God's Prescription for Overcoming Stress

Bible Book: Isaiah  40 : 27-31
Subject: Stress; Peace; Victory
Series: The Divine Effective Care Act
[Editor's Note: Another sermon could be added to this series entitled God's Prescription for Overcoming Sin. I do not have that sermon prepared for upload, but as a preacher you can easily prepare a message on that subject and turn this set of messages into into a 7-part sermon series.]
Introduction

Today we are beginning a series of sermons on The Divine Effective Care Act. As you know, we are facing a change in our healthcare in America because of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. This takes effect beginning in January, 2014, but the sign-up process begins in October of 2013. No one knows for sure if this new healthcare process will be effective or not. Many feel it will cost more, offer less services and lead to death panels for older Americans. We can pray that this is not true.

I want you to know that we can depend on God’s Effective Care Act. God cares about you – about you as an individual. Jesus often dealt with individuals while on earth. He took time to save a thief while on the cross. He stopped while surrounded by a mass of people to address a woman who had touched the hem of His garment. He sat and talked with Nicodemus one evening and shared the wonderful words found in John 3:16. After the religious leaders had dropped their stones and walked away, He shared personal words for the woman caught in adultery. At the well near Sychar he told one woman how to experience the water of life. When we read that story, we discover 30 verses dealing with his conversation with the woman at the well. Later he went into the city and many more were saved, but only 3 verses are used to describe the revival in Sychar. Jesus loves us one-by-one. He cares about you.

The Lord doesn’t need to the NSA or drones to snoop on you – to find out what you are doing, where you are and who you are associating with. He knows! You see, He knows us individually and He knows about us individually. Even though He knows that a lot of what we think, do and say is not good, and may be evil, He still loves us. The Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:7, “Casting all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you.” In this series of messages, we are going to consider some of God’s instructions, or prescriptions, to help you live a better, healthier and happier life. We can refer to these instructions as God’s Effective Care Act.

Our first topic in this series of messages is stress, and I don’t think anyone would deny that we are living in a time of tremendous stress. Someone said that we are living in the day of the quick hash and the mad dash. After all, we are the first generation with something called “fast food”. We live in a world of speed, activity and noise. Another person described our entire lives in the modern generation as hurry, worry and bury. We live in a hurry, worry a lot and are buried sooner than we realize.

I read somewhere a few years ago that Americans consume 4.5 million pounds of aspirin a year. At this point, we are probably swallowing a lot than 4.5 million pounds of aspirin per year. I have no idea how many other drugs we take but you can be sure that just the meds to calm us down would weigh many tons. We have pills to help us sleep, powerful caffeine drinks to wake us up, 5-Hour Energy to keep us going, and pills to calm us down. It is said that nearly 55 million have hypertension in America, according to American Heart Association. One out of every twenty-give people in the USA use sleeping pills. We are truly a stressed-out nation!

Every day we are bombarded with harmful, negative stimuli. Dr. Mitchell A. Spellberg of Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago says, "The explosion of instantaneous communication is imposing a terrible strain on us. We are exposed to too many horror stories. The news is full of information about fires, airplane crashes, murders, rapes. These stresses brought to people by the mass media involve ulcers, headaches, vomiting, fast pulse rates, and high blood pressure."

We need to understand the divine principles related to stress. It is a misunderstanding of three important principles which causes stress to hurt us rather than help us, to break us rather than bless us, and to destroy us rather than develop us. Stress can be a friend or foe in our lives. God uses stress to strengthen His children, not to shrink them.

I. Misunderstanding the Problem of Stress

Isaiah 40:27-28

A. The Load of Stress

Stress is a weight placed upon a person or object. This building we are in right now is under constant and incredible stress. The great thing is this structure is designed to absorb the stress so that the roof and walls will not collapse. If a building is designed improperly, the structure cannot withstand the load and the entire thing crumbles. Architects and engineers carefully study the stresses on various parts of building designs to insure that the structures are safe to build.

In life we must be able to withstand stress. Be assured of this, you cannot avoid stress. The strain and tension of living produces a measure of stress which cannot be avoided. We know that the stress on a building is related to the weight of the materials from which it is constructed and the span of those materials through space. What about human beings. What produces stress on us, and are we designed to endure that stress?

Stress on our lives is related to the responsibilities we have and our abilities to complete them successfully.

There are different types of stress that one must accept in life. There is self-induced stress which is not related to our responsibilities. For example, you are watching a ball game on television and you are cheering for your favorite team who is playing in a championship game. The game is close and the minutes are ticking away. You become more and more tense as you watch the game. If you were not watching the game, you would not be experiencing any of the stress related to the outcome. But, because you choose to watch the game, you have created self-induced stress. The stress builds up in your body. Your heart rate increases, you breathe faster, your eyes dilate and your muscles tighten. This is self-induced stress. You are not in the game. You are not responsible for the outcome. You will not benefit from the result. You have worked yourself up into a frenzy of self-induced stress. Numerous people have died while watching sports events on television. Someone once said, “Football is a game with twenty-two players who badly need rest being watched by sixty thousand people who badly need exercise.” Add to that number the people watching on television and there are millions watching who need exercise.

There is another type of stress that can be called inherited stress. You didn’t choose it – it came upon as a part of living your life. It is real and it can be a bit overwhelming at times. It is a load, or weight, that is laid upon you in life. In what ways are we stressed in life.

1. We are stressed by Time

This is one of the greatest contributors to stress. I know all about it. You see, Sundays come every seven days whether I have sufficient time to prepare to preach or not. Time is always pushing me to the next meeting, the next hospital visit, the next counseling session, the next report that is due, the next sermon or lesson to be delivered. All of us deal with time as an issue. In our fast-pace world, time seems to be pushing us all the time.

You must get your kids ready for school on time. That involves clothing, hygiene, breakfast and school supplies – and sometimes, it involves just getting them out of the bed every morning.

You have to be at work on time. That involves making sure you have gas in the car, negotiating early morning traffic, and being your best when you arrive. When I lived and pastored in Atlanta, I often saw women driving to work eating breakfast, putting on makeup and talking on the phone at the same time. Almost everyone had a cup of coffee they were downing while driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic. By the time people arrived at their destination, they needed a cool down period just to begin working.

You have to pay bills on time. Meals must be prepared on time. And, almost everything we do involves the stress of time.

You must be at the dentist or doctor on time, even if you have to wait forty-five minutes once you get there. I heard about a man who had a doctor’s appointment. He sat in the waiting room for what seemed like ages until his name was called. Then he was placed in an examination room where he sat for another twenty minutes. Finally, the doctor came in, picked up the man’s chart and said, “Now, let’s see, how old are you?” The patient replied, “Now, or when I first came into the waiting room.” Time can be a real stressor!

The clock never slows down and never backs up for you. You can even come to church all stressed out because you are running late – you rush in with a fast heartbeat and your nerves frayed. One day a lady came to a church I pastored wearing two totally different shoes. I mean that one shoe even had a heel higher than the other. She said, “How did I do that? I was in such a hurry that I didn’t even realize they were different till I got here.” We all had a laugh at her expense, but all of us have allowed time to push us to the stress limits in life.

2. We are stressed by Tasks

We all have responsibilities. Whether it is a task at work that must be done on the company’s time table, the grass that has to be cut before the neighbors call the wildlife society, children to fed, clothes to be washed, dishes to be cleaned, or other tasks to be completed, it involves the stress of time. Occasionally it is the combination of more tasks than time seems to permit. The result is that time and tasks team up to add even more stress to your life.

3. We are stressed by Temptation

When the children of God were traveling through the wilderness, they were attacked by the Amalekites. The Amalekites were ancestors of Esau, who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup. In essence, the Amalekites are an Old Testament picture of Satan and his followers. The Amalekites attacked the people of God from the rear, where the weak would be walking. Satan will attack you when you are weak, adding another dimension to your stress.

Temptation adds enormous stress, but the sin being held like a carrot before us is actually seeking to convince us that the evil being offered will provide some relief from the pressures of life. Don’t you believe it! Giving in to the temptation will only make your stress impossible to bear.

4. We are stressed by Turmoil

Arguments, disagreements, and other conflicts with people create stress in our lives. It is strange, but stress can cause turmoil and then the turmoil adds even more stress! It can be turmoil between husband and wife, child and parent, employer and employee, co-workers, and even friends. These clashes can happen in your home, community, work, church or even between you and the person who pulls into the parking place you have been waiting for at the supermarket! Some people are so stressed when driving, that they curse, point a gun or go so far as to hit another car with their own. That has given rise to a term with which we are all familiar – Road Rage! Road rage is just another example of the results of stress.

5. We are stressed by our Temperament

Some people seemed to become stressed out more quickly than others. Such people have a quick temper and are said to have type-A personalities. What creates even more stress for people like this is dealing with type-B personalities whom the type-A personality thinks should, in light of whatever is going on, be more temperamental! In other words, highly stressed people like for everyone else to be highly stressed and get even more stressed with the unstressed when they don't get more stressed? I getting a bit stressed just trying to explain this!

You see a biblical example of the type-A and type-B personalities in the story of Mary and Martha. Martha was stressed, Mary wasn't. Martha told Jesus it wasn't fair for Mary to be less stressed than she was! In essence, Martha told Jesus He ought to get Mary to come to the kitchen and join in the stress party going on as the meal was being prepared. People who don't get stressed make people who do get stressed even more stressed!

Do you recognize yourself in any of the pictures painted thus far? Sure you do! We all deal with stress that is related to time, tasks, temptation, turmoil and temperament. Those things and some others, create what we can call The Load of Stress.

B. The Loneliness of Stress

Notice another interesting facet of stress. In Isaiah 40:27-28, we note that stress produces a feeling of loneliness. A person under extreme stress feels that God doesn't understand and God doesn't care. He feels that God can’t see his problem from a personal perspective and even if He could, God would probably just hide His face from him!

We will deal with loneliness with a message during these series, but we must mention it here because it does create great stress. And, sometimes, stress creates loneliness. This is true because stress often creates a feeling of being alone with your problems. You feel overwhelmed and under-loved! That was the problem for Martha in the kitchen at Bethany. She felt that Mary did not care, Jesus did not care, and that caused her to feel that no one cared. She was bearing up under a load of self imposed stress. Her labor was not nearly as heavy as her feeling of dealing with the stress without help.

C. The Liabilities of Stress

All stress is not harmful, and some of it can be helpful. Proper stress is a blessing. This building is enduring proper stress and as it does it is a blessing to us. Some stress is harmful. Stress not properly handled can cause many problems.

First, it makes us sick. Stress leads to many kinds of illness, including but not limited to: heart disease, headaches, stomach spasms, ulcers, hypertension, and muscle cramps. Stress can literally kill a person.

Second, stress leads to emotional weaknesses. Stress, not properly handled leads to worry, anger, and bitterness. It causes a person to lose joy. Stress can make a person hard to deal with because of emotional tension.

Thirdly, stress also can make a person extremely negative. It keeps us from faith because it produces doubt. In essence, poor stress management breaks down our relationships, our bodies, our effectiveness, and our spiritual life. Stress is a dangerous thing to handle improperly!

II. Misunderstanding the Power for Stress

Isaiah 40:29 – “He gives power to the faint.”

The strength we need to deal with stress is available as a "gift". The word “gives” in our text is a Hebrew word that speaks of a gift given freely to another. God gives us what we need to deal with a “faint” feeling. When we feel as though we are going to faint under the stresses of life, God has power to give us and He wants us to have it. It is a gift given when we need it and not a one-time event. He gives it to us over and over again! The word "strength" means to "be firm”. He gives us the ability not to give up when we are under pressure. Just like this building stands under the pressure of weight, wind, rain and storms, God has strength to give you so you can endure whatever comes your way.

A. Strength for the Weary

Verse 30 in our text speaks of being “weary”. Sometimes our stress is the result of being called on to complete a task or tasks which weary us. Our strength just seems gives out. We need to know that God has the strength we need in order for us to do all that He intends, and He gives us this strength as a "gift". This is not something we earn, but something that God freely gives to those who know Him and trust Him.

Many years ago the British Parliament passed a law requiring that a series of marks be painted on the hulls of merchant ships. They consisted of several lines one above the other. The top one was called the "Plimsoll mark" or "load line." It indicated the maximum depth the vessel could be submerged in the water without endangering it in a storm. The practice of putting these markings on large ships was introduced in Parliament by one of its members, a reformer by the name of Samuel Plimsoll. Because the legislation he proposed prevented many disasters at sea and saved thousands of lives, he became known as the sailors' friend. Commenting on this, the "Sunday School Times" made the following spiritual application: "In God's sight each of us has an unseen 'Plimsoll mark.' Therefore, the temptations and trials He allows to come our way will never exceed our capacity to bear them. He knows our limit."

We've all seen LOAD LIMIT signs on highways, bridges, and elevators. Knowing that too much strain can cause severe damage or complete collapse, engineers determine the exact amount of stress various materials and manufactured items can safely endure. The public is given this information in the form of posted warnings, telling them not to exceed the established limits. To disregard these notices invites disaster or great expense. God does not want us to expose ourselves to stresses that are above that which He allows. We can be sure that whatever He intends for us to do, He can enable us to do – if we ask Him to “gift” us with the strength to do so.

If we move outside His will, and take on things He has not guided us to do when are not promised this strength. Trusting Him for strength means abiding in His will. The load limit is created to keep us in His path for our lives.

B. Strength for the Weak

There is another problem we can have. It is possible to be called upon to do a task for which we lack the skills. Moses said this of himself. Gideon said this as well. Many of us can feel that syndrome. Yet, God says that he has a gift of strength that overcomes even our weaknesses! We may not think that we have the ability to do a certain task, but we feel God leading us to do it anyway. Be assured, if God is calling you to do something, he will give you the ability to carry out His will. The extremity of our ability is the beginning of God’s gift of strength for us.

Bill Tuck tells about a Hagar the Horrible comic strip: "Hagar is talking to a hooded doctor and says, 'I have a stomachache, a sore thumb, a bruised knee, a backache, chills, itchy scalp, ringing in my ears, fuzzy vision, night sweats, joint pains, and the blues.' "The doctor responds by saying, 'There is a lot of that going around.'" [Sharing the Practice, Sum 1994. Page 6.]

There is a lot of stress going around, and it can affect us in some strange ways. Much of the trouble from stress is because we feel we are not able to do what is required. We have a strength that we know nothing about. For someone here today who feels that you are about ready to collapse in weariness or weakness, I ask you to look to the Lord, be led by the Lord, lean upon the Lord, learn from the Lord and be lifted by the Lord. He has the strength you need and will give it to you!

III. Misunderstanding the Purpose of Stress

Isaiah 40:30-31

Now we come to the most important point of our text today. Most of us do not understand that stress is not meant to harm us but to help us. A proper response to stress can and will lead to better life and a better person.

According to an old fable, a grandfather clock stood for three generations in the same corner, faithfully ticking off the minutes, hours, and days. In it was a heavy weight that had to be pulled to the top regularly in order to keep the clock running. "Too bad," thought a new owner, "that such an old clock should have to bear so great a load." So he took the heavy weight off the chain and removed it. At once the old timepiece stopped ticking. "Why did you take away my weight?" asked the clock. "I wanted to lighten your burden," replied the man. "Please," said the clock, "put it back. That's what keeps me going!

We are like that clock. The correct stress, wound by the divine hand, can keep us ticking in time with God’s will. Stress is not all bad, unless we experience it outside God’s will.

The story is told of a woman who had little patience. She went to her minister and said, "Pastor, pray that God will give me patience!" The pastor said, "Let's bow our heads right now and bring your need to the Lord. Heavenly Father, send trials and difficulties into the life of this, you child, that she may have much tribulation." Before he could say another word, the woman interrupted, "But Pastor, I need patience, not tribulation?" He pastor responded, "I know, but God says this is the best way to learn it."

That pastor was right. Read Romans 5:3. Affliction, which means tribulation or stress, creates patience. If you and I want to grow in our ability to wait on God and carry out His will, we must be willing to endure affliction and stress.

In the world of manufacturing, there is something called R&D – which stands for research and development. In that department of major companies they have what is known as stress tests. Every product is stressed to see if it can hold up under different difficult situations. Only those items that pass the tests are allowed to be sold to the public. God is often stressing us to see if we will lean on Him. He can only use those who are willing to come to Him and expressly ask for His strength and help. Stress is a part of God’s R&D department. So, don’t look at stress as something contrary to God’s will. If you look at the followers of Jesus in the early church they were all placed under extreme stress – even leading to death. They were found worthy to suffer for Jesus. I believe that is what Paul is talking about when he speaks of the blessing of being worthy to suffer for Christ. Those found worthy, who pass the stress test, are used by God! If you cannot trust God under stress, you will not be used of God to be successful in the arena He has placed you.

The scripture lists for us three results of a proper reaction to stress.

A. Wing Strength - The Supernatural

This is soaring strength. This is the strength to do things that are totally impossible in the flesh. Wing Strength is something God supplies to those who are facing what appears to be impossible. But we know that all things are possible with God. Someone here today is in need of Wing Strength. You are facing stress that is beyond you. You are looking in the eyes of something that is physically and humanly beyond you. But, never fear, God is with you. Lean upon the Lord and you can mount up with wings like the eagle.

B. War Strength - The Soldier

People didn’t run in the days of Isaiah, unless they were in an extremely difficult situation. Running was often associated with war and battle. The Soldier strength is what one needs when a battle is going on – not a physical battle but a spiritual one. With God’s help, you can leap the wall – Psalm 18:29 – the Psalmist shared that with God’s strength he could face and entire troop of the enemy and leap over a wall. That is the kind of strength Isaiah is talking about here.

What battle are you facing? What enemy is coming against you? To get to you, put yourself in a position that the enemy will have to deal with God first! You can have the strength of God in the battle.

C. Walking Strength - The Sojourn

Walking strength is the ability to slog through the day-to-day situations you face. Just managing life is enough to cause us to faint, unless we know where to find our strength. Some of us are not facing the impossible, or the enemy, we are just have a problem coping with life itself. God has strength for you to walk daily in this world without fainting!

The question is, how do I get these three strengths into my life? The Bible says that I am to hope in the Lord. What does that mean? The word hope is not a word of chance or luck. The biblical idea of hope is one of confident assurance. To hope in the Lord means that I do not hope in my job but in the one who will always supply my need. To hope in the Lord means that I do not hope in my money, but my hope is in the one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and pours out upon my life every good and perfect gift. My hope is not in my intellectual abilities, a stroke could strip that from me in two seconds and leave me unable to walk or talk. No, I am trusting in the One who has all knowledge and who can show me things that I do not know! My hope is not in my relationships with people, as much as I treasure so many of the precious companionships God has granted me. My hope is in my fellowship of God, in whom there is no shadow of turning. Stress tries to put me in charge of all the affairs of my life, but hope puts me a position of confidence that my God shall supply all that I need, even to the point of providing above and beyond all that I could ask or think!

God supplies my need by His power which works in me. Look at Ephesians 3:20. Note also that in 1 Peter 1:3 that we are told that we possess a “living hope”. Paul states in Romans 5:5 that hope in the Lord does not disappoint”.

Conclusion

When you are stressed remember three things:

He Loves You!

He Lifted You!

He will not Leave You!

So, look to the Lord! Trust Him and serve Him. Your labor is never in vain in the Lord. Do you know Him as your Savior? Have you trusted Him? You should trust Him today!

For those of us who know Him, it is time to rest at His feet again. There is a word in this text that we often miss. It is the word "renew”. This means that we can have God’s strength but then begin to lean to our own understanding. You can have great victory over the stresses of life, but then begin to slip back into trusting your own strength. That is why the word “renew” is used in this text. Is it time for someone here to “renew” your strength in the Lord? This means to find peace in His presence! It means to find power in His presence! It means to find partnership in His presence!