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Spiritual First Aid
“Handling Life’s Stresses”
We cannot talk about stress without also talking about its two cousins, anxiety and worry. They all fit into same category.
Stress is a state of mind causing tension and strong feelings of anxiety and worry. Those who are under stress often exhibit signs of increased hypertension, headaches, aches and pains, and difficulty in sleeping.
Anxiety is the overall feeling of being worried about the uncertainties of life. It’s a feeling of unease and concern resulting in such behaviors as compulsiveness, apprehension, fear, nervousness, panic attacks, tension, and stress.
Worry is allowing the mind to dwell on the difficulties and uncertainties that accompany life. Worry produces unhappiness, nervousness, and causes people to become frightened.
Things that people become anxious and worried about and that cause unhealthy stress consists of things like health, work, finances, family, and the future.
Effects of Stress
Certain amounts of stress can be positive, keeping us safe when dangerous situations happen. But too much stress produces anxiety that can lead to several physical symptoms like headaches, muscle tension and aches, restlessness, high blood pressure, upset stomach and nausea, tiredness, fatigue, and sleep disorders. Stress leading to anxiety has also been “linked to six of the leading causes of death; heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and even suicide.”
Emotional problems also surface such as fear, anger or being constantly irritated, a constant state of worry, sadness, depression, and a general feeling of being overwhelmed resulting in panic attacks.
This results in such outward behaviors as eating disorders, outbursts of anger, addictions to drugs and/or alcohol, and being withdrawn from society.
So I think it’s safe to say that stress is not to be messed around with.
There are three realities about stress and its cousins that we need to understand.
First, they don’t work. Stress, anxiety, and worry accomplish and solve nothing. They’re like pushing the gas petal in a car while it remains in park. It revs up the engine and makes a lot of noise, but goes nowhere. They cannot change our past nor control our future. All they do is make us miserable in the present.
Next, they’re not reasonable. They exaggerate the problem making mountains out of molehills, that is, they only expand the problem making it bigger that its reality.
And finally they strangle the life right out of us. This comes from the Old English word for “worry,” which means to strangle. Our bodies were not made to handle all the stress, anxiety, and worry we place upon it.
So predominate is stress, anxiety, and worry in our culture that a whole new medical field had to be developed to deal with it, Psychology. But the good news is that God, our Great Physician, has already written out the prescription.
The Bible says,
“An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” (Proverbs 12:25, NIV)
Anxiety, worries, and stress weighs heavily upon the heart and can cause all kinds of heart related illnesses. Therefore the Bible tells us not to be anxious in the first place. Paul says in Philippians 4:6; “Be anxious for nothing.”
These three also move us away from trusting God to trusting in ourselves instead. But Proverbs 2:7 says not to be wise in our own understanding.
Stress, along with its cousins is literally the sin of not trusting God in whatever we’re facing. They also cause us the focus on the wrong thing.
“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not! And if worry can’t do little things like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?” (Luke 12:25-26 NLT)
Stress, anxiety, and worry also give us the wrong perspective, telling us that God isn’t big enough to handle our problems and difficulties.
With this now under our belt, let’s take a look at the causes and cures for stress and its cousins.
Busyness is one of the big stressors of our day. What’s sad, however, it that its considered one of our society’s biggest virtues. We talk with pride about our ability to multitask, work long hours, or having a career that takes us away from our homes and families. Unfortunately, such boasting about how busy we are is counterproductive because of all the stress it produces.
So how can you know if busyness is a stressor in your life? Here’s a short quiz to see how we’re doing.
If you answered yes to any of these, which most of us have, and if you’re like me more than one, then busyness is a stressor.
This, however, is not what God wants, nor is it how He created us, and it isn’t the type of life He desires for us.
“It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.” (Psalm 127:2 NLT)
If we’re burning the candle at both ends then we’re not as bright as we think. Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is to go home and go to bed. That’s why when I take a nap, I’m being as spiritual as I can get.
King David in His Shepherd’s Psalm reveals God’s plan
“He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.” (Psalm 23:2 NKJV)
When we give our lives over to the Lord He gives us both rest and refreshment. God wants us to live balanced lives; therefore He doesn’t want us working all the time. Instead of adding more to our plate, the Lord is more likely to take some things off so we can slow down.
I like what King David says in how God “makes” us lie down. If we don’t stop to smell the roses now, God might make us lie down and smell them from a hospital bed.
Like a pacemaker a doctor places inside of us to regulate our heart, we need the Lord to be our pacemaker. He’s the one who formed us and therefore He’s the only one who knows what pace we should be living our lives.
The Three “G’s”
Life’s tough, and we constantly get beat up by discouragement, depression, despair, and disasters, or what I like to call the “Dreaded D’s,” which we’ll deal with separately. But it is through these “Dreaded D’s” that these three “G’s” of stress, guilt, grief, and grudges manifest themselves.
Nothing destroys a soul faster than guilt.
King David said,
“For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.” (Psalm 38:4 NKJV)
There are plenty of reasons we feel guilty. We all make mistakes and by our very nature carry around the guilt associated with them. But instead of letting guilt drag us down, we need to give it over to God, because He’s the only one who can remove it.
“God declares us ‘not guilty’ of offending him if we trust in Jesus Christ, who in his kindness freely takes away our sins.” (Romans 3:23 LB)
The most basic truth in Christianity is that Jesus Christ has already paid for our sins. No psychologist can remove our guilt because only God has the power to forgive our sins and to take away the guilt that goes along with it. Further, God’s forgiveness isn’t based upon how bad our sins are, but rather on how good God is.
Grief is one of those stressors that we cannot control or prevent. We grieve not only due to our own actions, but also the actions of others. This happens because earth isn’t heaven and life is far from perfect.
If there is anyone who understood this it was King David. He was well acquainted with grief. He understood how much it damages our soul.
“Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble; my eye wastes away with grief, yes, my soul and my body.” (Psalm 31:9 NKJV)
When grief overwhelms we shouldn’t throw a pity party, play the “what if” game, or withdraw and isolate ourselves. Instead we should employ these three things.
To relieve our grief the Lord has given to us His Son, Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah said that He would console those who mourn, give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for sadness, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. (Isaiah 61:1-3)
How we handle our resentments against those who hurt us will determine if we turn out bitter or better. Holding onto grudges really isn’t the smart move.
“You may tear out your hair in anger, but will that destroy the earth? Will it make the rocks tremble?” (Job 18:4 NLT)
I only have so much hair left, so I can’t afford tearing any more out over what others have done.
To counter grudges we need to, once again, turn them over to the Lord and forgive others just as God in Christ has forgiven us. We are to accept God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and then offer that same forgiveness to those who hurt us. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
To end these three G’s, what we don’t need any more self-help books; instead we need Jesus to restore our souls, and to heal our damaged emotions.
Life is all about the choices we make. We make our decisions and then our decisions make us, because every decision has consequences. That’s why decisions are so stressful. We’re afraid of making the wrong decision, or we haven’t made a decision because we’re unsure of the outcome.
The Apostle James says,
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God…But let him ask in faith, with no doubting…For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-8 NKJV)
The Greek word for ‘unstable’ literally means to stagger around as if we were drunk. When we can’t make up our minds then we end up staggering through life.
God’s prescription for indecision understands that God not only feeds us, but that He also leads us. God not only provides for us, but He also guides us. And God not only protects us, but directs us as well.
We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, and while we make our plans, things change. This means that we need God’s guidance so we don’t end up on the wrong path, or worse, at a dead end.
The Bible says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12 NKJV)
James also says we need to ask in faith without doubting. In other words, we totally believe in God’s ability to deliver. Therefore we need to have our spiritual receptors open and tuned into the Lord’s channel to receive what He’s saying, and that’s through God’s word.
Finally we need to trust the Lord even when we don’t understand or it doesn’t make sense.
When the children of Israel began their march to freedom from Egypt, God led them to what they considered to be a dead end, that is, the Red Sea. But God was preparing them for His deliverance. You see God had already made a way for them to cross; it was just on a path they couldn’t see at that moment.
“Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters— a pathway no one knew was there!” (Psalm 77:19 NLT)
Our path, while it may seem right, will lead to everlasting death. God’s path leads through Calvary and Jesus’ death upon the cross, but the end of God’s path is an eternity in heaven in His presence.
Many people are so concerned about what the future may hold that they never enjoy their present. We constantly wonder what’s going to happen tomorrow, will we have a job or a family, or will we or a loved one die, and these questions are literally endless and increase our stress level.
But Jesus tells us not to allow the future to stress us out.
“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34 NLT)
We really don’t have to fear the future, because not only is God watching over us, He’s also working His grace within us, and heaven is waiting for us.
What we need to understand is that this life is but a vapor compared to eternity. So we really don’t have to get all stressed out about our future. Instead let’s start investing our lives in what really matters now, and that is investing our lives in the Kingdom of God and our relationship with Jesus Christ.
To end our time together, I’d like to give God’s prescription to this overall issue of stress.
The Bible’s Prescription
Believe God Cares
I thought about saying, “Know God Cares,” but the problem with that is that while many of us know God cares we don’t believe He cares for us.
King David said, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1)
Like a shepherd the Lord is going to take care us. The question becomes how? It may help to know what shepherds do for their sheep. They provide, protect, guide, and correct, and this is what God has promised to do for all those who place their trust in Him.
Isaiah said concerning Jesus, “He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11 NKJV)
Therefore it’s through Jesus that God provides.
Paul said, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19 NKJV)
Pray About Everything
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV).
Only prayer can release us from the paralysis of anxiety, because only God can release us from its grip. Peace of mind is the greatest evidence we’re being healed, which is what happens when we turn our anxieties, worries, and stress over to God.
The Apostle Peter said,
“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you” (1 Peter 5:7 NLT).
We need to pray about whatever it is that has us stressed out. If we took the time to pray about everything that has us stressed out, then we’d have a lot less to stress out about.
Focus On God
Jesus tells us not to worry about our needs, because God already knows all of them. He said, “For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:32b NKJV).
The question is “What things.” Jesus earlier describes this saying,
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25 NKJV)
And then Jesus gives us this very prescription we’re looking at saying,
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:25, 33 NKJV)
When we get our focus on God, and are fully assured that He cares for us and knows our needs, then God will take away the stress, anxiety, and worry that comes with it.
Why are we worried when God is on our side, how can we possibly lose.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31 NKJV)
Wednesday Evening Bible Study