If we’re really being honest with ourselves, we can admit that stress, in all of its different shapes and forms, is an inescapable feature of life. But it is up to the individual as to how we choose to manage our stress. If we stubbornly choose to white-knuckle our stress without seeking God’s help, we only exacerbate our problems and fail to find authentic and lasting relief. The only way we can reliably secure victory over stress is through actively seeking relationship with God. It is my experience that I contend with my most formidable battles with stress when I neglect my relationship with God.
Unfortunately, though, our knee-jerk reaction to stress often involves some futile version of self-medication where God’s presence is painfully absent. Whether we try to anesthetise our stress by bingeing the latest Netflix series or drinking a six-pack of Victoria Bitter on a Wednesday night, our flesh does its best to convince us that it has the answers; and that the answer invariably means stiff-arming God and trusting our own deceitful and desperately wicked hearts (Jeremiah 17:9). Like the dog that returns to its own vomit or the sow that returns to wallow in the mire (2 Peter 2:2), when we do not seek God in the midst of our stress, we are the fools that the Bible speaks of that returns to our own folly. But it is only by forsaking any hope in being our own saviour and trusting fully in God that we are rescued from the gnawing effects of stress in our life.
What then are some easy, effective, biblical actions that we can take to manage our stress? What are some reliable tools that can help recalibrate our hearts away from our seemingly endless earthly concerns and back to Christ’s eternal and loving embrace?
Reading God’s Word: In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4). Scripture constantly reminds us why worry and anxiety do not come from God. When we immerse our minds into the inerrant and piercing sweetness of God’s Word, we invite the Holy Spirit to take occupancy in our heart and peel away the calloused layers of stress and anxiety that chip away at our peace.
Prayer: This one might seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes getting down on our knees to prayer is harder than it seems. Praying through our stress demands that we focus on God instead of our own worldly problems. When we are able to interrupt the automaticity of stressful thinking by focusing on God through the power of prayer, we have a tool of nuclear proportions at our disposal. 1 John: 5:14-15 says “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him.”
Worship: Stress frequently stems from the adverse circumstances we encounter in life, which can cause us to indignantly blame God or ignore Him because things aren’t going the way that we would like them to. It’s challenging to sing God’s praises and hold onto a sour attitude towards Him at the same time. If you are struggling to find the right words, it can be helpful to plunge yourself into God’s Word to help worship our magnificent Creator. Psalm 100 serves as a pithy and potent exhortation to praise—telling us to “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness!” and “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise!” God isn’t bothered whether we howl or whisper our praises, as long as we are opening our mouths and worshipping our God with a joyful and glad heart.
Asking for Help: Stress can be an indication that we are overburdened with too many responsibilities. It’s often a sobering reminder that we are limited and flawed creatures that simply cannot cope when left to our own perennially malfunctioning devices. If you are encountering a significant amount of stress, it may be time to ask for help from friends, family or even seek pastoral or ministerial care. Resist the temptation to walk away from the body of Christ when you feel overwhelmed. The body of Christ is meant to lift us up when we’re down and support us in times of need. Hebrews 10:24-25 says “And let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds. Let us not neglect meeting together as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Consider Lightening Your Load: Too much prolonged stress may mean it is time to establish some boundaries, and start saying ‘’no’’ even when it is hard to do so. When we are feeling overwhelmed by our stress, it might be wise to take ourselves out of the situation. We may need to reduce our workload, knowing that it is not sinful to put some of our responsibilities on the backburner for a season. No matter what we are facing, though, we should continue to depend on God’s strength and pray for peace, knowing that He has promised to help us. ‘’God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and mountains fall into the heart of the sea’’ (Psalm 46:1-2).
These biblical practices help us abandon our maladaptive, worldly responses to stress that so often estrange us from the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, (Philippians 4:6) and find rest in Him instead. Making a conscious effort to connect with an all-powerful, living God who promises to work all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28) go a long way to ward off the fated slings and arrows of the day-to-day stress in our lives.
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