From Stress to Success - Part 1

Richard F. Ames

We live in a world filled with stress. Natural disasters disrupt millions of lives and destroy billions of dollars in property. Illness, disease and pain affect the lives of innumerable suffering people. Many with jobs face stress in the workplace from long hours and interpersonal conflicts.

Some of us face daily tensions in our families, in trying to pay our bills and in coping with health issues.  Are you stressed out?  Can you turn your stress into success? The Bible offers amazing tools for overcoming problems and obstacles and living the abundant life God wants you to have.

There is one source that gives wisdom, guidance, and strategies that can give us hope for the future. That source—the Bible—contains principles that can help us face the stressful challenges of our daily lives. One of those principles is to prepare for potential problems. The book of Proverbs reminds us: "A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself; the simple pass on and are punished" (Proverbs 27:12).

Yes, a wise person is alert to dangers and prepares for them. Nations and peoples all over the world will continue to face natural disasters. How should we prepare? Relief agencies recommend that every home and workplace contain a disaster kit including first aid materials, food, water, flashlights and other items we may need in a crisis. Remember, in an emergency we may need to evacuate our homes on short notice, so our emergency supplies—and our valuable personal items and records—should be easily accessible. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans in 2005, hundreds of thousands had to evacuate, and many of those who were not well-prepared are still suffering the consequences to this day.

Preparation for natural disasters and other dangers can reduce your stress. Notice the example of the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31. She prepares her household for challenging times ahead. "She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household is clothed with scarlet. She makes tapestry for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple" (Proverbs 31:19–22).

The virtuous woman sees the challenge of cold weather ahead. She faces the challenge and prepares for it. She is not afraid of the snow. She will not be "stressed out" by the problem. We can survive the stress and the trauma of natural and man-made disasters—if we prepare.

The Bible gives us several examples of such wisdom. Remember the story of the ancient patriarch Joseph. His brothers unjustly sold him into slavery, and he eventually ended up in an Egyptian prison. But God gave him the ability to interpret dreams. When Pharaoh dreamed about the cows and ears of corn, Joseph told him to prepare for seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. Joseph told Pharaoh: "This is the thing which I have spoken to Pharaoh. God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do" (Genesis 41:28). Joseph managed the economy of Egypt during those seven years of plenty and, because of his preparations, Egypt prospered during the seven years of famine. Are you prepared? You can survive the stress of natural and man-made disasters by being prepared, as Joseph was.

Set Goals for Success

Successful people know that to accomplish anything of value, we need to set goals. If we do not know where we are going, we will never get there! Always remember the most important goal. Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). We can be confident that God, who provides food even for the smallest bird, will be even more ready to provide for His children. If we have the right goal—the Kingdom of God—we know we need not become anxious. We should be planning for our future in the Kingdom of God with far more urgency than we plan for our next meal or our next set of clothes.

Yes, God wants us to focus on the spiritual priorities. He promises to provide our every need, as it tells us in Philippians 4:19. Of course, we must apply the biblical principles of work and industriousness, but we should not obsess over physical things. In fact, Christians understand that true success is not measured by the world's standards. The world defines success as possessions, power and position. Advertisers promote success in terms of material possessions: expensive automobiles, fine jewelry, Rolex watches, large mansions, luxury yachts and the latest electronic gadgets. But these physical possessions cannot produce lasting happiness.

How deeply are we caught up in the carnal ways of the world? The Apostle John gives us this warning concerning our materialistic society: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15–17).

True happiness, stability, contentment and fulfillment come by doing the will of God. His will is revealed in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation! If we read the Bible daily, and apply its principles, we can find peace of mind and the abundant life. Jesus said: "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).

When we recapture the true biblical values, we will be happier, and will have the abundant life God desires for us. The Apostle Paul quotes Jesus as saying: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Or, as the Moffatt translation states: "It is happier to give than to get."

Good Stress?

Prayer and thanksgiving can help us turn stress into success. But is stress all bad? Endocrinologist Hans Selye defined stress as: "the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it" (Stress Without Distress, p. 14). Selye's definition acknowledged that there is good stress (such as a promotion at work), as well as bad stress (such as discovering that you bounced a cheque). Physiologically, both types of stress are the same—they result in increased blood pressure, increased respiratory rates, increased digestive activity, increased sugar and fatty acids in the circulatory system, increased metabolism, increased sodium retention, and decreased immune function.

Without good stress, what would our lives be like? As researcher Jerrold Greenburg noted, "The goal of stress management is not to eliminate all stress" (Comprehensive Stress Management, p. 12). We need some stressors in our life to make it fun and interesting. Certain stressors also help us be more productive. For example, deadlines and rewards for completing tasks can motivate us. Greenburg emphasizes: "Our goal should be to limit the harmful effects of stress while maintaining life's quality and vitality" (ibid.).

Can we achieve that goal? Jesus Christ recognized that many of us are bearing great emotional burdens, and are dealing with negative stressors. He made this wonderful promise to us: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28–30). Trust Christ to share your burdens, for He knows what it is like to endure pain and pressure. Give your life to Him, and you will find "rest for your souls." Let Him carry your burdens. As Peter wrote, we are to cast "all your care upon Him, for He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). Or: "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7, NIV).

Some of us may have stressful relationships with friends or family members. But have we considered forgiving those who have oppressed us? Jesus taught us to forgive others. Remember what He included in the "model prayer" for Christians: "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matthew 6:12). Have you forgiven anyone recently? Forgiveness can even help us overcome depression. Dr. Paul Meier wrote, in his book Don't Let Jerks Get the Best of You: "A patient can be depressed for many years, then forgive the one who caused his repressed anger and totally recover from the depression, because his serotonin has been restored naturally and the brain is able to work correctly" (p. 170).

Forgiving others can produce peace of mind. We can turn our lives around and begin to experience joy and happiness. God has given us the principles for success, happiness and peace. We can cope with stress. We can survive stress.

Take care of your health. Maintain a positive attitude. Forgive others. Take time every day for prayer, Bible reading, and meditating on the truth of God. Work diligently, exercise regularly and strive for adequate sleep and rest. Pray about everything that worries you, and pray with thanksgiving. Live by these principles, and you can turn your stress into success!