Stress Management – A Biblical Perspective

Stress is a well known problem. It is a common knowledge about stress that stress is the biggest killer on earth. – What is your idea about stress? When do we know we are stressed? What are the symptoms? – We will try to find out our own stress levels and see how we can effectively use the principles of God to fight the problems related with stress


There are three aspects to a successful stress management plan, Understanding, Preventing and Releasing stress. We will try to understand each of the aspects from a biblical perspective.


So let us try and understand stress. Stress can simply be defined as physical or mental tension.How do we view stress… are all stresses bad?Do we believe that if we are blessed we will never have any stress?In John 16:33, the Lord tells us that we will go through tribulations. In Psalm 139:13-14, the psalmist tells us that we are “fearfully” and wonderfully made. If we are fearfully made. There is some thing that we need to fear. And any fear results in Stress. Some times, or may be most of the times the stress that we experience is the prime motivation for us to give up some bad habits, change some things,  mature, take better care of our health, stop us from over-speeding. God made us in such a way that when some thing threatens (real or imaginary), our safety, our peace, our life, or anything we consider important, we develop a “stress response. The intensity and amount of  stress can some times be very crucial to our lives.   So being stressed itself is not bad. However if the stress situation continues for along time, even after the stimulant is removed then it becomes a problem, it becomes what psychiatrists call as chronic stress.Chronic stress makes people sick. Many of the stress related diseases like hypertension, chronic head ache, ulcers etc are result of Chronic Stress. Anger is another form of Chronic Stress. Prolonged enmity or resentment against some one else causes our body to be in a continued state of arousal. In Ephesians 4:31, Paul advises us to put away all forms of anger and malice. for this reason. Paul also tells us in Ephesians 4:26 not to let the sun go down on our wrath. Prolonged anger is not good. The next form of stress is what we call the Traumatic Stress. Unlike Chronic stress, this can be caused suddenly. This is caused when some thing bad happens to us suddenly, like a death of a near and loved one, or when we are robbed or attacked, or meet with a serious accident, when natural calamities like Earth Quake, flood etc strike us  etc. When such situations strike us, it takes generally longer for us to turn off the stress reaction.  Some people are unable to turn off the stress at all. This then results in to what psychiatrists call as the Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD people with PTSD continually re live the traumatic experiences that they went through, and hence continue to be stressed about the experience which might have been long over.The last type of stress that must know about is funny kind of stress. Not all stress is caused by bad things. Even good things can cause us stress. Like falling in love, like getting married, like getting a baby, or even taking a vacation. This type of stress is called the Eustress. For Leadership trainer like me, I encourage this type of stress, I believe that this is the type of stress that drives people to achieve greater things in life, to go that extra mile,. In 1 Corinthians 9:24 Paul encourages us to run every race as if we have to win, though we know that only one can win the race. However Eustress is good only if it lasts in short spells. If we continue to be in a state of eustress, that will result into chronic stress which is never good.


Having understood a little bit about stress, let us try to assess our own stress levels.  I suggest that first we do a self assessment by reflecting and thinking about the following three questions.What are the stressful experiences in my life?When do I feel Stressed?How do I deal with my stress? We will use the results of this self introspection  as we go along.After the self introspection I suggest that you do a test called Holmes Rahe test. This test gives us an idea about our stress-ability due to life changes. You can take the test on-line at many web sites. One of the web sites where you can do the on-line test is http://www.geocities.com/beyond_stretched/holmes.htm If your Score is 300 or more Your Stress level is high. You will need some focused stress intervention techniques now. If your score is between 150 and 299, You are Borderline high stress You need to reduce the number of High impact changes, if possible. If your score is below 150,Your stress levels based on life changes is low at the moment.Remember all such tests are based on statistical averages and individual cases can vary. So always think about your reactions and your score and then take a decision on how to act on the test result.


Having understood and assessed our stress levels, let us try to understand what plans God has for us in Preventing and releasing the stress, that we have. To me, undoubtedly the core of God’s stress management plan is nothing else but Love. Only love has the power to banish all the fear that cause stress for us. John tells us in 1 John 4:18, that perfect love casts out all fear. I am a strong believer in that verse.
To un tap this power of love we need to enter into a robust love relationship with God. When  we have this relationship with God, we get access to his infinite resources to cope with any situation in our lives. When we tap into God’s resources, what Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 1:7 comes true, our spirit becomes one of power and love and of sound mind, and fear is driven away. To tap into this power, we need to be able to receive His love, and love Him passionately.
Empowered by our strong love relationship with God we become able  to develop a godly self love. God loves us and he wants us to live ourselves. This might be a little uncomfortable for some of us to hear. Are we not taught to be self less? How can we love ourselves. We will look into this a little later. Let us just remember Matthew 22:39, where the Lord tells us to love others as we love ourselves. We will come back to this.
Our love for ourselves and the robust love relationship with God, enables us to love others around us and live peacefully with them. Matthew 22:39 tells us to love our neighbors. Research has shown that people who are able to develop and sustain loving relationship with others have much lesser stress levels than people who lead solitary lives.
And lastly we need to extend this love relationship to God’s creations. God created all good things for our enjoyment as he tells us in very first chapter of genesis itself. People who are unable to love and enjoy our surroundings, which god has created for our enjoyment, develop a lot of stress.
 
So that is my model for the stress management plan. Centered around Love. Let us see the individual components of this in a little more detail.


The health of our Love relationship with God is a crucial factor in our stress management. Our deficient love relationship can cause many problems. Let us see some of them.1. Our God is a Holy God. He cannot accept sin. We know that. The Bible tells us in many many  ways to avoid sin and lead a holy life. Sinful behaviour takes us out of God’s will, and ultimately brings a host of problems for our selves, our friends and families. Modern world tempts us to take control of our own lives and be our own god. When we become our own god, we get into sinful activities related with arrogance, pride etc. and when our pride or  status is threatened, we become fearful and these result into stress invariably. We need to be aware of and sensitive to the seven deadly sins of Pride, Envy, Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Anger, and Sloth. We do not plan to discuss them in detail in this session, but each of these sins cause huge amount of stress physically and mentally. This does not mean that we need to stay away from only the deadly sins. We need to lead holy lives. Period.2.2. Not every one thinks greatly of God’s plan for our salvation. There are many who think that Gods salvation plan recorded in John 3:16 is not inclusive, and hence is unfair. There are many who are unwilling to accept God’s standards of right and wrong, and the fact that he judges and some time punishes us. These people feel a deep sense of disappointment that God does not conform to their idea of what God should be, and hence disapprove of god. Such disapprovals result into strained relationship with God and then results into stress. These people fail to understand the Lord’s position stated in Isaiah 55:8 (My thoughts are not your thoughts and My ways are not your ways).3.3. There are others who feel disappointed with god when our prayers are not answered in the way we want it to. When we feel that God is silent. When we go through difficult situations and God does not seem to care or respond to us in a way that we want Him to. These people forget that God has the right to answer our prayers with a No or a not now. This disappointment results into stress.4.4. There are some who have hatred for others and then transfer that hatred to God. Consciously or unconsciously they start believing that God put us in relationship with some one with whom we had a bad experience and then transfer that hatred to God. May be it can be a bad experience with a parent, a strained relationship with a spouse. Any hatred results in strong levels of stress, and harms us ultimately.5. Our God had warned the Israelites in Exodus 20: 3-5 very sternly about, who they should worship. That warning is true for us too. Our Lord Jesus reiterated this in Matthew 4:10. We shall worship the Lord and Him alone. Many us church going Christians will not get into a situation where we worship other gods. But what is the position that we have given to God. Many Christians try to integrate non biblical theologies into Christianity. Many times many of us, give God’s place to others, may be our parents, may be our spouse, our children etc,. We become overly dependent on some one, we become overly control minded with some one. This results in our sense of security being shaken easily by slight disturbances in the relationship with this “imperfect” person.We need to realize that our God is a jealous God and demands that we love him and Him alone. Some times we Christians like to forget the wrath of God, and take his love for granted. Romans 1:18 tells us that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.


1. God has amply demonstrated his love towards us, as Paul writes to the Romans in Romans 5:8, that he did this through the crucifixion of  Jesus Christ, while we were still sinners.  We need to accept this indescribable gift and seek the joy that this love can bring to us unconditionally once we accept Him. Whatever barriers were there between mankind and God has been removed through Jesus Christ, and there is nothing stopping us from passionately loving our God through his son Jesus Christ. When we accept Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven and that release the stress from our lives. Once we accept Jesus Christ, we have the promise of eternal life and that removes one of the major stressors “death”. Death of self, or death of a loved one. Death suddenly becomes a beautiful beginning of an eternal relationship with God and we stop being stressed about death. That is a beautiful feeling and that can come only from accepting Jesus Christ.
2. God wants us to Love him. (Matthew 22:37 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind ) And we just need to obey that command. When we love God, our life changes, and we begin to see the Lord’s provisions, Lord’s protection and start rejoicing in Him. That rejoicing melts away any stress that we have. God does not promise us a smooth life always, God does not tell us that we will not have pain and suffering, but God promises us that he will strengthen us in Isaiah 40:29 (He gives power to the weak,
and to those who have no might He increases strength ) and this power makes us to rejoice in our trials as advised by James 1:2-3. We need to openly express this love to God by worshipping him, by singing to him, by trusting him completely, by studying His word,3. If we love God, we will obey God. John 14:15 tells us that if we obey God we shall keep his commandments. Consequence of disobedience is sin and we have already seen how sin adds up to our stress levels. There are many commandments that we need to obey. One of God’s commands is to “Be Still and Know that He is God” Psalm 46:10. How many of us really can do that?  Let us try and practice some physical ways of relaxing our bodies . Practice QRT.


  
QRT or Quick Relaxation Technique, is a method one can use to relax in a quick manner. Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Consciously tighten all your muscles, clench your hands, grind your teeth, and make your entire body stiff and tight. Hold on to this position to the count of 10, and then let go, relaxing all muscles at the same time. Repeat after 30 seconds of relaxation. Repeat as many times as time permits or till your body feels relaxed. Do not be discouraged even if initially your do not feel the relaxation. Practice and you will be able to really still your body and this will help you to be still in God’s presence.After having practiced QRT, let us get back to God’s answers that we were looking at.


4. God asks us to pray to him. In Zechariah 13:9 God promises us that we call call on His name and he will answer us. Prayer should consist of  Praising him as the psalmist does in Psalm 34:1. When we praise God we are reminded about the infinite resources available to us for fighting our stress. We need to Thank God for all the situations we are in and when we do that we will realize how blessed we are in relation with others who are not so much blessed, and this reduces our stress levels. Thanking him for everything removes the other most usual stressor, “ the situation” that we are in. We may not be able to control the situation, but once we start thanking god for all the situations that we are in, we will find that God strengthens us and this removes our fear and stress. We need to pray prayers of petition and supplication. There are some preachers of the view that we need not pray for small things because God has promised to be with us always. I am a proponent of praying for small and big things, because that helps us to have a secure feeling that even the small things I have placed in the hands of God and hence I can stay relaxed. We need to pray prayers of confession and repentance, so that through the forgiveness that God promises us we can be cleansed of the stress due to sin. The Bible is full of prayers. And if we still do not know what to pray for, God promises us that the Holy spirit will help us to pray (Romans 8:26 For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered.)


The next segment in God’s Love solution for the stress is, loving one self. This is a time when many devout Christians get uncomfortable. We start feeling if it is correct for us to love ourselves, is that not selfish.1. Jesus asked us in Mark 12:31 to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ . The fact is that God asks us to love others as we love ourselves. It is implied that if we do not love ourselves, we cannot love others. God loves us, God wants us to love ourselves. The lack of self love is a cause of many stressors . Lack of self love results in low self respect, depression, making self damaging decisions, develop suicidal tendencies etc. The Word asks us to be imitators of God. We cannot do that unless we love ourselves. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 which describes the agape love so beautifully does not put a condition on the person being loved, but makes it unconditional on the person loved. Similarly; immaterial of how we are, what characteristics we have , how sinful we have been before we came to Christ; we need to extend the same agape love to ourselves.2. The first step in Loving yourselves in knowing yourselves. This again is a controversial subject. There are many Christians who believe that self knowledge is not necessary and we need to only focus on knowing God. They misquote John 3:30 (He must become greater; I must become less ). My strong belief based on my study of the bible is that self knowledge should precede knowledge of God. My biggest argument in favour of this goes like this. We are called to surrender ourselves to God. If we do not know ourselves fully well, what are we surrendering? Will we not end up surrendering superficial inequities and not our deepest fears and temptations? This is a separate subject for sermon itself. But let me close this by quoting some of the Christian leaders who agree with me. 


              There is no deep knowing of God without the deep knowing of self, and no deep knowing of self without the deep knowing of God: John Calvin (In his book: The Institutes of Christian Religion)Grant, Lord, that I may know myself as I know thee : A prayer composed by Augustine (Fifth Century Church leader)There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace, and my happiness depend; to discover myself in discovering God: Thomas Merton, (20th Century spiritual writer)I would go as far as to say that the teaching that we should focus on God and Christ alone and not seek to understand ourselves and our identity as new creatures in Christ is not Christian but anti-Christian. Selwyn Hughes, writer of EDWJThis is what great Christian leaders have to say about knowing self, having seen this let us get back to other aspects of loving ourselves.


3. In my ministry, we help people to find out about themselves quite a lot. From a stress reaction point of view, it is good to know what type of personality one has. We can do this by doing a psychometric  test. There are many web sites which offer this test on-line and one of them is http://www.elibay.com/resources/tools/typeA.pdfIf your score is 110 or Above your type is A1, You are Highly prone to stress. If above 40, should be very careful. Highly prone to cardiac problemsIf your score is 80 – 109, you are type A2. Prone to medium levels of stress. May not recognize the problem until extreme symptoms of serious illness develop.If your score is between 60-79 you are type AB. Mixture of Type A and Type B personalities, potential to slip into Type A category. BalancedIf your score is between 30-59 , your type is B1. Relaxed. Can cope adequately with stress. Less prone to cardiac problems. Might not succeed in a corporate culture.If your score is between 0-29, your type is B2. Highly relaxed. No stress issues. May cause stress to others due to inactivity and  lack of commitmentOur personality has a great impact on the stress levels that we may have. The knowledge about our personality type should help us to take stress relief measures accordingly.4. Isaiah 30:18 promises that Blessed are all who wait on the Lord. We need to stop being on the run and be patient with ourselves. We cannot adopt a perfectionist attitude . All of us have sinned . God sets high standards for us, but God is patient with us.  We need to do likewise. When we are patient with ourselves our stress melts away. Let us read James 1:2-4 together. (Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. ) Ecclesiastes 12 and Ecclesiastes 13 tell us “that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God” This requires that we need to be kind to ourselves first, and then to be kind to others.5. God has given each one of us talents according to his grace. We need to use these talents for His glorification. Identify your talent and see how you can use it for his glory. If it is singing, sing, if it is writing, write for God, If it is paining do that for his. David danced for God. Using your talent for expressing love to God and to proclaim His love for others can have a very soothing effect on your nerves and releases the stress very well.6. Our body is fearfully and wonderfully made. It is our responsibility to take care of the body. God mandated the Sabbath so that people will take rest. Exodus 20:9-10. have we forgotten to do this? How many of us take the idea of taking one day really off and relaxing seriously. How many of us feel guilty if we take rest on a Sunday? How many hours of sleep do we get every day? Our body requires a certain amount of sleep and if it is not available, the stress builds up. If we are unable to relax our body and mind, let us try a Progressive Relaxation technique (PRT). Let us practice this now.


PRT or Progressive Relaxation Technique is best practiced lying down flat, on our back. If that is not possible, do sit in a vary comfortable position while doing this. Close your eyes and start focusing your mind on to your toes. Consciously start relaxing the part of the body (the toes) that you are focusing on. Try to get all your attention to that one part of the body. Slowly move your attention to the whole feet, and to the ankles, and then to the calf muscles etc, relaxing each part of the body consciously and deliberately. You may have to spend sufficient time in each part of the body till you can feel the relaxation setting in. Move slowly up your body till you reach your head, and then reverse the order and come back to your toes slowly. This is a very powerful relaxation technique, especially when you are stressed or tired. This can also be used when your mind is too busy thinking up things and hence you are unable to sleep, or relax.


11.1. 1 John 9:11 asks us to love one another , because God loves us. Since God’s love for us is undeniable , so becomes our love for others too.  God did not create man to live alone. Ecclesiastes 4:10 tells us that when there are two, one will support another, and woe to one who is alone when he falls down. Loving relationship with others do not develop unless we have the right attitude to others. The support system that loving relationships can provide is a great stress prevention mechanism. We can develop such loving relationship to others by being compassionate and caring and not being self centered.2.2. We need to be kind to others. We need to use wisdom with the kindness. While trying to protect the ones we love, we need to be aware of the ,limits of such protectiveness, else that itself can be a serious stressor. This is especially true in the case of parents and spouses. Remember that God also loves that individual as much as he loves you. The other side of this is, when we try to protect people who have sinful or self destructive nature. We need to use God given wisdom to know when to protect and when to expose or let go. There is much wisdom in the verses of Proverbs 9:8-93.3. Romans 12:18 exhorts us to live peacefully with each other as far as it is in your control. What a beautiful verse. Hebrews 12:14 adds Holiness to this. When we live peacefully with others, we treat them with respect, and this strengthens the relationship. Deterioration in relationship with others is a major cause of stress in the modern world. Impatient demands can also ruin relationships and cause immeasurable stress. Prevent stress by living peacefully with others.4.4. When relationships go sour, the best thing to do is to mend the relationship. Bible is clear on this. All of us know that our sins are forgiven in Jesus Christ. But many a times we forget the forgiveness equation, given in Matthew 6:14-15. The forgiveness given here is conditional to us forgiving others. Holding grudges against others is a major cause of stress and our Lord’s example while hanging on the cross should be sufficient motivation for us to forgive even those who has done the so called “unpardonable” acts against us. Jesus teaches us to forgive any number of times (Matthew 18:22)


God created the universe and gave it to the man he created in His image. He gave dominion over all creations to man. After sinning, man lost the opportunity to enjoy the creation, but got busy with toiling for the creation. That is the sad part of the story. The Bible however tells us through Ecclesiastes 3:13 that man should find satisfaction in all his toil. How many of us take time to enjoy our surroundings, how many of us can say that we enjoy the nature, that God enjoyed creating and found that it was very good? (Genesis 1:31) , when is the last time that you stopped and enjoyed the breeze? Have you ever seen the grass grow? When is the last time you enjoyed and savored the taste of a fruit or dwelt on the smell of a flower? God has filled our surroundings with beautiful things.  Sure men have spoiled some of them. We have brought in pollution, we have brought is adulteration, we have brought in noise. But amidst all this God’s creation still awaits our attention. Can we make the choice to enjoy God’s creation fully?Let us try and experience our breathing.. yes., the very thing that we do so unconsciously every second. 


Please sit back in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Focus on your breathing alone. Inhale slowly and deeply and hold. Exhale slowly and fully and hold, all this while focusing on your breathing. If it helps you, say to yourselves, “I need you, Lord” while exhaling, and “I receive you , Lord” while inhaling. You will realize how beautiful is the gift of breathing is , and you will be able to enjoy this very act.


So brothers and Sisters in Christ, this is what our God has planned for us for managing our stress. Is it not beautiful that the Bible has solution for every problem that we have on earth.
 
Let us keep Love at the core of our stress management plan.
 
I would be love to hear from you on how useful this article is for you. 

The thoughts expressed in this article/sermon has been deeply inspired by the Book ” God’s Stress Management Plan” by Dr. Dr Helen A. Mendes. Dr. Mendez has been kind enough to grant me permission to use limited portions of her book in this article or in my ministry. I am grateful to Dr. Mendez for this permission

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