What Does the Bible Say About Overcoming 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 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 can not 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)