Sometimes we wish that all the stress and pressure of life would just go away. And yet sometimes the circumstances and situations that come our way make stress an absolute inevitability. Great! So now what?
The Stress of Circumstances
I wish I could tell you that there was something that you could do to avoid every stressful situation and circumstance in this world. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? But it just wouldn’t be real. Because no matter who we are, where we live, how young or old we are, how rich or poor we are … there are going to be those days when tough, difficult, stressful situations and circumstances arise.
Sure, some stressful things are avoidable. We’ve been talking about those already in this series that I’ve called Stress Busters. And when it comes to dealing with needless, avoidable stress – I’m definitely all for that!
But some stressful situation are totally unavoidable, and they’re the ones that we’re going to chat about for a few minutes today, because it seems to me the trick isn’t to hide our heads in the sand and pretend that we can make them go away. The trick is flourishing amidst the stress.
Now you might think that’s a crazy idea? Flourishing amidst stress? Get off the grass, who are you trying to kid? I know … I know that’s what some people are thinking right now. But this isn’t my idea. It’s something that Jesus came up with. It’s something He said to His disciples right at the most stressful point in His relationship with them.
He was soon to be crucified – the plot to have Him killed was well afoot and the disciples could feel that. Not only was Jesus threatened, but they were probably wondering – well, are we next. When they come and arrest Jesus and nail Him to a cross, are they going to do the same to us? There can’t be any greater level of stress than that.
So right at that moment, this is what Jesus says to them:
The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will face tribulation. But take courage; I have conquered the world (John 16:32,33)
So, the persecution is coming, they’re about to be scattered, running in fear for their lives, and Jesus tells them in this world you will face persecution. The original Greek word there that sits aback of the English translation ‘persecution’ – is thlipsis – means pressure, stress – literally it means to have the life squeezed our of you.
Just fantastic Lord, they must have been thinking. Thanks for that, just what we needed to know. A promise from God right in the moment when we’re in fear for our lives and Jesus tells us – in this world we will have the life squeezed out of you! Perfect!
But Jesus doesn’t leave it there. He goes on to say – But take courage, be of good cheer, don’t worry, I have conquered the world. All this I’ve said to you so that in me you might have … peace. Peace. The exact opposite of stress. Which would you rather have in your life – peace or stress? Well, peace obviously! But here’s the nub of what Jesus is saying – you can have that peace, right in this place where the life’s being squeezed out of you.
Did you get that? Jesus is saying – look, you won’t always be able to avoid pressure, in fact one thing’s for certain, you will have pressure, you will be squeezed but in the middle of that you can have confidence and peace, because I have overcome the world – something they would see just a few short days later when Jesus rose from the grace and appeared to them.
And friend, that’s His message for you today. I love how this powerful truth works its way out in the life and ministry of Paul the Apostle, who down the track, had more than his fair share of stress. Have a listen to what he writes from out in the field, out on assignment preaching the Gospel of Jesus to a hostile world – 2 Corinthians 1:8–11:
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we could rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
And there it is again, the same word that Jesus used for persecution – exactly the same wordthlipsis – unbearably crushed so that in their despair they thought they were going to die (you’d call that serious stress right?) And yet in the middle of all that, what gave them strength and peace? They relied on God. They trusted in Him. They were at the end of their tether, they had nothing left, life itself hung in the balance – so they did the only thing that they could do.
Come on, that’s what happens, especially let me say when we’re in the business of getting out there and doing God’s business; serving Him. I find it to be true that whenever I’m serving God, opposition comes thick and fast. The more powerfully I feel called to step out and serve my Lord, the more powerfully Satan hurls opposition my way.
It’s as though the armies of hell muster in opposition and unleash all their fury. I remember once, it was the first time I was to lecture at my old Bible College, where I’d been taught. It was a Thursday evening and I drove off from home. Before I’d gone half a kilometre, three different people had tried their darndest to run into me.
What’s going on? I thought to myself. And then I realised. That’s what happens when you’re serving Jesus. Opposition, disruption and stress and pressure gets hurled at you from every direction … every direction. So let’s not be amazed.
It happened to Jesus. It happened to Paul. It’s going to happen – guaranteed – to you and to me. It’s exactly what Jesus promised. In this world you will have thlipsis – tribulation, but be of good cheer, be confident, don’t be stressed, because I have overcome the world. And you know something, He has. Our confidence in those places at those times needs to be in Jesus – in Him and in Him alone.
Some time later, in his second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 8 to 15, Paul puts it like this:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture – ‘I believed, and so I spoke’ – we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
Friend, the message is clear. In this world you will have tribulation – but don’t worry, because right in that place, Jesus is there and He will carry you through. And when I’ve had nothing left in the tank, that’s the only thing that’s carried me through. Jesus. Let your confidence be in Him and Him alone. Now that’s what I call a stress buster.
The Stress of Evil
Evil seems like a strong word doesn’t it. I mean, by and large, you and I don’t think of ourselves as evil people. We’re not a murderer, or a rapist, or a child abuser – well, 99.99% of us aren’t. And so … the word evil seems just a tad … strong.
I’m guessing you know the story of Adam and Eve. God put them in the Garden of Eden, they had a fantastic life, they could do whatever they wanted, except eat the fruit of one of the trees in the garden. That’s all. I don’t think there was anything particularly special about that tree – no magic potions, no hallucinogens in its fruit. It’s just that God nominated this one tree to give Adam and Eve a choice – either to obey Him or not.
God always gives us a choice. Genesis 2:9:
Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
So what was the tree called … the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Where evil is defined as anything that rebels against God. Up until the point that Adam and Eve ate the fruit from that tree, they had no idea about what evil was. It may have been a concept, but they’d never experienced it in their lives. They didn’t know it, they had no knowledge of it. And God warned them:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die’ (Genesis 2: 15–17)
They couldn’t say that they didn’t know, right? But then the serpent tempted them, and Eve made the first move:
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. (Genesis 3:6–7)
Would you say that at that moment, when they knew for the first time, for themselves, the difference between good and evil, that they were stressed? I’d think so – because the very next thing they did was to hide from God when they hear him coming in the garden (just think about how silly that is).
But eventually God found them, and the consequences of their actions were devastating:
To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’
And to the man he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ …
Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’ — therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
Now again, would you say that this evil that they’d done in God’s sight caused them stress? Absolutely it did, and it was a stress that lasted for the rest of their lives. Well there – right there you have it – whenever you and I rebel against God, it is going to cause us pain and stress. I don’t care what it is that we do to rebel against Him, but there are going to be consequences. Serious consequences.
A husband doesn’t cherish his wife; a wife doesn’t honour her husband. Stress? You bet you!
A man decides that his life is all about making money and being wealthy – he chases after riches and sacrifices everything. Stress? Well, let’s take another look at what may well be a familiar passage to you:
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1 Timothy 6:9–10)
Now that’s what I call stress. What about anger and dissension and strife. Back biting, dishonesty?
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19–20)
Now that passage tells us that all those things will end in some serious stress – for those who do those things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But from experience we know that all of those things will also create stress here and now too. Strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness and all that jazz.
Would you like to work in a place that has just one of those things going on – factions and dissensions for example. Perhaps you do – well, that’s what you’d call a stressful workplace. Would you like to live in a family where one member is constantly drunk? Anyone who has will tell you that that causes tremendous stress.
You’re getting the picture right? Sin – sorry to bring that word up, but that’s what God calls it, or would you prefer evil perhaps? – evil always results in stress. That’s the bottom line.
It promises a lot up front, it’s so seductive, but it only ever delivers us stress and trouble. Some people – and perhaps you’re one of them, I’m being very direct here, kind but direct – some people are wanting to hang on to some bit of evil in their lives, some particular sin and rationalise it away as though it was nothing. But it’s like a thorn in their flesh – it causes them stress over and over again.
I am not going to forgive her for doing that to me!! Okay, don’t forgive her, but you’re going to suffer the stress of unforgiveness for as long as you care to hang on to that sin!
My friend if you want to rid your life of stress, then the quickest and easiest way of getting started is to root out the sin in your life, pull it up by the root and throw it out. The moment you forgive, the moment you deal with your pride, the moment you stop quarrelling with people at work and stirring up trouble – the stress in your life starts to subside.
Why? Because God only labels something as evil, as sin, if it’s going to hurt us. Get rid of the sin, and it stops hurting us.
It’s that simple. The only question is … what are you waiting for?
A Time to Reflect
If you had to sum up your life, right at the moment – where you’re at, what you’re feeling, the things that are causing you to stress out – the amount of pressure and stress that you feel under, what would you say? In 25 words or less – where are you at in your life, when it comes to stress and anxiety, fear and uncertainty.
Is the picture that you’d paint me bright and sunny, a bit overcast, or is there a great storm raging? I guess what I’m trying to do here is to hold up a mirror and get you to take a look at your life, yourself, your stress levels.
Stress is a bit like a chronic disease – well, actually, for many … it is a chronic disease. I was listening to an interview on the radio just the other day, of a man who had kidney disease.
In the 12 months leading up to its diagnosis and treatment, he started noticing the symptoms, but being a typical male, he didn’t go to the doctor. You know how it is, you’re busy, you’re focussed on this or that, and this little symptom niggles away at you over here, and then it seems to go away, and then another one over there and it’s … incremental. It builds up really slowly over time.
After a while he realised something was wrong but he still didn’t go to the doctor, so by the time he was feeling really sick and had it checked out, he was actually seriously ill.
It’s a bit like that with stress in our lives. Tossing and turning at night. Not feeling happy, this … that … But then you’re busy, so you brush it aside, and all the time the stress is building, until something snaps. That’s why people have breakdowns. That’s why relationships are torn apart. Most of us don’t cut a pretty picture when we’re under a lot of stress. It’s not good for us and it’s not good for the people around us.
So how are you going? Are you noticing that things aren’t what they should be? Are you burning the candle at both ends, wondering why you’re so tired? Are you letting certain people get to you? Are money worries … worrying you? Come on, what is it that’s been niggling away there in your life, in your heart and in your mind – bubbling away under the surface, that you’ve been trying to ignore desperately, but the more you try to ignore it, the worse it seems to get.
God’s a really practical God. You don’t have to read very far in the Bible to discover that – and He is vitally interested in dealing with the stress in your life. Take Psalm 55 – it’s all about the treachery of a friend. Here it is in a nutshell:
My companion laid hands on a friend and violated a covenant with me with speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war; with words that were softer than oil, but in fact were drawn swords (verses 20, 21)
Not very nice but it happens and it causes … stress. See how God deals with really practical stuff that happens in our lives? Just as He was interested in the plight of King David who wrote that Psalm, He’s interested in your plight, in your circumstances and your stress. And the solution to that stress comes in the very next verse of that Psalm – verse 22 of Psalm 55 – and that’s what I would like to leave you with this week:
Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved
It’s a beautiful picture – casting your burden on the Lord – and that’s what I want to encourage you to start doing this week. God wants to help carry your heavy loads. God wants to lighten your load. God wants to be part of the solution to eliminating stress and bringing peace in your life. So …
Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved
Where are you at in your life? What stress are you grappling with? What are you struggling with? Are you thinking to yourself I just can’t cope with it anymore. I’ve been dealing with this for so long … I’ve been struggling in this relationship for so long … I’ve been struggling with this problem at work for so long … I’ve been struggling with money problems for so long. I just can’t deal with it anymore.
Friend, we are often going to be under pressure, pressure is often something we cannot avoid. Stress is our reaction to the pressure. Stress is what we do with the pressure. When you’re lying there at night turning it over in your mind, struggling, worrying, imagining all the bad things that can happen. Jesus is in that dark place with you, Jesus who gave peace to His disciples, is in that dark place with you. The Jesus that wants to bring peace to you, is in that dark place with you. Cast your burdens on the Lord, he will sustain you. He will never permit the righteous to be moved. That is a beautiful truth.
If you’re struggling with some dark thing at the moment and you don’t know how to deal with the stress, I want to take you and encourage you to read Psalm 55 this week. Maybe read nothing else just spend your time in Psalm 55 day after day after day. And experience the love and the power and the mercy of your Lord Jesus Christ.
And in our next program – in fact our next two programs in this series – Stress Busters – we’ll be discovering exactly how to do that. Where? In the Bible of course – God’s love letter to you. So I’m really looking forward to catching up with you again next time around. Remember to cast your burdens on the Lord He will sustain you.
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