How can we cope with the increasing stresses of our modern world? God’s Word provides answers.
Everyone experiences it. No person of sound mind gets through life without facing it. Like it or not, stress is part of everyone’s life. As comedy writer Jane Wagner quipped, “Reality is the leading cause of stress for those in touch with it.”
Whether we’re young people trying to learn about life and find a way to be successful or adults trying to survive and navigate our complex world, we all have our lists of concerns and things to worry about.
And if we don’t have enough on our own lists, we live in a world filled with life-threatening chaos. Will or won’t North Korea attempt to use a nuclear weapon? Will the civil war in Syria ever come to an end? Will the U.S. and Russia ever see eye to eye? How long before the unrelenting tension in the Middle East ignites another full-scale war? Will we be innocent victims of crime?
The website of the American Institute of Stress (AIS) says, “There are numerous emotional and physical disorders that have been linked to stress including depression, anxiety, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, immune system disturbances that increase susceptibility to infections, a host of viral linked disorders ranging from the common cold and herpes to AIDS and certain cancers, as well as autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
“In addition stress can have direct effects on the skin (rashes, hives, atopic dermatitis), the gastrointestinal system (GERD, peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis) and can contribute to insomnia and degenerative neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease. In fact, it’s hard to think of any disease in which stress cannot play an aggravating role or any part of the body that is not affected. … This list will undoubtedly grow as the extensive ramifications of stress are increasingly being appreciated” (“Stress Effects”).
Research confirms that stress affects us both physically and mentally.
Stress prophesied to increase
Some 2,000 years ago the Bible predicted that stress would increase as humanity entered the end times—the time that begins just before the return of Jesus Christ to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth. Writing to Timothy, his beloved protégé in the ministry, Paul said, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1, emphasis added throughout).
This phrase, “perilous times,” is translated variously as “terrible times,” “grievous times,” “times of trouble” and “difficult times.” Reflecting the effects this time will have upon people, the marginal note in the New King James Version describes it as “times of stress.”
What Paul was explaining to Timothy was a concept that had previously been addressed by Daniel, Jeremiah and Jesus. Centuries before Paul, God had revealed through Daniel that there would come “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation” (Daniel 12:1). Subsequent verses in this passage show that this would be the state of affairs preceding the resurrections, which occur at and after Christ’s return (compare verses 2-3 with 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and Revelation 20:4-5).
The prophet Jeremiah wrote of a “time of Jacob’s trouble” when the descendants of Abraham would face difficulties so severe that men would have pale faces and act like women in labor (Jeremiah 30:7). Though this prophecy is directed toward the descendants of the ancient Israelites, this time of difficulty will not be limited to these peoples.
As Christ explained, before He returns, the entire world will experience “great tribulation” and be threatened with total extinction (Matthew 24:21-22). The escalating effects of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, representing false prophets, war, famine and disease (compare Matthew 24:5-8 and Revelation 6:2-8), along with this “great tribulation” will bring unprecedented times of stress.
Five keys for dealing with stress
While humans have always faced stress (see “Stressful Experiences for God’s People), stress in the end time is clearly going to increase. So how are we to navigate these difficult times ahead? Thankfully, the Bible gives us five strategies for dealing with stress in our lives today as well as for when even more difficult times come.
Key #1: Focus on God and your spiritual priorities. The timeless instruction from Jesus is that we are to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). When we do this, Jesus promises that the things we physically need “shall be added to you” (last part of verse 33).
Following God brings peace to our lives.Following God brings peace to our lives. As Jesus taught: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Psalm 23 is one of King David’s most widely recognized compositions. In it he states that the LORD is his Shepherd and that even though he walked “through the valley of the shadow of death,” he would not fear evil that might befall him because God—His Shepherd—comforted him (verse 4).
This principle of focusing on God helped David deal with stress, and it can likewise help us today.
Key #2: In your prayers tell God about your stress and ask for comfort from Him. Even though God knows our thoughts and the things we have need of before we ask Him (Psalm 94:11; Matthew 6:8), Jesus teaches us to pray for “our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).
While asking for our needs is only one item among many that Jesus instructs us to pray for, it is important for us to follow this teaching. After praying for God’s Kingdom to come and that His will would be done on earth, we are told to ask for our needs.
King David employed this principle during his times of stress. In one of his prayers, recorded in Psalm 55, he asked God to hear his prayer (verse 1) and then went on to share with God his concern. He told God, “My heart is severely pained within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me” (verses 4-5). David also wrote: “Cast your burden on the LORD, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved” (verse 22).
Sometimes God doesn’t remove a trial or stressful situation we are experiencing. Instead, God gives us strength to endure the trial. This was the situation when Jesus prayed to the Father about His impending crucifixion. Jesus said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36).
Sometimes we likewise have to accept what God decides to allow in our lives. When we bring our burdens, cares and stresses to God, we can have confidence that He hears and that He will answer as He determines best for us.
Key #3: Ask for and seek the peace of God. On the evening prior to His crucifixion Jesus told His disciples: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
While this peace of God was going to immediately be important for the disciples because Jesus was crucified the next day, it is also an ongoing gift to all who live God’s way of life. As Jesus further explained, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace” (John 16:33).
Mirroring Christ’s teaching, Paul told the Philippians: “Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). To those in Rome Paul wrote: “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace” (Romans 14:19).
Key #4: Serve and accept the service of others. People who share spiritual values can be especially comforting to each other. In writing to the Corinthians about the stresses he and his fellow ministers faced, Paul also explained, “Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more” (2 Corinthians 7:6-7).
The arrival of a colleague, the news that his friend was encouraged by the brethren and the realization that others cared about him comforted Paul greatly. The same is true today. Camaraderie with friends and knowing that others are praying for us can do much to alleviate stress.
Experiencing laughter and things that bring joy to our lives can help us deal with our problems and concerns.Of course, it is important that in addition to receiving comfort, we also give comfort to others in need. When we see the difficulties of others, our own problems often become less important or less stressful. Proverbs 17:17 tells us that “a brother is born for adversity.” So are spiritual brethren.
Key #5: Enjoy life. When we are experiencing stress, it is easy to turn inward, become discouraged and stop doing things that make life enjoyable. But turning into a recluse and ignoring simple pleasures in life often only increase our fears and concerns. This concept is encapsulated in this proverb: “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).
Experiencing laughter and things that bring joy to our lives can help us deal with our problems and concerns.
Reflecting on life, wise King Solomon also advised: “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already accepted your works. Let your garments always be white, and let your head lack no oil. Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life” (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9).
Let this mind be in you
The five keys identified above all deal with one’s mental perspective. So dealing with stress is a battle that takes place in the mind. With this understanding, it is interesting to consider Philippians 2:5, which says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus was thoroughly tested as a human, and He successfully dealt with every stress He encountered. With God’s help, we can do the same.
We need to bear in mind that God will always be there for us if we remain faithful (Romans 8:31-39) and that we can handle all things with Christ’s help (Philippians 4:13). Stress does not have to overwhelm us. With God’s help, we can face whatever comes.