Jack Graham - Turning Your Stress into Strength
We live in a pressure cooker world, don't we? When I was a little guy my mother cooked with a thing called a pressure cooker. Some of you remember these things. I think it's good that they no longer exist for the most part because I can remember as a little boy this pressure cooker. She would put beans in it and potatoes sometimes and crank the lid down on this thing, water inside, and somehow this pressure would help it to cook, the combustion within. And every now and then I would be out in the yard somewhere or down, you know, in our little house and I would hear an explosion, and my mother's scream! And I'd come into the kitchen to see what was wrong and there were beans hanging from the ceiling! That pressure cooker just couldn't cook anymore.
And maybe you feel like that pressure cooker. You just are overcooked and over pressurized. We call that stress. And really stress is just too much pressure! Too much pressure! A lot of pressure in our world today! Actually on my twitter... how many of you follow me on twitter? How many of you love your pastor enough to follow him on twitter? Jackngraham on twitter, all right? So, I actually asked my twitter followers to give me some things that stress you out, and I got a lot of interesting answers. We all know the big stressors: the big three of disease, death, divorce; some of those things that are the big events in life that stress us. But perhaps one of the most serious kinds of stress is just the daily dripping of life, just the vice-like pressures of life that come against us and we don't have enough money to take care of our family, or we don't have enough time to take care of our schedule, or we don't have enough fortitude or strength to that care of our job, and on and on it goes. That is stress.
How many of you are so concerned that your level of stress is threatening your health? how many of you have seemingly no time for yourself? How many of you are too exhausted to truly enjoy your family and your friends when you're with them? How many of you have feelings of frustration and fear and exhaustion and even anger about your job, about your future, about your academics, whatever it may be? Stress is epidemic in our nation. And too many people today, in fact, the majority of people have excess stress.
Did you know that 75 to 90 percent of visits to our primary care doctors are a result of stress related disorders or illnesses? It's stressing out; overcome with worry and fear and anxiety. We get upset, we get overwhelmed, the demands of life. And, of course, pressure so often is self-inflicted. It's not necessarily the circumstances in our lives or the situation itself, but it's the internal combustion. It's that pressure cooker on the inside. Somebody has lit a match and we're boiling over and we're stewing in our own juices and the blood is boiling.
And maybe you feel like you're in a vice-like headlock. A long term study by Dr. Hans Hiesnick and his colleagues at the University of London showed that chronic, unmanaged stress of the emotional and mental variety was six times more predictive of cancer and heart disease than cigarette smoking, high cholesterol levels and elevated blood pressure. These researches concluded in their study what many people would see as the obvious: "It is much easier to intervene at the stress stage than to intervene at the cancer or heart disease stage". Well, duh! So this is an intervention today, alright?
As your pastor, I love you, I care about you. I care about your family! And I want to intervene, not with, you know, some pop psychology that I can think up. I'm not going to talk to you about the physical side of this. Your doctor could talk about that, but I want to talk to you about the spiritual side of stress, and help you make good decisions regarding your life that will help you to manage stress. We will never be stressless, but we can stress (what?) less. We don't have to live with this constant, chronic pressure in our lives. That's not the way God intended for us to live. In a study of people with heart disease researches found a 74 percent reduction in cardiac events. That means, you got heart disease, you got a heart issue? Research has shown that, and this includes people who are facing very serious by-pass operations, heart attacks, even death, that in a study, that stress management training was the most effective means of overcoming these physical problems.
So the goal in life is not to eliminate stress, but to actually engage stress and turn our stress into strength. That our stress would work for us and not against us. And did you know the Bible speaks to that issue? Psalm 37, look at verse 1, Psalm chapter 37: "Fret not yourself because of the evildoers". Now let me just pause right there. The word fret is a stress word: it means to boil over. It means to stir the pot. It has to do with, you can hear the word frustration in that. And you know stress is often related to irritability and anxiety and frustration and so on. It says "Fret not". In fact, three times in Psalm 37, in the brief passage that is before us the Scripture says, God says to us, "Do not fret"! Fretting is related to worrying, obviously; wringing our hands about the problems and the pressures that we face.
David, at this time, the author of this psalm, the writer of this psalm is older so he's got a different perspective on life than he had when he was a young gun and came out to take the giant down. Psalm 37, he said, verse 25: "I've been young and now I'm old, but I've never seen the righteous forsaken or begging bread". He said, "My perspective on life after all these years is that God is faithful, and that you can trust Him". So when he speaks about fretting not, he speaks from experience and in particular, David knew what it meant to be a fugitive and to run from evildoers. He mentions here these evildoers, the stressors in the life of someone living 3000 years ago, of course, are much different than ours today and yet the body is conditioned to respond in the same way. I mean, we're not running from giants, we're not fugitives, you know, running from in battle, unless, of course, you are a soldiers.
And, of course, one of the issues that we have with our soldiers coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq and other places of the world is what is now know as traumatic stress disorder. When you're in the battle, you're constantly on alert, your adrenaline is rolling. You know what happens to your body! You can feel it when you feel the pressure or you get afraid in some way. The heart rate goes up, right? The face can flush. The pressure enacts and your adrenaline starts, this is called the flight or fight syndrome. And our bodies are so conditioned after years and years and years that we're fighting or we're running!
That was great if you were running from lions and tigers, bullets or swords as in David's day. But so often we're constantly in this flight or fight situation over typically nothing! Or not the things that really, really matter in our lives. But he was dealing with the question in his own life and those who are reading him in the Old Testament. He was dealing with the question of, you know: Why is it that seemingly all the bad guys are doing so well, and the good people are not doing so well? Did you ever think that way? I mean, "I'm living for Christ! I got to church, I read my Bible, I pray! But at the office I'm getting passed over for the promotions! And this guy down the hall who's a total pagan, he's the star of this show! What's wrong"?
You're a young woman and you're living for Christ, and you're living in purity; you're waiting on God for the man of your dreams. And you're living God's way, and yet you're still alone. You look around you and you see others not doing life God's way, not living for the Lord, and they seem so happy in relations and marriage and so on. You know the drill, right? That's what stresses us often, is that we want something we don't have and we see others getting it, and especially if their not good people as we would view good people. And we wonder why. He calls them evildoers. But an evildoer in your life or an enemy in your life could be just the stress you're facing at work. Or the stress you put on yourself. He said, remember take the perspective, in verse 2: "They will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb".
In other words, they're grass for the lawnmower. But don't fret about people who seemingly are making it in this life even though their not living the right way because ultimately God is just and judgment will come. But then he speaks to us about our stress and our pressures, and he says: "Trust in the Lord", verse 3, "and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness", or feed on faithfulness. Three things in this passage of scripture as we look at it: one, if you want to turn your stress into strength, begin by leaning on the Lord. This is trusting. "Trust in the Lord".
That is a simple thing to do until you face situations that you think are out of control. And that's when we start trying to fix it ourselves; trying to manipulate or manage our own situation and take on all this excessive pressure and baggage and weight in life rather than trusting in the Lord. Or we do the worst thing. This is why worry is one of the worse things we can do; because it ultimately says, "God, you're not big enough or strong enough or great enough to handle this one! You're not trustworthy with my life. Never mind, I'll just do it myself! God, you can't take care of me"! This is the ultimate insult to God, isn't it? Worry is assuming responsibility that God never intended for me to have. Worry is the fear that things aren't going to work out the way I want them to work out rather than trusting in God.
David gives us a beautiful example of what this trust looks like, what it walks like in two of my favorite verses that show up here in Psalm 37. Psalm 37 is full of great verses. You ought to just really camp here for a while in your devotional life and just meditate on Psalm 37. And two of those great verses are 23 and 24. Look at them. Says: "The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; and though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand".
This verse tells us that God is ordering and orchestrating our lives; that in the journey that we call life that we walk along. We've never one time in Christ been alone, that He is walking with us and even though we fall, not only does He mark and make our steps, but also our missteps. Or in God's ultimate plan when we walk away, when we go down a side street or down a back alley or on a detour or cul-de-sac in our lives that even in our steps and in our missteps God is with us and He's holding on! Because nothing can sever us from our relationship with God in Jesus Christ! Nothing will separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ! And that means, listen to me now, that means that God is directing my steps. It also means that God is determining my steps; that nothing in my life that happens to me is outside of the plan and the purpose of God for me!
Now if you will just get that truth in your heart it will transform the way you think, and therefore, the way you live! So I'm going to say it again. There is nothing going on in your life any day, any time but that God is fulfilling His plan and His purpose for you. And as I said, this doesn't just include the big things; it's the daily things. Most of our stress comes from the daily grind. But it means even in the daily-ness, those drip, drip, drip days of life, that God is holding on. Maybe you're a young mother just starting, you know, your kids back to school. You got all the pressure going on with your kids, your family. Maybe you're a single mom, and our prayers are on for all the single moms and single dads, the parents here. We know how difficult and how stressful that can be. But I'm just telling you not just in those big, big days and big, big stresses in our lives, the big three of divorce and death and disease, but in those daily, daily steps and stops God is ordering and orchestrating our lives.
We don't live in the grip of fate or luck or chance. There are no accidents with God! Never one time when something goes down in your life does God says, "Oops! Didn't see that coming"! He's in control. Trust Him! He is faithful! And then he says in verse 4. One of the most famed verses, famed verses in all the Bible: "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart". If trusting means leaning on the Lord, then delighting in the Lord, desiring in the Lord, that means longing for the Lord. You want peace in your life? Seek His presence; seek Him. Delight yourself in the Lord. This verse is not saying delight yourself in the Lord; He'll give you anything you want.
But what it is saying is that if you focus on Him and desire Him above all else and all others, if you delight in Him in your worship, in your prayer, in your faithfulness to Him in church and in service and in ministry and so on. If you delight in God then your joy, your happiness will not be temporal; it will be eternal! Psalm 16, verse 11 says that "Your right hand are pleasures forevermore and Your throne, O Lord, is great joy. You make known to me the path of life in Your presence there is fullness of joy and at your right hand there are pleasure forevermore". We find our pleasure in Him! We find a joy and a happiness that lasts in Him!
John Piper made this statement famous: "God is glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. God is glorified in us and if the purpose of life is to glorify God (and it is) then God is most glorified in us when we find our pleasure, our joy, our life in Him"! Not in the things of this world. We have so much pressure, especially in this American culture that we have because we're chasing the world and the things of the world, rather than chasing God! Psalm 37:4 is the Matthew 6:33 of the Old Testament. You know what Matthew 6:33 says, right? "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of these things", the things that we worry about, fret about, fume about, get so flustered about, wring our hands. God will add all those things to us in His own time and His own way when we trust in Him, when we long for Him.
I did a study of delighting, verse 4, "Delight yourself in the Lord", and it was often connected in the Old Testament to the word of God. Think about it. It is someone's words, and the communication between someone that creates the desire, the delight. If you're dating, for example, I mean you're texting one another, you're talking to each other. We ought to keep doing that, right, in our marriages? Keep communicating? Keep listening to each other because if you're listening to someone. You know, Deb is, you know, having to say to me a lot lately, "Would you please put your phone down and listen to me"? But when you desire to be with someone, you're listening to them.
So this why it's so important that you have a quiet time and a quiet space and place in your life when you long and listen to Him! That you desire for Him. I mean, can you imagine how much pressure would come off your life if you would simply take time every single day to be with God; to take blessing breaks, if you will; to take special and specific times in your life to read His word, to pray, to calm yourself in the presence of all these enemies of life that we face, and rather than running and fleeing and all the fear, we find peace! Peace in itself is not the absence of problems but it is the addition of God's provision. Peace is God's presence. It's one of the reasons you ought to come to church; to take a Sabbath in your week. God designed us not to rev, rev, rev, rev constantly but to take time to worship Him, to delight in Him, to desire Him, to seek Him, and to do good by honoring Him.
Jeremiah 15:16 said, "I found Your words and I did eat them and they were the rejoicing of my soul". Like a good meal that satisfies does the word of God. Psalm 37:16, look at it; it says: "Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked". Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied". One last thing, committing. Three verbs that will bring about less stress and the peace of God in your life: Trusting, which is to lean on the Lord, desiring or delighting, which is to long for the Lord and then committing, which is to live for the Lord.
Look at verse 5: "Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act". Commit, a powerful word; it means to give, of course; to give something, commit something. But in the language of the Old Testament it's a word which means to roll out or to roll on or to roll off. It's the picture of taking a weight off our backs and letting it go; rolling it off. You know what happens in life, we keep taking this pressure and these responsibilities for ourselves. We're not trusting in the Lord; we're not desiring the Lord. I've done this; you've done this. We start taking on more and more responsibility. We take doing more and more things and you know, somebody has said, "The American culture could be described in three words: hurry, worry, bury"!
And we're taking more and more and more, and the weight gets heavier and heavier and heavier. No wonder you're exhausted! No wonder we're tired and fatigued all the time! Because we are taking on weight and worry that God never intended for us to have! Roll it off! Give it to Him. He can handle it! Commit your way. Do you know what way means? That's your lifestyle, the way you live. Commit the way you live to the Lord and in the right time He will bring it to pass. In other words, He will fulfill His plan and His purpose in your life. This is the way Jesus said it: "Come unto Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, (you're carrying all this weight, come to Me, learn of Me) for My yoke is easy and my burden is light". You know, it's the way, the Bible says the way of the transgressor is hard, but Jesus said, "My yoke is easy; My burden is light. Come and find rest for your souls".
That's our invitation today. It's the invitation of Jesus to lean on Him, to long for Him and to live for Him by committing your way of life to Him. "I'll go Your way, God. I'll follow You. I'll take up Your cross and follow after You". You don't have to live the way you're living. You don't have to live all stressed up and no place to go. You can live with the peace of God, "the peace that passes understanding". You don't have to live broken down, beaten up by life. You can live with confidence and dependence upon the Lord. He said, "Rest in Me and wait on Me and you will turn stress into strength to live everyday God's way".