Stress is part of life. Some stress (eustress, or beneficial stress) is healthy. But too much stress can be deadly.
Archibald Hart, author of Adrenaline and Stress, writes:
Nothing worthwhile can be accomplished without some arousal of the stress response system. It is a biological law that we must work, and even light, to accomplish a worthwhile goal. Challenge and fulfillment are important to health and well being. The lack of it causes us to atrophy in body and mind. But-and and this point is crucial to my whole argument-challenge and stress must be accompanied by, and work in harmony with, relaxation and rest.
We need stress, but we also need to learn to manage it.
Here are some keys to managing periods of high stress.
Cut Back, but Protect the Basics
We can’t always operate under ideal conditions. We need to learn what we need when there isn’t time for the ideal, especially when we’re pressed to just get by.
It’s important to cover the basics:
- Sleep and rest — It’s hard to function when we’re deprived of sleep and proper rest. While this isn’t always within our control, it’s important to do what we can to get the rest that we need.
- Core habits — We encourage people to practice three core habits: reading or listening to the Bible, praying, and getting involved with worship and community at a church. You don’t need to practice these perfectly, but you need to practice them consistently. When life gets stressful, scale back on other habits if you need to, but don’t scale back on these.
- What you need — Learn how God has made you. If you’re an introvert, get some alone time. If you thrive on exercise, hit the gym or go for a walk. Learn what energizes you, and guard that.
My point isn’t to give you more to do. My point is to simplify so that you’re merely covering the basics. Cut back, but protect these basics. They will keep you going in times of stress.
Preach the Gospel
I regularly forget the gospel. I need to be reminded that God is on his throne, that I am forgiven through Jesus, that he has given me new power through the Spirit. I also forget all the benefits that God has given me through the gospel: the promise that he cares, the support of other believers, and the knowledge that Jesus sympathizes with my weaknesses and is praying for me.
I especially forget the gospel when I’m stressed.
In periods of high stress, preach the gospel to yourself. “To preach to yourself is to challenge yourself, push yourself, and point yourself to the truth. It is not so much uncovering new truth as much as it is reminding yourself of the truth you tend to forget” (Joe Thorn, Note to Self). Remind yourself of what’s true, but you tend to forget. God has grace for this moment.
Remember That God Cares
We don’t have to wonder what Jesus would say to someone who’s under stress. In Matthew 6, Jesus says:
…do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:31-34)
Jesus reassures us: God knows. God cares. We don’t have to worry about things, because God knows what we need and will provide.
Later on, Peter reminds us of the same thing. “…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
In periods of high stress, we can remind ourselves: God sees. God cares.
Stress is unavoidable. To survive a period of high stress, cut back, but protect the basics. Preach the gospel to yourself. And remember that God cares.
We celebrate the news every year: God became human! The Gospel of John says:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
This is hard to understand. Theologians throughout the years have explored what this means. Jesus has two natures: human and divine. Each nature is complete. He is fully God and fully man. Each nature is distinct, and yet Jesus is only one person. (For a summary of these key teachings, see this article at Desiring God.)
The humanity of Jesus is not an obscure theological point. It changes everything. Here are a few reasons why the humanity of Jesus is important.
Because Jesus is human, he is able to understand what our lives our like. He experienced life. He knows what it’s like to be tired, stressed, happy, lonely, and more.
Before Jesus became human, people could say to God, “You don’t know what it’s like to be human!” When God became one of us, he not only knew, but he experienced it.
Jesus is able to understand our struggles. Hebrews says:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Whatever you’re going through, Jesus understands. He can even help us when we struggle. “Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).
Jesus Serves As Our Example
Sometimes we need an example to follow. I know I’ve been helped by people who are a little farther along than I am. Right now I’m motivated by some older men who have a joy, peace, and maturity in Jesus that’s very compelling.
My examples are great, but they’re imperfect. Jesus provides the ultimate example of what it’s like to be human. Paul says we’re being changed into his likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18). John says that we “ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6).
Sometimes we lose sight of what God wants us to become. Whenever we forget, we can look to Jesus. God is at work in our lives. He intends to make us more like Jesus: fully alive, enjoying a relationship with our Father, trusting him, and loving and serving others. It’s a beautiful picture, and it’s what God is creating within everyone who trusts in him.
Jesus Shows Us It’s Good to Be Human
I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve heard people complain about our humanity. Somehow we’ve developed the idea that we’re souls trapped in a body, and that the physical is bad. I’ve even heard some say that they expect to become angels later on. Nonsense!
It’s a very good thing to be human. God doesn’t intend for us to become less human. Instead, he wants to restore our humanity. We will spend eternity as humans in a physical body and a physical world. Not only that, but Jesus will remain fully human and fully God for eternity. It’s a great thing to be human!
Jesus Is Able to Save Us
If Jesus had not become human, he could never have died to pay the debt that humanity owed. Hebrews says:
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17)
The Bible teaches that, because of sin, our relationship with God was broken. God was rightly and justly angry with us. Propitiation means that Jesus made things right with God so that he is no longer angry with us. Jesus had to become one of us in order to do this.
Because Jesus became human, we can know that Jesus understands what we’re going through. We have an example to follow. We can know that our humanity is a good thing. No matter how badly we’ve sinned against God, we can know that God has done everything we need to make things right.
The humanity of Jesus matters!