Jack Graham - Turning Your Stress into Strength
So many people today are living with chronic stress, pressure. In fact, so much that we're breaking down, we're burning out, and yes, Christians have stress, too. The purpose of this message is to help you understand how to turn that stress that we all feel into strength. The pressure that we have in life can actually be powered up to your advantage. Now some people, they sort of live on stress and like it. I mean, because stress can be exhilarating, stress can be exciting. The adrenaline gets flowing and we can even become adrenaline addicts. We love the adrenaline, especially if you're a Type A personality like your pastor. I mean we kind of live on the stress.
I once proudly said, you know, I don't get stressed; I give stress. I've since changed my mind of that because I do know the impact of stress on my own life. But, you know, there's this excitement. Stress can be a motivator. But it can also be a monster that can take us down, and even take us out. And so many people today are under such pressure. They're living under all kinds of pressure. And someone defined stress as that gap that exists between what we must do, what we want to do, which we need to do, and our ability to do it. So that gap is the stress gap. And we often find ourselves overwhelmed. We often find ourselves overloaded in life. We're just carrying too much weight emotionally, spiritually and even physically.
And stress will actually kill you if you keep living this way. All kinds of physical illness including heart disease and cancer and diabetes and sleeplessness, insomnia... you name it. In fact, I was startled to read this week that about 70, up to maybe even 90 percent of people who visit their primary care doctor are there ultimately because of stress-related illnesses. Amazing, isn't it? It can impact your body as well as your mind, and, of course, your soul. And even if stress doesn't kill you, this chronic stress, this constant pressure in your life, even if it doesn't kill you, it will make your life miserable, robbing you of joy and peace and contentment, and even your faith at times! But you don't have to live this way.
Isaiah 30:15 is a prescription. It's a go-to verse for me, especially when I find myself stressed. "For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, 'In returning and rest you will be saved". He's calling His people to come home to rest. And He said, "In quietness and in trust shall be your strength". There it is; underscore that in your Bible. "In quietness and confidence or trust is your strength". He went on to say, "But you were unwilling"! So, the choice is yours; you have a choice to make. "Will you find your rest in returning to the Lord and in quietness and confidence turn your stress into strength"?
Quietness, here's the formula, here's the prescription: Quietness plus confidence equals strength. Now the meaning of quietness here is not just being quiet or silent, but rather it speaks of the cessation of activity. Just stop! Stop all the running around! And God says in Psalm 46, "Be still, and know that I am God". In quietness. God wants His people to stop constantly running from Him, running around from Him, and to take time to rest the soul. Some Americans were on a safari and they were pushing every day, like so many Americans, we do that. We're pushing, pushing, pushing. And everyday they were up before the sun and going again on this safari and to the end of the day.
And one particular day, several days later the guides weren't getting up. They were still in the tent. These men said, "Come on, let's go, let's go, let's go, let's go"! The guides said, "No, we don't go today because today we let our souls catch up with our bodies". That's good advice, to let your soul catch up with your body! To turn down the RPMs because the result of too much movement, too many RPMs is the wearing down of the body of the soul. Exhaustion is so common. It's one of the most common things I hear from people today, "I'm just so tired; I'm just so exhausted", whatever the cause. And as a result of the exhaustion and tiredness comes the tenseness and the emotions that are out of control, and often the first thing we want to do when we're feeling this stressed is to double down and just try harder, work harder to work alone. And as that bricklayer found out, that never works.
When you're carrying too much weight and holding onto a rope and you don't know what to do with it. So, what is the answer? The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians chapter 4, that though pressure is all around and the physical man is breaking down, he says, "The inner person is renewed every single day". The core of you, the character, the center of you can be renewed. Your spirit can be renewed day by day. You can actually in your weakness find strength. That's what he is saying. He said, "When I am weak, I am strong". How? By turning that stress into strength. Now I have two parts to this message today. One is the physical side of turning your stress to strength, and the second part is the spiritual side of turning your stress to strength.
So, number one, the physical side. There are some things you can do physically to help you turn your stress to strength. One, is I'm simply going to call rest, R-E-S-T, rest. Don't discount the power of sleep to replenish and restore your life. Christians who find themselves constantly going, staying up late, burning the midnight oil, getting up early... In fact, the psalmist talked about it in Psalm 127 and verse 2. He said: "It is vain that you should rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for He gives to His beloved sleep". Aww, isn't that a good thing! Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap or get a good solid night's sleep. Not in church; this isn't time. But to sleep and to rest. And if you will make sure that you're getting enough rest, then you'll find your stress relieved.
I know when I am tired, when I am exhausted, that's when I'm the most irritable, the most anxious, the most stressed out. And, therefore, I know what I need to do is to get some rest. It's impossible to discount the impact of the physical from the spiritual in our life. There's a sign in a doctor's office that says, there's a plaque that said: If you wear out this body, where will you live? Good question! We are stewards of our body. "Do you not know that your body," the Scripture says, "is the temple of the Holy Spirit"? Don't abuse it; don't misuse it. Take care of your body. Your body belongs to God! And that includes the proper rest.
Paul said, "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works". Your body is the workmanship of God; it is a precious treasure from God. And what and how can do the good works that God wants us all to do if our bodies are worn out and wasted from too much stress, too much pressure, and too little rest? I'm determined to take care of my body that I can keep serving God faithfully as long as I live. So, rest. Could say a lot about that. But the second thing is, here we go, regular exercise. And not just the exercise of your body which is so important, but the exercise of your brain. Did you know that when you exercise, when you are moving, physically moving, it is not only strengthening your body, but it is strengthening your brain? It is helping your brain.
Dr. Kenneth Cooper who is my personal physician, a longtime member of this church, recognized the need years ago in his inaugural book Aerobic, that we need to exercise the body and the mind in order to combat what he called or described as oxygen deprivation. Therefore, aerobics means breath or with air. And so, the idea was to move your body and your cardiovascular system in order that you would get more air. And when that happens, the training effect takes place and it's called aerobic conditioning.
Now what happens to the body physically when we move it, improves everything! It's a proven fact it improves work, sleep, attitude and energy. It's almost counter intuitive that if we exercise, you can certainly exercise too much! But it seems counter intuitive that if we exercise, we're doing all this exercise; we're wearing ourselves out more. No! Exercise properly done can strength the body as well as the mind. In the contrast to that when we are lazy or laying around or not moving around, we just slowly die. We deteriorate more rapidly. It's just a gradual decline down, down, down, down. I can tell you this, that when I get regular exercise and rest, as noted earlier, it reduces the stress in my life greatly. So what you need to do is find something that you exercise that you enjoy.
You say. "I can't think of one thing, an exercise that I would enjoy". Well, you do need prayer. That's coming up later. But you can find something. And guys, that doesn't mean just riding around in a golf cart. That's an activity; that's not exercise. It's a little bit of exercise. But whether it's walking or whether it's running or cycling or swimming, or weight lifting, it's conditioning; getting your heart rate up at the right speed and so on. Racket sports of various kinds which I enjoy. Whatever it is, find something you enjoy and do it consistently. Because fitness, as Dr. Cooper says, is not a destination, it's a journey. And the fact is, you can turn your life around even in your latter years.
Some of you haven't exercised maybe your entire all that much, but did you know you can improve as you age in life, you improve the strength of your life as well as the length of your life. God's in control of the length of our lives, but the fact is, I want to, I exercise to assist in the quality of life, and I believe it truly does. But then the third thing is relaxation. It's important to take breaks because the constant pushing requires that we take time our to replenish. This can be mini breaks during the day, what I call little blessing breaks just to take time out.
Sometimes, again, a little short nap early in the afternoon if you can do it, helps. But find activity, hobbies that you enjoy. Golf or hunting. Hunting is a hobby; it's not exercise all that much. You guys that love to hunt, or gals. Or wholesome entertainment or fun things that you do. We call them past times and, you say, "Well, I don't have time to past time, I don't have time to past time". Well, hear this. You're never wasting time when you stop to sharpen the ax. Waiting time, resting time is not wasted time. And here it is. A change of pace or a change of place equals a change of perspective.
You know, God, for example, gives us one day a week, it's called a day of rest. It's the Lord's day. We worship on Sunday, the Lord's day. And we can't short-circuit that command. God knows how we are made and we're not made to work every day or push every day. There's something about getting in a place with God's people that will change our perspective in life. That's one of the reasons I hope you come to worship God on the Lord's day because the pressures of life, the demands of life require that we take time out to rest and to relax. And you can do that in the presence of the Lord. I tell you I never feel guilty when I rest in order to be stronger to do what God has called me to do.
So that brings me to my second point, the second part of this message which is the spiritual side of turning stress to strength. Number one, here's now you do it. This is exercise. Focus on the Lord; eyes on the Lord. Someone said, "If you look without, you'll be destressed; you look within, you'll be depressed; if you look above and you will be at rest". We cannot control our circumstances but we can control how we react to those circumstances. And if you want to live a controlled, calm and collected life, at ease and relaxed in everything, then put everything in your life in God's hands. That's what it means to look to the Lord.
Often, we look to others for help or look to ourselves for help or we look online for help. We're running around trying to fix things, but God says take your eyes off your problems; get them on Me. Eyes on the Lord! Eyes on Him! "Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace". We're told in the Scriptures that when we put our eyes on the Lord who is "the author and finisher of our faith", Isaiah 26:3 "He will keep in perfect peace his mind whose stayed on Him, whose soul trusts in Him". Spending time alone with God is essential if you want to turn your stress to strength. People try all kinds of methods and medications, drugs, alcohol, gambling, anything else that they think may help relieve and numb their situation. None of that stuff works, apart from the power of Jesus Christ in your life.
So, eyes on the Lord! Secondly, knees on the floor. The way up is down on your knees. Prayer is essential therapy for dealing with stress in your life. I'm reminded of a story of David. When David and his mighty men returned from battle, they discovered that their village was burned to the ground by enemies. And along with that, not only were their houses burned down, but their wives and their children were taken by these brutal enemies into captivity. And as a result, David was destressed, of course. He was devastated, and so were all these men. And it tells us in 1 Samuel chapter 30 and verse 4 what happened next: "David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep". Ever been there? You've cried your eyes out; you had no more tears left? You wept until you couldn't weep anymore? That's catastrophic stress. What did David do?
Verse 6: "And David was greatly distressed for the people spoke of stoning him". Oh, that's great! Now they're thinking about blaming David for the loss of the community because all the people were bitter in soul. We're going to bring a message on bitterness later. But watch what David did. "But David strengthened himself in the Lord His God". What does that mean? "David strengthened himself in the Lord His God". That means he got alone with God and he got on his, probably his face and he cried out to God in his distress, and he prayed, and he trusted in God. And as a result, he encouraged himself in the Lord and there's that word courage in encouragement; there's strength. It's a very strong word.
So, he strengthened himself in the Lord. And you can do that as well! Because the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive in you! Christ is alive in you! And this power, the power of the resurrection works to strengthen us. When we get on our knees and when we pray, when we carry incredible stress day after day, the old song says "Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there".
Pray every day. I mean, I have a little acrostic that I've taught you in the past P-A-C-E. You've got to check the pace for your day because many of us, our schedules are out of control so you set your pace, P-A-C-E every day. You praise the Lord; you accept from Him (a) His blessings; you receive from Him all that He desires to give, the filling of His Spirit. You commit your life, your schedule, your days to the Lord; and then you embrace the day and expect God to do good things in your life. That sets the pace for every day, P-A-C-E. Praise, acceptance, commitment and expectation. So, get your eyes on the Lord, get your knees on the floor and get your nose in the Book! The word confidence there, trust flows out of a trust in God. God's Word feeds and fortifies our faith and strengthens our soul. It will put steel in your soul!
When Isaiah 30, verse 15 speaks of quietness and confidence, and confidence comes in our confidence in God's Word. God speaks to us and strengthens us through the principles and the precepts and the promises of His Word. And I can't tell you how many times I have turned to the Scriptures to find a promise from God that strengthens me under great stress. So, you know your Bible and you read your Bible. Psychology can help, therapy can help, medicines can help at times, properly given and diagnosed, science can assist us. But only God can make and keep promises that are never broken. So, you can trust Him. Promises like:"They that hope in the Lord, wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles. They will run and not be weary; they will walk and not faint".
Yes, God turns our stress to strength when we get our nose in the Book and stay there! We memorize and meditate upon the scriptures because meditation is better than medication for giving you peace in your soul. And then lastly, lift your hands high. Eyes on the Lord, knees on the floor, nose in the Book, and hands in the air! This is an exercise of worship and surrender of your life to the Lord. Stress comes when we resist the will of God for our life. Stress comes when we're out of bounds of the will of God of our life. Sometimes when we're in it there's stress.
So, what is the response? Not worry, but worship, as we offer our lives, our hearts, our hands to Him. The Scripture says, "Man ought always to pray, lifting up holy hands". Just read the Psalms. The Psalms are often filled with petitions, cries, heartache, heartbreak. The psalmist is so honest and transparent. And yet, out of the flow of his worship, he turns his stress to strength. He says in Psalm 92, verses 1 and 2 that: "Morning and evening he just praises God for His steadfast love".
Let this be the pattern of praise in your life, because praising God morning, noon and night will crush the stress that attacks you every single day, and you will live a happy life, and a holy life and, God willing, a healthy life. But it begins when you say, "Lord, I can't do this on my own. I can't handle the pressure any longer, I can't keep fighting in my own strength, but Lord, I come to You. Lord, I need Your help. Lord, I need You". And when we do we get our eyes on Him, and knees on the floor, when we pray, the pressure turns to peace.