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Stress—the dictionary describes it as "mental, emotional or physical tension; strain, distress." I’d add to that: "feeling pressured or upset." It’s a condition that most of us are all too familiar with. It’s a normal part of everyday life, and none of us can get through a day without experiencing it in one way or another.
We live in a fast-paced world that places more demands on us with each passing year. People are hurrying everywhere, and they’re often rude and short-tempered. Many people are experiencing financial stress, marital stress and the stress of raising children. There’s mental stress on the job and often physical stress caused from overwork. Many times this stressful lifestyle causes health problems, only adding to the stress.
Our bodies were created by God to withstand a certain amount of stress, but when we push ourselves beyond that limit, we begin to experience problems. Are you pushing yourself too hard? Many people today are living in a perpetual state of overload—literally on the verge of collapse. But they continue stretching themselves to the limit… until, like a rubber band, one day they snap.
Even the atmosphere seems to be charged with stress and pressure. But the good news is that, as Christians, although we may be in the world, according to John 17:14-16, we are notof the world. We don't have to operate by the world's system, reacting like the world. Our attitude and approach should be entirely different. The world responds to difficulties by being upset, but Jesus said in John 14:27 that we should stop allowing ourselves to be agitated, disturbed or upset.
This verse indicates that we need a change of attitude. I’ve noticed that the right attitude and approach can completely turn a situation around. If I approach something in dread, I’m setting myself up for misery before I even begin because dread creates stress. But if I refuse to dread or have a negative outlook, I open the door for God to work supernaturally and help me. The choice is mine.
Jesus didn't promise that we’d never have to deal with stressful situations. In John 16:33, He 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.] This verse teaches us that we don't have to react to stress the way the world does. Because Jesus has deprived the world of its power to harm us, we should be able to approach the challenges we face in life in a calm and confident manner.
Luke 10:19 says, Behold! I have given you authority and power to trample upon serpents and scorpions, and [physical and mental strength and ability] over all the power that the enemy [possesses]; and nothing shall in any way harm you. Here Jesus is telling us that He has equipped us to overcome the world's ways. Even though we’ll be faced with challenging and stressful situations that won’t always be easy to handle, He assures us that nothing can defeat us if we handle things the right way—His way!
An important factor in enjoying a peaceful, stress-free life is learning to be obedient to the Lord. Following the leading of the Holy Spirit will always lead you into peace. He will never lead you into stress, because He is the Prince of Peace. Common sense tells us that God’s not going to stress us out and lead us to do more than we can do; however, we often do this ourselves.
It’s so important not to overcommit ourselves. Do you have too much to do? This seems to be the number one complaint I hear today. "There’s just too much to do and not enough time to do it all." This is often the result of not saying no often enough. Sometimes we say yes and commit ourselves to doing something that we really don't want or need to be doing. We take it on just to keep other people happy. We really need to be careful in this area and make sure that our mouth is not saying yes when our heart is saying no.
We also need to be sure that we're not overextending ourselves by trying to do too many things we want to do, whether it's part of God's plan for us or not. If we’re doing something He hasn’t approved, He’s under no obligation to give us energy to do it. I believe one of the major reasons why many people are stressed and burned out is because they’re going their own way instead of following God's plan. We need to follow the leading of the Spirit as to what we’re to be involved in and where we’re to expend our energy. We must learn to say yes when He says yes and no when He says no. When we’re obedient to His leading, we’ll be able to accomplish what He gives us to do and walk in peace.
Honestly, we aren’t really that capable of running our own lives. That’s why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to lead, guide and direct us. Romans 7:6 says we are to be led by the "prompting" of the Spirit. I can remember numerous times when I was tired and the Holy Spirit prompted me to rest, but I continued to push myself to go out or to have company. Then I’d end up exhausted, instead of just being tired. As you know, exhausted people usually get grouchy and impatient. This often caused strife in our home, leading to even more stress. If I had been obedient to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the entire problem could have been avoided. Obedience is exalting Jesus above our own natural, selfish desires. Are you exhausted ...or is Jesus exalted? I really believe obedience is the key to victorious, healthy, happy and peaceful living.
Another important lesson I've learned is to "bend so I will not break." The Bible says, ...readily adjust yourself to [people, things] and… if possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:16-18). Before I made the Word of God a priority in my life and decided to live an obedient life, I had to have my own way. I wasn’t adaptable. I wanted everyone else to adapt to me. Of course, that resulted in more strife and stress. I’ve now learned to bend. It’s not always easy on the flesh to give in and do things differently than I had planned, but it’s easier than being upset and miserable.
A prompting is a "knowing" down inside of you that lets you know what you should do. The prophet Elijah referred to it as a "still, small voice" (see 1 Kings 19:12). While you may not hear an audible voice, I believe you can sense God's wisdom giving you direction in certain situations.
I remember one time when I’d been shopping for several hours and was getting very tired. I had only purchased about half of the items I intended to buy, so I kept pressing on. The prompting of the Spirit within me was telling me to stop and go home, but because I hadn't accomplished my goal, I didn't. Although the other things I intended to get weren’t immediate needs, I didn't want to leave until I accomplished the goal I had set for myself. As I pushed myself beyond the point of being tired, it became difficult for me to think clearly. I then began to become impatient with other people. Even after I finally went home, I was out of sorts, and it affected my time with my family.
If I had obeyed the prompting of the Spirit and gone home to rest and relieve the stress, I would have felt so much better, and the situation at home would’ve been much more pleasant. We can avoid many stressful situations simply by obeying the Holy Spirit's prompting.
Burnout comes from physical and emotional exhaustion, especially as a result of long-term stress. When stress depletes our bodies, our immune systems become weak and sickness (even depression) can set in. Signs of burnout include extreme fatigue, headaches, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems and tensions. Other manifestations may also be your nerves tied in knots or an inability to relax—but the doctor can't find anything wrong. Emotional exhaustion (crying easily), anger, negativity, irritability, depression, cynicism and bitterness about the blessings of others can still be considered burnout syndrome.
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 body and not eventually pay the price.
Whose pace are you moving at? Are you keeping the pace God has set for you or someone else's? Are you stressed out from trying to keep up with everyone else? Living under the stress of competition and comparison? A perfectionist with unrealistic goals?
I believe we can live stress free in a stressful world, but it’ll require some decisions—possibly radical ones. Allow God's Spirit to lead you out of a stressful lifestyle and into one of peace and joy. Respect your body. Treat good health and feeling good as a valuable gift. Don’t waste the energy God has given you on stress. Save it for living and enjoying life.
Here are some wise instructions from God's Word to make the practice of peace a part of your everyday life. First of all, be still! Hush. Stop all the rushing around. Psalm 46:10 says, Be still, and know that I am God…. The Creator of the universe wants a word with you, but how can He really talk to you if you're always on the go? Chill and listen!
Second, prepare your heart to receive from Him—to hear His voice on a regular basis. Oh, that they had such a [mind and] heart in them always [reverently] to fear Me and keep all My commandments, that it might go well with them and with their children forever! (Deuteronomy 5:29). Can you hear the earnestness in God's voice as He makes that statement?
Finally, acknowledge Him in everything you do. Make it a lifestyle to be identified with Jesus Christ and faithfully be a doer of the Word. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).