The economy, unemployment, terrorism, politics, finances, moral decline, major sickness, a prodigal child, an unhealthy marriage—for most of us, contemplating any one of these pressures will knot our stomach. We become uneasy and tense. Our soul ceases to be quiet like the still waters but instead becomes deafeningly noisy like a wailing infant. In other words, we are “stressed.”
Our culture consistently uses the term stress to describe the mental or emotional tension we experience because of life’s hardships. The more precise biblical terms that capture the essence of society’s concept of stress include anxiety, fear, anger, despair, and guilt.
When we begin to understand stress from this biblical perspective, its resolution becomes apparent. Stress is not identical with the pressures of life. Nor are the pressures of life the cause of stress. Stress is the mental and emotional tension that is generated from our unbiblical responses to pressure.
Imagine Paul and Silas, unfairly beaten and tossed into the Philippian jail without a fair hearing, singing praises at midnight (Acts 16). Had they experienced extreme pressure? Yes! Were they stressed? Apparently not. Their stress-free handling of the pressure led to the salvation of their jailor.
Later, writing to the Philippians from a different jail, Paul would remind them about “rejoicing always” and “the peace that surpasses understanding” (4:4–9). Paul seemingly embodied the mature believer described in Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” The mindsets portrayed in these two passages are the antithesis of stress. Stress-free living begins with trust in God in the midst of pressure.
But why do we face pressure in life? Genesis 3 gives the answer. After Adam fell, God cursed the ground from which Adam had been taken and over which Adam was to have dominion. Adam’s dominion became filled with hardship and pressure. Why? In addition to appropriate consequences of his rebellion, God intended the hardness of life to drive mankind back to dependency upon Himself.
So our primary goal in handling life’s pressures is to learn how to depend upon God and please Him—not simply to get rid of stresses. As we learn to depend on God, our soul will be quietly peaceful like a weaned child resting against his mother (Psalm 131). Another benefit is that unbelievers will marvel at God’s peace in the believer’s life, which surpasses their understanding, and they may ask to learn more.
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