September 10, 2023 | Doug Ellis
As a follow-up to my recent series on the book of Hebrews, I'm spending a few weeks looking at the topic of stress. The Hebrews were obviously facing stress based on persecution, but American Christians are relatively free from the threat of persecution as well as other historic sources of stress. Yet we're stressed.
Gallup does a yearly survey of stress throughout the world, and this survey notes that Americans seem to be experiencing stress at a much higher level than what is typical in the world. Outside of the United States, much stress is caused by poverty and conflict, but neither of those is widespread in the United States. Our sources of stress seem to be different - politics, finances, relationships, social media, etc. Long-term stress (or unresolved stress) seems to also be an issue that is prominent in the United States.
Stress happens. The Bible tells us that stress is going to be a part of the Christian life, but there are two important points. First, long-term stress should not be part of our lives as we are eventually supposed to get to a place of peace (John 14:27, Matthew 11:28). Second, stress for God's children will have intent - this means that it is to produce positive results in our lives (Hebrews 12:7-11).
Why would God use stress as a way to help us? Consider that many of us live our lives in ruts, or in ways that are never-changing. We get used to living a particular way that may be stagnant or even involve sin, and we shouldn't become comfortable in a dysfunctional routine. C.S. Lewis wrote that "Pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world." Pain demands attention. Pain insists that something change.
In my observation, I've seen three ways that Christians change and grow through stressful situations.
Many times, the stress causes them to reprioritize the congested, busy habits of their life - giving higher priority to godly directions, and eliminating distractions. In particular, it deepens our relationship with God, and expands that time and energy that we regularly devote to Him.
Second, stress can challenge our pride or our sense of self-power, as we need to develop humility before God, and dependence upon him and others (2 Chronicles 15:4, Galatians 6:2).
Third, stress can develop righteousness (Hebrews 12:7-11) by challenging our relationship with God, our understanding of God's will, our attitudes towards love and holiness, and even the existence of our Faith.
So, you see, stress can be good.