Stress is something we all face in life. Overcoming stress or correctly handling it is vital for our success and peace of mind.
While stress is not pleasant, it is not necessarily a bad thing. It can make a person stronger or it can break a person apart. It can draw a family together, or it can drive it apart. Stress reveals character. It will show whether a person is loyal or disloyal, obedient or disobedient, kind or unkind, etc. If we haven't got a character trait under stress then we haven't really got it. Stress is what seals it in our spirits. We may say we have faith, or love, or loyalty, but until that character trait has withstood stress we don't really know if it is ours. Overcoming stress builds us as people.
This is a key for leaders to keep in mind. It doesn't matter if you are a leader in business, church, home, or anywhere, stress will show you what level of maturity and commitment the people around you have. Jesus deliberately put His disciples under stress to reveal things about them. Stress and how we overcome stress is very educational. [Sometimes we learn more about ourselves than we really want to know!]
The problem is not with stress, but with overcoming stress and how we handle it. If we respond correctly, it will build and mature us. If we don't respond correctly, stress can overcome us instead of us overcoming stress. We have to learn to face stress with a calm spirit, then we will be able to come out on the winning side.
How do we maintain a calm spirit in extreme stress? There are four foundational ways to keep calm.
"They said to Him, 'Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?'" [John 8:4-5, NKJV]
"The Pharisees were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Jesus. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground." [John 8:6-8, NIV]
Jesus was under constant stress and was continually overcoming stress in His life. There was always someone in the crowd just waiting for one wrong word that could be turned against Him. Not only that, but also the religious rulers would set up what they thought were no-win situations for Him. Most of us would have caved in instead of overcoming stress, but not Jesus.
Jesus was not up-tight. In this case, He didn't even respond immediately. He paused, He thought. He knew their hearts and their plans, but He wasn't angry at their actions. After He paused, He was ready to deal with the situation.
In overcoming stress we need to pause sometimes. We don't have to always respond right away. Sometimes Jesus paused by answering a question with a question. Take time to be quiet and think. Don't make wrong decisions because you are in a hurry. Sometimes we feel we have to have the answer to every problem. We put ourselves under stress and become frustrated because we don't know the answer! I call that the God-complex. We want to be in control and know everything. Relax, we are not God. We don't have to know everything or have every answer. Recognizing our own human limits can help in overcoming stress. We just need to know and trust the One who has the answers.
"And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord. Then they said to Moses, "Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us"...And the Lord said to Moses, "Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward." [Ex. 14:10-11, 15, NKJV]
The children of Israel are the classic example of what not to do. They panicked under stress. They complained and whined. That is the reason they failed in overcoming stress for the rest of their lives. That is being overcome with stress and not overcoming stress. We see that God was faithful and looked after them in spite of their bad attitude; however, they missed the blessings God had for them. They never grew up and God was not pleased.
"Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief." [Heb. 3:16-19, NIV]
They simply would not pause and take time to think and so allow faith to build in their hearts. They were not overcoming stress but caving it to it.
In overcoming stress, after we have paused, we need to put things in perspective.
"Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord...then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly...and said: "O Lord God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? ...But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir...coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you." [2 Chr. 20:3-12, NIV]
First notice that Jehosphaphat was alarmed or afraid. He had good cause to be, his enemies were cruel and deadly. His army was away so he was almost defenseless. He had every reason to believe in the morning he and his people would be tortured to death. Talk about a situation of extreme stress and worry where you need to be overcoming stress!
Fear and other negative emotions are not wrong in themselves. They are natural human responses. What makes it right or wrong is where we go from there. If it drives us to God then it is good but if we pamper our negative feelings and concentrate on them we will be their slave and we will not be overcoming stress.
Although Jehosphaphat was afraid, he put things in perspective. He began his prayer by focusing on the greatness of God and reminding himself of God's promises. By concentrating on God he was able to calm his spirit, in the midst of deadly danger, before bringing the problem to God. When he did bring the problem to God he wasn't panicking, he was really praying.
"So when they heard that, they said, "Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them...Now Lord look at their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word" ...and when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness." [Acts 4:24-31, NKJV]
Here we have another example. The Christians were being threaten by the religious rulers. Instead of coming into God's presence in a panic [like the children of Israel always did] they took time to calm their spirits BEFORE presenting the problem to God.
Don't be in a hurry to get to the problem. Take time to focus on the greatness of God. All the stresses of life are put into perspective in His glorious Light! We can then be overcoming stress.
Many people think Psalm 23 was written while David was laying in a green field watching sheep. No, it was written when David was hiding in a cave while King Saul's army surrounded him. As far as he knew when he wrote the Psalm, he would be dead in the morning. Psalm 23 is an excellent example of calmness and overcoming stress under extreme pressure.
"Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations." [Ps. 100:4-5, NKJV] "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name." [Heb. 13:15, NKJV]
When we are under stress, we need to spend time praising God. When we can worship God in the midst of difficult circumstances we display our faith in the goodness of God and our spirits are calmed. You can't praise God and be troubled and worried at the same time!
"Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshipped. And he said: Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong." [Job 1:20-22, NKJV]
Job lost it all, but he still worshipped God. Praising and worshipping God in the midst of our stresss may not change our situation but it will change us for the better. And it will give us the God-anointed tools to meet the situation and bring the best possible good out of it. It is overcoming stress positively. This is a choice we make - it certainly is not dependent on emotions which may be screaming the exact opposite!
"But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." [Is. 40:31, NKJV]
Sometimes there is nothing we can do or we've already done it all. Then we wait. We keep on holding on. We keep taking one step at a time. Waiting on God should be a habit, it is how we learn to know God. Under stress it is what will give us the strength to go on rather than turn back.
"Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls." [Heb. 12:2-3, NKJV]
Never give up. Keep your eyes on Jesus and you are unsinkable! Be patient. The answer will come, the situation will turn around. Or God will give us the strength to fail and begin again. If God is foremost in our minds we will be able to overcome stress and come out victorious.
Stress should always turn us to God. We run to our Father and He is pleased with us. He gives grace and strength. If we could draw back the curtains of heaven and see things as God sees them we would be surprised to find out that what we consider to be our greatest defeats are actually our greatest victories. Job's greatest victory was when he worshipped God in the midst of great sorrow and loss. Jesus' greatest victory was won on the cross. Our greatest victories are when we continue to love and serve God even when everything seems to be falling apart. We can be overcoming stress moment by moment, day by day, and year by year.
Also, in relation to overcoming stress, see our article on Fear.