Stress is on the rise in today's world. The good news is that although Christians may be in the world, according to the words of Jesus recorded in John 17:16, we are not of the world! We don’t have to operate in the world's system—thinking, talking, or acting like the world—and we shouldn't! In fact, our attitude and approach toward situations should be entirely different from the world's.
The source of our stress isn’t really difficulties, circumstances and situations. It’s our attitude and approach toward them. The world (unbelievers) responds to difficulties with upset, but Jesus said in John 14:27 to …stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed…. He never promised that we wouldn't have to deal with anything disturbing or disappointing.
In John 16:33, Jesus said, ...In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.] Jesus said difficulties would come our way, but they don’t have to upset us. We don't have to accept the stress being offered. We have the privilege of approaching the challenge in a calm, peaceful manner.
Recently, I’ve noticed in a greater way than ever before how my own situations can be turned around by the right attitude and approach. If I approach something in dread, I have already set myself up for misery before I begin. If I believe that something is going to be hard, I get what I believe! On the other hand, if I refuse to dread or have a negative outlook, I open the door for God to work and help me. I’m learning to push my "reset button" when Satan gets me upset!
We’re created by God to handle a certain amount of stress. It’s impossible to be alive and never experience stress at all. It comes in the form of mental, emotional or physical tension and strain. However, if we do not manage it and take measures to avoid more stress than we can properly handle, we’re asking for trouble. Sickness is definitely a result of long-term stress. Even mental illness can result from a lifetime of stress. As I mentioned earlier, stress is a result of a wrong attitude and approach, not the result of circumstances.
We can look at several examples:
1. With the proper attitude, I don't have to get upset if I get caught in a traffic jam. I can decide to enjoy myself right where I am, even though I’d rather not be there, or I can become upset trying to do something that I can’t do anything about. It’s my decision!
2. If I have a plan and it becomes evident that my plan isn't working, I can get upset, angry, confused, and even try to make it work (even though I see clearly that it’s not going to). I can also choose to adapt and go with the flow, determining not to lose my peace over something that I can't change anyway. It’s my decision!
3. When people don't act or respond the way I think they should or would like them to, I can try to change them, resent them, hate them, be angry at them or be offended. I also have the option to choose to forgive, realizing that I, too, have weaknesses and can respond the way Jesus would. It’s my decision!
Just as I was working on this article today, I’ve had to deal with about four disappointing situations. It’s been one of those testing days. Early this morning as I began to see the way things were going, I declared out of my mouth, "I’m not glad this happened, but I’m not going to lose my joy. I can be happy with or without it!" I believe when we respond in this way, we’re setting borders for the enemy. We’re saying, "You may have touched my outer life, but you can’t get to my inner life."
The kingdom of God is within us. Kingdom living is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). Don’t allow Satan to keep you upset and stressed out all the time. Change your attitude and approach, and God will change your circumstance in due time.
Here are several things we can do to reduce stress:
Stop Thinking and Talking About Your Problems
The state of upset or arousal sets off an alarm in the body to defend itself from threatening, hostile events. Even thinking of an upsetting event or imagining danger can also trigger the alarm. A chain of responses are set into motion inside us to fight or run from the circumstance.
Don't Be Overcommitted
Do you have too much to do? This seems to be the number one complaint I hear today. When I ask people how they are, about 50 percent respond, "I'm busy." Common sense tells us that God isn’t going to stress us out and lead us to do more than we can. Therefore, if we’re being led by God's Spirit, saying yes when He says yes and no when He says no, we should be able to accomplish what He gives us to do and walk in peace. Do you need to say no more often? We should be sure when our heart says no that our mouth isn’t saying yes. Sometimes trying to keep other people happy can make us very unhappy. A person must be really careful in this area, especially if he has a tendency toward being a people pleaser.
Receive God's Grace
Grace is the power of the Holy Spirit to live without stress. God, however, won’t give us the grace to be disobedient. If He’s telling us not to do something that we decide to do anyway, we’ll experience the painful loss of His anointing. Grace equals ability. God gives us grace to match our call. When we do our own thing, we do it on our own. When we follow His leading, He always supplies the energy. Remember,God will feed Isaac, but we will have to feed Ishmael!
Remember when God promised Abraham and Sarah a child? They got ahead of God and worked out a plan to have Ishmael. Finally, Isaac came according to God's promise. Ishmael's name means "man of war." Isaac's name means "laughter." Ishmael represents works of the flesh, which always produce struggle and stress. Isaac, however, represents waiting for God's promise, which requires faith and always brings rest.
God wants us to burn on, not burn out! Burnout comes from physical and emotional exhaustion, especially as a result of long-term stress. Stress depletes our bodies; our immune systems become weak, and sickness—even depression—can set in. Are you suffering from burnout? Manifestations include extreme fatigue, headaches, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems, tension, nerves tied in knots, inability to relax, and no medical explanation for the symptoms. Other symptoms may be emotional exhaustion (crying easily), anger, negativity, irritability, cynicism, and bitterness about the blessings of others.
Burnout causes you to be "out of control" and no longer producing good fruit. Ignoring God's laws causes burnout. You can’t overwork your mind, emotions or your body and not eventually pay the price for excess. Whose pace are you moving at? Is it the pace God has set for you or someone else's pace? Are you stressed-out from trying to keep up with everyone else? Are you living under the stress of competition and comparison? Are you a perfectionist with unrealistic goals?
I believe we can live stress free in a stressful world, but it will require some decisions—possibly some radical decisions. Allow God's Spirit to lead you out of a stressful lifestyle and into one of peace and joy.