Conquering Stress Before It Conquers You

Our fast-paced society and chaotic world creates stress for almost everyone. Family and marital conflicts, senseless violence, deteriorating moral standards, increasing spiritual deception, occupational and financial difficulties, unpredictable weather conditions, environmental pollution, worldwide epidemics and famine, threats of nuclear war, and cataclysmic events happening on a global scale are just some of the things that are causing inner turmoil and tension. No wonder Jesus said ––

"Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world." (Luke 21:26).

It is impossible for you to avoid all stress. Besides, not all stress is harmful or unpleasant. In fact, life without some stress would be boring!

What may be negative and harmful stress to one person, may be a very positive stress to someone else. An individual who is afraid of heights would be terrified and under severe stress while riding a chair lift up a mountain side, while a person who likes high places would greatly enjoy the beautiful scenery and relaxing ride.

In all types of activities we incur stress. Much of it is beneficial. For example, when we exercise we are stressing our muscles. Without some resistance, our muscles would become weak and useless, and our bodies would quickly deteriorate.

So too, the stresses of life are not always harmful — unless they are too severe, last too long, recur too frequently, or are not alternated with periods of relaxation. This kind of stress and the continual "little hassles" of life accumulate to put our bodies and minds under extreme physical and emotional pressure. This is when our stress becomes distress.

Be Realistic

The first principle I want to share concerning reducing stress is to learn to be realistic! My life is often very hectic. My wife and I raised two children, and we occasionally had temporary foster children, as well as many visitors staying with us. I also direct a ministry that used to require me to spend much of my time and energy in stressful situations like crisis intervention, doing research and investigation, organizing numerous events and area-wide outreaches, teaching physical fitness and self-defense, coaching soccer, speaking in churches and schools, producing radio broadcasts, writing newsletters, and many other responsibilities that are part of a growing multi-faceted ministry. I was involved in many things that kept me going full speed from morning till night, often into the middle of the night! Gradually I was burning myself out and losing my health. As a result, I was forced to become a wise steward of my time and energy.

Scripture taught me a great lesson about stress. Like Moses in Exodus chapter 18, I discovered I could not do it all alone. Moses sat as judge for the children of Israel from morning to evening. When Moses' father-in-law saw this, he admonished Moses ––

"What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone." (Exodus 18:17,18)

He wisely advised Moses to appoint helpers and to delegate to them much of the responsibility that he had previously been assuming.

I also realized that I was unable to personally accept all the ministry opportunities that were coming my way or fulfill all the diversified ministry responsibilities by myself. As I sought the Lord concerning this, He led me to train additional staff members and delegate as much responsibility as possible so I could multiply my efforts. We also developed a referral ministry to whom we could refer those needing help or counseling.

The Lord also spoke to my heart to focus on maximizing speaking engagements to reach as many people as possible, expanding my radio ministry, and producing numerous cassettes, books, and pamphlets. This has greatly multiplied my ministry efforts from merely having impact on hundreds of lives to currently having impact on tens of thousands of lives — not only in my local area, but throughout the U.S. and around the world (Acts 1:8).

Many people have goals in life, but they get sidetracked so often or have so many "irons in the fire" that they have no time or energy with which to fulfill the Lord's highest calling for their lives. I have seen too many Christian leaders rendered ineffective because they have allowed themselves to be "too busy" doing things they have not been called to do, and not busy enough fulfilling the Lord's will for their lives and spending more time with Him.

I used to accept every ministry opportunity, but I soon realized that was impossible and had to learn to say "No!" The Lord has given me a strong mandate and made me determined to not be diverted — no matter how good the cause — from fulfilling the primary focus and specific goals and vision He has given me for my life and ministry. It is much wiser to limit our involvements and do a better, more effective job, than to be spread so thin we become totally ineffective. I have discovered that quality is far more important than quantity!

I have also learned that when things are organized, not only is the pressure lessened, but more is accomplished. A cluttered and disorganized home or workplace not only wastes much time in looking for things, but often creates internal stress and anxiety. Waiting till the last minute to fulfill your responsibilities often leads to frantic behavior which causes mistakes or accidents and increases stress. I used to exist on adrenaline because I often lived on the edge and waited until the last possible minute to fulfill deadlines. Although I performed well under pressure, the eventual toll it takes on one's health is costly. Wisdom dictates, when possible, completing your deadline projects ahead of time. It will remove much of the unnecessary pressure and stress, and you will enjoy peace of mind.

Balance

There is an interrelationship between physical, emotional, and spiritual stress. Therefore, if we are going to reduce and effectively deal with the stress in our lives, we must deal with each of these areas.

As we obey the directions in God's Word and apply the Biblical principles of health and fitness through proper nutrition, proper exercise, proper mental attitude, proper rest and relaxation, and a personal trust in Him, we will be blessed in body, mind, and spirit. To violate or disregard any of these Biblical principles would cause one to be in opposition to the natural health laws established by God. This is one reason why many are in poor health and do not achieve the full purpose God has for them. It is sad indeed that many believers in Christ who have such a strong desire to serve the Lord are unable to do so effectively because they lack the needed health and energy.

Nutrition and Diet

Our diet is an important factor regarding overcoming stress and achieving optimal health. The majority of the foods we eat are refined, with much of the natural vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and other essential nutrients depleted, while many undesirable ingredients and chemicals are added. Excessive consumption of devitalized junk food makes us more vulnerable to depression and sickness and robs us of vitality and energy.

When I used to eat mostly refined, cooked, and devitalized foods containing lots of fat, sugar, salt, and white flour, I experienced fatigue and was less able to cope with stressful situations. But now that I eat mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, natural whole grains, and other nutritious foods, and drink plenty of pure water and fruit and vegetable juices, I not only feel better and am able to more effectively deal with and overcome the pressures in my life, but also I have more energy and vitality for the ministry to which God has called me.

I have discovered that eating foods as close as possible to the way God gave them to us in nature — before man refines, over cooks, and adds artificial colors, preservatives, and sweeteners, etc. — is usually the best principle to follow. The resulting improved digestion, assimilation and elimination are crucial to maintain one's health and overcome stress.

Exercise

Exercise is another thing I do to relieve stress and keep in shape. Tests have revealed that those who do not get adequate exercise are less capable of withstanding stress, than those who do. Increasing your physical flexibility, strength, and endurance through a regular and reasonable exercise program is an excellent way to endure times of excessive stress. Tension affects the nervous system and when the muscles are exercised the nervous system relaxes. Going to bed tired from nervous fatigue makes it difficult to sleep, but going to bed tired from muscle fatigue induces sleep.

It doesn't matter how old you are or what shape you may be in, it's never too late to begin taking care of your body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, and thereby glorify God. A Christian should not be overweight and out of shape, unless he/she has a physical disability or medical problem. We, of all people, should be the example, not only spiritually, but also physically!

I Timothy 4:8 says ––

"For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." (KJV)

Compared to godliness and spiritual development, physical exercise is of less importance. But as one minister wisely pointed out to me when, as a new Christian, I thought I would have to quit all my physical conditioning: "The little bit that exercise does profit, however, is very important and not to be neglected!"

To me, my specially designed 30-60 minute workouts (consisting of stretching, strengthening, and endurance exercises) that I do three or four times a week are tremendously helpful. When I skip a work-out, I sometimes begin to feel sluggish, irritable, and slightly depressed. Not only does my exercise time enable me to get away from all the hassles and pressures, but after a vigorous workout, I always feel refreshed, energetic, and more determined in my work for the Lord.

Walking is still one of the best forms of exercise, and as a natural tranquilizer it is calming, relaxing, and even uplifting. In Bible days, they walked everywhere so they didn't need additional forms of exercise like we do because of our sedentary lifestyle. Walking with my wife or family around the ministry property or in the park, or walking alone meditating on God's Word and in prayer is a great stress reliever. In fact, it makes me feel better than any stress reducing technique I ever tried.

Some people tell me they cannot afford to take time to exercise, but I always reply that I cannot afford not to take time to work out. The physical, emotional, and even spiritual benefits, as well as the increased potential, makes these few hours a week a wise and necessary investment.

Self-Control

We wonder why many Christians are sick, yet for God to heal some people would require Him to violate and disregard His own health laws. What we often need more than a quick cure, is a consistent life of discipline and self-control and an endeavor to live in harmony with the laws of nature created by the God of the Bible!

The Apostle Paul said,

"... all things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything." (I Corinthians 6:12 - NAS)  

God does not want His people mastered or enslaved by anything, whether it is drugs, alcohol, sexual immorality, laziness, gluttony, gossip, jealousy, worry, fear, bitterness, temper, etc. He wants to be in control of our lives!

Many say they cannot develop self-control and discipline in their lives, but Galatians 5:23 reveals that one of the "fruit of the Spirit" is self-control. The closer we draw to the Lord and the more we allow His Spirit to work in our lives, the more we will develop the fruit of self-control in every area of our lives. And the more we develop the fruit of the Spirit in our lives the less stress we will incur from out-of-control behavior and the more we will walk in the Lord's peace and joy.

Mental Attitude

Since there is no way to avoid all the pressure and stress in our lives, we must learn to adequately live with them. Instead of allowing stress to victimize us, we can control it by controlling our attitude and how we respond to life's stress-producing circumstances. The amount of stress is usually not as crucial as the way in which we handle it.

Our attitude really is one of the most important aspects in overcoming the adverse effects of stress. When you "rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4) and "give thanks in all circumstances" (I Thessalonians 5:18), then you will discover that "the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10)! Proverbs 17:22 states, "A cheerful heart is good medicine [causes good healing], but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." The contrast is clear: good emotions and a positive attitude benefit the body's health, while a negative attitude and destructive emotions deteriorate the body's health.

When we allow negative and destructive emotions such as jealousy, envy, resentment, anger, bitterness, vengeance, worry, self-pity, fear, hopelessness, and despair to linger, they can do great damage to the body and can cause an inner stress that will ultimately result in a host of psychosomatic diseases. Research indicates the ability of the mind (psyche) to produce various changes in the body (soma), thus the term psychosomatic.

But when we persist in pleasant emotions such as love, joy, peace, hope and faith, we induce good health. Jesus said, "Forgive seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:22), and following His advice not only benefits our spiritual life but it can also save our bodies from ulcers, colitis, high blood pressure, and many other ailments.

Philippians 4:8 gives a list of positive things which should fill the thought life of the believer. It tells us to think on things that are pure, lovely, honorable, just, virtuous, and praiseworthy. For how we feel and the way we act is a direct result of what we think!

Much of what is on TV creates a pessimistic, negative, and apathetic attitude, as well as being a waste of time. So in order to maintain a healthy attitude, I have greatly limited my television viewing to only watch that which I deem profitable. And here is another guideline to remember: avoid people who are constantly complaining and draining your energy or who tend to create needless problems and turmoil.

Rest, Relaxation, Recreation

Another key to overcoming stress and having a healthy lifestyle is rest, relaxation, and recreation. As well as getting proper sleep, we must realize that some leisure is not wrong, nor is it a misuse of talent or a waste of time. While it is true that we are living in the last days and we must work while it is yet day, for night cometh when no one can work (John 9:4), we must also follow the example of our Creator who rested on the seventh day following creation. He instructs us to do likewise! Those who rest one day a week from their labors are usually healthier, happier and more productive than those who fail to follow God's example.

In Mark 6:30-32 we read ––

"The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, 'Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.' So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place." 

Jesus frequently got away to spend time alone with the Father.

If we neglect time for rest, relaxation, and recreation, we may temporarily accomplish a lot in our vocation but lose our health and family in the process. We need to plan time for relaxation into our daily schedule. We need to occasionally escape the pressures of life by having a brief period of relief which is like a mini-vacation, where we can take a few minutes to just lie on the grass or relax comfortably on a couch or hammock. One of my favorite methods of relaxation is on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the summer, to stretch my hammock between two trees and just lay there relaxing, enjoying the gentle breeze and pondering the wonders of creation.

It is good to occasionally stop the hectic pace of life and allow time for something that will renew, refresh, and rejuvenate your body, mind, and spirit. We must understand that the body and brain both function more effectively and that we can accomplish far more for the Lord when we take time for rest, relaxation, and recreation!

The psalmist did not need tranquilizers and sleeping pills for he said ––

"I will lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety." (Psalm 4:8)

Waiting on the Lord

Several years ago I realized how important it was to take time to "wait upon the Lord." I was guest speaker for a week at a nearby camp. I was commuting everyday from camp to my office to handle the regular ministry requirements. Besides all that, we just had 3.7 acres of land donated to our ministry and I was making decisions on the building design and materials, as well as helping with the construction. Towards the end of the week, I was totally exhausted; every ounce of strength and energy was drained. Now I believe in Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (KJV)  In fact, I have literally built my life and ministry on this Biblical truth. Yet, I had to honestly ask the Lord, "How can I now experience Your strength?" Instantly, the Lord spoke to my heart ––

"but those who hope in [wait upon] the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:31)

That day I forgot about what I thought needed to be done and spent time alone with my Lord. I remembered how Jesus always took time to get away and be alone with His Father, and how this enabled Him to keep His composure and remain cool and calm, even when in the midst of extreme pressure and opposition. The Lord also taught me that no matter how determined I was or how much self-discipline I had, I could never accomplish His purpose and goals for my life through my own strength. He taught me the reality of ––

"'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord Almighty." (Zechariah 4:6)

That evening I gave my final message at camp with renewed strength. The Lord's Spirit challenged the people as only He can. Following that, I shared with many on a one-to-one basis, yet my mind remained fresh and alert. Truly, I had found a source of strength, "waiting on the Lord!"

Bible Study and Prayer

While in Bible college and during my early ministry days, I used to be so busy that I had little time for Bible study and prayer. I was too busy researching and reading other books and magazines to keep current, that I had little time for God's Word.

But the Lord dealt with me, that if I wanted everything He had for me, then I needed to spend about 90% of my study time in His Word. I gave away most of my books (except for good resource materials) and covenanted with the Lord to attempt to read the Word and pray three times a day — morning, noon, and evening. That has proven to be one of the most beneficial decisions I ever made.

My Bible study format is as follows: First, I get some time alone and read through a whole book of the Bible or listen to it on cassette. It may take an hour or two hours as I read or listen to that complete book of the Bible from beginning to end so I can get an overview of it.

Then I go back to the beginning and re-read it one chapter at a time. I meditate on each verse, as a cow chewing its cud, to assimilate that into my spiritual lifeblood. I also do some background research, read footnotes, look up Scripture references, and sometimes use a commentary, etc. It might take me a month or more to go through one book of the Bible in this manner. Then I go back and one more time re-read the whole book — chapter by chapter — without reading any footnotes, etc. And from doing this, God's principles and truths have become very much alive in my heart and life!

When I take time for Bible studies and prayer, not only does my day usually go better, but my time seems to be multiplied and I can cope with the difficulties and deadlines much easier.

Most Important!

The most important aspect of reducing and controlling stress is to be in a right relationship with the God who created us. People who are still spiritually searching, or attempting to please God and attain self-perfection through their own self-effort, usually have tremendous inner turmoil and tension, as do believers who are living in willful sin or know in their heart that something is not right between them and the Lord.

Receiving God's forgiveness and new life in Christ will definitely not remove all our stress, and in some ways, it may actually increase the pressures in our lives. But through Christ we have the available strength to change those stresses that are unnecessary, to accept those circumstances we cannot change, to control our emotions, and to maintain faith and a positive attitude, even in the midst of stressful situations.

What Motivates You?

We must be certain that we are not "keeping in shape" merely because having a "healthy body" is the current trend or fad, or because we want to impress everyone, but because we realize that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and we desire to glorify God with every aspect of our lives!

All of our good nutrition, exercising, self-control, positive mental attitude, rest, relaxation, and recreation may give us several more healthful years, but it will never give us eternal life — unless we also come to know Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord! Far more important than just adding a few more healthful years to our lives is that we come to know the Author of abundant and eternal life (John 10:10). John 17:3 says ––

"Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent."

Then we can look forward with anticipation to our eventual physical, mental, and spiritual perfection in Him (1 John 3:2). Until that time, we can better serve and glorify God now by being in top condition –– physically, mentally/emotionally, and above all, spiritually. This will give us increased energy and vitality for accomplishing the Lord's will and enable us to achieve the maximum potential and purpose He has for our lives!

Conclusion

We can cope with the stresses of life a lot better when we feel great physically, have a positive mental attitude, and are in a right relationship with the Lord. Knowing that our lives are in the center of Christ's will and totally trusting Him with everything that happens is the best way to overcome the pressures and stresses of life!

The preceding is excerpted from Bill's Conquering Stress Before It Conquers You booklet which is available from Bill Rudge's Bookstore.

Copyright © 1992 by Bill Rudge