A few days pass in the course of my life’s journey that I am not confronted with some degree of stress. Some days, stress is momentary and fleeting, and other days it escalates into full-blown worry until it is crippling.
Not only does my stress come in waves of intensity, but it also is born out of various kinds of situations. Often, my own stress is brought about by financial needs or by unmet expectations of those around me.
And like so many others, more and more, I find that current world affairs and the discord, division, and weakening of our own American culture are causing unexpected stress in my own life in ways that I’ve never experienced before.
Regardless of the various and unique circumstances that might stress us day in and day out, there are some realities, which are true each and every time a person feels stress.
We Focus More on the Problem Than on God
I once heard someone say that if we look at God through the lens of our problems, God looks very small. But if we look at our problems through the lens of what we know to be true about God, then our problems look small.
This really has to do with focus. When I am stressed about anything, I must ask, “Am I focused more on the apparent obstacle before me or on the power of God and his faithfulness as evidenced in his word?”
A story is found in the pages of the Old Testament, which illustrates this truth beautifully. In 2 Kings 6, we are told that the King of Aram “was warring against Israel” (v.8), but Israel had a secret weapon in the Prophet Elisha.
When the King of Aram would make a strategic move against Israel, the LORD would make it known to Elisha, who would, in turn, inform the King of Israel.
The King of Aram was informed that “the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom” (v.12).
This greatly frustrated the King of Aram, and he determined to eliminate Elisha. When it was discovered that Elisha was in the city of Dothan, the Bible says, “He sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city” (v.14).
The next morning, Elisha’s servant rose early only to discover that “an army with horses and chariots was circling the city” and, in horror, cried out to Elisha, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” (v.15).
Elisha’s response provides us a solution to many of our own stresses, which we face from day to day. Elisha simply replied, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v.16).
The servant must have questioned the prophet’s sobriety since, besides the two, no evidence could be found that they would not soon be annihilated. What a graphic comparison! Two men find themselves in the same predicament, but each views it in drastically different ways.
The servant is stressed because he sees only the certainty of pain and death and no obvious way of escape. Elisha, on the other hand, sees beyond the threat of the moment to see God’s hand and participation at the moment.
Imagine the servant’s change of perspective when his eyes are opened, and he sees that the mountain was “full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (v.17).
The answer to our stress may not always come to us on horses and chariots of fire, but the principle is just as much in play in our lives as it was in the case of Elisha’s servant.
We never see all that God sees. We never have all the information. Stress comes about in our lives when we draw wrong conclusions about our circumstances based on limited information.
Sometimes, maybe we need to pray and ask God to open our eyes and allow us to see the things that can only be seen with eyes of faith.
Only then are we able to focus on God, his power, and his goodness in ways that allow us to rest in faithfulness.
We Focus on Unbiblical Understandings about God
Another reason that stress is brought about in a believer’s life is not merely because we are not focused on God but because we are focused on an unbiblical understanding of who God is.
If we are not careful, we give our love and allegiance to an altered version of the true God, which we’ve recast in our own image.
Maybe we are prone to stress because the God we’ve created looks like the God we wish he were rather than the God he truly is, and consequently, he is neither big enough nor good enough to meet us in our struggle.
Apparently, the people of Israel were guilty of much the same fallacy when they became the target of God’s scathing indictment against them when he says, “You thought that I was just like you” (Psalm 50:21).
There has never been a single moment in my believing life that I doubted God’s power or ability to do anything.
My struggle has always been triggered by my own uncertainty that God would be willing to act on my behalf, which is nothing more or less than repugnant unbelief in the very goodness of God.
If I’m honest with myself, much, if not all, of the stress I experience can be traced to what I believe to be true about God. If I am not totally convinced that God is good, then I have a legitimate reason to feel profound consternation each day I live.
But alas, such is not a true representation of the Lord God. God proclaimed his own character to Moses when he said, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth. . .” (Exodus 34:6).
Such is the nature of our God, which the Psalmist calls us to “taste and see that the LORD is good. . .” (Psalm 34:8).
Often, I feel that I may have been on Paul’s mind when he wrote, “Do you think lightly of the riches of his kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
How is it possible to firmly believe these realities about the character and nature of God and be able to stress over any earthly issue or need?
Jesus would speak to this same truth when he asked, “If you then being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7:11).
What Does This Mean?
When a follower of Christ is stressed or worried about anything, it is a sure sign that their view of God is too small or out of focus, and drastic measures must be taken to correct this lethal misconception.
The formula for overcoming and defeating stress for the believer is not a complicated one, but neither is it easy.
The Prophet Isaiah reminds us, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3), and the Psalmist proclaims a similar comfort when he writes, “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul” (Psalm 94:19).
My four youngest children are 17, 15, and two are 14. In a span of two to three years, I will be adding four teenage drivers to my insurance policy.
The phrase “keep your eyes on the road” is becoming an oft-repeated line in my daily vocabulary, but it is an important reminder. When we are driving, our hands will always follow our eyes.
If our focus drifts, whatever we’re steering will soon follow, and the result could be deadly. If my spiritual eyes are diverted from gazing at Christ in his Word, then there is a high probability that my life will soon begin to drift into stress, anxiety, and worry.
He is good, kind, and present. Don’t allow the cares of the world to choke out the Word and take your focus off of the only One who can settle your soul (Matthew 13:22).
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Dr. Rick Kirby, along with his wife and children, lives in Anderson, South Carolina. Rick serves as a corporate chaplain in the upstate of South Carolina, in addition to shepherding micro-church movements, which he does in partnership with the Evangelical Free Church in America and the Creo Collective. Rick has written as a freelance writer for organizations such as The INJOY Group, InTouch Ministries, and Walk Through the Bible. Rick holds a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degree from Erskine Theological Seminary. Through the years, Rick’s family has been deeply engaged in discipling efforts globally in India, Romania, Brazil, Ecuador and most recently in Puerto Rico. Among the many things Rick enjoys are woodworking in his woodshop and roasting (and drinking) coffee. You can find other works by Kirby at www.rickkirby.org.