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3 ways to overcome stress

You know, lots of things in this world cause us stress. So many things out there out of our control that could go one way or the other, not to mention our own foibles and insecurities, so what we really need is something that brings us peace. Well, that something is what we’re going to chat about today on the programme.

Trust in the LORD

When you Google stress relief, mostly what you discover is relaxation techniques. Take a hot bath. Watch some television to get your mind off things. Spend more time with friends. Some will even tell you to go and practise yoga and meditation. Play stress relief games. Identify your stress responses and manage them. Well, it all sounds great, but here’s the problem I have with all of those things. They’re a bit like taking an aspirin for a headache. They may alleviate the symptoms for a short while, but they don’t solve the problem by treating the cause. If your headache is caused by a brain tumour, hey; aspirin just ain’t going to do it. You need something that goes to the root cause.

The same is true with stress and anxiety. You know, a mistake we make when we think about the root cause of our stress is we imagine that the root cause is that thing out there somewhere that’s causing us stress. It’s that difficult person; it’s that difficult relationship; it’s the fact that I’m struggling with my finances or I’ve had a bad medical diagnosis from the doctor. It’s that thing out there that’s causing me the stress. If I can get rid of that, then I won’t have any more stress in my life. That’s our rationale. That’s what we think, but stress is our response to a situation. Stress is something we do to ourselves.

Of course, sometimes scary things happen. Someone we love dies, and the process of grieving is stressful. We lose our job, and the process of dealing with our finances can be stressful, but a lot of what we stress out about is totally manageable, except for the fact that we’re stressing out over it. Stress, anxiety, fear … Those things immobilise us. They stop us from doing the things we need to do to deal with the situation, so when I’m talking about dealing with the root cause of stress, I’m actually talking about dealing with whatever’s going on inside you that’s causing the stress response, because each and every day of your life and mine pretty much is going to bring along circumstances and situations and people and stuff that have the potential to cause us stress. It’s one thing to have an initial response of fear or shock when something potentially stressful comes our way; it’s another thing entirely to spend the rest of the week, the rest of the year, the rest of your life, stressing out about it.

So let me share my number one, numero uno, stress buster with you right now. Trust in the LORD your God. I know it sounds like a cop-out; it sounds like a platitude, but in a moment, I’m going to tell you why it’s the one solution that decisively deals with stress. Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.

The thing that causes us stress by and large is when something that has the potential to negatively impact our lives is completely outside our control. Would you agree? The doctor tells you that she’s detected a tumour on your scan, but she doesn’t know yet whether it’s malignant or benign, or whether they’re going to be able to operate on it and get it all out. So much is out of your control in that scenario, and your very life hangs in the balance. Stress!

Now bring God into the picture. There are three key facts that I want you to note about God in this stressful scenario: Here’s the first one. He loves you beyond measure. In fact, He loves you so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die and to pay for your sins, to give you eternal life, so there’s absolutely no question about how much He loves you.

Secondly, nothing escapes Him. He never fails to notice what you’re going through. If He knows exactly how many hairs you have on your head, and He does because the Bible tells us that, then He surely knows what you’re going through, and the third thing is that nothing is outside His control. If He created the universe, friend, He has the power to deal with anything and everything that’s going on in your life.

Now, you put those three facts together and what you have is a compassionate, loving God who completely understands, and who has just the right plan for your life. He knows what to do, when to do it, and how to get it done, and He will do it. The Bible has a name for that: It’s called faithfulness. The writer of the book of Lamentations was looking over the destruction and the devastation after the Babylonians had completely and utterly destroyed Jerusalem, and taken God’s chosen people into captivity as slaves. He pours his heart out, which is why the book is called Lamentations, but then despite what he sees, despite the devastation and the pain and the stress that he feels in his heart, he comes to this conclusion. Lamentations 3:22-24:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. The LORD is my Portion, says my soul; therefore I will hope in Him.

My friend, no matter what you’re going through at the moment, no matter what lies ahead, no matter what the devastation and the ruin that your eye can see, your God is faithful; and when you put your trust in Him, all of a sudden, the stress goes away because He can and will act to make sure that His steadfast love plays itself out in your life. Look. Each one of us is going to die sooner or later, and along the way, each one of us is going to have financial problems, health problems, relationship problems, inadequacies, insecurities … There are more than enough in each week to get you and me to stress ourselves into an early grave. Listen. Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.

Let me tell you, no amount of relaxation techniques – yoga, TV, dinner with friends, hot showers, hot cups of tea – none of that stuff is going to come anywhere close to the impact of trusting your God with all your heart. He knows what to do; He has the power to do it; He loves you so much. Ok, we are going to die one day. That’s part of His plan, but in the meantime, friend, He loves you so much. Whatever you’re going through, He’s in that place with you, and He is worthy of your trust.

Develop a Quiet Confidence

We kind of stress out about our kids and our jobs and how we look and what other people think. We stress out about tomorrow. What will that bring? We stress out about … Well, we stress out about just about anything or everything. Let me ask you this. What are you stressed over right now? What’s the thorn in your side that keeps on making you worry about this or that? Pretty much everybody can name at least two or three things that are causing them to stress out right at the moment. Jesus hit the nail on the head when He asked this rhetorical question. Luke 6:27:

Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to the span of your life?

Well, that’s pretty much it. That right there just shows us how utterly useless worry and stress are. They don’t achieve anything positive. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Stress and worry often immobilise us from doing the things that we can and need to do to deal with that situation that’s causing us the pressure and the stress in the first place. We just kind of sit there on the sofa worrying about it, when getting up and doing A or B would actually reduce the risk or fix the problem altogether.

Now you can call me crazy; plenty of people do … Call me crazy, but let me throw this out there for you to think about. This is absolutely no way for you to live your life, or for me to live my life. Would you agree? I mean, being stressed all the time is totally nuts. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t achieve anything good, and yet countless people are caught up in chronic, repetitive, day-after-day, lifelong stress, and for what?

So let me ask you, what if you could replace that with a quiet confidence? Not some false bravado; just a quiet sense of confidence on the inside that you know it’s going to be fine. What if that were the overriding mind-set in your life, in place of the person who worries and stresses about everything? Would it be a worthwhile thing to achieve? Well, that’s what I’m aiming for in your life today, not because I happen to be particularly smart or insightful or brilliant; I’m none of those things, but because the Word of God has the power to transform your life completely and utterly. If only you will receive this mighty, powerful Word of God in your heart today, your life can be utterly transformed.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. ‘This guy hasn’t a clue what I’m going through. How can he possibly say that?’ And in part you are right; I absolutely don’t have a clue, but God does. I don’t have the wisdom, but God does. I don’t have the power to transform your heart and your mind and your thoughts and your emotions or your life, but God does.

Have a listen to this. It’s about a guy called Joshua. For the last forty or so years, he’s been playing second fiddle to a guy called Moses, leading God’s people (probably over a million of them) through the wilderness: Relying on God for food, and for water, and for protection every step of the way. Moses (the leader) has just died, just at the point when they’re about to cross over the Jordan river into the land that God’s promised them; just at the point where they have to gear up for battle after battle because the promised land is full of other tribes and nations, and they’re going to have to take it by force.

Just at that point Moses, the proven, trusted, experienced, wise leader ups and dies, and Joshua is put in charge. Stress? Absolutely! Stress with a capital ‘S”. This is life and death stress. If you put yourself in Joshua’s shoes, man, you’d really be stressing. Right? Well he must have been, because this is what God says to Joshua right at this point in his life. Joshua 1:1:

After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, ‘My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I’m giving to them – to the Israelites. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon, I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness of Lebanon as far as the Great River, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites and to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them; only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with the Law that my servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it, for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.’

No less than three times, God says to Joshua: ‘Be strong and courageous’, and one of those times he says, ‘Be strong and very courageous’. Why? Because God has a plan. God is in this, and God will see His plan through, despite the overwhelming odds, despite the impossibility of the task. It’s about God and who He is, not the enemy and who they are. Let me say it again: It’s about God and who He is, not the enemy and who they are, and the foundation of Joshua’s confidence is to be what? God’s Word. ‘Stay in My Word; think about it; meditate on it day and night, so that it doesn’t depart from you’.

As you read on through this book of Joshua, you see that under his leadership, Israel faced many, many life and death, stressful situations, but God called him to do it with confidence.

You know, sometimes, our confidence is misplaced. We put our confidence in our strengths and abilities; we put our confidence in money or other people, but won’t place our confidence in God. When He’s the One we look to and we trust, lean on and co-operate with, then that confidence – my friend, it’s never misplaced. Hey, listen. Without faith it’s impossible to please God. God wants us to put our trust in Him during those difficult, stressful, dangerous, scary situations. That’s the whole point! We develop this quiet confidence as we experience His faithfulness, and that’s what carries us through.

Pray the Prayer of Peace

Listen. You and I are going to find ourselves in stressful situations from time to time; we just are. It’s par for the course. In a very real sense, it’s kind of what’s meant to happen, and for anyone in a stressful situation right now, my prayer is that just knowing that gives you some comfort. We all end up there from time to time. The question now is, what do we do about it? How are we going to respond in this moment of crisis? Well, if you’re anything like me, you’ve been taught that the right thing to do is to put your faith in God. That’s exactly what we’ve been chatting about on the program so far in this series of messages. Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.

And the other one that we looked at earlier, Lamentations 3:22-24:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. The LORD is my Portion, says my soul; therefore I will hope in Him.

And what did He say to Joshua? Joshua 1:5-7:

As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not fail you nor forsake you. Be strong; be courageous, for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. Only be strong and very courageous.

You see, each of those Scriptures that we’ve been looking at point us in absolutely the right direction, without a doubt, but anybody who’s been in a deeply stressful situation, and particularly anyone who’s there right now in that stressful situation, is sitting there thinking: ‘Well, look, that’s all fantastic and nice, Berni. I know those Scriptures too, but how do I do that? How do I put my trust in God? How can I be strong and courageous when I feel so weak and helpless?’ And unless you get the answers to those questions, then the Scriptures we just read and plenty more of them to boot, they’re just going to make you feel more and more condemned – more and more like you’re failing God, because you can’t conjure up that trust and that faith and that strength. Am I right?

So right now, we’re going to get the answers to those questions and not from me, but from God because He always has the answers. God knows how you and I can lay hold of that courage and confidence in God, because He loves us. He tells us very clearly, very plainly in His Word how to do that, and to be honest, in my walk with the Lord over the past … mmm … almost twenty years, this has probably been the most important how-to that I have ever learnt. Are you ready? Here we go. Stress buster number three. It comes from Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This is a very plain piece of Scripture. There are not a lot of hidden meanings there, but you’d be amazed, amazed at how easily we skate over the surface of it and completely miss the point.

I think I may have told this story once before on the program a few years back, so if you’ve heard it, just get over it (I’m just kidding). I was sitting in a Bible-study with a bunch of people who’d been Christians for many years, much longer than I had. We were studying this particular passage in Philippians 4. It was interesting; people hedged around – this, that; yeah, we all worry … The discussion went on for ten or fifteen minutes and at the end of it, the Bible-study group-leader summarised it along these lines: ‘Well, yeah. God wants us to have peace but still, we’re just going to worry, aren’t we?’

The crazy thing was that everyone seemed to nod in agreement with him and we were about to move on. Well, I don’t know; I was only the new kid on the block, but I couldn’t help myself. I kind of let out this loud, agitated, ‘No!’ I don’t think anyone had ever heard that before because there was stunned silence and all the eyeballs were on me, and I think my wife wished that the floor would swallow us both up, so I went at it with both barrels. I said, ‘Look at what this says. It’s a promise from God through the apostle Paul, who (by the way) was sitting on death row in a dungeon when he wrote this thing.’ God’s saying, ‘Look. Instead of worrying, pray. The time that you would have spent worrying and stressing out about this stuff, take that time and spend it differently.

Take that time that you would have spent stressing, and pray instead’. Thank God. Let Him know your problems and your needs and your requests, right there in the stressful situation that you find yourself in, and when you do that, says God through Paul, here’s the promise bit: The peace of God which surpasses all understanding. There’s this peace that in this situation, in this circumstance, simply doesn’t make any worldly sense. That peace will not just fill your heart; it’ll guard your heart and your mind in Christ.

Now, think of the power of that. When worry comes along, when stress comes along and hits you, when it attacks you, when it knocks on the door of your heart and your mind, God’s peace in Christ Jesus will be standing as a mighty, powerful, God-given sentinel to the door of your heart and mind. God’s peace in Christ will guard your heart and your mind, and the impact of that: Think of a fortress being guarded by a mighty army. The opposing army simply can’t get in, and so in this case, the worry and the stress just won’t be able to get in because God’s peace will keep it out. Hey, that’s God’s promise here, so let me ask you this: Do you believe God’s Word or not? Do you believe that this is God’s promise to you, or not? It’s one way or the other.

I don’t know if they got it, these people in this home group that we were talking about, but I’m praying that you get it. The way that we appropriate the peace of God, the way that we lay hold of it, the way that we grab it with both hands and hang onto it, is by praying to God with a thankful heart, and pouring out our feelings and our needs on God.

Let me tell you something. If you’re in a stressful situation and you take this one promise, just this one Scripture (two verses) and start living it out by making it a habit to get away alone with God and pray and spend time with Him and pour your heart out and give Him thanks, I guarantee you that the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will become the sentinel of your heart and your mind and your life. There’s your stress buster. There’s your peace, and remember, it’s a peace that given your circumstances, you really shouldn’t be able to feel. You shouldn’t be able to have. It’s a peace that in the face of this stressful situation simply doesn’t make sense. That’s why Paul calls it the peace which surpasses all understanding, but you know what? It doesn’t have to make sense, because peace is peace, and God’s peace is God’s peace, and I will take that in place of the world’s stress any day. How about you?

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