This past week I was given the opportunity to teach to a local high school ministry on the topic of “Stress & the Gospel” and it gave me a chance to meaningfully reflect on how the gospel speaks directly to the stress we experience.
We live in a culture of busy.
Work, school, exercise, cooking, cleaning, more email than we know what to do with (especially those of us who just let them pile up and we get the red notification number of death staring at us daily), extracurricular activities (kickball anyone?), social media, social lives, volunteering, friendships, shopping, podcasts, church, birthdays, kid’s sporting events, house work, etc. The list could keep on going…
Now, it can be up for debate on how “busy” we are. Some say they are busy as a socially acceptable way of saying “no”, others of us are experiencing perceived busyness, while others of us use it as a way to make us feel important – because if you’re busy you are important…right?…right? I’m important right?!?
Then, for some of my students, they are “SO BUSY”, but being “SO BUSY” didn’t keep them from playing 3 hours of Xbox, checking SnapChat or Instagram 15 times an hour, or sending 5,000 emojis to my phone. I digress…
No matter where we land on the spectrum of busyness, many of us are cramming our lives to the brim where there is little to no margin or healthy rhythms. We seem to be a culture that is in perpetual stress.
What is stress?
Psychology Today describes stress this way –Stress is simply a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium. I’ve also heard it described this way, “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.”
Some stress can be good. It can keep us active and alert when we should be like when we slam on our brakes to avoid an accident or need to defend ourselves from potentially harmful circumstances. However, long-term stress can have detrimental effects on your health and can lead to depression.
Why do we stress?
We stress for a multitude of external reasons – major life shifts, work, school, relational difficulties, financial issues, busyness, children, etc. However, at the root of all of these external issues is an internal issue – an unbelief and lack of faith in our Heavenly Father.
Dr. John Piper argues, “All our sinning grows out of unbelief in the living God and what he has said to us in Scripture.” I would agree with him! Hebrews 3:12 states, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”
We becomes anxious and stressed because we don’t believe He’s in control, looking out for our good or will provide for us when we need him most. Yet, that’s not the picture the scriptures paint of our Heavenly Father. It authoritatively claims that he is absolutely in control (Ps. 115:3), is doing good for his people (Rom. 8:28) and will always provide for his people (Matt. 6:30).
6 Ways to Fight Stress
So, like any half-way decent preacher, I came up with a cheesy acronym to help you fight the stress in your life.
(S)eek first the kingdom of God. When Jesus commands us to not be anxious, he gives us the charge to seek first the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33). We must first do soul work before we get to our vocational work. We must seek God’s will through faithful study of the Scriptures and daily prayers for strength. When we care more about his kingdom than our own, it will ground us in faith and not worry.
(T)urn to God. In writing “turn to God” I’m implying to turn from something else. When we get stressed we run to so many other things don’t we? Netflix binge watching. A whole gallon of Blue Bell Homemade Ice cream. Pornography. Friends. Bad habits. Bad relationships. None of these things work and, even worse, they make us feel even more stressed after. God is the one who will give your soul the peace it needs. He alone can provide it.
(R)un to prayer. The apostle Paul wrote, “The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:5-7). Instead of being anxious we are to run to prayer. When we run to prayer the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
(E)xamine the birds and lilies of the field. In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us that instead of stressing we should look at the birds and lilies. So take a moment to step outside, observe nature and then your ask yourself this question. Ask yourself, if God provides for them will he not also provide for us? Then remind yourself that you are of more value than they and that your Heavenly Father will provide for you.
(S)eek to cultivate thanksgiving. We are called to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). Paul believed this to be a key aspect to cultivating the inward peace of God in the midst of stress when he said that we should pray “with thanksgiving” (Phil. 4:6-7). Thankfulness has a way of reminding us that circumstances aren’t potentially as bad as they seem and keeps us from bitterness.
(S)abbath. One of the reasons we are so stressed is because we have no margins in our lives and no day to disconnect. That is what the Sabbath is supposed to do! God commanded his people to Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11), Jesus reminds us that he is Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8) and the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27). So take a day to turn all technology off, read your Bible, pray, spend time with your loved ones, get outside in nature and do things that fill your soul.
All of life is going to be full and I believe it should be. There is a lot of life to be lived and a lot of work to be done. However, in Christ, we can live full lives overflowing with peace and joy instead of stress and anxiety.
So when you start to stress just remember to S.T.R.E.S.S. and let the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.