Justified Stress?

The spiritual roots of stress—and how to overcome it.

I had never experienced heart problems until a couple of years ago when I began to have heart palpitations. Over time, they became more frequent, and this worried me.

I finally told my wife. In case something happened to me,

I didn’t want it to come as a complete shock. She suggested I go to the doctor, but I resisted because I’m stubborn and that’s what I do.

You see, when I was honest I knew what the problem was. I was immersed in and overcome by stress. It was the Christmas season, and I had to take care of and think about a lot of things.

But on Christmas Eve, the issue intensified so much that I told my wife I would go to the emergency room after the church service. During the service, however, I surrendered all of my worries and stress to God. My symptoms slowly went away, and I never went to the doctor.

I used to believe that in this world there are two kinds of people: natural worriers and naturally joyful people. I couldn’t really help it that I was the worrying kind. I’m a problem solver, so I have to focus on things that need fixing. God can see that my intensity and anxiety are ministry related. I worry because I take His work seriously. Right?

But then there’s that perplexing command: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). You’ll notice that it doesn’t end with “…unless you’re doing something extremely important.” No, it’s a command for all of us, and it follows with the charge, “Do not be anxious about anything” (vs. 6).

That came as a pretty staggering realization. But what I realized next was even more staggering.

When I am consumed by my problems—stressed out about my life, my family and my job—I actually convey the belief that I think the circumstances are more important than God’s command to always rejoice. In other words, that I have a “right” to disobey God because of the magnitude of my responsibilities.

Worry implies we don’t quite trust that God is big enough, powerful enough or loving enough to take care of what’s happening in our lives.

Stress says the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace toward others or our tight grip of control.

Basically, these two behaviors communicate that it’s OK to sin and not trust God because the stuff in my life is somehow exceptional. Both worry and stress reek of arrogance. They declare our tendency to forget that we’ve been forgiven, that our lives here are brief, that we are headed to a place where we won’t be lonely, afraid or hurt ever again, and that in the context of God’s strength, our problems are small, indeed.

Why are we so quick to forget God? Who do we think we are?

I find myself relearning this lesson often. Even though I glimpse God’s holiness, I am still dumb enough to forget that life is all about God and not about me at all.

It goes sort of like this …

Suppose you are an extra in an upcoming movie. You will probably scrutinize that one scene where hundreds of people are milling around, just waiting for that two-fifths of a second when you can see the back of your head. Maybe your mom and closest friend get excited about that two-fifths of a second with you … maybe. But no one else will realize it is you. Even if you tell them, they won’t care.

Let’s take it a step further. What if you rent out the theater on opening night and invite all your friends and family to come see the new movie about you? People will say, “You’re an idiot! How could you think this movie is about you?”

Many Christians are even more delusional than the person I’ve been describing. So many of us think and live like the movie of life is all about us.

Now consider the movie of life …

God creates the world. (Were you alive then? Was God talking to you when He proclaimed “It is good” about all He has just made?)

Then people rebel against God (who, if you haven’t realized yet, is the main character in this movie), and God floods the earth to rid it of the mess people made of it.

Several generations later, God singles out a 99-year-old man called Abram and makes him the father of a nation (did you have anything to do with this?).

Later, along came Joseph and Moses and many other ordinary and inadequate people who the movie is also not about. God is the one who picks them and directs them and works miracles through them.

In the next scene, God sends judges and prophets to His nation because the people can’t seem to give Him the one thing He asks of them (obedience).

And then, the climax: The Son of God is born among the people whom God still somehow loves. While in this world, the Son teaches His followers what true love looks like. Then the Son of God dies and is resurrected and goes back up to be with God.

And even though the movie isn’t quite finished yet, we know what the last scene holds: the throne room of God. Here, every being worships God who sits on the throne, for He alone is worthy to be praised.

From start to finish, this movie is obviously about God. He is the main character. How is it possible we live as though it is about us? Our scenes in the movie, our brief lives, fall somewhere between the time Jesus ascends into heaven (Acts) and when we will all worship God on His throne in heaven (Revelation).

We have only our two-fifths-of-a-second-long scene to live. I don’t know about you, but I want my two-fifths of a second to be about my making much of God. First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” That is what each of our two-fifths of a second is about.

So what does that mean for you?

Frankly, you need to get over yourself. It might sound harsh, but that’s seriously what it means.

Maybe life’s pretty good for you right now. God has given you this good stuff so you can show the world a person who enjoys blessings, but who is still totally obsessed with God.

Or maybe life is tough right now, and everything feels like a struggle. God has allowed hard things in your life so you can show the world that your God is great and knowing Him brings peace and joy, even when life is hard. Like the psalmist who wrote: “I saw the prosperity of the wicked ... Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure ... When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God’ (Psalms 73:3, 13, 16-17). It is easy to become disillusioned with the circumstances of our lives compared to others’. But in the presence of God, He gives us a deeper peace and joy that transcends it all.

To be brutally honest, it doesn’t really matter what place you find yourself in right now. Your part is to bring Him glory—whether eating a sandwich on a lunch break, drinking coffee at 12:04 a.m. so you can stay awake to study or watching your 4-month-old take a nap.

The point of your life is to point to Him. Whatever you are doing, God wants to be glorified, because this whole thing is His. It is His movie, His world. His gift.

5 Comments

85,220

Sam Hudson commented…

This article hit home for sure. So often I find myself bogged down by worries or stress and God sweetly (yet firmly) steps in a reminds me that my only responsibility in life is to enjoy and glorify Him. Thank you so much for posting this article!

85,220

Rkestell commented…

I am reminded to make the most of my two fifths of a second and remember that Jesus has me covered.

Michelle

3

Michelle commented…

what a great reminder!!

85,220

Cre commented…

Man, this is exactly where I am in life right now, super stressed out. I went to the doctor for palpitations just this week and have been praying for God to heal me and help me deal with stress better. Thanks so much for this article. Truly needed to hear all that was said in it.

85,220

Karen commented…

This is so true. I've been throwing a pity party for days now, and I need to keep reminding myself that my life is about God. When He brings me through this time of struggle alive, I will grow stronger in Him and know that He is always there for me.

Please log in or register to comment

Log In