Question: "What does the Bible say about stress?"
The dictionary defines stress as "physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension." Some stress is necessary and even good—such as the physical strain we put on our muscles in order to make them stronger. But when we talk about "stress," we are usually referring to excessive or negative mental or emotional strain or tension. While "stress" is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, Scripture does speak to things such as anxiety, worry, and trouble—things we often associate with stress—and gives us clear answers on how we should deal with them.
Everyone suffers from stress at one time or another. How we naturally deal with it depends in large part on who we are. For some, emotional stress causes physical illness. Others might become hyper-productive. On the other hand, some people under stress shut down mentally and emotionally. And, of course, there are a variety of other responses. Stress is a common human experience, particularly in a world where the demands for our time and attention seem to be unending. Our jobs, health, family, friends, and even ministry activities can overwhelm us. The ultimate solution to stress is to surrender our lives to God and seek His wisdom regarding priorities as well as His enabling to do the things to which He calls us. He always gives enough, so we need not be defeated by stress.
One common cause of stress is financial. We stress over money because we never seem to feel that we have enough. We worry about being able to pay all our bills, many living paycheck to paycheck. Or we become consumed by materialism and, in turn, stressed-out about maintaining our lifestyle. Some become stressed over finances because they don’t trust God to provide the basic necessities of life. But Jesus said, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? … And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" (Matthew 6:25, 27). It is true that we are called upon to be good stewards of money and to provide for our families (1 Timothy 5:8), but we must never forget that God is ultimately our Provider. If we are His, we need not fear that He will abandon us. On the other hand, there are those whose financial stress is caused more by materialistic greed than it is by true need. Materialism inevitably leads to stress because, when we seek the world’s goods, we have fallen for the "deceitfulness of wealth" (Mark 4:19), the lie that such things relieve stress and lead to happiness, contentment, and joy. They do not.
We might also find ourselves stressed when facing a hardship or trial. James 1:2–4 counsels, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." When we encounter hardship, we can succumb to stress, or we can view it as a means by which God can strengthen our faith and mold our character (Romans 5:3–5; 8:28–29). When we redirect our focus on God, we find comfort in our sorrows and strength to endure (2 Corinthians 1:3–4; 12:9–10).
No matter the type of stress in our lives, the starting point for dealing with it is Jesus Christ. Jesus offers us great encouragement in John 14:1: "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me." We desperately need Him in our lives. We need Him because He is the only one who can give us the strength to cope with the troubles in our lives. Believing in Him does not mean that we will have a trouble-free life or that we will not feel overcome by stress in our lives. It simply means that a life without Jesus Christ makes coping with stress an impossible and often debilitating task.
Believing leads to trusting. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to "trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." Leaning on "our own understanding" often means adopting the world’s ways of relieving stress—things like alcohol or drugs or mindless entertainment. Instead, we are to trust His Word as our ultimate guide to a stress-reduced life. David says, "I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears" (Psalm 34:4). David knew that by seeking the Lord and sharing his troubles with Him that perhaps he would find favor with Him. The Lord in turn answered him and calmed him down.
Perhaps no passage in Scripture better captures how to handle stress than Philippians 4:6-7: "Do not be anxious 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." The Lord tells us not to be anxious about anything, but rather to turn everything over to Him in prayer. Lifting our burdens and concerns to a holy and righteous God daily will mitigate or eliminate the stress in our lives. Psalm 55:22 tells us to cast all our cares on Him because He will sustain us and never fail us (see also 1 Peter 5:6–7). Jesus Christ offers peace if we come to Him with our worries and concerns. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14:27).
Stress of all kinds is a natural part of life (Job 5:7, 14:1; 1 Peter 4:12; 1 Corinthians 10:13). But how we deal with it is up to us. If we choose to try to do it on our own, we will not find lasting relief. The only way we can consistently and successfully deal with stress is with Jesus Christ. First, we must believe in Him. Second, we need to trust Him and obey Him. We should trust Him to do what is right because His ways are always best for us. Disobedience and sin can produce stress and cut us off from the only means of peace and joy. By obeying His commandments we reap the blessings of true contentment from a loving God. Finally, we need to seek His peace daily by filling our minds with His Word, lifting all things to Him in prayer, and sitting at His feet in awe and reverence. It is only by His grace, mercy, and love that the stress in our lives can be managed.
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