November 7, 2017

Stressed to the Max: How Does God Want Us to Deal with Stress?

This is part 2 of a 2-part blog series on the issue of stress.

In the previous post, we looked at what stress is, how we know if we’re too stressed, and what impact stress has on our relationship with God.

How Does God Want Us to Deal With Stress?

“Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.” (Prov. 8:34)

Is it possible to be supremely busy without the stress overwhelming us and without getting cranky and irritable?

Can we manage stress biblically? Are Christians even supposed to get stressed? Is it sinful?

In the BBC documentary, The Truth about Stress, there was this professor who talked about us ‘faking it to make it’—basically he said that our bodies react to stress and excitement the same way. He suggested that when we are stressed, we just need to say out loud ‘I am excited’ to trick our body into thinking it’s not stressed. I don’t know if this would actually work, but I do know this method is trying to change our attitude without addressing the circumstances. I know for sure this will be a temporary solution. What we need is not a temporary solution to our problem, but to find the solution in Christ. During our stress, God hasn’t been absent but right there with us, engaging with us in every moment. He has been working to change our hearts and using circumstances to prod the unwilling heart.

Pay attention to the warning signs?

Our responses to the pressures and stresses in life are important. When we don’t respond well, this can be harmful to us and others around us. We need to become self-aware and listen to our warning signs. As you saw from the list above, our bodies respond to stress in many ways, and these indicators or signposts are signs you need to be paying attention to. We all deal with and respond to things differently, so we need to start thinking through what our indicators are. I am one of those people who internalise their stress, but I have a few obvious ‘ticks’ and habits that indicate I’m really becoming overwhelmed by something. I know, for instance, when I unconsciously start massaging my forehead really slowly, like I’m trying to relieve a headache, I’m seriously stressed. Not only can our responses and attitudes to stress cause personal harm, but if we aren’t careful, we can hurt and harm those around us. Forewarned is forearmed—if we are forewarned about reoccurring sinful responses to stress and pressure, then we can be forearmed, consciously aware of our actions and sensitively, prayerfully fleeing the temptation to indulge in our sinful habits, such as anger and self-pity.

Find out what’s ruling you

When we allow the pressures around us to rule us instead of God, we are on slippery ground. They start to consume and overwhelm us—it’s like we start to serve our ‘To Do list’ instead of the living God. “I think of stress as some overly taxing pressure self-inflicted on the body by handling pressure wrongly, which, if continued over a long enough period of time, may make the body incapable of performing as it should by injuring it in some way or another. Stress often has to do with our attitudes: worry, bitterness, fear, etc. But when responsibilities are assumed out of gratitude to God, attitudes tend to take care of themselves; such problems are eliminated automatically.” –Jay E. Adams in the article ‘Handling the Problem of Pressure’ (Journal of Biblical Counseling, volume 10:4).

We need to examine our hearts and find out what’s ruling us and why we are letting it. This should hopefully drive us back to the Lord in repentance and prayer, putting him firmly back in charge. This doesn’t change our ‘To Do list’ but our attitude towards it—it no longer has power over us, ruling and driving us, but we have a right and helpful attitude towards it.

Take it one day at a time

Don’t try to deal with everything all at once. Today has enough for us to be dealing with without getting bogged down in this week’s problems—this month’s or this year’s issues. God has given us all that we need for today, and he wants us to depend on him for the now and trust him with what’s to come tomorrow. Too often, the stress we experience comes from self-imposed deadlines or goals.

Abide in Christ—His compassion never fails

I love Psalm 121, because it reminds me who is the source of my help and how the Lord watches over and protects us. I’ve got one of those pictorial brains, though, so when I am praying through this verse in my head, I always see life as the mountain and God sending these wee Sherpa dudes to help carry the load of troubles and stresses for me.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.’ (Psalm 121)

When we are stressed and troubled, this should drive us back to God, the source of all our help. Spending time with him recharges us and enables us to sustain the trials and persevere, growing through them and not being crushed by them. We need to make real time with God a priority in our day so that we might be realigned with his will, hear his wisdom in his Word, and spend time abiding in his presence.

“Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28–30)

Make wise life choices

It’s a fact that what you eat, how much you sleep, and how well you live has an impact on you. Think about the life choices you are making—choose well and wisely. I am always surprised by the number of people who say they haven’t the time for a quiet time, but will trawl Facebook for hours every day. We have enough time every day to do the tasks the Lord wants us to. Are we being wise about how we use our time? Be honest! Don’t hide the truth in the darkness, talk to the Lord and tell him the truth. Be truthfully accountable to godly Christians and ask them to pray for and with you.

God is using this for his good purposes. He will bring you out of this dark time; he can be trusted. It might not feel like it at the time. We need to rely on him and ask some hard questions of ourselves.

“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:13–14)

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