Life is hard. At times, it seems that we are a moment away from giving up entirely. We look around at our circumstances and think to ourselves, “I can’t do this anymore.” Job reminds us, “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward (Job 5:7).” It’s not a question of if we will face trials, but when. Life is stressful. That’s a given. We’re often left feeling powerless when our lives seem to grow unmanageable. If only we had some way of escape!
We know the old proverb that says, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Isn’t that the truth! How many military battles have been won by excellent planning? How many times have you been late to a meeting because you failed to consider the variables of traffic, mechanical problems, or having to stop to get gas? Preparation matters.
You’ll be happy to know that we can prepare not merely to manage stress but to overcome it entirely. However, it must be noted that we cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control how we are affected by it and respond to it. As stated above, preparation matters, and we must prepare to respond to the stress in our lives. But how?
Identify What Causes You Stress
For one, our environment and life circumstances cause a significant amount of stress to occur. Living in Massachusetts, we often encounter snowstorms. Luckily, the winter has been mild this year, making life a little easier. However, there are times when it snows repeatedly, and we’re unable to go outside or run errands because the roads are unsafe. I think of the COVID virus occurring now, which alters our lives with social restrictions and businesses’ shutting down.
For others, circumstances may not go your way. Your heat goes out, your roof leaks, or you get let go from your job; all of these are examples of stressors that rear their ugly head, and what’s worse, most of these issues are strictly out of your control.
For others, their stressors are their weaknesses. Maybe you look at others that are more gifted than you, or you look at the work you have to get done and think to yourself, “there’s no way I’ll be able to finish this on time!” Perhaps you’re stressed by others. You find yourself caught in the bondage of envy or jealousy. You ask yourself, “Why can’t I be like them? Why can’t I have what they have?” or “why are they having an easier time than me?” All of these are potential stressors in our lives. Again, we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we are affected and respond to these issues.
Different people respond to stress in different ways. For some, they may react fearfully. I am terrified of thunderstorms. It’s not the sound of thunder or the sight of lightning, or even the downpour of rain; it’s the thought that our power lines could come down or the trees in the neighboring property could snap with a gust of wind and bring down the power lines, causing a fire to overtake our house and bring it down. It may seem silly, but those are the thoughts that race through my head every time I hear of an impending storm. This fear is inhibiting. While it’s storming, I find myself unable to focus on my work or unable to relax.
Included in this restraining fear is worrying. We tend to worry about what may happen. Wayne Mack says, “a person worries when thoughts about the past, present, or future consume and constrain that person in some way (Anger & Stress Management God’s Way, 81).” Others respond to stress with anger, bitterness, and discouragement.
Different people respond differently to stress. But here’s the thing, of all the responses listed above, they’re all sinful and have severe consequences for our lives, both physically and spiritually. So, the question naturally arises, how can we overcome this? I’m glad you asked.
Understand God’s Sovereignty
We must understand that God is sovereign. In Ephesians, Paul writes, “in him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11, emphasis added). How much does God work according to the counsel of His will? Paul says, “all things.” In the book of Hebrews, we read that Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3).” God is not merely a passive onlooker of history. No, we know that He directs history to reach the particular end He has ordained.
I love what we read in Proverbs 16. We read, “the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD (Prov. 16:33).” Wow. We may think of rolling dice as an equivalent to the casting of lots. To us, the rolling of the dice produces a completely random outcome. However, according to Proverbs 16, the rolling of the dice produces precisely what God has ordained. It’s here that Robert Rothwell is helpful. When reflecting on this verse, he says that lots of things must happen for God to achieve His desired results. He says,
“So, God has to regulate the dice thrower’s arm to get the result he wants. What if there is a slight breeze or the dice are being thrown under an air conditioning vent? Well, in either case, the force of the air is going to play a part, however slight, in the outcome of the dice roll. That is something else for the Lord to direct in order to get His chosen outcome. But the movement of the air is related to the temperature of the room, which is related to the movement of the air molecules, which is determined by the atoms in the molecules and ultimately by subatomic particles. They have to move in just the right way to create just the right temperature to create the conditions necessary for the dice to give the number the Lord has chosen. And that is a vast oversimplification-once you get down to the subatomic level, things get really complicated.” (Robert Rothwell, “God’s Providence Revealed in Scripture,” (Tabletalk Magazine, February 2021, 6.)
This seems fantastic to us, and it should. Yet, for God, this is nothing. He is sovereign over everything. We learn from Scripture that God not only created all things, but He preserves all things (see Nehemiah 9:6).
God is in control. God works all things according to the counsel of His will. Therefore, we can conclude that if God didn’t will the particular event to occur, it wouldn’t have taken place. Matthew 6:19-34 is such an encouraging text of Scripture. In that passage, we read that our Heavenly Father tends to the birds of the air. If God cares for something as insignificant as feeding the birds of the air, He certainly is concerned with the needs of His children.
We also see from Scripture that God sets up kings and removes kings (Dan. 2:21). He is sovereign over the world powers. How incredible is that? Because of God’s sovereignty and providence,
“We can be like the child on board the ship who remained peaceful while wind and waves raged about him. When asked how he kept calm in such a violent storm, he replied, “My father is the captain.” How much more can the church sing: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea (Joel Beek, “God’s Providence Applied in Our Lives,” Tabletalk Magazine, February 2021, 25-26.).”
The psalmist writes, “The steps of a man are established by the LORD when he delights in His way (Ps. 37:23).” God not only orders the overall plan of our lives, but He also orders our steps. Therefore, He must care deeply about the details concerning our lives. In that, we can rejoice.
There is much more that I would like to say regarding this issue of overcoming stress, and perhaps in the future, I will. But we must understand that if we wish to overcome life’s anxiety, we must choose to view everything within the framework of God’s sovereignty and providence. May we rejoice in the truth that says, “for from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Our God is sovereign and good. We know that He works all things out for the good of His children and the praise of His glory.
Soli Deo Gloria
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