James Merritt - Stress Out
I wanna go ahead and get started and see if I'm about to waste my time or not. And I'm being serious when I say this. So here's a simple question. Is there anybody here that has any stress in your life? Just, anybody? All right, good. So we're in good company, because I'm gonna talk about that today. And let me begin by sharing with you that when I was called into the ministry, some of you know my story, I was never gonna be doing what I was doing. I wanted to be a lawyer. And yet, my last week in college, God changed all of that. And I knew God was calling me the ministry. And I'll be honest, I was both ignorant and I was optimistic about going into the ministry. I was ignorant because I didn't grow up in a pastor's home. I didn't know what it was like to be a pastor. Like most of you, the only time you ever see me, about the vast majority, is on Sunday. You don't know what I do, or you're not around me.
And same way for me. I didn't know what a pastor did and I didn't know what the ministry was all about. So I was kind of ignorant. On the other hand, I was kind of optimistic, because I kinda had the idea that some of you have that as I thought about it, I thought, well, this is gonna be pretty cool. The ministry's stress free. Everybody's gonna love you. Everybody's gonna like you. Nobody's gonna be disagreeable. You're not gonna get any ugly letters. I mean, it's just gonna be fun and games. I wish I had read what the Los Angeles Times published, a psychologist named Richard Blackman. He wrote an article and here's what he said. And I'm quoting him. Pastors are the single most occupationally frustrated group in America. I wish I'd read that, because at the time he wrote that, about 75% of pastors went through a period of stress so great that they considered leaving the ministry. 70% actually did. And I know exactly how they feel.
As a matter of fact, this is something I bet you don't know. This is no longer true, 'cause it's against the law. But the level of mental breakdown in ministry was so high at one point that years ago, some insurance companies would charge up to 4% extra to cover church staff members compared to employees of other professions. And you may think, and I get it. I've told some of you this before. I've written about it. I went through a time of stress in my life, Theresa very well remembers it, and I think there's a couple of people here that went through it with me. I went through a period of stress so great in my life that I began to lose my hair, which is still working. I developed a blood pressure problem, had go to blood pressure medication.
I was sweating through my suit so bad that I had to wear a pad under my armpits to keep the salt stains off of my suits. I couldn't sleep very well at night. And I was, frankly, about ready to throw in the towel and quit, 'cause I'd come to one point where I said, "You know what? This is just not worth it for me". And I realize there's some of you that you've got this idea that, man, being a pastor, I mean, all you gotta do. You just kick your feet up, read a few books, prepare your sermon once a week and you're good to go, but I wanna assure you that my job and what I do and what God's called me to do is just as stressful as any other job that is out there. Because what you may not realize is when you're a pastor, you realize every day you're dealing with attendance issues. You're leading a staff. You gotta make sure the buildings are maintained, volunteers are recruited, people are ministered to, people are counseled with. You gotta prepare sermons. You gotta answer emails. You gotta return phone calls. And on top of that, you gotta try to meet these high standards that people have for the pastor and his wife and his kids, because you've got this idea, somewhat rightly so, well, you oughtta be kind of a cut above.
Now, having said that, I know I'm not the only one that deals with stress. The Institute for Preventative Medicine issues a top 10 list every year of the healthiest resolutions you can make at the beginning of the year if you wanna be as health as you can be. They do it every year. There's one thing that makes that list every single year, stress management. As a matter of fact, it's almost in the top three every year. They say one of the best things you can do, if you wanna be healthy, live a healthy lifestyle, manage your stress, because 70 to 90% of all doctors visits are caused by stress. The SHA, the Safety and Health Administration says that stress costs business $300 billion a year.
Think about that, stress-related problems cost businesses $300 billion a year. Of all Americans that say they're under constant stress, 62% say they face an event that stresses them out tremendously at least once every single week. Author Os Guinness, one of my favorite authors, he put it this way. He said, "We now live in a world of speed, stuff, and stress and under the relentless tyranny of the urgent now. The boundaries between work and leisure, public and private are dissolving, so that we have no rest and we're forced to be time jugglers and multitaskers. We're all rats in the rat race. We're all overwhelmed by all we have to do. And we struggle with priorities to remember and agendas to keep under control". The truth of the matter is everybody is vulnerable to stress. As a matter of fact, let me just say a word to some of you out there right now, and just kinda disabuse you of something. If you're out there going, I really don't feel any stress. You oughta be stressed out about that. Something's wrong with you.
Let me tell you why. Because every day we all have to deal with three things that come with life and they all cause stress, every one of us. First of all, there's what I call unavoidable pressures. We deal with that every single day. Deadlines to meet, projects to finish, bills to pay, people to see, appointments to keep. And then we all have this, right? There are unbearable people. Maybe it's a spouse you can't get along with. Maybe it's a hard-driving boss. Maybe it's a cantankerous mother-in-law or father-in-law or son-in-law or daughter-in-law. But we've got these unbearable people, and then you've got these unexplainable problems, illness, the pink slip. There's one that is straight out of the pit of hell that came right from the devil himself. That's when your computer crashes. We all experience that. We all know what that is like.
So the question that I wanna ask you today is this question. When you're stressed out, how do you get the stress out? When you're stressed out, how do you get the stress out? If you're a guest of ours today, we've been in a series in a Bible book called Philippians that we've been calling joy ride, because the concept and the word joy is used more in the book of Philippians than any other book. And it's just all about how to have joy in this life. But that still raises the big question, 'cause I know what some of you're thinking right now. You're saying, wait a minute, how in the world do you expect me to bear the fruit of joy in my life with all the pressures I have to handle, with all the problems I have to solve, and with all the people that I have to deal with?
Well, I'm gonna be honest. I was thinking about it coming into church today. I don't know if I've ever preached a message I need to hear more than this one. And I'm gonna tell you something I've never said to you before. If it was up to her, if it was up to my wife, I'd retire today. You know why? Not because she doesn't love the church or she doesn't love you. She knows the stress I'm under. She knows the stress I put myself under. She knows the way I stress out about trying to make sure that every time I get up here and preach, I'm giving you the very best I know how to give you. That doesn't come easy. And so, having said all of that, I wanna tell you about a man who's in prison, was in prison. His name was Paul. He didn't know from day to day if that day would be his last day.
In fact, he really was pretty sure, I'm not gonna get out of this thing alive. He was chained to a soldier 24 hours a day. Never got to go anywhere at all. And yet, he wrote the perfect prescription of how to get stress out when you're stressed out. So I'm gonna do something today I rarely ever do. And the reason I don't do is 'cause it sounds so egotistical and I don't mean it to come across that way, but I'm gonna ask you today, many of you, if not most of you, and hopefully all of you, I'm gonna ask you to take some notes. And lemme tell you why I'm gonna ask you to take notes today. You may not need this message today. You're gonna need it before you die. Unless you die today, you're gonna need it. There gonna come a time in your life, you're gonna go, what was that? And I'm telling you, I'm gonna ask you today to take these notes.
Four things I want you to write down and remember them, because not only are they gonna help you get out of a pit when you fall into it, not only gonna help you when that stress hits and you didn't even see it coming. If you'll practice these things on a daily basis, I will guarantee you, it'll make your life better, it'll make your life richer, it will make your life sweeter. It's in a book called Philippians. If you brought your Bible, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, about halfway through the New Testament, Philippians chapter four, or if you have your discipleship booklet, you just turn to page 50 and you can follow along. Okay, here's the four things I'm gonna encourage you to do. If you're stressed out and you wanna get the stress out, I'm gonna give you four steps.
And by the way, I guarantee you they work. Well, how could I guarantee you that? 'Cause I didn't come up with them. This is what God gave to Paul. This is exactly, God knows you better than you know you and God says, I can tell you how to get the stress out when you're stressed out. You ready? Step one, rejoice in the person of the Lord. Rejoice in the person of the Lord. Now, here's the first piece of advice that Paul gives. And by the way, now, this sets up everything else. If you don't do this, then the other three won't happen. That's the first thing, you gotta rejoice in the person of the Lord. So here's the way Paul begins in Philippians 4. He says, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice".
Now, the two words I want you to focus on, always and again. The reason is Paul is trying to emphasize, you better take me seriously. That's why he says it twice. I mean, once is enough. And he says, "No, no, rejoice to the Lord always. And if you didn't get it the first time, let me repeat it. Again, I say rejoice". In other words, he said, now, what I'm telling you to do, this is not something you do occasionally. I'm telling you, you don't just rejoice when you feel like it. You rejoice when you don't feel like it. You don't just rejoice when things are going well, you rejoice when things are going badly. You don't just rejoice when you're unhappy. You rejoice when you are unhappy, because joy has nothing to do with happiness. Paul understood, as I do, look, I get it.
Some of you saying right now, do you understand how hard it is to rejoice when you're under pressure? Do you understand how hard it is to rejoice when you're facing this problem and you can't solve it? Do you understand how hard it is to rejoice when you gotta put up with this difficult person every single day. Look, Paul gets it. I know, I understand, hard to rejoice when the pressures are great and the problems are big and the people are mean. That's why he did not say, rejoice in your circumstances. Now, some of you know this, but I'm gonna tell you. When Georgia loses a football game, I don't find it easy to rejoice. And when they lose to Florida, I find it very difficult to rejoice. But thank God that hadn't happened in a long time. But here's the thing I want you to hear. There's not a lot of joy in your circumstances. I understand that. I get it. That's why Paul didn't say, rejoice in your circumstances. He says, "Rejoice in the Lord".
Now, you're sitting there saying, "You just don't know how great my pressures are". You're right, I don't. But I'll tell you what I do know, God is greater than your pressures. "Yeah, yeah. You just don't know how big my problems are". I don't, but I do know that God is bigger than your problem. "Yeah, but you just don't know how difficult this person is to deal with". No I don't, but I know how much better God is than those people. You see, I wanna be clear. No, you can't always rejoice in your circumstances. You're not gonna find a lot of joy in big pressures and tough problems and difficult people. But Paul said this, you can always rejoice in the Lord. You can always rejoice in the goodness of the Lord. You can always rejoice in the greatness of the Lord. You can always rejoice in the grace of the Lord. You can always rejoice in the glory of the Lord.
Now, don't hear what I'm not saying. You cannot always choose to be happy, because there's a difference between happiness and joy. You know why you can't always choose to be happy? Because happiness is determined by what happens to you. So if what happens to you is bad, you're not going to be happy. If what happens to you is good, you will be happy, but you cannot always choose to be joyful. There's a book that a doctor wrote years ago, Dr. Earl Henslin, probably never heard of him, but he wrote a great book. It's called, "This is Your Brain on Joy". And it is one of the fascinating things. I had never read this before. He said that in your brain, joy and worry, joy and anxiety, joy and discouragement, he said, they travel the same pathway in your brain. And he said, it's very normal for both of them to occupy the same path at the same time.
However, he says, you will invariably choose which one gets the right of way, which one has to yield. And so, he says in that book, we can open the gate for joy and we can tell anxiety and worry and discouragement, you've got to yield. You've gotta get off the road. This is only for joy. There's no room for them to come along by themselves. And even though Paul's not a psychologist, all truth is God's truth. And I'm telling you, this is a psychological truth. Rejoice in the person of the Lord, and you will have joy in your life. And you say, well, how do you know that's true? Because of the next step he gives us. And what I love about Paul, I'm telling you, he's a great psychologist, 'cause every one of these is like a block that just fits perfectly on top of each other.
Paul says, okay, you're gonna take the first step. I'm gonna rejoice in the Lord. I may not like what's happening to me. I may not be happy about it. That's okay. Lord, I choose to rejoice in you, because once you rejoice in the person of the Lord, then you can relax in the presence of the Lord. You can relax in the presence of the Lord. So Paul goes on to say this. He says, "Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near". Now, the word for gentleness, it's not what you think it is. When Paul said, let your gentleness be known, we think about gentle, about being soft spoken, touching easy, just real gentle. And that's not what the word means. That word actually is talking about a temperament and an attitude. And it's about being calm under fire. It's about being levelheaded. It's about being steady. When the whole house is burning down around you, you don't panic. You don't overreact.
You say, "You know what? I'm gonna choose faith over fear. I'm gonna choose worship over worry. I'm gonna choose trust over trembling". And Paul says, it should be evident to everybody, that attitude. 'Cause see, this is so important. The evidence that you give to other people that you trust God, here's how they'll know it. How do you handle the stress in your life? That's when you really show people that you really believe what you say you believe or it's just talk. That's whether or not you really show people, this is how a Christian responds, 'cause look, you want your family members, your friends, your coworkers, your neighbors, you want them to see, "Hey, you know the stress I'm under"? "Yeah, this is how a real Christian handles stress. This is how a real Christian responds to the problems and to the pressures and to the people. We don't freak out. We don't run out. We just remain continuously calm. And we just continue to trust that we have the presence of God right beside us".
So Paul says, look, instead of focusing on the problems and the pressures and the people and forgetting about God, here's what we do. We focus on God and we let him handle the problems and the pressures and the people. He said, now, when you do that, your gentleness, your trust, your faith, your calmness, your ability to keep your head when everybody else is losing theirs, it will be evident to everybody. And there are four words that you better learn to say to yourself the next time you're walking the floor, the next time you're gut's in a knot, the next time that you're worried sick, the next time that the ghost of worry is haunting your house.
There are four words you better learn to say, and you oughta learned to say, 'em out loud, and those are these four words: THE LORD IS NEAR. Let's say that out loud. You ready? Now, say it like you mean it. That's right, he is. He's near. He is right beside you. I mean, he is right there. That word near means near in space. And what Paul was talking about was whether you see it, whether you feel it, whether you think it, whether you really believe it, it doesn't matter. You've got always the presence of God right beside you. It's the same thing the Psalmist said. Here's what the Psalmist said. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the sovereign Lord my refuge. I will tell of all your deeds. It oughta bring you tremendous comfort today. It oughta bring you tremendous comfort to remember. You can never get away from God, and God will never go away from you. You can never get away from God, and God will never go away from you.
See, we've got it all wrong. We let the world convince us that, here's what real peace is. We think peace is the absence of conflict. We think peace is when everything's going our way. We think peace is when we don't have any unavoidable pressure. We don't have any unsolvable problems. We don't have any unbearable people. That is not peace. Peace is not the absence of difficulties. Peace is the presence of God. And what Paul was saying was, you never face that peace alone. You never do it. It never, ever happens. You're not in the battle by yourself. You're not the last man standing. He says, no matter what you face or what is facing you, you can rest in the presence of the Lord.
So the next time you get smacked in the mouth and you get knocked flat on your back, the Lord is near. So I can rejoice in the person of the Lord, then I can relax in the presence of the Lord. And that gets better. When you rejoice in the person of the Lord and you relax in the presence of the Lord, you can release your problems to the Lord. You release your problems to the Lord. Now, let me just be honest before I tell you what Paul says next. You're not gonna like it. I'm gonna be honest with you, there are times I'll read it and I don't like it either, but you have to hear it. So here's what Paul says. You ready? "Do not be anxious about anything". I'm a worrywart, one of my biggest weaknesses. My mom was a worrywart. I guess it's contagious. I got it from her. I'm a worrywart, I just am. Nothing irritates me more than when I say to somebody, "Man, I tell you, I'm just really worried about this". And they'll say, "Well, quit worrying".
I just wanna smack 'em in the mouth. Look, dude, if I could quit worrying, I wouldn't tell you I'm worried, but that's exactly what Paul does. He says, "Quit worrying". If you wanna put a positive spin on it, here's what Paul said. Worry about nothing. Now, I'm telling you, I'm up here telling you as your pastor. That is a whole lot easier said than done. It is for me, whole lot easier said than done, but I'm gonna be honest with you. There's a reason why we shouldn't worry. And I have to remind myself of this. The biggest colossal waste of time you will ever, ever expend is worry. Good example.
You say, "Man, I need to lose weight". I got news for you, you can worry yourself to death, but if you keep eating like you're eating, you're not gonna lose weight. I need to pay off my credit card debt. I'm worried about my credit card debt. You can worry about it all day long, but you keep borrowing money, you're not gonna pay the debt off. My definition of worry is it's like sitting in a rocking chair. Gives you something to do, doesn't get you anywhere. That's what worry is.
In fact, I read, this is a true story. There's a French soldier in World War I, and he carried into battle the best prescription for worry I have ever come across. I want you to listen to what he said. This is brilliant. "One of two things is certain; either you are at the front of the lines or you are behind the lines. If you're at the front, one of two things is certain; either you're exposed to danger or you're in a safe place. If you're exposed to danger, one of two things is certain, you're wounded or you're not wounded. If you're wounded, one of two things is certain. You're either going to recover or you're going to die. If you recover, there's no need to worry. If you die, you can't worry". I mean, isn't that great? I mean, there simply isn't any need to worry, but I know that raises a big question. You say, "But yeah, how do you keep from it? I'm with you. I understand, but how do you stop it? What's the alternative"? Paul says, "Here's the alternative". "But in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God".
So in other words, here's what Paul said. You may not like it. You may think, oh it too simple. Doesn't work. It does. Paul says, real easy. Worry about nothing, pray about everything. Worry about nothing, pray about everything. Worry about nothing, pray about everything. Now, do you know what we tend to do? And by the way, some of you are out there looking at me real holy. I'm not buying it. You just like me, 'cause you know what we all tend to do, and I'm as guilty as sin. We tend to worry about everything and pray about nothing. Can I get an amen to that? We do. That's me. Our first resort is always worry. Well, think about it. There are only two alternatives when you're facing something big in your life that you're afraid of, that's scaring you, that's diving you into the depths of despair. You're gonna do one or the other.
I read about a man that, the other day, he went to see his doctor. And when he walked in, the doctor just jumped back. Both of his ears were severely burned. I mean they were black, they were crispy. They were like an overcooked steak on a grill. I mean, it was flaking off. It was just horrific. And so, the doctor looked at him and he said, "Dear Lord, man, how did you burn both of your ears"? The man said, "Well, doc, I've been stressed out lately. I was in a hurry. I was late for a meeting. I didn't have time for, have any shirts to wear. So I had to iron one of my shirts". He said, "I was so stressed out, the phone rang and I was so stressed out and so confused. I answered the iron instead of the phone". And the doctor said, "Well, how did you burn the other ear"? He said, "He called back".
Is that good, Theresa? You like that? Okay, good. I love to hear you laugh. I just love that laugh. Here's the truth, but there's a truth in that. When you have to deal with those pressures and those problems and those people, you're either gonna pick up the iron of worry or you're gonna pick up the phone of prayer. You're gonna do one or the other. You won't do both. You'll pick up one or you'll pick up the other. And Paul here is dealing with reality and facts. The fact is this, every single time we're stressed out, we have a choice. We can choose to carry that pressure. We can choose to try to solve that problem. We can choose to try to deal with that person on our own, or we can give every single one of them to God. And so, when the waves of worry flood your mind and the tornado of troubles tear at your soul, and the hurricane of heartache is pounding at the doors of your heart, there is a God who is present. There is a God who is near. And every time, that God is saying, "Hey, give it to me. I've got this. Leave it to me and leave it with me".
Let me ask you this. Have you ever been so discouraged, so distressed, so defeated that maybe with tears coming down your face and your lips trembling and your hands shaking, you finally just looked up and you just said, "I can't handle this"? 'Cause I've been there. You remember when I was there. It was a Thursday afternoon 30 something years ago. I'll never forget, I was this close to a nervous breakdown. I was this close to throwing in the towel and quitting the ministry. I've been there. And I was in my study and I had the tears coming down my cheeks. I know where some of you are. I've been there. Couldn't believe what was happening in my life. And I said, "Lord, I can't handle this". And God spoke to my heart. And he said, "I got news for you. You can't, but I can". "I never said you could. I always said I would". And then Paul kind of sticks the knife really in. You know what he says? He says, "Oh, by the way, do this with thanksgiving".
If you're not mad at Paul, he's doing everything he can to get you ticked. Are you kidding me? This is hard enough. Now you tell me to do it with Thanksgiving? And some of you're saying right now, "You tell me how in the world I can be thankful in the situation I'm in? How can I be thankful with the pressures and the problems and the people"? Well, here's what you can be thankful for. No matter how great the pressure or how difficult the problem or how hard the people are, God loves you enough to care about them. God is powerful enough to handle them. And God is wise enough to grow you through them. So you rest, you rejoice in the person of the Lord. You relax in the presence of the Lord. You release your problems to the Lord. And then Paul says, "This is what will happen". You ready? This is the best part. You can then rest in the peace of the Lord.
Now, listen to what Paul says. He says, "If you're stressed out, God will help you get the stress out". God will help you arrest stress, so you can be at rest without stress. God will help you arrest stress, so that you can be at rest without stress. And Paul says, this is what will happen. It'll happen, I mean, before you even know it, it'll happen. "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus". I can remember, I don't have time to tell it, but I can remember the night that I knew I was gonna get fired from my church. I knew I was gonna get fired. Devil had committed, you're gonna get fired. I'm walking into a Sunday night business meeting. Normally, I'd been there about six months at my church. And normally, nobody came to business meeting. But this night, they're standing three deep around the wall, selling popcorn.
You got clowns outside, rides, the whole nine yards, 'cause the preacher is gonna get fired. We baptized 14 people that night. I got ready and I walked downstairs. I'd seen the crowd. And I walked down to that worship center and I put my hand on the door. I'm telling you, I was pouring sweat. I could feel my blood pressure. I could feel it in my body going up. I could feel it. I was shaking like a leaf. And knew I was going to my own execution. I knew it. And I put my hand on that door and there was a verse I'd read that Thursday that I'd written down on a card. Didn't have the card with me. There's a verse I read, it's in Psalm 56. And this verse came to me. This I know, God is for me. Can I tell you what happened at that moment? My blood pressure went to normal. Jack, my sweat glands dried up. I had a peace that came over my heart. I said, "Lord, if they keep me, that's all right. If they fire me, that's okay. If I have a job tomorrow, that's all right. If I don't have a job tomorrow, they didn't hire me. You called me. They're not my source. They're not my supply. You're my source. And you're my supply".
And I'm standing here telling you as a satisfied customer, I understand, I've lived through it. And I know what it is to go from being stressed out, walking the floor, sweating bullets, losing hair, unable to sleep to a perfect peace that comes over your heart. That's why he calls it, by the way, the peace of God, because the peace of God is the only peace that can come from God. It's the peace that only God can give. And Paul says, it will be a guard over your heart. It will be a guard over your mind that stress cannot penetrate. It's not the kind of temporary peace that people are trying to find through money or drugs or alcohol or sex, because that peace never lasts anyway. It is a peace that can't be bought, borrowed, or stolen. It's not found in a pill. It's found in a person. It's not found in a drug. It's not found in a drink. It's found in a deity.
So let's get real for a moment. You're stressed out and you wanna get the stress out. Well, let's see how well you've been listening. Little pop quiz. So I want you to imagine in your life every day, you've got three boxes. Whenever you're stressed out, and that pressure is crushing you, and that problem is perplexing you, and those people have driven you to the end of your rope, there's a box called worry. So if you've been listening, what should go in that box? What does that say? Everybody say it. Nothing. That's what you put in the worry box. Nothing. Paul said, "Be anxious for nothing". And the last time I checked, nothing means nothing. He said, "Okay, so you got the worry box, okay". I'm putting nothing in the worry box. Then you got a second box. It's called prayer.
All right, you've been listening? What goes in the prayer box? Yeah, everything, right? Everything goes in the prayer box. Nothing goes in the worry box. Everything goes in the prayer box. And then you got one other box. You can't leave this one out. It's called thanksgiving. Paul said, anything goes in the thanksgiving box. Anything, doesn't matter what it is, anything. Why? You say to be thankful for all things? Nope, the Bible doesn't say either. It says, be thankful in all things. Lord, I just don't know how I'm gonna get through this. In fact, I can't. I can't take the pressure anymore. I can't face the problem anymore. I can't deal with this person anymore, but I'm thankful because you're a good God. You're a great God. You're a gracious God. You're a glorious God. And I don't have a pressure, and I don't have a problem, and I don't have a person you can't handle. So, guaranteed, promise you, worry about nothing. Pray about everything. Be thankful in all things and you will no longer be stressed out. God will get the stress out.