The Bible addresses worry, anxiety, and trouble, but not stress specifically. Often, these moods or experiences are intermingled, and what the Bible says about some of them can be applied to stress.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addressed anxiety. Much of what He said applies to what we would term "stress." He said: "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matthew 6:25–34).
Note that Jesus does not say there won't be stress in our lives, but He does give us strategies on how to deal with stress. They include trusting in the Father, seeking His focus, and avoiding looking too far into the future and worrying about it. We aren't to concern ourselves so much with earthly things, but rather to look to God first, making His priorities our priorities and resting in His care (Colossians 3:1–4; 1 Peter 5:7).
When stressed, we should remind ourselves of the truth of who God is and how He cares for us as He tells us in His Word. For example, we can look to Jesus—He cares about us and is actively working for our good (1 John 2:1; Romans 8:34). We know that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26–27). We, too, should go to God in prayer, as He encourages us to (Psalm 62; 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18; Philippians 4:6–7).
Jesus gave us a model prayer—one that addresses all our needs, starting with our relationship with God. We call it the Lord's Prayer. Jesus instructed His disciples, "… your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil'" (Matthew 6:8–13).
See how Jesus includes recognition of who God is, our purpose (God's will), our daily provision, the need for our own forgiveness, protection from the enemy, and ability to forgive others? He covers most everything we could be stressed about—and gives us this prayer to wield against those stressors.
Jesus also provides for us a model of wrestling with stress. On the night He knew He would be arrested, tried, and executed, He went to the Father in prayer. Luke 22:44 says, "And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground." We could say that Jesus was stressed. But here is His prayer: "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done" (Luke 22:42; cf Matthew 26:38–44).
Jesus continually points to our relationship and view of God to combat stress. When we are stressed, we go to God. We affirm the truths we know about Him, we share our concerns and desires, and we pray ultimately that His will be done. It is when we are trusting in God that we can find relief for our stress.
Jesus told His disciples, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me" (John 14:1) before going on to describe how a place with God is being prepared for His children. Jesus also said, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Those who have put their faith in Jesus know where their eternal Home is. We know that our true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Having this eternal perspective and security goes a long way in mitigating the stress we experience in our temporal world.
Of course, having a relationship with Jesus does not mean that we will be able to avoid all stressful situations, circumstances, and people. It also doesn't mean we will automatically overcome stress or be unaffected by it. But it does allow us access to Jesus and His goodness and love and power and care. Hebrews 4:15–16 says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." When we're stressed, we come to God, trusting that He knows us fully, loves us completely, and is able to handle whatever comes our way.
Many times stress is the result of trying to be in control of our own lives. We know from experience that we have much less control than we'd often like to believe. If we are in Christ, we also know that what is best is for God—not us—to be in control. He knows all things and His way is far better than ours (Ephesians 3:20–21; Isaiah 55:8–9). So rather than grasp for control and be consumed with stress as a result, we aim to: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones" (Proverbs 3:5–8).
Often, when we go to God we will gain wisdom about our stress. Sometimes our stress is a result of our own behaviors or misplaced priorities. When we go to God, He can reveal this to us and help us see a way out. For example, if our stress is related to finances, God might reveal some better spending habits. He can help us sort through what things we need and where we might be spending frivolously. Or perhaps He will show us another source of income or way to help meet our family's needs. As another example, if we are stressed because we continually say "yes" to every ministry opportunity presented to us, God can help us see that not every opportunity is actually a calling from Him. He can remind us to seek His discernment before committing.
When we surrender to God's plans for us, He will supply us what we need to see it through. When we rely upon Him in trust, He will provide healing and refreshment. When we have His perspective, we can experience joy in the midst of stress (James 1:2–4; Romans 5:1–5).
Many Christians turn to the book of joy, Philippians, in times of stress and trouble. Philippians 4:4–7 says, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:4–7). The following verse encourages us to focus on whatever is honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy. Paul then says, "What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you" (Philippians 4:9).
These verses in Philippians are a great summary of what to do in stressful situations: rejoice in the Lord, be reasonable, pray with thanksgiving, focus on godly things, and allow God's peace to reign.
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