Stats say about 80% of Americans report feeling stressed. These numbers generally go up and up year after year. With all our technology designed to free up more and more time we have simply added more and more “necessities” to our life.
I guess before we really get started on trying to figure out if it’s a sin to be stressed we should first define “stress.” The Oxford Dictionary defines “stress” as (the Brits think they’re so much smarter than us) “A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” Now the Bible doesn’t use the word “stress” anywhere but it does talk about “anxiety,” “trials,” “trouble,” and “worry.” I think the application to how to treat these would be similar to how we should treat stress.
As a starting point, let’s look at Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Similarly, we have Jesus’ own words (and not just His inspired ones #redwordsarebetter) in Matthew 6:25, 27: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” It might not be totally fair to just plug the word “stress” in instead of anxiety but honestly, why not? Don’t be stressed about anything seems like something Jesus would say. So I’ll speak about stress in the same way I would speak about anxiety or depression or anger. Ephesians 4:26 tells us to not sin in our anger. So anger in itself is not sin, but the expression of it can certainly be. I would say the same applies to these other concepts as well. In our stress do not sin. So how might we sin in our stress?
Don’t Let Stress Remain
While stress might creep up on us we should recognize it as a symptom of something bigger. If stress is a constant are we not trusting in God? Are our priorities out of sync? Is Christ not center? I guess we must ask ourselves is Jesus the one bringing the stress or is it everything else? To live in a constant state of stress has to be seen as negative. At what point are we going to call it a sin? Just looking at the 10 Commandments I’d say constant stress is probably breaking of having no other gods before God, not remembering the Sabbath, and probably some covetous elements as well. Don’t worry. I’m not just looking to call you a sinner and peace out. I’ll talk about how we overcome this as well. But let me call you a sinner a few more times first.
Don’t Block Him Out
I think often times stress is the tuning out of God and the reliance on self. I think you would agree that ignoring God and dealing with something by yourself is by its nature pride. Whether God is blocked on purpose like someone angry at God for their circumstances or one who accidently does this because they don’t know how to reach out to God, the result is the same – their eyes are no longer on Jesus, the author and perfecter of their faith.
Don’t Turn to Something Else
Then I would say that what’s inevitable is the turning to something other than Christ for relief. Whether alcohol, drugs, or the like; or something more acceptable such as caffeine, desserts, or food either way those things are taking the role of God in our life. Obviously everyone “de-stresses” differently whether by watching TV at night, or going fishing on the weekend, or just walking around Target holding a frappuccino. Now none of those are sinful in themselves. It just becomes sinful if those things actually take the place of God. He should be the one we turn to in times of stress.
So How Do We De-Stress God’s Way?
We pray before our day starts, in the midst of challenges, and after we make it through. We purposefully keep Him front and center. We unload the weights of this life on the one who can truly carry them. Let’s talk to the One who actually knows the future and what we will face in our lives. We can then trust Him that He will prepare us for what we need.
As part of our prayers let us be sure to orient our thinking to thanks-giving. We need to be thankful for what we have and not concerned with what we don’t have. Are our needs taken care of? Let’s praise God for that? So often the things we are thankful for are what are bringing us stress – i.e. our jobs, our kids, and our ministries. But even these things can take the place of God, which will bring stress.
We often times have our priorities out of whack. We are spending 90% of time doing the things we only want to do 10% of the time. The spiritual element here is that Christ needs to be the reason for everything we do. He should be the reason why we work to make money, why we take care of our families, etc. However, there is also a practical element here too. When we prioritize, we keep first things first. We don’t let less important matters to creep up the “must-do” list. Are we specifically taking time to do things that Scripture says will help our relationship with Christ such as the reading of Scripture, gathering with other believers, and serving our fellow man? Because if you cut all that out because of “lack of time” then I guarantee you will be stressed because all the weight of your universe only has your shoulders to rest on and that weight will only grow because you have no way to lessen it.
So recognize the danger of stress in your life. Not only because of the physical consequences associated with it, but because of the spiritual consequences as well.