4 October 2022

Christians and stress (part 2)

Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay 

Dealing with stress

Relaxation techniques, attention to diet and exercise, time-management strategies, voluntary simplicity and community building are all valid and useful ways of reducing the stress in our lives. However, as Christians we must also deal with two underlying issues—fear and lack of focus.


So much of our busy-ness and sense of overload is due to fear; fear of failure, fear of being rejected, fear of loss, fear of illness and death, fear of losing control. Yet often we don't even recognise the fears that drive us. 

Both Christians and non-Christians may be driven by a subconscious fear of God. In the unbeliever this could even be a positive drive. In a Christian, it can only be due to an inadequate grasp of what salvation means. God may call us to be busy for him, but busy-ness can easily become our own attempt to win God's favour, if we don't understand that we are totally forgiven and accepted already. Jesus has completed that task, with nothing for us to add.

The key to overcoming all of these fears is to know what scripture says about them—really know, with our hearts as well as our heads. We can only do this by reading the bible consistently and prayerfully. Then we need to put what we have read into practice, as a conscious act of will. "God is my salvation, I WILL trust and WILL NOT be afraid, (my emphasis). 

Freedom from fear is not something we are likely to achieve in an instant.  Each time we become fearful again, we need to recognise it, ask for forgiveness and grace, then begin afresh. Other Christians are an invaluable and God-given source of encouragement in this.


Lack of focus in our lives results in us being pulled this way and that by competing demands and desires. We may have many different goals, all of them apparently good, but often quite contradictory. For instance, “I must spend more time with my family” and “I must work as hard as I can to get the promotion I deserve”. As a result we begin to feel fragmented.

Christians are not immune from this. Often we simply add a few spiritual goals to the rest rather than refocusing our lives.

Fear and lack of focus are obviously related. If I fear something (or someone) one of my goals will be to avoid or overcome the thing I fear. If I have many fears, I will have many different goals, and my mental, physical and emotional energies will be scattered in all directions. 

Jesus had focus

Jesus had only one focus in life; the kingdom of God, for the glory of God. He called his followers to be equally single-minded. "Seek first (God's) kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things (i.e. material needs) will be given you as well", (Matthew 6.33).

"Yes, but Jesus didn't have a job, or mortgage, or a family to worry about. He could afford to be single minded," we might reply. I don't think Jesus was calling us to abandon these things (though sometimes he does.) Rather, we are to look at them all in the light of the kingdom of God. 

The work we do is to contribute to building God's kingdom, whether we preach sermons, design cars or wash dishes. Our house is to be a part of God's kingdom, received with thanks, used for his service and given up if he asks that of us. Our children are to be raised for God's kingdom, not by brow-beating them, but by drawing them into it. If they choose to go another way, our focus is still to be God's kingdom. 

Our hobbies, our clothes, our friendships, our money, our possessions, our relationship with our in-laws, our health, all are to be seen in the light of God's kingdom.

When we look at Jesus' life, as described in the gospels, we can see the effects of being focused. Jesus had compassion on the crowds who followed him about, and healed many who were sick. Yet at times he would walk away from them in order to pray or teach his disciples. He was not driven by a need to be popular, or to (literally) cure all the world's ills. 

Jesus did not try to do everything himself. He taught his disciples, then sent them out in pairs to teach and heal. He shared his concerns with them. He entrusted the future church to them. He was not driven by the need to keep power to himself or to appear super-human.

Jesus had no hesitation in openly criticising or correcting those who were straying from the truth. He continued his ministry despite the growing opposition of the authorities. Fear of man did not come between him and his goal of bringing about the kingdom of God.

In prayer Jesus maintained the same focus. "Father, may your name be hallowed, may your kingdom come, may your will be done," (Matthew 6:9). The needs of the day followed on from this, not as though they were trivial, but placed in their true context. "Give us this day our daily bread." Through prayer, Jesus received the strength and direction he needed to stay focused.

Jesus certainly didn't live a gentle, stress-free life. He experienced tiredness, grief, pressure from the crowds, misunderstanding from his disciples, harassment from the religious authorities and ultimately betrayal, torture and death. Yet always he seemed to be in control, steady in his purpose and sure of where he was going. His resurrection is our assurance that in the end he reached his goal.

Being focused in this way, while it may seem difficult at first sight (and impossible without the help of the Holy Spirit) would surely enable us to simplify our lives and overcome the fragmentation we so often experience.

Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he said "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11.28-30.)

(Part 1 can be found here)

Christians and stress (part 1)

(This article and the one that follows were written many years ago. I've decided to republish them here in the hope that they may be helpful to someone.)

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

What is stress?

In physics, "stress" can refer to the pressure applied to an object, or it can describe the internal resistance of the object itself. When people speak of being "stressed" there is a similar ambiguity. 

Stress, in the sense of an applied pressure, is not always detrimental. Stress can motivate us to begin and complete tasks. However, what most people mean by "stress" is a sense of being overwhelmed and overloaded. They feel as if their internal resistance is at breaking point.

Life has been difficult for most people throughout history. We could dismiss the view that our own lives are increasingly stressful as trendy self-pity. Yet the social and personal cost of stress is great.

What causes stress?

In simple terms, when we are threatened or in danger, our bodies produce chemicals which prepare us to put up a fight or run away - the so-called fight or flight reaction. 

When the "threat" is an irate customer, a pile of files or a whining child, neither fight nor flight is usually appropriate. So we experience the effect of these chemicals but not the relief of responding to them. What's more, we can learn to feel stressed just by thinking about stressful situations. 

Triggers of stress in our twenty-first century, western lifestyle are many, but include:

  • Busy-ness. By the age of four, today's child is likely to be in constant motion, from kindergarten to kindy gym, from music lessons to child care. By the end of primary school, home might well be little more than a place to sleep.The pace is set for adult life.

Christians are certainly not immune from busy-ness, as they try to fit church commitments, bible study and prayer into their already busy lives. Dreams of escaping to a monastic life are not uncommon! Most people realise that they are "too busy", but deciding what activities to cut back is not easy.

  • Technological speed. If our activities were limited to those we could carry out within walking distance of home, most of us would have much quieter lives. Our cars allow us to travel long distances in relative comfort, but contribute to our stress. Telephones, fax machines, computers and email also add to the speed of life. 
  • Information overload. Most people in the past relied on word of mouth for their information. Much of it was inaccurate, but they had time to integrate what they heard into what they already knew.

Today we are bombarded with information. If we don't recognise that much of it is irrelevant or inaccurate, and learn to be selective, we can feel overloaded and guilty for not keeping up. 

Since good news doesn't sell, we are exposed to a very slanted view of the world through the media. We can become depressed about situations which have no bearing on our own lives and which we can do nothing about.

  • False expectations. Many people in the post-war generation grew up believing that, with work and determination, they could be anything, do anything and have anything they chose. Real life, while being better than most previous generations could have dreamed of, is still disappointing.

In contrast, the following generations often have a sense of hopelessness about the future. The threat of nuclear weapons, pollution, social decay and a belief that life ends at death all rob their efforts of any meaning. They feel as if they are going nowhere.

  • Social isolation. We may be able to communicate instantly with almost anyone in the world , but we often have little time to spend face to face with people. Many of our interactions, even with those closest to us, stay at a superficial level. Our mobility prevents us from getting to know our neighbours. As a result, when we're feeling stressed, we have few people to support us, and those who do often feel overloaded themselves.
  • The burden of possessions. Compared to most of the world's people, we are materially blessed. However, every purchase we make adds an extra demand on our time to maintain it. We also have to find somewhere to keep it. The more expensive the item, the more likely we are to be anxious about it being stolen or broken.
  • The shrinking of time. The smallest period of time mentioned in the bible is an hour. Now we speak blithely about athletes taking 2/100ths of a second off a record. 

People in the past viewed time as something which was created as they lived. It couldn't be "gained" or "wasted". In contrast, we see time as something with a reality of its own, already subdivided into milliseconds and waiting for us to fill it. This puts us under constant pressure to keep up with the clock. The quest for increased productivity has added to this pressure.

  • Change. Our nervous systems constantly monitor the world around us. However, our brain only stays consciously alert to things which are changing. (For instance, we don't notice how our clothes feel most of the time.)

We are also unable to focus our attention on more than one thing at once. In order to stay alert to two or more things, we have to switch our attention back and forth.

If we live in an environment which is noisy and fast-moving, we place great demands on our nervous system and brain. It is not surprising that we become jumpy, forgetful and have difficulty concentrating. 

Constant change has been a key feature of the twentieth century. Some changes are superficial. Others have been more profound. The improved status of women, new ways of raising children, altered attitudes to authority and concern about the environment have had a deep effect on how we live and relate to each other. For many, the lack of certainty created by change is stressful. 

In our society it's difficult to avoid all of these pressures (and there are no doubt others). Yet Christians often add another stress of their own—guilt about feeling stressed! They feel that as Christians, they should be living peaceful, stress-free lives. Otherwise, how will they be a living witness to Jesus?

It's true that if we deal with stress by using drugs or alcohol, or by abusing our family, we will not be much of an advertisement to others. Nor are we likely to be believed if we pretend to ourselves and others that we don't experience the same pressures as other people. 

That is not to say that we should make a virtue of being stressed. Paul only "boasted" about his sufferings in order to make a point. (See 2 Corinthians 11:16-30). What we really need is to recognise the stresses in our lives and find constructive, godly ways to deal with them. 

6 May 2020

Leaping in the dark

Are you afraid of letting God get a grip on you? Do you stand at a distance, too scared to let him get close? Do you fear what he might do with you, or ask you to do, if you handed over your life to him?

In one sense, we should all be afraid of God. We should never underestimate his power and awesomeness. It is a dreadful thing to fall, unprepared, into the hands of the living God.

But it's not this reverent fear which holds many of us back from putting ourselves fully in God's hands. Our fear comes from other sources.

Some fear losing control. They've had unpleasant experiences of being controlled and manipulated by others. Perhaps they've been through a time where life was chaotically out of control and they've vowed (often subconsciously) never to let that happen to them again. They want to believe God can be trusted, but there's a dreadful emotional barrier in the way.

Some would like to be closer to God, but they're already committed to serving someone or something else - their career, their reputation, their parents or spouse, an ideology, an organization or a secret society. They're unwilling to depose their idol, and God allows no rivals.

Half-heartedness is sometimes a mask for laziness. While I continue to serve God on my terms, I can set limits to how much time and effort I give him. Being a paid servant is one thing, becoming a slave of Christ is quite another. But fear can also cause half-heartedness - what if God asked me to do more than I could cope with? What if I never achieve the things I want to achieve because I'm too busy doing God's work?

Satan uses our fears to keep us at a distance from God. He tells us God doesn't have our best interest at heart. He keeps the word "fanatic" fresh in our minds. He holds us over a dark abyss and whispers "This is faith. Do you really want to jump?"

Jesus calls to us, "Follow me". But where? What will happen along the way? Putting all our trust in him can seem like a leap in the dark, until we understand how he proved his trustworthiness on the cross. If you are afraid to trust your life to God, or know that he's asking you to trust him more, talk to another Christian about it and ask them to pray with you. The only truly safe place in the universe is in God's hands.

Photo by Mitchell Hartley on Unsplash

3 April 2020

Faith in Crisis - free ebook to download

I've recently put together some of the articles from this blog and my archives that seem relevant to the present times. They cover topics such as faith, trust, doubt, disasters and questions about God's goodness.

The result is 'Faith in Crisis', a small eBook in PDF format that's free to download from my website. I hope and pray that it will be an encouragement to you.


I've now added a second eBook, Hope in Sorrow, which is made up of longer articles on grief, depression, stress and death. You can download it free from my website.