“Stress” is that all-inclusive description of those symptoms we experience that are too vague to point to a specific medical condition, specific sin pattern, or specific trial. Medical doctors blame stress when physical symptoms have no observable medical cause; psychologists claim to be experts on stress and try all kinds of talk therapy or even psychiatric drugs to help one cope; and for the most part those under stress simply think circumstances are to blame.
Although legitimate medical conditions and adverse physical and emotional circumstances make great contributions to one’s stress levels, there are normally a good array of spiritual sources of what is commonly called “stress”.
Sometimes stress is caused by a perfectionist spirit that is forever trying to feel right with God by being perfect. This is works-righteousness and betrays a faith that doesn’t really believe that Christ’s work on the cross was completely sufficient and effective. Romans 5:1 says that stress is replaced with peace when a Christian understands justification by faith.
Other times stress is brought about by the age-old sin of man-pleasing. The idolatrous desire to please one’s spouse, boss, child, parent, or friend overrules a healthy and balanced approach to life that comes from a proper fear of the Lord. Proverbs 29:25 compares the stress-snare of man-fearing to the safety of trusting the Lord’s opinion.
Stress always accompanies the lust for success. Ecclesiastes 2:21 exposes the inherent futility of achieving the greatest success without any enjoyment along the way.
Closely related to the stress that comes from pursuing success, is the stress of not enjoying the mundane any more. Ecclesiastes 5:18 holds out enjoyment in the most mundane of daily tasks as the alternative to stress. It is true that those who ought to be the most stressed of all, are often not, and this is simply due to the practise of enjoying even the commute to work.
Another spiritual source of stress is the pride and arrogant sin of refusing to rest when sick or worn out. Mark 6:30-32 tells of how Jesus and the Apostles didn’t even find time to eat in the busyness of the day, and so Jesus took them aside to rest. If Jesus dealt with stress in such a manner, shouldn’t we too?
Lastly, it should be added that we stress because we sometimes act as though God is never pleased with us. This is simply not true. Ecclesiastes 9:7 once again calls those who wish to live a sensible life, to find joy in their tasks. But this time a theological explanation is added: “God has already approved what you do.” God is pleased when we live our lives sensibly, working hard with great delight.
Whenever you use the word “stressed” to describe yourself, your life, or your day, look at your heart and see if there is not perhaps some unbiblical thinking that might be the culprit. Sin messes up our lives, but God has made it to be enjoyed, even in spite of sin’s effects.