A man was being tailgated by a stressed out woman on a busy road. They came to a traffic light that turned yellow. The man stopped just at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the turn of the light to red. The tailgating woman was furious! She honked her horn and screamed in frustration at the thought of missing her chance to get through the light. She was obviously trying to get to her destination as quickly as possible.
Still in the process of throwing her temper tantrum, she heard a tap on the window. She looked up only to find a policeman standing there. The officer ordered her to exit the car with her hands up. He carted her off to the police station where she was searched, finger-printed, mug shot taken and placed in a holding cell.
After a few hours the policeman came to her cell and opened up the door. The woman asked, “Why did you arrest me? I didn’t do anything wrong?” The officer apologized for the mistake and went on to explain. “I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing the horn, flipping off the guy in the car in front of you, and cussing a blue streak. When I saw the “What would Jesus do” bumper sticker, the “Choose Life” license plate holder, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem, I naturally assumed that you had stolen the car.”
We all encounter moments of stress. Don’t believe those who claim that Christians are exempt. Being a Christian does not free us from experiencing difficult times. We do not remain untouched by sorrow, anxieties, worry, or fear. So if we as Christians are faced with these tough circumstances, what separates us from anyone else?
What is your first reaction when you are stressed? Do you run to the refrigerator, or open the cupboard door? Do you fantasize about getting away to a tropical island? Do you take your worries and stress out on those you love – saying hurtful things, making hasty decisions? Do you have improper thoughts about how to get out of your situation? Do you just want to bang your head against the wall? When we are under pressure, it’s easy to react in anger and frustration.
Stress can be caused by a multitude of triggers. The pressure of living up to the expectations of yourself and others, uncertainty about your future, life-changing events (such as a death, marriage, or birth), and loss of control over a situation all contribute to our stress levels. The results of stress can be catastrophic. People trapped by anxiety lose their joy for living. They become judgmental of others - constantly looking at the negative rather than the good, living a life of failure and defeat. Health issues, depression, obesity and insomnia can all be linked to long-term stress. But how on earth do we win over worry?
In Psalms 55, the Psalmist describes a life overwhelmed by troubles and suffering, a heart in anguish, fear and trembling. Verses 6-8 tell of his first reaction to stress. “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest - I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” There is a better solution, and the Psalmist finds it beginning in verse 16, “but I call to God and the Lord saves me”. Instead of running away, he runs to God.
Getting away and going on vacation can be a good thing. We all require time to renew and refresh – to recharge our batteries, so to speak. But when we get back, those things that are stressing us out will be there waiting for us. The only remedy to coping with the stressand anxiety is to run to God. “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” (Psalm 55:22)
As Christ-followers, we should not run from reality. We need to face reality strengthened by our faith and trust in the One who cares about our every need. Keep in mind that stress has spiritual benefits. Often times it is stress that leads us to make a change, give up a bad habit, take better care of ourselves or mature in certain areas. But most importantly, the anxieties that we encounter should bring us to our knees and lead us into prayer. And prayer changes things. Jesus invites us to come and lay all of our burdens upon Him and He will give us rest. (Matthew 6:25) Philippians 4:6 tells us not to be anxious about anything, but pray about everything.
The enemy wants to thwart the peace of God in our lives. That is why each day when we wake up we have to make an intentional decision to give our cares over to God. In a moment of weakness it’s easy to base our reactions on our feelings rather than truth. The Holy Spirit is constantly whispering truth in our ears, but Satan is constantly whispering lies. Who are we listening to? The answer, my friend, is determined by our prayer life. I have heard it said that “right praying leads to right thinking, and right thinking leads to right living”.
It is true that we all have stress in our lives, but more importantly, are we glorifying God in how we react to them? Our relationship with God is a crucial factor in our stress management. We have a choice to withdraw from life and bang our head against the wall, or to trust God to see us through. What choice are you making today?