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How to Get the STRESS OUT When You are Stressed Out

by Guest Contributor Pastor Lee Norris,

Pastor of Mountain View Community Church, Glassy Moutain, SC

Is there anybody here that has some stress in their life, right now? Okay, good. I’m in the right place. I know I am not the only one dealing with stress. The Institute for Preventive Medicine issues a Top Ten healthiest resolutions and always in the top ten is stress management. Seventy-to-ninety percent of all office visits to doctors is caused by stress. The SHA (Safety and Health Administration) says that stress cost American businesses $300B dollars a year. Of all Americans that say they’re under constant stress, 62% say they experience a great deal of stress once a week.

In his book The Urgent Now, the late Methodist bishop, James Armstrong wrote, “We now live in a world of speed, stuff and stress and under the relentless tyranny of the ‘urgent now.’ The boundaries between work and leisure, public and private, are dissolving so that we have no rest and we are forced to be time jugglers and multi-taskers. We’re all rats in the rat race. We’re all overwhelmed by all we have to do and we struggle with priorities to remember and agendas to keep under control.”

Isn’t that the truth. Nobody is immune to the virus of stress. All of us are vulnerable to the bacteria of stress. We all have to deal with three things that just come with life and they all cause stress. The first is unavoidable pressures: deadlines to meet, projects to finish, bills to pay, people to see, appointments to keep. The second is unbearable people: maybe an abusive spouse, a mean-hearted boss, a prodigal child, or that ornery and cantankerous next-door neighbor. Finally, there are the unexplainable problems: unexpected illnesses, the pink slip, or the one straight out of the pit of hell (computer problems). So, let me ask you, “When you’re stressed out, how do you get the stress out?” (repeat)

That’s what we’re going to consider this morning, as we continue to study Paul’s letter of joy to the Philippians. How can you bear the fruit of joy when you have to handle all the issues of the day, and you have to solve all the problems of the hour, and you have to live with all the people in your life (including yourself)? I want you to know that I’m preaching to myself this morning. So, follow along with me:

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

“Father, as we turn now to Your holy Word this is what we long for – to hear Your voice, to see Your face, to encounter Your truth, to live as Your children. So, then, come by the person and the power of the Holy Spirit and do a transformative work in our hearts and lives, for we pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

In the spirit of Thanksgiving I’m going to give you a little extra today – 4 points instead of 3. Normally, I try to serve up a protein a starch and a vegetable (spiritually speaking, of course). Today, I’m adding dessert. In order to get the stress out of our lives, the first thing that Paul tells us to do is…

Rejoice In The Person Of The Lord

It’s right there in verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice.” There are two words to keep in mind: the word “always” and the word “again.” Paul repeats himself. He’s emphasizing his point. This isn’t something you do on occasion or only when you feel like it. You rejoice in the Lord always. When things are going good and when they’re not. When you’re happy and when you’re sad. When it’s sunny and there’s a light breeze at your back, and when it’s stormy and there’s a strong head wind. And the reason that you rejoice always is because joy has nothing to do with happiness. Happiness is temperamental. Happiness is so dependent upon our circumstances, the things going on around us at any given moment, but not so with joy. It’s a deeper sense of satisfaction and stability.

The reason that Paul repeats himself (I believe) is because he understood that it’s hard to rejoice when pressures are great and problems are big and people are mean. He didn’t say, “rejoice in your circumstances.” There may not be a lot of joy in your circumstances, but we can always find joy in the Lord. You can always rejoice in the grace of the Lord. You can always rejoice in the goodness of the Lord.

Dr. Earl Henslin wrote a book called, This Is Your Brain On Joy, and he said that joy and worry, joy and anxiety, joy and discouragement travel the same pathway in our brains. He said it’s normal for both of them to occupy the same path at the same time, so we choose which one gets the right-of-way. If we open the gate for joy, then anxiety and worry have to get off the road. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I like the picture. The choice that you and I have to choose joy automatically limits anxiety, stress and discouragement. It may not eliminate them completely, but we’re already significantly better off simply by choosing joy.

And even though the Apostle Paul was not a psychologist, all truth is God’s truth and this is biblical truth. To get the stress out, rejoice in the person of the Lord. And that leads us to the next thing that Paul says and that’s…

Relax In The Presence Of The Lord

Paul goes on to say (in verse 5), “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.” The word “reasonableness” (ESV) is translated as “gentleness” (NIV) or “gentle/forbearing spirit” (NASB). It’s a word that refers to a temperament and an attitude that’s calm under fire. It’s level headed. It’s steady. It refuses to panic or over-react. Choose faith over fear. Choose trust over trembling. Choose worship over worry. That’s what Paul is saying. It should be evident to all.

The evidence we give to other people that we trust God is how we handle stressful times in our lives. That’s one of the ways that you and I witness to the greatness and grace of the Lord – we remain calm and collected. Why? Because we know the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that everything is in His hands. Do you want family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors to see how a real Christian handles real problems, then let your reasonableness, your gentleness, your forbearing spirit be known?

Don’t freak out or run away; remain contagiously calm and trustful that we have the presence of God right beside us. Instead of focusing on the problems and the pressures and the people and forgetting about God, we focus on God and let Him handle the problems and the pressures and the people. Our gentleness will be evident to everybody.

That little sentence that makes up the latter part of verse 5 is one that we ought to learn to say to ourselves every time we’re walking the floor, worried sick, stomach in knots, and the ghost of worry is haunting our houses: “The Lord is at hand. The Lord is near.” The word “near” can mean either “near in time” or “near in space.” I believe Paul was talking about the real presence of God in our lives. It’s the same thing the Psalmist said, “But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all Your deeds” (Psalm 73:28, NIV).

It should bring tremendous comfort to remember that you can never get away from God, and God will never go away from you. We have it all wrong. We’re taught by the media and the world at-large that peace is the absence of conflict. We think peace is when everything is going our way – we have no unbearable pressure, no unsolvable problems, no unreasonable people, but that’s not true. Peace is not the absence of difficulties. Peace is the presence of God. You never face the fire alone. You’re not in the battle by yourself. You’re not in danger. And you’re not even the last man standing. You relax in the
presence of God.

Release Your Problems To The Lord

The next thing Paul says is something that we don’t like to hear because we’re not very good at it. It’s like being told to lose weight and change our diet and exercise. We know it’s true, but we don’t want to do it. It’s in the first part of verse 6, “Do not be anxious about anything…”

I actually find this to be a little ironic; especially, if you’re fairly calm and peaceful. It’s like, “Paul, I was doing fine managing my anxiety but now that you tell me not to be anxious, I’m anxious that you’re telling me not to be anxious.” But there’s a reason that Paul tells us not to worry. It’s a waste of time. American humorist and syndicated columnist, the late Erma Bombeck would describe worry like this, “It’s like sitting in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”

In the opening pages of her book, The White Road to Verdun, Kathleen Burke sums up the sentiment of worry as recorded by a French solider in WWI. She writes: “Of two things one is certain. Either you are at the front of the lines or you are behind the lines. If you’re at the front, of two things one is certain. Either you’re exposed to danger or you’re in a safe place. If you’re exposed to danger of two things one is certain. You’re wounded or you’re not wounded. If you’re wounded of two things one is certain. You either recover or you die. If you recover, there’s no need to worry and if die you can’t worry.”

So how do you keep from worrying? Look at the latter part of verse 6, “But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Worry about nothing, and pray about everything. But we do the opposite. We worry about everything and pray about nothing.

I heard a story about a guy who went to a doctor one time and both of his ears were severely burned. The doctor said, “This is horrible! How did you burn both of your ears?” The man said, “Doc, I was in a hurry. I was late for a meeting. I didn’t have any shirts to wear, so I had to iron one. The phone rang and I was so stressed out and confused that I answered the iron instead of the phone.” The doctor said, “Friend, that’s awful, but how did you burn the other ear?” The man said, “They called back.”

Now, here’s the truth of that corny story. When we encounter pressures, and problems, and people, we’re either going to pick up the iron of worry or the phone of prayer. Which is it going to be? We can choose to carry that pressure, and try to solve that problem, and attempt to deal with that person, or we can give every one of them to God. When the waves of worry batter your heart, and the tornado of trouble is tearing at your soul, and the hurricane of heartache flies completely away, there’s a God who is says, “Give it to Me. I’ve got this. Leave it with Me. I’ll handle it.” Have you ever come to God so discouraged and so destressed that you simply say, “I can’t handle this?” I’ve got news for you (and me). He can handle it. We can’t. He never said we could. Rather, He always said He would.

Paul says to do this with “thanksgiving,” and perhaps (like me) you’re wondering, right now, “How in the world can I be thankful?” You can always be thankful that no matter how great the pressure, how difficult the people, how hard the problem, God loves you enough to care about them. He’s powerful enough to handle them and wise enough to grow you through them.

Rejoice in the person of the Lord
Relax in the presence of the Lord
Release your problems to the Lord, and finally…

Rest In The Peace Of The Lord

Verse 7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” God’s peace is the only peace that can get the stress out when you’re stressed out. Only the Lord God can give us a peace that will guard our hearts and our minds. Stress cannot penetrate this peace. This is not the kind of temporary peace that people try to find through money or drugs or alcohol or sex, because that peace never lasts. God’s peace can’t be bought, borrowed, or stolen. It’s not found in a pill; it is found in the person of Jesus Christ. It’s not a drug or a drink; it’s found in a deity, God with us, Emmanuel.

I’m going to conclude with an illustration this morning. I want you to imagine that you have three boxes. I don’t know about you, but I put “things” into boxes. One box is labeled “worry,” one box is labeled “prayer,” and one box is labeled “thanksgiving.” Remember, we put “things” into boxes, so what do you think goes in the worry box (“nothing”). What about the prayer box? (“everything”). And in the thanksgiving box? (“anything”). If you put each of those “things” in the box where they belong, you’ll find when you’re stressed out, God will take the stress out.

Rejoice In the Person of the Lord
Relax In the Presence of the Lord
Release Your Problems to the Lord
Rest In the Peace of the Lord

“Father, as we enter this Advent and Christmas season – like every other year – we ask that You help us to enjoy it without getting stressed out. That can only happen if the Holy Spirit writes these truths upon our hearts and minds. Grant us, we pray, the ability to rejoice in You and all that You’ve done for us, to relax in Your holy presence, to release our problems into Your capable hands, and to rest in the all-surpassing peace that only comes from knowing You (personally). Send us forth renewed and refreshed – that we might be Your witnesses in a world that needs to know a Savior has been born. For we offer this prayer in the name of Jesus, our Savior. Amen.”

Join us for a conversation with Pastor Lee Norris on Embrace Your Everyday podcast.

 View Sermon from November 28, 2023

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