How To Handle Stress With Great Finesse

Bible Book: Psalms  46
Subject: Stress; Worry; Peace

This morning we are talking about stress. But what is it? It is the gap between the demands placed on us and the strength we have in meeting those demands. Call it what you will – the stress factor, the stress ratio. Over here are the responsibilities, the necessities, the deadlines, the demands, the opportunities – all of those things we want to do, have to do, ought to do and must do.

And over here, seemingly in conflict and pulling in the opposite direction, is my inability, my weakness. I think to myself, I ought to, I must do, but I can’t. The chasm between all of the ought to’s and the seeming can’t do’s overwhelms me, causing an increasing feeling of frustration and tension. There is an old expression which sums it up: “My can do can’t keep up with my want to!”

Now, as we think about stress this morning, the first thing that I want us to consider is


Please notice what the psalmist says in verses two and three of Psalm 46 (read). I mean, the writer of this Psalm had his share of troubles. He knew something of the shaking of his life as if an earthquake had hit him. His experience at times had been like a roaring, overwhelming flood. He felt as if the very rocks under his feet were moving at times. Perhaps this is the Hebraic way of describing stress.

Now, I guess I am unusually blessed and unusually fortunate, but most of the time the things that cause me stress are relatively insignificant. Seldom do I feel like I'm about to be devoured by sharks and whales. But sometimes it seems that I am going to be nibbled to death by minnows. As Ludlow Porch says, "It's the gnat bites that worry you to death." But let’s look at some of the things that cause stress. I do not know that my list is all-inclusive, but I have seven things that cause stress.

A. Change

First of all, there is change. Anytime you have to go through a significant change in your life, it creates stress. Dr. Thomas H. Holmes and his colleagues at the University of Washington have done considerable research into the who subject of stress. They came to the conclusion that an accumulation of two hundred or more “life change units” in any year may mean more disruption than and individual can stand. On their scale, death of a spouse equals 100 units. Divorce equals 73 units. Moving to a new location equals 35 units. Christmas equals 12 units.

When these “life change units” begin to pile up in the course of a year, it can create unbelievable stress. So there is a matter of change.

B. Conflict

The second cause of stress is conflict. And this is one of the tings that causes me more stress than anything else. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like conflict with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I don’t like conflict with my staff. I don’t like conflict with my family. I don’t like conflict with my wife.

In the classified section of the newspaper there was an ad that appeared that read: “I would like to announce that the ad I put in this newspaper last Saturday was in error. I will be responsible for any debts incurred by my wife. I will start paying as soon as I get out of the hospital.”

That man had a conflict. And I am sure that you have heard about the conscientious wife who tried hard to please her critical husband but failed regularly. He was the most cantankerous at breakfast If she prepared scrambled eggs, he wanted poached; if poached eggs, he wanted scrambled. One morning the wife poached one egg and scrambled the other and placed the plate before him. Anxiously she awaited what surely this time would be his unqualified approval. He peered down at the plate and snorted, "Can't you do anything right, woman? You've scrambled the wrong one."

Can't you just see the conflict building in a marriage like that. And such conflict will produce great tension. And there's probably nothing that creates more tension or stress for me than having a conflict with someone. And I just want you to know that I'm not a fighter, I'm a lover. I do not want to live a stress-filled life and so, therefore, I'm going to do my best to avoid conflict.

But another cause of stress is criticism. Some people just do not handle criticism well. And criticism can cause stress. Jacques Plante who played in the National Hockey League was a former standout goalie for the Montreal Canadians. And in the book Sports Shorts this is what he said of his career:

"How would you like it in your job if every time you made a small mistake a red light went on over your desk and 15,000 people stood up and yelled at you?"

Now that's the kind of criticism that causes stress. If you are in an environment where you are subjected to a lot of criticism, you know the kind of tension and stress that that can cause in your life.

C. Concerns

Another cause of stress is concerns. Some of you are burdened down with the cares of this life. Your plate is full; your wagon is loaded. And somehow you have translated your concerns into real worries and agonizing anxieties.

Edward Everett Hale said, "Never attempt to bear more than one kind of trouble at once. Some people bear three kinds - all they have had, all they have now and all they expect to have." And John Lubbock said, "A day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work."

The word "worry" comes from the Greek word "merimnao," a combination of two words - "merizo" which means, "to divide" and "nous" which means, "mind." Worry, therefore, means, "to divide the mind."

James told the result of worrying in James 1:8, So worry; concern creates instability, stress, tension.

D. Crises

The next cause of stress concern is the crises of life.

We had an example of that in our video. Have you ever had a day like that? Your alarm clock did not go off at the appointed time, so you start out late.

You take a shower and there is no soap in the shower. You have to get out of the shower dripping wet, go across the room to get the soap and then get back in the shower. Then you cut yourself shaving and you've got to stick those little pieces of toilet paper all over your face to stop the bleeding. Then you can't find matching socks. And when you try to tie your shows, the shoestring breaks. And when you go to back your car out of the driveway, you discover that your teenage son has parked his car behind your car in the driveway and you have to go find his keys and move his car before you can get your car out. Before you get out of the neighborhood, you get behind Miss Daisy who is driving 15 mph. When at last you get to the meeting everyone is already in the boardroom waiting for you, drumming on the conference table with their fingers and you've got to smile and be apologetic. That is stress!

Or maybe you women are home all day. The baby has got the colic and has kept you up half the night. All morning long the phone rings off the hook. It's your turn to drive in the carpool. And midway through the morning you're called back to the school because junior has gotten in a fight at recess. And you get back home and the commode won’t flush. The dog has gotten sick on the new carpet. Your in-laws have called to say that they’re coming for the weekend. While washing the dishes you drop your wedding ring down the drain. By six o’clock in the afternoon you’re exhausted and weary, but your husband comes home expecting you to be dressed in your best and have a candlelight dinner ready when he walks in the door. That’s stress!

I heard about a couple who got to the airport just in time to carry their luggage to the check-in counter. The wife said, “I think we packed everything for our trip, but I wish we had brought the kitchen table.” He husband looks at her and says, “What? Why in the world do we need the kitchen table?” She says, “Because I left our tickets on it.” That is stress!

When we lived in Jackson, Mississippi, we had a very dear elderly couple in our church - Gene and Arlene Stamper. Mr. Stamper was a retired postmaster from a little town in Mississippi and in their retirement years they liked to travel. On one occasion they took their self-contained recreational vehicle all the way to California to visit their daughter. When it came time for them to return to Mississippi, they decided that they would get up early in the morning and leave Los Angeles so they could get across Mojave Desert before the hottest part of the day. Mr. Stamper agreed to drive. Since it was very early in the morning Mrs. Stamper decided that she would go to the back of the vehicle and lay down on the bed and rest. When Mr. Stamper got to Barstow, California, he decided to stop and get some gas and go to the bathroom before striking out across the desert. While he was in the bathroom Mrs. Stamper woke up. She decided that she would go to the bathroom as well. When Mr. Stamper got back to the vehicle he just assumed that Mrs. Stamper was in the back asleep.

He paid the service station attendant and took off across the desert. He drove for several hours and finally got to Las Vegas. There he made another stop and did not even give thought to his wife. He got back in his vehicle and continued the journey. Late that afternoon he decided that he would find a place where he and his wife could have supper. In the course of his journey he found a restaurant. He pulled over, parked the vehicle and went back to get his wife in the back, only to find out that she was not there. He immediately concluded that his wife had gotten off at one of the stops. But having stopped three times, he had no idea where she was. So he began to backtrack almost 400 miles before finding her at that first stop in Barstow, California. Now that is stress! Sometimes these kinds of crises cause stress.

But sometimes it's the calendar. Sometimes I can look at my calendar and see the kind of week that I have stretched out before me and get stressed out just thinking about what all I have to do. So often we feel like we have to hurry to get through it all. I heard about a man who prided himself on being exceedingly punctual. He followed a very precise routine every morning. His alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. He arose briskly, shaved, showered, ate his breakfast, brushed his teeth, picked up his briefcase, got into his car, drove to the nearby ferry landing, parked his car, rode the ferry across to the downtown business area, got off the ferry, walked smartly to his building, marched to the elevator, rode to the seventeenth floor, hung up his coat, opened his briefcase, spread his papers out on his desk and sat down in his chair at precisely 8:00 a.m., not 8:01, not even 7:58, always at 8:00 a.m.

He followed this same routine without variation for eight years, until one morning this alarm did not go off and he overslept fifteen minutes. When he did awake he was panic stricken. He rushed through his shower, nicked himself when he shaved, gulped down his breakfast, only half-way brushed his teeth, grabbed up his briefcase, jumped into his car, sped to the ferry landing, jumped out of his car and looked for the ferry. There it was out in the water a few feet from the dock. He said to himself, “I think I can make it.” And he ran down the dock toward the ferry at full speed. Reaching the edge of the pier, he gave an enormous leap out over the water and miraculously landed with a loud thud on the deck of the ferry. The captain rushed down to make sure he was all right.

The captain said, “Man, that was a tremendous leap. But if you would have just waited another minute, we would have reached the dock and you could have walked on.” So sometimes it’s our schedule; it’s our calendar that creates stress.

E. Conscience

But let me mention one more thing as we think about the causes of stress, and that is conscience. You remember Samson who was the heavyweight champion of the Old Testament. He was perhaps the strongest man in history. With his bare hands he destroyed a lion as though it was a baby goat. He carried off the iron gates of Gaza on his broad shoulders. He wiped out an army of the heathen Philistines with the jawbone of an ass as his only weapon. But he was weak of character. The dissipation of sin set in and the devices of the devil began to steal his strength. He started having an affair with the Philistine harlot, Delilah. He prostituted his relationship with God. Because of his sin he had the most expensive haircut in history, as Delilah learned the secret of his power symbolized by his long Nazarite hair. While he was asleep in her lap she barbered him and gave the signal for the Philistines to rush in and capture him. Sin had made him as puny as a newborn mouse.

And the dissipation of sin began to affect his conscience. And as a result he was drained physically, emotionally, morally and spiritually.

And, you see, a guilty conscience brings great tension because sin will cut you off from the One who can help you the most. Now here we have the causes of stress, but let us move on to consider


The typical concert piano has over 240 strings that when tuned and tightened create a pull of 40,000 pounds on the frame. Without the tension there would be no beautiful music. Yet too much exerted pressure can cause the piano to crack and will destroy its sound.

So it’s okay for there to be a certain amount of tension in our lives. If there’s no tension, there’s probably no motivation. But too much pressure; too much tension; too much stress can be very damaging. In the first place, it is damaging physically. Ulcers, headaches, back pains, heart problems - almost every disease and physical symptom can be created or made worse by stress.

A. Physically

Stress tends to weaken the body’s immune system – that incredibly complex barricade that keeps out disease. When the anti-disease barriers come down, the potential for illness goes up. This is another way of saying that stress can make you sick.

Each year the American Institute for Preventive Medicine issues a “top ten healthiest resolutions.” In the fifth position this year is stress management.

B. Psychologically

Stress is responsible for two-thirds of all office visits to doctors and plays a role in our two major killers – heart disease and cancer. 62 percent of Americans say they experience a great deal of stress at least once a week. Those most likely to experience stress almost every day are people in their forties.

Stress can also affect us psychologically. Memory, efficiency, clear thinking and problem-solving ability all decline when people are under stress. So your work would be more effective and your thinking would be more clear if you would just calm down and be less frazzled.

C. Socially

Stress can also affect us socially. People under too much pressure rarely show understanding or patience. They have difficulty building long lasting, intimate relationships. They have problems getting along smoothly with others.

There is a seminar on life management that lets hard driving men listen to tape recordings of women whose husbands have recently died from cardiac failure. Many of the listeners wince as they hear descriptions of deceased men who sound just like themselves. Often the descriptions portray men who are too busy to build warm, caring relationships with their mates and families.

D. Spiritually

Stress can also affect us spiritually. There are many people today who are sacrificing their spiritual lives upon the altar of professional advancement and business success. Dr. Lloyd John Ogilvie who is the new chaplain of the United States Senate has written a book entitled Making Stress Work For You. And in the book he says that most people pushing to be successful are interested in being a ruler in the kingdom of thingdom. Are you interested in being a ruler in the kingdom of thingdom? Jesus had something to say to those who were concerned about things. He said, “seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of these things will be added unto you. No one can serve God and mammon.” Now, let's not be guilty of sacrificing our spiritual lives upon the altar of professional advancement and business success.

So here we have the consequences of stress. And there are physical, psychological, social and spiritual consequences. Let's think also about


Do you remember I told you that criticism is one of the causes of stress. Well, listen to this. While checking on some bags at the airport a man became very indignant with the employee who was handling his luggage. For several minutes he belittled the young man and criticized his every move.

Surprisingly, the curbside porter didn't seem troubled by this man's verbal abuse. After the angry man entered the airport, another man approached the luggage handler and asked, “How do you put up with such injustice? How do you deal with such criticism? How do you handle such stress?” The young man said, “O, it’s no big deal. That guy’s going to New York, but his bags are headed for Brazil.” That is not the way to handle stress with great finesse. Let me tell you how to do it.

A. Exercise

Number one, physical activity helps to reduce tension, anger, depression and intellectual sluggishness. Walking, jogging, swimming or sports can be relaxing, unless you create more stress by competing on the playing field the same way you compete in the office.

Even without an intensive exercise program you can get into the habit of climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator; walking across the parking lot instead of driving for ten minutes looking for a space near the door and taking a short walk after you have been sitting for awhile.

Somebody said one way to get more exercise is to put your TV at one end of the house and the refrigerator at the other. But try some exercise.

B. Diet

The second step in the cure of stress is diet. We live in one of the most diet conscious societies that has ever existed. Some of them are more realistic than others. Here’s one that has been called the stress diet.

Breakfast: one-half grapefruit, one slice whole-wheat toast, 8 oz. skim milk.

Lunch: 4 oz. lean boiled chicken breast, 1 cup steamed zucchini, one Oreo cookie, herb tea.

Mid-afternoon snack: rest of the package of Oreos, one-quart rocky road ice cream, one jar hot fudge.

Dinner: two loaves garlic bread, large cheese and mushroom pizza, large cookie, three Milky Way candy bars, entire Sara Lee cheesecake eaten directly from the refrigerator.

Now here are some helpful diet tips that go with the regimen:

1. If no one see you, eat it. It has no calories.

2. If you drink a sugar-free can of pop along with a candy bar, they cancel each other out.

3. When eating with someone else, calories don’t count if you both eat the same amount.

4. Food used for medicinal purposes never counts; such as hot chocolate, toast

and Sara Lee cheesecake.

5. If you fatten everyone else around you, you look thinner.

6. Movie-related foods don't count because they are simply part of the entire entertainment experience and not a part of one's personal fuel; such as Milk Duds, popcorn with butter and candy-coated almonds.

Now, they may call that a stress diet, but I do not believe that it would help to reduce stress. What you should do in terms of diet control is to avoid too

much sugar, coffee, salt and snack foods. Be careful about self-medication. Even over-the-counter drugs can be habit-forming and harmful.

C. Rest

Another step toward the cure of stress is rest.

Friends of a young mother with three children were surprised when they received the following "thank you" note: "Many thanks for the playpen. It is being used every day. From 2 to 3 p.m. I get in it to read and the children can't get near me." Now, that's just one way that a mother got an hour of rest.

College students sometimes stay up all night writing papers. But even resilient young bodies can’t go on without sleep forever. Burning the candle at both ends eventually leads to burnout and physical collapse. If we don’t rest our bodies, eventually they get the rest they need by breaking down and forcing us to stop.

In verse 10 of our text the Bible says that the first thing we’re to do is to “be still.” Now it seems that the Lord should tell people confronted with earthquakes and floods and assorted dangers to do exactly the opposite of what their instincts tell them to do. Instinct says “run.” But the Lord says, “be still.” Now I’m not suggesting that in a literal flood you should be still, or that in an earthquake you should not take evasive action. But I do believe that when the troubles of life overtake us we should, instead of running away from them in hysteria, just “be still.”

During the last days of World War 11 President Harry Truman was asked how he managed to bear up so calmly under the stress and stain of the presidency. His answer was, “I have a foxhole in my mind.” He explained that just as a soldier retreats into his foxhole for protection and respite, he periodically retired into his own “mental foxhole” where he allowed nothing to bother him. So when you’re stressed out, just get to the place where you can retreat into you own foxhole. Just be still and wait, for the Bible says, “those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”

Then notice what it says in our text. The Lord says, “be still and know that I am God…” So, first of all, we’re to be still. Secondly, we’re to get focused. We’re to get focused upon God. “To know” can mean different things. Ask the man on the street if he knows the president of the United States and he will say “yes.” But that does not mean that he knows him personally. He has probably never seen him personally, but it means he is acquainted with who the president is.

To be acquainted with who God is may be a start, but it is nothing more. To know Him in a personal way is what is needed. In the Old Testament the verb "to know,” meant such intimacy of relationship that it was often used to describe the sexual activity between a husband and a wife. The Bible says that It is important that we should be clear about the depth of meaning in the word "know" in the light of our rather superficial use of it. Relationships don't begin on an intimate level. Intimacy develops with time and experience, and so it is with the Lord. When you get to know Him; when you get focused upon Him, you will realize that He is a refuge. He is a strength. He is a very present help in times of trouble. And you do not have one problem that is bigger than God. He is bigger than any one problem that you have. And He is bigger than all of the problems that you might have. So just get focused upon Him. Don’t put your eye upon the difficulty, but upon the Deity. Don’t put your eye upon the crisis, but upon the Christ. Don’t put your eye upon the stresses, but upon the Savior.


On February 7 Don Cone called the church. Don Cone was a deacon in our church. He was described by many as the backbone of the church. He was described by many as the backbone of the church. He was sixty years of age. He had cancer. But he called on Tuesday morning, February 7, to let me know that on February 13 he was going to begin his chemotherapy treatment. He said, “I’m fine. Everything is okay.” On Sunday, February 12, five days later, Don Cone went home to be with the Lord. When I found out about it that night, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I immediately went to the home of Don Cone to see his wife Virginia. I know that she was heartbroken, but she was the picture of tranquility. And she said, "It's okay because I

know that God is in control."

When you know the Lord; when you sense His presence in your life; when you know that He's in control of the situation, you don't have to be stressed out. You just focus upon Him and He gives you peace.

When Dr. Ellis Fuller was president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, his little son had surgery. During the daytime hours Dr. Fuller sat by the hospital bed and held the hand of this son. When darkness began to filter into the hospital room at day's end, the boy said, "Daddy, this has been the best day of my life."

Dr. Fuller asked, "How could that be when you've been in pain and not been able to eat anything?"

The boy replied, “Because you’ve been here through the daytime hours and are still with me.” H.G. Welles, author of science fiction, said, “God is a very absent help in time of trouble.”

But myriads of God’s children on either side of the River of Life know God to be “a very present help in trouble.”

How comforting and sustaining is God’s unfailing promise: “And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify me” (Psalm 50:15).

What is the cure the trouble? Physical exercise, proper diet, a sufficient amount of rest. But more of all, if you want to handle stress with great finesse, listen to the words of Him who said “be still and know that I am God.” Amen.