I am a former atheist who discovered Jesus in June of 2000. Now I am a chaplain and a licensed UPC minister who loves the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. . . I once was blind, but now I see. . . never say never.
The following article is developed from a class I taught in the Elkhart County Jail June 10th, 2010.
How we handle stress has implications for nearly every aspect of our lives. Our health, our relationships, our careers, our spirituality are all hugely impacted by the way in which we react to and how we choose to handle stress.
In my own life, some examples of times where I have experienced high levels of stress:
While in basic training in the Army, when going through my wife's labor and delivery, as a young parent with an ill child, different times when I felt overwhelmed by my bills, when I faced uncertainty in my job, when I found out I had to have heart surgery. . .and on and on and on. We all can surely come up with our own lists of times where we have felt stressed out. . .
The word 'stress' is not found in the KJV Bible, but the word 'distressed' is found in 52 verses, in both the Old Testament (44 times) and in the New Testament (8 times). The first occurrence is in Genesis:
Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands;
Jacob is coming back after many years of being away. He left on very uncertain terms with his brother Esau. He does not know that Esau may hold a hatred against Jacob for receiving their father's blessing instead of Esau. Jacob tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing that Isaac intended to give Esau. Jacob is very fearful that Esau may come against him with armed men and kill him. . .
And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.
Joseph's brothers have come to Egypt to buy corn, because of the famine in their land. They were responsible for selling Joseph in to slavery. Their father Jacob, awaits back home with their youngest brother, Benjamin. Benjamin is especially beloved by Jacob. Joseph has just told them that to prove their integrity, they must return with Benjamin. This is an impossible situation for Joseph's brothers. It will tear the heart out of Jacob for Benjamin to come to Egypt. In his mind, he has already lost one son, Joseph. Who was sold by these very same brothers into slavery. Their stress levels are extremely high.
If you look at your own life, when you look at the verses of the Bible where people are under times of great stress, there is one common element, one common cause for stress. The less control that we feel we have, the higher the stress. Jacob did not know what Esau would do. There was great uncertainty as to whether he and his family and flock would be alive after meeting Esau. Joseph's brothers needed the corn from Egypt to avoid starvation in their own land. They had to have it, but Joseph put a condition on their receiving aid from him, that represented a huge unknown. Their father might even die in the anguish at having to send Benjamin to Egypt. . .
Bills can be overwhelming. You cannot see any avenue of keeping your utilities on, or making your car payment. . . You see in your minds eye, your electricity and water turned off, your car repossessed, your house in foreclosure. Your boss is in insensitive jerk. He's demanding, insulting, demeaning, but there is nothing that you feel that you can do. You must have your job. There just aren't other jobs to be had. You have no control over the situation. . .The economy, health issues, marital problems, career difficulties. . .each involve circumstances where we are subject to forces outside our ability to manipulate or control them. These problems create fear, tension. . . high levels of stress within us.
There are many healthy and unhealthy ways of handling stress. The use of Drugs and alcohol, over eating, escaping by trying to distract ourselves with television, movies, trying to escape by obsessive reading, or playing video games, the use of pornography. . . adulterous affairs, can all be ways in which we try to gain relief from stress. These are destructive reactions to stress.
Other possibly healthier ways off reacting to stress and trying to alleviate the symptoms of stress, are exercise, venting, and possibly meditation, but again these only treat the symptoms. They surely can be helpful, as an aspirin is helpful for a headache, but does not treat the underlying cause. Taking aspirin only masks the symptoms and does nothing for the underlying reason for the head to be hurting.
What do we do? What can we do? Stress left unchecked can literally kill us. High blood pressure, ulcers, premature aging, heart conditions, and a multitude of other physical conditions can be either caused or greatly aggravated by untended stress in our lives.
The Bible is so wonderful, as a resource for learning how to live our lives. . .
1 Samuel 30:6
And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God.
David was an outcast, running from Saul he went into the land of the Philistines. The city where he and his men were living was raided by Amalekites. The Amalekites burned the city. They kidnapped all the wives and children of the men. David was greatly stressed beyond anything that most of us have ever known. What did David do? He turned to the Lord. . .He prayed. . .He worshiped. . .Through the Lord, we are never without an advocate. Through the Lord, we are never powerless in any situation. Through the Lord. . .any burden becomes bearable. . .Turning to the Lord in times of stress, does not merely treat the symptoms of stress. Turning to the Lord through prayer and worship, removes stress from our lives. No matter what is happening in your life, there is hope in the Lord. . .No matter what is happening in your life. . .The Lord will take your stress. . .and turn it into hope and joy. . .
Pray to God. . .
Worship Him with everything you have. . .
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.