Stress from Worry
Here are some of the main ideas from the first chapter:
- Everyone experiences stress, which is the body's way of preparing us to carry through various activities that are demanded of us.
- When we are in the stress mode too long and too intensely, however, we become overstressed and can burn out.
- Burnout from overstress has a variety of symptoms including stomach problems, headaches, muscle aches, chest pains, anxiety, anger, depression, etc.
- Panic attacks have the same symptoms as overstress but are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain and not lifestyle. Sometimes there are psychological reasons that lead to the condition called anxiety disorder.
- Burnout victims from over stress need three things for rehabilitation:
- Knowledge of their condition. Why am I like this? Denial is usually a big problem.
- A change towards a more realistic view of who and what they are as well as their natural limits.
- Faith adjustment because burnout damages faith
This study was developed to help shed knowledge on the problem of stress and overstress from a Christian perspective. In this chapter we will examine the stress caused by worry.
Stress Caused by Worry
What is worry? Definition.
To begin with, worry is a feeling. It is a feeling of fear or unhappiness regarding something or someone. Usually it is a negative speculation about something that may happen in the future. We feel regret, shame and guilt to name a few of the feelings for past events, decisions etc., but stress is reserved for thinking about the future.
What do we worry about?
Health, family, security are the top three. We are able to worry about anything that we focus our negative speculation on: our hair, our reputation, the car driven by our children, etc. There is a difference between worry and concern (which is focused attention).
What does worry accomplish?
- It produces nothing except over-stress. This is the only tangible thing that worry produces.
- It empties us of energy, wastes time, is discouraging and robs us of all the enthusiasm we need to invest in productive and joy producing activities.
- We worry about tomorrow but don't know what tomorrow will bring. If we did, we could do something about it and change worry into action but we don't and so waste energy and time worrying and create unneeded stress that leads to burnout.
- We know all of this but continue to worry. Is there anything to do?
Jesus and James teach us valuable lessons about worry and how to convert this negative energy to something positive.
Getting the Right Perspective - Matthew 6:25-34
25"For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' 32For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34"So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
- Matthew 6:25-34
Notice in this passage that Jesus deals head on with the problem of worry (which suggests that stress caused by worry is not just a 21st-century problem - people in every generation worried about something) and in dealing with worry He gives us the correct perspective concerning it as well as an alternative action.
1. A Correct Perspective
The new perspective is found in verses 25 to 32 and basically puts forth two basic ideas:
- Understand that God knows exactly what it is that you need in every area of your life.
- Whether it be food, clothing, work, housing, sex, medical help, family, recreation, etc. God knows, God cares, and God is able to provide everything that you need.
When we look into the future and begin to worry about having the wherewithal to finish the job, provide for our family or the strength to face illness and death - we are taking on a responsibility that belongs to God.
He is responsible for the future and has promised to provide the resources to meet that future when it comes. As for myself:
- I can be attentive to the future
- I can prepare for the future
- I can be hopeful about the future
However, to worry about the future is not only futile but disobedient because Jesus says "do not worry...." (vs. 25).
Once we have a correct perspective (vs. 34 using today's resources to take care of today's needs - because God always provides enough for today) we need an attitude shift.
2. Attitude Change - vs. 33
For those who are over-stressed the major attitude in their lives is usually that of worry (about the past or future). Jesus explains how things are in the "real" world. God supplies what we need one day at a time. If you don't know this you worry about having enough, being okay, surviving in the home, work, society, etc. because you have to make it happen!
However, once you are presented with this fact about God and His Providence your attitude needs to shift from worry to faith and your lifestyle needs to shift from being acquisition centered to becoming righteousness centered.
We worry because we think we are responsible for providing everything and in this world that can become quite unsettling (because so many fail at it) so we focus on acquiring and stockpiling in order to feel safe and secure - this attitude and activity naturally creates worry which produces overstress which leads to burnout.
To avoid the overstress that comes from worry we need to concentrate on God's promise to provide each day what we need on that day and change the focus of our lives from creating and maintaining wealth to creating and maintaining a pure conscience before God (This is the true work of a Christian - doing God's will).
This means that we will have the normal stress that comes with working at the challenges that face us each day but we avoid the overstress that comes with either the concern that we have to provide for ourselves and our families without help, or the worry over the non-existing concerns of tomorrow. God has promised to provide what we need when we need it and not usually before.
Converting Stress into Joy - James 1:2-8
James' approach to worry and stress is to demonstrate that even negative things that happen to us don't have to create worry and consequently overstress and all of the negative things that come from it.
2Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
- James 1:2-4
In verses two to four he explains how to short circuit worry and its negative effects. Understand that when trials (and these could include physical things, temptations, disappointments, etc.) come your way they can be the cause of some good in life.
If one meets them with perseverance (patience - willingness to bear under) then the constant perseverance mode, instead of worry mode, will eventually produce a mature character and experiencing this mature character (peace, joy, love, patience, kindness, etc) will be a joyful thing. Wholeness or maturity is what our spirit craves whether we realize it or not (usually we are distracted by the things of this world).
5But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
- James 1:5-8
In verses five to eight James explains that doing this is not always easy and so if one desires this and has problems, he should ask God for help and do so with faith knowing that God, who provides for each day's needs, will also provide the spiritual help necessary for each day's challenges.
So many times we won't quit a bad habit or attempt to give up a sin which is blocking our spiritual growth because we feel we'll never be able to bear an entire lifetime without it. According to the Scriptures we've just studied, we should get help for only today - and tomorrow God will provide the help that we need for that day's temptation - if we'll still need it. The same strategy works for the help we need to develop our talents, reach our goals, convert our family and friends.
James tells us that trials don't have to be our enemy, producing only pain and inconvenience but also causing us to worry and producing damaging stress in our lives. No, trials can be used to develop the spiritual maturity we need and desire, and often result in peace and joy. Knowing this enables us to short circuit the worry that is caused by everyday trials.
The stress that comes from worry is caused by two things;
- We worry about the responsibility to provide for ourselves.
- We worry when trials interfere with our efforts to acquire and hoard in order to provide for ourselves which we think will make us happy.
The Lord and His earthly brother provide the answers for those who are stressed out because of worry.
- God will supply what we need each day when we focus our attention on doing His will rather than just focusing our attention on acquiring and hoarding.
- We shouldn't worry about the suffering brought about by trials, we should, instead, invest our energy into perseverance when we suffer. If we worry, it will make the suffering worse and accomplish absolutely nothing. If we choose to persevere, however, this will create a greater maturity and joy in us which in turn will help us endure the pain and lower the stress level caused by the pain.
Answer the following questions and then share your response with your group.
- Which 2 areas of your life were of most concern to you 5 years ago? Which 2 were most worrisome 12 months ago? Which 2 did you find yourself worrying about last week? Do you find a pattern of concern from year to year, week to week? What does that tell you?
- Job, Sex, Money, Marriage,
- Parents, Politics, Health, Relationships
- Fulfillment, Children, Spiritual Life, Retirement
- Read James 1:2-11 and discuss the following questions:
- Who is the "tower" of strength in your family during hard times?
- Why should anyone feel joyful about trials and hard times?
- According to this passage what are the "by-products" of perseverance?
- How is true wisdom obtained?
- What conditions are necessary for our prayers to be answered?
- According to these verses, how can you win over the worries that come with hard times, the lack of wisdom and lack of money?
- Take the problem mentioned in the earlier exercise that you found most worrisome and answer the following questions:
- How does this new perspective help in dealing with this worry?
- In what way does faith apply to it?
- How can I pursue righteousness in the light of it?