Have you ever been stressed out? Some of you have stressful jobs. Many moments where you’re barely hitting your deadlines; and it feels like you’re always on the brink of burning out. Some folks are swimming in stress because they all-of-a-sudden find themselves navigating increased financial obligations. Some of you are stressed because you recently moved, or you started a new job, or you just got married, or you’re afraid you’ll never get married, or you recently gave birth to a child, or you fear that you’ll never be able to conceive a child, or you just lost your job, or you’re incessantly dealing with an emotional issue or a mental disorder and you can’t seem to get a handle on it, or maybe there’s someone in your life who has it out for you, and you’re stressed about the harm and damage that person may cause. Or maybe you got pulled over for speeding recently, because even though you drive your kids to school everyday, leaving the house is always a hassle, and you’re always scrambling to get out the door, and now the kids are at risk of being tardy, and you’re preoccupied with so many other things you don’t really notice stuff like speed limit signs or school zone markers, and then you see the flashing lights in your rear view mirror, and your stomach suddenly decides to migrate to your throat, and you pull over, and you wait for the cop to come talk to you, and you wonder about ways to persuade the police officer to have pity and let you off with a warning, and then the cop finally comes and tells you that you’re a criminal and it’s high time you paid for your transgressions, then you wait, and you wait, and you wait, and finally the cop returns with your speeding ticket and a stern countenance of disapproval and condemnation. So much stress!
What would God have you do amidst such stressful circumstances?
Step one, be honest. Don’t pretend you don’t have problems, or that you’re immune to stress. In other words, don’t downplay your problems. If you get fired from your job, or a friend stabs you in the back, don’t say, “I’m too blessed to be stressed.” When God Himself took on flesh and lived on this planet, He genuinely experienced deep sorrow and anguish in the face of troubling truths. On the other hand, don’t exaggerate your problem. If you get a speeding ticket, don’t get all gloomy as if your spouse just left you for someone else. In short, consider your situation with sincere candor. So, for example, let’s say America was invaded by Canada, and you were taken to live as an exile in Montreal. Actually, that’s too silly. Let’s say Iran invaded, or perhaps North Korea; and America came under the authority of one of those regimes. And you were gathered up with your neighbors and put in a concentration camp (or at the very least, armed guards now patrolled in front of your house). To the extent that you can stay calm, that’s commendable, but you shouldn’t act like it’s “no big deal.” Let’s go a step further and suppose that the invading force established an edict to destroy an entire ethnic group in America (your ethnic group). And all the governors in all the states of America were commanded to carry out this genocide. And this edict was decreed in every language and in every script and everybody in the country was obligated to comply. And the edict clearly and emphatically mandates that everyone in your ethnic group is to be destroyed, killed, and annihilated; young and old, women and children, and all your property is to be plundered. And everyday copies of this decree are printed and distributed so that the entire population of America is indoctrinated and manipulated into participating in the destruction of your ethnic group. And the country is thrown into confusion, and everything degenerates into chaos.
In addition to being honest about your stress, secondly, you should pray about it. And when I say “pray” I don’t mean, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” I mean pray like Asaph – – – > God is good, but as for me …my feet feel shaky; I feel like I’m slipping and stumbling. I don’t feel stable. I find myself envying the wicked and the arrogant, because their lives seem prosperous. They’re fat and sleek, and comfortable. They seem to have things “under control” and they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. There doesn’t seem to be any negative consequence to their malice, or their violence …loftily they threaten oppression, and nothing unfavorable seems to befall them. The wicked set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongues strut through the earth, and they only ever seem to increase in riches, and they’re always at ease. I wonder if my decisions to keep my heart clean and wash my hands in innocence have been entirely pointless. I am stricken all day long, while the wicked are smug and self-satisfied. When I attempt to understand this paradox it seems a wearisome task!
& finally, after you’ve prayed about what you’re honestly feeling (wrestling through the awkwardness of saying things to God that feel ‘disrespectful’ …see the paraphrased portion from Asaph’s prayer above [Psalm 73]) you need to GET YOUR HOPES UP. Embrace the fact that God has ushered you into such an authentically hopeless place in order to help you hope against hope. Having been honest about the real-life, seemingly insurmountable, hurdles (e.g. Moses being called upon return to Egypt as an 80 year old man, with a life-long speech impediement [and absolutely no assistance from Lionel Logue], to persuade the king of Egypt to simply release his entire slave-labor force), and having candidly confessed how you feel to God …now it is time to cling to the assurance of things hoped for, and the certainly of things unseen! So practically speaking, what’s the first step? Gather with a community who strives for Hebrews 11:1 and 2 Corinthians 1:24 every Sunday morning. That’s what Asaph does. After his brutally honest chat with The Maker, he goes on to say, “I was wallowing in frustration, confusion, and stress …until I went into the sanctuary of God; and then I discerned the truth! Over and against the way things SEEM, God has actually set the wicked in slippery places, and He will make them fall into ruin! They will be destroyed in a moment, and utterly swept away! It’ll be like a dream when one wakes; when God rouses Himself, the wicked will be despised as phantoms! I now see that my bitterness of heart was brutish and ignorant; and I was acting like a beast toward God …and yet, nevertheless, I am continually with God because He holds my right hand! God patiently endures my emotional outbursts, and He guides me with His counsel, and afterward He receives me to glory! Whom have I in heaven but God! And there is nothing on earth I desire besides God! My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from God shall perish, but for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord my refuge, and I will tell of all His works!”
May God equip us with everything good that we may do His will (namely hope all the way to high heaven in His impossible-sounding promises), working in us that which is pleasing His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. May work in us what He worked in Abraham, who did not weaken in faith in God’s promise of a child – even though he candidly took stock of the fact that he was near 100 years old (i.e. his body as good as dead), and the fact that his wife (who was also getting along in years) had never been able to have children …nevertheless, no unbelief made Abraham waver concerning the promise of God, but rather he grew strong in his faith and he gave glory to God; fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised!