Studies consistently show that our world is becoming more stressful. The Bible provides principles that can help us not only cope with stress but grow from it!
Do you find life more stressful than it was even a few years ago? If so, you are not alone. Even in the United States—a nation currently enjoying a financial upturn—stress is a dominating influence in the lives of many. In its Global Emotions 2019 report, the Gallup organization noted, “Even as their economy roared, more Americans were stressed, angry and worried last year than they have been at most points during the past decade” (“Americans’ Stress, Worry and Anger Intensified in 2018,” Gallup.com, April 25, 2019).
The New York Times reported the details: “In the United States, about 55 percent of adults said they had experienced stress during ‘a lot of the day’ prior, compared with just 35 percent globally.… About 45 percent of the Americans surveyed said they had felt ‘a lot’ of worry the day before, compared with a global average of 39 percent” (“Americans Are Among the Most Stressed People in the World, Poll Finds,” New York Times, April 25, 2019). A healthy economy, it seems, is no insurance against the burden of stress and worry.
As we accelerate our technology and pace of life in the 21st century, millions experience increasing stress, depression, and physical illness. The Washington Post featured an article with this headline: “Not only are Americans becoming less happy—we’re experiencing more pain too.” The article reported on research by David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College and Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick, who examined “cross-country data on the experience of pain.”
In 2011, the International Social Survey Programme asked respondents in over 30 nations how often they had experienced bodily aches and pains in the past month. Americans were the most likely to report frequent pain, with 34 percent saying they experienced it “often” or “very often.” The average across all countries surveyed was just 20 percent. “As the US is one of the richest countries in the world, and in principle might be expected to have one of the most comfortable lifestyles in the world, it seems strange—to put it at its mildest—that the nation should report such a lot of pain,” Blanchflower and Oswald write (Washington Post, December 6, 2017).
Yes, stress affects us in profound ways! But while health experts can give us useful strategies for coping with stress, there is another source that has been proven for millennia to be filled with the best guidance of all—God’s word. Yes, your Bible reveals powerful ways to overcome stress, fear, frustration, and anxiety.
The book of Proverbs reminds us to pursue true values. We read, “Receive my instruction, and not silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her” (Proverbs 8:10–11). Those who seek money, luxury, and glittering possessions must always worry about holding on to what they have and acquiring even more. But our Savior, Jesus Christ, commented on those who worry about gaining possessions: “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:31–32). If you trust in God and follow His guidance, you will gain wisdom and will not find yourself worrying about the obsessive search for more physical things. You will be seeking something far higher. Read it in your own Bible: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). God is the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). He has promised to fulfill our needs (Philippians 4:19). Do you believe Him? Confront your stress by seeking the highest goal: God’s Kingdom.
In today’s fast-paced world, do you ever stop to take a deep breath? Do you take a moment from your activity to “smell the roses”? You may start your workday stressed in congested commuter traffic. Then, with one appointment or stop after another, you may only take time for a quick snack for lunch—if you don’t skip lunch entirely. “Soccer moms,” as they are called, transport their children to and from school and from one activity to another. Some people work two jobs just to keep their heads above financial water.
Some are so addicted to technology that they stay online constantly and lose touch with their environment. Many in the U.S. may think of Internet activity as a problem unique to their country, yet we find otherwise in an eye-opening report from the London Telegraph: “British teenagers spend more time on the internet than virtually anyone else in the world, leading them to become more unhappy and susceptible to mental health problems, a new report has found. Nearly one in four pupils in the U.K. are now considered ‘extreme’ internet users, with tens of thousands spending three times longer online than the average dwell-time of children living in the rest of the developed world” (“British children are online more than almost any other developed nation—and are more unhappy as a result,” April 19, 2017).
What does God offer as an alternative? We read, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). To reduce or even prevent stress, try to connect with nature. Take a break. If you can, find a rosebush or some other source of beauty in nature that you can appreciate. At night, pause to consider the awesomeness of the stars above. And take the time to stop and pray for a moment, telling God of your appreciation for the marvels of His creation. God tells us, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge” (Psalm 46:10–11).
Are you what some call a “worrywart”? Do you let your fears and worries produce emotional and physical stress in your life? The patriarch Job lamented, “For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me” (Job 3:25). What should he have done? The Apostle Paul made it plain: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). In other words, share your worries, your fears, and your concerns with God in prayer!
Perhaps you are worried about your needs. Again, go to God! Jesus tells us that God knows your needs even before you ask Him (Matthew 6:8), but He wants you to ask in order to develop a closer relationship with Him.
Are you worried about the state of your country? In an article discussing its “Stress in America” survey, the American Psychological Association reported, “Nearly two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) say the future of the nation is a very or somewhat significant source of stress, slightly more than perennial stressors like money (62 percent) and work (61 percent)” (“US at ‘Lowest Point We Can Remember;’ Future of Nation Most Commonly Reported Source of Stress,” November 1, 2017). As diverging ideologies continue to polarize people, many in the last few years have faced the stress of losing long-held, valued friendships. So, what should you do if you are feeling stress about the governance of your nation? Your Bible gives the answer: Pray about it!
Certainly, we should pray that rulers in government show mercy to those faithfully seeking to obey God, allowing them to live in peace. We read this in the Apostle Paul’s advice to the young evangelist Timothy: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:1–2). However, there is another aspect that many people, even Christians, too easily neglect. If you are feeling stress because you do not like your nation’s leader, you need to understand just who arranged for or allowed that person’s rule. “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Romans 13:1). When you understand that God is in charge, you can let go of your personal stress about your nation’s leaders and focus on praying for God’s will to be done.
And how should you pray? Notice that Paul said to pray “with thanksgiving” (Philippians 4:6). Yes, ask for what you need and what you want, but do not forget to thank God for all your blessings. As you learn to recognize your blessings and not only your challenges, you will learn to see your problems in a bigger context—and that larger perspective will reduce your stress.
As you pray, do not be shy about also claiming God’s promises for you! Your Bible is a treasure house of His sure and wonderful promises. The Apostle Peter gives us powerful encouragement! He writes to us:
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Peter 1:2–4).
As you claim God’s promises in prayer, you can overcome stress. What are a few of those promises? God has promised to answer our prayers (Matthew 7:7–8); He has promised to fulfill all our needs (Philippians 4:19); He has promised to guide our lives (Proverbs 3:5–6); He has promised to give us the desires of our heart, if we delight in Him (Psalm 37:4–5); He has promised us peace of mind (Philippians 4:6–7); He has promised the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; Luke 11:13); He has promised us the gift of His love (Romans 5:5); and He has promised us eternal life (1 John 2:25). Those are just a few. There are many more promises in the Bible for you, your friends and loved ones, and for all human beings on the earth—if you will come to God in prayer and in faith, through our Savior Jesus Christ.
Is stress all bad? Endocrinologist Hans Selye defines stress as “the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it” (Stress Without Distress, p. 14). This definition accounts for “good” types of stress or “eustress,” such as the stress that comes with a job promotion, as well as “bad” stress or “distress,” such as what you experience when you discover you have bounced a check. Physiologically, both types of stress are the same: They result in increased blood pressure, increased respiratory rates, increased digestive activity, increased sugar and fatty acids in the circulatory system, increased metabolism, increased sodium retention, and decreased immune function.
When we make plans, we can use stress in a positive way. Indeed, we need positive stressors in our life to make it fun and interesting, and certain stressors also help us be more productive. Deadlines and rewards for completing tasks, for example, motivate us. Health researcher Jerrold Greenberg emphasizes this: “The goal of stress management is not to eliminate all stress…. Our goal should be to limit the harmful effects of stress while maintaining life’s quality and vitality” (Comprehensive Stress Management, pp. 12, 14).
For many, even planning a few days ahead can seem a big challenge, and setting a consistent schedule with steps toward our major goals can change our attitude for the better. You may have heard the time-management tip that when you are faced with what seems to be a difficult task, you should break it down into many smaller tasks that are each manageable. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by one huge challenge, you can then overcome a series of smaller challenges.
But what is the greatest project of all, the greatest challenge? As we discussed earlier, our most important plan should be to seek the Kingdom of God. As regular readers of this magazine know, God has planned for us a wonderful future as members of His Family—a plan that can seem almost unimaginable in our present state. But it is within our grasp if we use what God has given us. We can have the power of Christ to help us achieve our goals! For, as Scripture states, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). Remember the Apostle Peter’s admonition on the day of Pentecost: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Have you repented of your sins? Have you received proper biblical baptism? If you have seriously considered making a life-commitment to God, I urge you to counsel with one of the many ministers affiliated with Tomorrow’s World. We have ministers in many regions around the world. Just contact the Regional Office closest to you, listed on page 4 of this magazine, or you can contact us on our website at TomorrowsWorld.org.
How do your personal challenges compare with those of the Apostle Paul? He told the Corinthians about the stress, trials, and tribulations he had endured: “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep” (2 Corinthians 11:24–25). How did he cope with those stresses? He focused on maintaining a positive attitude. Even while Paul was in prison, he encouraged others to do this as well: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8–9).
Think about those things that are true. What is true? Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17). The Bible, God’s word, is truth. Think about those scriptures that are important to you. Read your Bible. Mark, highlight, or underline those verses that mean something special or significant to you! Dear reader, you and I must read the Bible. I encourage you to read your Bible every day! God’s word will inspire you. It will help clean up your thoughts and mind. As Jesus said, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3, King James Version).
Paul also asks us to meditate on “whatever things are lovely” (Philippians 4:8). Sometimes, when I want to counteract stress, I focus on lovely, picturesque scenes that I have seen in my travels. I think of the sunsets I have seen around the world. I think of lakes and mountains and beautiful rainbows. Meditate on the positive and you will reduce stress!
Selfishness is a major cause of stress. An excessive focus on self only adds to the stresses in life. Your Bible emphasizes a simple but profound principle. The Apostle Paul experienced many trials in his life, but he emphasized this key principle as given by the Lord: “I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).
Perhaps you know the story of the Good Samaritan. A lawyer had correctly answered a question Jesus had asked him, implying that he understood God’s command that we love our neighbors as our own selves (Luke 10:25–28). But notice: “But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29). In response, Jesus recounted the story of a priest and a Levite—respected members of society—who chose to walk past a man who had been attacked by thieves, neglecting to offer help. Instead, the injured man received the help he needed from a Samaritan—a man looked down upon by the Jewish population of the day—who was even willing to pay his expenses to recover from the thieves’ attack (vv. 30–35). Jesus then pointedly asked the lawyer, “‘So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’ And he [the lawyer] said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise’” (vv. 36–38).
When we love our neighbors and help those in need, our own stresses diminish and we have a more positive perspective on life. Even if we ourselves are suffering, we need to do good to others. We read, “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19). Or, as it states in the New International Version, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” Yes, God expects us to love our neighbors and continue to do good to others, even while under stress—and we can benefit from shifting our focus toward the needs of others.
Even in the workplace, some companies are discovering that concern for their workers’ stress is good for the “bottom line.” Mark Bertolini, former Chief Executive Officer of the Aetna insurance company, was sobered to learn that the most stressed 20 percent of workers at his company spent $1,500 more annually on health care than did less-stressed workers. Bertolini responded by making changes to company policy. To help reduce stress, Aetna not only addressed financial stress by raising entry-level wages and helping workers to pay back student loans, but the company also instituted a $300 bonus for employees who were able to get 7.5 hours of sleep for 20 consecutive nights. What was the result? Not only did employees report subjectively less stress, the company increased its operating margin from 8 percent to 9.1 percent (“Stressed-out workers spend $1,500 more on health care each year,” CNBC.com, June 19, 2019). Yes, the principle of Luke 6:38—give, and it will be given to you—applies even in the business world. When we practice the “way of give,” we can reduce our own daily stresses and those of others around us!
Love is outgoing concern. When we practice a “giving” way of life, we can thrive amidst our daily stresses. This is also stated in the second great commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
Dear readers, despite our pressure-filled world, can we conquer our fears, worries, and anxieties? Yes, we can, with God’s help. You can survive stress—and thrive! Apply the strategies we have considered in this article, and thank God for His word, which is filled with exceedingly great and precious promises to help you live the abundant life He desires for you!