Pressure. We all know what it feels like. Life gets too much and you feel stressed out. Jesus told us to expect it: “In this world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In this world you will have trouble, things that will pressurise you, he says. But what is stress? Why does it feel the way it does?
Stress is what happens when the demands of a situation (or tribulation, as Jesus put it) seem greater than our capacity to meet them. The demands become a ‘threat’ to us and, when we perceive that threat, we go into fight, flight or fright mode. It’s part of how God has made us. To a degree, then, stress is healthy: part of God’s design to help us meet the demands of everyday life in a fallen world. But sometimes it gets too much and begins to feel unhealthy.
How can we respond biblically? These three questions may help:
What’s coming at you?
This question seems easy. When you’re stressed, the demands are right there on top of you all the time. Too much work being thrown at you. Too many expectations from others. A pile-up of everyday responsibilities. Conflict with someone close to you or a colleague. Major life changes. Financial demands. The various burdens of ministry. What’s coming at you can take many different forms.
But it’s good to think more broadly too. Our bodies need not be ignored. The stress response can lead to panic attacks, exhaustion, ill-health and burnout. We live in fallen, weak bodies which will weaken further under pressure. We are dust. Furthermore, we have an accuser coming at us who can tell us we’re not doing enough and tempt us into taking on more than we need to.
What’s coming out of you?
At first glance this one seems straightforward, too. You feel anxious and tense. You worry over how to keep on top of everything. You feel a burden of responsibility. You can lose sleep, lack energy and begin to feel low. You notice yourself getting irritable and cynical.
But remember to think more deeply on this one. What’s going on spiritually that might contribute to this stress? Remember – the desires, fears and beliefs that drive us are all in relation to God. What are you aiming for and wanting in the midst of these demands? Success? A reputation? To feel in control? What are you afraid of? Things getting out of control? Your work coming to nothing?
Where will you find rest?
Here’s the big question! What you really crave under the demands is relief. You want rest. Where can you find it? You can try to reduce the pressures. You attempt to increase your capacity. But the danger is that you miss the heart. The answer is found in a person; a gentle, lowly, restful man. Listen to what he said:
Come to me all you who labour 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).
The man of course is Jesus. He invites us to come to him and take his yoke. What is Jesus’ yoke? Jesus’ burden is that he carries the sovereign care of all those demands that come at you. He is Lord over them! Jesus’ yoke is also that he has carried all your sins and paid the price for all those wrong reasons you have for being too busy. He lived the perfect life you could never live. He died the death you should have died. That was his yoke. And he says, Here – you take it…and rest. We take Jesus’ yoke by faith. When we trust his sovereign care over all that is coming at us; when we turn to his cross for cleansing of all that is coming out of us; when we rest fully and completely in his love, we are taking Jesus’ yoke upon us.
Just can’t take any more? Take his yoke. Find relief for your soul.