Stress is an unavoidable part of life. It has helped humans survive for thousands of years, and it keeps us on our toes in dangerous or critical situations. Consider the following basics:
- In response to stressful stimuli, your body turns on its biological response. Chemicals and hormones are released that help your body rise to the challenge. Your heart rate increases, your brain works faster and becomes razor sharp, and you have a sudden burst of energy. This response is natural and basic (it’s what kept our ancestors from falling victim to hungry predators).
- Stress is subjective; something that may be stressful for one person—like speaking in public—may not be stressful for someone else.
- Stress overload, however, can have harmful effects. Too much stress can cause potentially serious physical and mental health problems.
It is a good thing when you respond to a true danger—like a car coming out of nowhere to broadside you—with increased heart rate and a sudden burst of energy. God made you to respond quickly in a crisis. But we are not meant to live as if we are in constant danger. The good news is that stress can be avoided and is usually manageable if you are able to recognize and take control of pressure-riddled situations. The goal isn’t to get rid of stress completely. That would be impossible. Instead, stress management may be as simple—yet as powerful—as changing your focus. Let’s take a look.
Are You Spiritually Worn Out?
Our electronic world often influences the way we relate to God. We “abide in him” as though we were charging our smartphone or our iPad. We think, How long do I have to be plugged into God today through a quiet time or prayer in order to get enough of a spiritual charge? But Jesus doesn’t say “I am the power cord and you are the cell phone.” He says, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5).
Life in Christ is not a matter of going to a conference to “get our spiritual batteries charged.” We don’t go to Bible study so we can live off its spiritual energy for a week until we require another surge of divine power. That’s not the metaphor the Bible invites us to use. We are branches that are connected to Christ, the Vine. And with him, there can never be any disconnect. Abiding is living in constant awareness of total dependence. Abiding is all about a relationship. But how do we abide? Looking at the familiar story of Martha and Mary in the Bible can help us understand how to change our focus to abiding with Christ, rather than all the things we have to get done.
Frazzled, Tired, and Cranky
When I read those three words, I think of Martha in the Bible. As Mary’s older sister she was the chief cook and bottle washer in a home where there was no parent to clean up after anyone. She was one busy woman! Once, when Jesus and his disciples were visiting, Martha pulled out all the stops to entertain them. But where was her sous chef-sister? Mary had left the kitchen and snuck into the living room to hear Jesus.
That’s when Martha lost it. Luke 10:40–41 records that “She came to [Jesus] and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’” It’s almost a comical picture: Mary with hands on hips, stomping into the living room and demanding that her honored guest drop everything to help her sort out problems in the kitchen. This was one frazzled, tired, and cranky woman.
But I’m going to stick up for Martha. I believe she was on the right path, even with her “much serving,” as the Bible puts it. We can never do enough in God’s kingdom, and Martha is not to be chided for rolling up her sleeves to prepare a meal for such an honored guest as the Lord Jesus.
The problem was her focus. Luke 10:40 says, “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Did you get that? She “was distracted by all the preparations.” It wasn’t that she was too busy or planned too many things on the menu. Hustle and bustle wasn’t the culprit. Martha simply allowed those things to distract her from focusing on the Savior. She lost joy in her labor, gladness in ministering to her Lord, and delight in exercising her gift for the good of the group. A complaining spirit took over as she focused on her sister Mary, along with all the pots and pans!
It requires spiritual discipline and an adoration for the Savior not to become encumbered by hounding pressures and demands. But it can be done. Great Christians of the past—and many in the present— have worn their fingers to the bone in the advancement of Christ’s kingdom while maintaining a tranquil spirit and an unyielding focus on Christ. It is possible to be busy—even very busy—and not let stress make you tired, frazzled, and cranky.
A Biblical Way to Manage Stress
When we wait on the Lord, we’re waiting on his wisdom. Proverbs 8:34 says, “Blessed is the man who listens to me [Wisdom], watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.” When a new morning dawns, watch daily at God’s door, for he has your day’s agenda. And he knows best how to order your hours.
After all, God created us and he understands our body’s stress mechanisms inside and out. He’s the one who gave us the “flight or fight” reaction in the first place. Thankfully, God wrote the book on stress management, and the Bible is filled with wise counsel on how to deal with anxiety, tension, pressure, and fear. Consider these steps:
1. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal if you are under chronic stress.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23–24).
2. Pinpoint areas in your life that are creating tension, weariness, and anxiety.
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).
3. Ask the Spirit to show you how you can better manage those stressful areas.
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
4. Read the Bible with an eye on those passages and scriptural examples of Spirit-inspired stress management.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5–6).
5. Take prayerful, significant steps to help you avoid stress.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Excerpted from Stressed to the Max: Peace for Women under Pressure © 2013 by Joni Eareckson Tada. Used with permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.
Stressed to the Max
Does it seem like your to-do list always gets longer instead of shorter? Do you try to slow down but find yourself scrambling just to keep up? Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but it often seems you have more than your fair share. With characteristic understanding and compassion, Joni Eareckson Tada helps you begin to slow down and sort through the sources of your stress.