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)

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