with a huge pack on his back. The pack seems to be a part of his own weight, and he can't even remember what it was ever like to not be carrying it. It seems that his legs have always been that heavy and his back has always ached under all that weight. Only when he stops to rest for a moment and takes off his pack does he realize just how heavy it really is, and how light and free he is without it.
Unfortunately, most of us cannot just unload stress like a backpack. It seems to be intrinsically woven into the very fabric of our lives. It lurks somewhere beneath our skin (usually in a knot between our shoulderblades). It keeps us up late into the night, just when we need sleep the most. It presses in on us from all sides. Yet, Jesus says, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Mt. 11:28-30). Those words have touched the hearts of many, yet they are only words that merely sound comforting and are in essence, worthless, unless they are true. If they are true, how can we apply them to our lives and walk free from the burdens that weigh us down so badly? Perhaps you are responding, "I would love do that if only I knew how!" How can we receive rest for our souls?
COME TO ME...
The first thing we must do to be free from our stress and our worry is to come unto Jesus. Without Him, our life has no real purpose or depth. We simply run from one activity to another, seeking to fill our lives with purpose, peace, and happiness. "All man's efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied." (Ecc. 6:7). Things haven't changed much since the days of King Solomon. We work ourselves to the bone for the things we desire, only to crave more.
If we do not know our real purpose in life; our reason for existing, life is very meaningless indeed. Yet, God created each of us with a special purpose in mind. There is something that needs to be done on this earth that can only be done by you. Much of the stress that we carry springs from the fact that we don't know who we are or where we are going. Even Christians who know that ultimately they are going to heaven when they die, are still anxious in this lifetime because they do not really know who they are in Christ and who Christ is in them. No matter who we are, we are bound to have tribulation in this life. It is unavoidable, but having trouble in this life is not the issue anyway. The real issue is how we react to it. That is where stress is born. The trials we face in this world will either break us or make us strong.
"I will show you who he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them in to practice. He is like a man building a house who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came the torrents struck that house but could not shake it because it was well built." Luke 6:48. Jesus didn't say that once we built our house on the rock that everything would be perfect. No, He said that a flood came in torrents smashing against the house. The key is that the house was built on the rock of Jesus, and the rock of putting His words into practice. Is your house built on Jesus? Did you dig your foundation deep into Him, or was the house hastily erected? Is your salvation based on a prayer you prayed once or is it growing out of a committed relationship to Him? Do you come to Him every day, every hour? Are you putting His words into practice in your life, or do they lie there like dormant seed?
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--His good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:1-2
Until you have fully committed yourself to God, until your foundation is dug deep into Him, you will never be able to discern what His perfect will is for your life. When the storms of life come, as they are bound to do, you will only worry and fret and walk around with an ache in your back. Who we are under pressure reveals who we really are. The storms of life wash away the thin veneer that we present to the world and expose what lies in our heart. God, in His mercy, allows the storms to hit us so we will turn to Him and be cleansed of the sin that we were never able to perceive in times of ease. We can either turn to Him and receive a soft heart in the midst of all our trials, or we can turn away and harden our heart. The hard times in life will either make us pliable and merciful, full of faith in God, or angry and brittle, full of doubt and unbelief.
FEAR OR FAITH?
"If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). Ultimately, there are only two motivating factors in life: fear or faith. Until we truly know that God is for us, loves us, cares about us personally and hasn't forgotten us, we will base our life's decisions on fear. All fear and worry stems from a lack of faith in God. You may not think you are walking in fear, but if you aren't walking in faith, you are. Stress is a form of fear. Worry is a form of fear. Worldly ambition is rooted in a fear of being overlooked--of being a failure. Many relationships are based on the fear of being alone. Vanity is based on a fear of being unattractive and unloved. Greed is based on a fear of poverty. Even anger and rage are based on the fear that there is no justice, no escape, no hope. Fear breeds selfishness, which is the exact opposite of God's character. Selfishness breeds pride and indifference to others. All of these are sin and must be dealt with accordingly. Stress arises when we try to serve both ourselves (our fears), and God at the same time (which is impossible to do). "Unless the Lord builds the house, it's builders labor in vain...In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat." (Psalm 127:1-2).
The Bible says that when everything else is stripped away, only three things remain: faith, hope, and love--and that love is the greatest of the three. Love is the force that drives out our fear. "There is no fear in love but perfect love drives out fear, for fear has a torment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18). The only way we can get rid of our anxieties is to look them in the eye and deal with them at the root. If we desire for God to make us perfect in love, we will have to repent of every bit of fear and worry that we have clung to instead of Him. We may not like to face some of those things that are in us, but we must if we are ever to be free from them. If we are not merciless with our sin, it will be merciless on us. It will drive us like the most wicked of slavemasters. Worst of all, it will keep us from communion with God.
Jesus said in Matthew 13:22, "The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful." It is extraordinary what tremendous power there is in even the littlest things to distract us from God. We must stand our ground, and refuse to let the thorns choke out the seed of the Word. The devil knows that if he can distract us with all the cares of this world, we will never be a threat to him or fulfill the call that is on each our lives. We will never bear any fruit for the kingdom of God. We will fall far below God's intended place for us. Yet, God wants to help us to do our best in every situation that we face. That is all He asks--that we trust in Him, put Him first, and do the best we can. After all, most other circumstances that we worry about are beyond our control anyway. What a waste of time worrying is! If we only worried about the things that we have any direct control over, we would reduce our worrying by 90%!
Paraphrasing the Lord's words in Luke 10:41-42, Jesus is saying to each one of us, "You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Choose what is better and it will not be taken from you." Isn't it wonderful that the only thing that cannot ever be taken from us, is the only thing we really need anyway? Choose to sit at the Lord's feet and listen to His words and learn from Him. By so doing, you are putting a deposit of true riches into your heart, if you guard those words and put them into practice. If you are not daily spending time with Him and reading His Word, you are opening the door of your heart to the birds of the air who will steal the seeds of life deposited there, and leave worry in their place. As for our material needs, they will be taken care of when we seek Jesus first. "But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things will be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow will take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Matthew 6:33.
God has blessed us with a most powerful tool; His Living Word, the Bible. If used properly, it is a spiritual sword; separating our faith from our fear, drawing a clean line between the holy and the vile, cutting away the excess and bringing forth the repentance which leads to life. Stress merely indicates an area of our life where our flesh is still on the throne. The life that is totally submitted to God is marked by the trust born out of a thankful heart.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:27 (KJV).
TAKE MY YOKE UPON YOU...
How it must grieve God to see His children walking around in such misery! The only things we really need in this life, He already purchased for us at Calvary through a terrible, agonizing, and lonely death. He was willing to give everything for us, to make a way for our redemption. Are we as willing to do our part? Are we willing to lay our lives down at His feet, and take His yoke upon us? For if we do not walk in His yoke, we are bound to walk in another. We can either serve the Lord who loves us, or the devil who is bent on destroying us. There is no middle ground, nor is there a third option. Praise God that He made a way out of the cycle of sin and death for us! When we were completely helpless against the sin that raged in us and compelled us to run from God, He had mercy on us and ran after us, though we only cursed His Name. He is so tender and patient with us, not willing for even one to perish. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out. (Matthew 12:20). Are you bruised and broken? Is your flame dimly flickering? Come to Jesus now!
"Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend your money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me that your soul may live!" Isaiah 55:1-3.
BLESS THE LORD, O MY SOUL
When all is said and done, there are still times when we all face incredibly difficult circumstances that have an awesome power to destroy us. The best way to counteract stress in those times, is to begin to praise God and thank Him for His countless blessings in our lives. The old adage "count your blessings" really is true. In spite of everything, there are so many blessings woven throughout our lives that many of us do not even have the eyes to see them. Even if your situation seems hopeless, God is still worthy of all your praise. God delights in a heart that will praise Him no matter what the bankbook says, our family says, our time schedule says, or any other circumstance that would try to exalt itself against the knowledge of God. As we praise and bless the name of the Most High, everything else in this world begins to pale and fade away against the sheer loveliness of who He is.
Think of Paul and Silas, feet bound in stocks in a dark prison with a jailer standing guard over them. (Acts 16:22-40). They had just been severely flogged, ridiculed and attacked by a huge crowd of people. Instead of fearing for their lives, or becoming angry at God, they began to praise Him, singing out loud, careless of who might hear or judge them. As they began to praise Him, their hearts were soon overflowing with the joy of the Lord. The song of those two men who loved God more than life itself began to flow through them like a river of liquid love into their cell and out into the entire prison. Soon, there was a flood of warm light bathing the whole place. Every demon there began to flee in utter terror of that praise and love to the Most High. Suddenly, an amazing thing happened. A violent earthquake shook the prison, the doors flew open, and everybody's chains came loose! Praise God! Praise always brings freedom, not only for ourselves, but for those around us who are bound up as well.
We must get our mind off of ourselves and the problems we face and onto the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. One of the miracles of a life transformed by God is that we can be thankful always, and praise Him in all situations. This is what He commands us to do, for He knows better than we do that the joy of the Lord is our strength. God does not owe us anything, but He has made a way for us to receive every good thing anyway, because He loves us! Is that not a reason for celebration and thanksgiving?
"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer and enables me to go on the heights." Habakkuk 3:17-19.
"Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; Who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; Who satisfieth thy soul with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's." Psalm 103:1-5 (KJV).
Won't you take some time right now to re-commit your life to the Lord? If you don't know Him, ask Him into your heart. If you do know Him tell Him that you want to know Him better. Confess your sins of worry, fear and lack of faith and tell Him that you want Him to replace those things with faith, hope and love. No one serves God by his own strength--we all need the power and the strength of the Holy Spirit to permeate our lives and continually lead us back to the precious cross, back to the Living Word. You can make a fresh start with God, starting this very minute. He will fill your heart with a brand new song, and joy unspeakable and full of glory!
"But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and you shall go forth, and grow up (leap) like calves released from the stall." Malachi 4:2. (KJV)