Robert Jeffress - Choosing Relaxation Over Stress
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Today millions of Americans are struggling with the physical, mental and spiritual effects of stress. Is there any way to break free from the endless cycle of tension and strain? Well, today I'm going to show you that while we can't live without problems, we can live above our problems and it begins by making a choice. My message is titled Choosing Relaxation Over Stress on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
In 1964, supreme court justice Potter Stewart was asked to define obscenity, and he famously said "I'm not able to define it, but I know it when I see it". You know the same thing could be said about stress. You may not be able to define stress, give a dictionary definition of stress, but we know it when we see it or more accurately, we know it when we feel it, don't we? Migraines, high blood pressure, certain strokes, even cancer are just some of the symptoms of a stressed out society. It's no accident that among the top selling drugs in our country right now are the ulcer medication tagamet, the hypertension medicine inderal and the tranquilizer valium. And don't make the mistake of thinking stress is something that Christians are exempt from.
A famous television teacher preacher asked his electronic congregation to send in the number one problem they were dealing with in life and at the top of the list was stress. Even though Christians are not exempt from stress, Jesus offers us this word of promise that we read from Matthew 11 just a few moments ago. Beginning in verse 28, Jesus said, "Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. My yoke is easy and my load is light". And please don't misunderstand. Jesus is not saying because you're a Christian you're exempt from stress, you're exempt from problems. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Any teacher, any preacher who tells you that Christianity is an exemption from problems, you turn them off immediately, walk out. They don't know what they're talking about. Jesus promised you're going to have problems in the world. In John 16:33, he said, "These things I have spoken to you that in me you may have peace in the world you have tribulation". The Greek word tribulation literally means to press. In this world you're going to have pressure, you're going to have stress. But he goes on to say, "Take courage, I have overcome the world". Jesus is not saying we can live in this world without problems, but he said there is a way to live above your problems. And that's what we're going to talk about today as we continue our series "Choose Your Attitudes Change Your Life". We're going to talk about the attitude choice of choosing relaxation over stress.
Remember an attitude is how you respond to the unchangeable circumstances in your life. You don't get to choose your circumstances, you don't get to change your circumstances, but you can choose your response to circumstances. And today we're going to talk about that choice of choosing relaxation over stress. Now first I think it's important to differentiate between two kinds of stress. There is actually a healthy kind of stress. You know in the world of mechanics, the word stress refers to the ability of certain metals to bear certain loads and amount of loads. The load bearing ability of certain metals. And for some metals load stress can actually strengthen that metal.
The same thing is true for us. A certain amount of stress can actually strengthen us. For example, studies have shown that short burst of stress can actually affect our pituitary gland and release a substance called beta endorphin. And we've known for a long time that beta endorphin is key to blocking the perception of pain in our brain, but we've also discovered recently that beta endorphins can also help our immune system. A certain amount of stress that releases beta endorphin can enhance the work of natural killer cells in our body that roam throughout our body checking on tumors and dealing with tumors that would bring about cancer. And that's one of the things that these beta endorphins do. They enhance our immune system.
That's why Dr. John Morley, professor of geriatrics at the Saint Louis university school of medicine writes "The stress that you adequately cope with may actually be good for you whereas stress that you fail to cope with is most probably bad for you. Short burst of stress are okay, long burst could be a problem". Listen again to what the doctor says, prolonged stress or stress that is not adequately dealt with is what can be harmful. What are the hazards of prolonged or ignored stress? Well they're physical results of that. For example, we all know the relationship between stress and high blood pressure. But new studies are demonstrating that stress that's not dealt with can actually raise our cholesterol that not only causes heart disease, but actually weakens our immune system and can lead to cancer. There are emotional effects of stress. Prolonged stress raises our level of cortisol in our bodies that can lead to chronic depression. But there are also spiritual effects of stress.
Now again, some stress can actually be spiritually beneficial to us. I think that's what James has in mind when in James 1:2-4 he writes, "Consider it all joy my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing". Just as a certain amount of stress can strengthen a metal, a certain amount of stress can strengthen us spiritually. In verse three that word testing, the testing of your faith, that word in Greek is dokimion. It's a word that referred to a piece of pottery that after being shaped was placed into a firing oven in order that it might be strengthened. And if that piece of pottery formed by clay survived the firing oven without cracking, now the Potter would take it out and then the bottom he would write the word, dokimos, tested, approved. But if it broke in that firing oven, if it cracked, it was discarded upon a heap of trash. It's the same way with us. God allows test in our lives, stress, not to destroy us, but to strengthen us. It can have a positive benefit in our life as long as it drives us toward God and not away from God.
I think of a friend of mine who manages a fast food restaurant and he told me about his assistant manager who was driving him crazy. He was always complaining, always sowing discord among the other employees, always going behind his back to the owner and giving a negative report about my friend. And, you know, finally he said, the one day he cried out to God, "God, why would you put me in a situation in which I have to literally pray every five minutes just to survive"? He said, I answered my own question. God many times puts us in situations where we have no way to survive, but depending upon him. The fact is stress can have a positive impact on our spiritual lives but it can also have a negative impact if we allow it to drive us away from God. As I summarize, some stress is good for us, but stress that is not dealt with adequately can be harmful to us. How do we handle the stress mess? Two ways we do it. First of all, removing unnecessary stress from our lives. And secondly, dealing positively with unavoidable stress in our life.
Let's talk about first of all, removing unnecessary stress. How many of you would like to remove some stress right now from your life? Don't point to the person next to you, it's not polite, okay? Yeah we're not talking about that, but some stress can actually be and should be removed. Let me mention six causes of unnecessary stress in our life. First of all, stress caused by lack of purpose. A stress caused by lack of purpose. The French philosopher Nicola Belay said "He is most fatigued, who knows not what you do". There's gold in that. "He is most fatigued, who knows not what to do". You know, we have in our minds, it's those goal-oriented people, those hard driving individuals who are just stressed out and prone to a heart attack. That's really not true. The people who are most stressed out in life, are those who don't know what they're supposed to be doing.
Let me illustrate that for you. Have you ever been headed someplace in your car, you knew exactly where you wanted to go and yet you get lost? What happens? What's your emotion when you get lost? Don't you immediately start feeling stressed out? You don't know which way to turn, which way to go. That produces stress. It's the same way in life. When you don't have a clear purpose in life, it can produce stress. Secondly, stress caused by unrealistic goals. Much of the stress we have is when we instill unrealistic goals that have no basis in scripture at all. We're just imposing these unrealistic goals on ourself.
I remember many years ago when I got my first contract for my first book, I was so excited about that first book. And the publisher said now you have six months to do this book to turn in the manuscript. But in a fit of insanity, I decided that I would do it in three months. I was going to push myself and finish this book in three months. The only problem was Julia had just been born, so that caused a little difference in our household. Things were going on at the church and I ended up putting undue stress, not only on myself and Amy and poor Julia, but on my church as well as, and it was just all unnecessary because of an unrealistic expectation. By the way, we all do that. Sometimes the unrealistic expectations we have extends to our vacations. We bring to our vacations unrealistic goals that end up stressing us out.
Writer Tim Hansel gives a great description of that. He says, "Since they've waited 50 weeks for this vacation, some people try to cram a year's worth of living into two weeks. They wind up pushing harder and spending longer hours than they do on the job, rushing from one place to the next, hurrying up to be happy. It's no wonder that peace alludes them. Related to this image that vacation is a reward for hard work, is the notion that therefore we're supposed to enjoy this time and if we don't, we feel anxious. We carry so many bionic images of leisure into the vacation that nothing could ever match it. And then we wonder why we're so unhappy". Much stress is caused by unrealistic expectations. Thirdly, stress caused by unresolved anger. Unresolved anger.
You know, anger is a negative emotion we feel when our expectations are not met. In fact, I want you to think about the last time you got really angry. I bet you can trace that anger to some expectation you had that was not fulfilled by another person or a circumstance. Think about it. We get angry when the stoplight doesn't turn from red to green as quickly as we think it should. We get angry when our mate doesn't pay us the attention we think he or she should. Much of the anger we have is caused by unmet expectations. And that's why it's important that we learn how to deal with that stress caused by unresolved anger. You know, the fact is anger decreases the lymphocytes in our bodies which result in decreased antibodies that ward off infectious disease.
In their book "Happiness is a Choice," psychiatrists Frank Minirth and Paul Meier make this bold assertion. They say quote, "Pent-up anger is probably the leading cause of death". Ain't that interesting? Pent-up anger. Here are doctors saying, "Pent-up anger is probably the leading cause of death". The Word of God commands in James 1:19, "Everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger". Then in the Greek language, there are two words for anger. One word for anger means a violent explosive volcanic outburst of anger. We've seen that? We've done that before. But the word here anger, "Orge," refers to a smoldering persistent anger rather than a temporary outburst. And it's that anger James writes about in verse 20, when he says, "For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God".
Is anger always wrong? Not necessarily. Anger sometimes is like a headache. It's a symptom that something else is wrong that needs to be dealt with. And that's why Paul said in Ephesians 4:26-27, "Be angry and yet do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and don't give the devil an opportunity". When anger arises deal with it. Deal with it before the sun sets, don't allow it to smolder and destroy your life. A fourth source of unnecessary stress, stress caused by comparison to other people. My late mentor, Howard Hendrix used to call comparison the favorite indoor sport of Christians. He was right. Christians absolutely love to compare themselves with one another. We compare our houses, our clothes, our cars, our jobs, our bank accounts, our children, but listen to what the Word of God says about comparison.
I love the way the living Bible paraphrases this in 2nd Corinthians 10:12. "Their trouble is that they are only comparing themselves with each other and measuring themselves against their own little ideas. What stupidity"! The Bible says it is stupid to compare yourself to anybody else. Next. Some stress is caused by materialism. Building our affections around money or the things that money buys. Remember the story that Jesus told in Luke chapter 12, the parable about the rich man who suffered from insomnia. He couldn't sleep at nights because he was so caught up with his possessions, what am I going to do with all the excess income and produce I have? Where am I going to invest it? And he says to himself, he said, this is what I will do. I'm going to build larger Barnes. I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this. And then I'm going to store up so much money, I'm going to take off the rest of my life and say, soul, take ease. For you have enough now. Eat, drink, and be merry.
And God came to him that very night and said, "You fool, tonight your soul is required of you. And who now will own what you have left"? That word required is a banking term, it means to call in alone. There's a day coming for all of us when God's going to call in our lone. He's going to say, you've had enough time here on earth. It's time for you to come and stand before me. That's why it's so foolish to build your life around the material. In fact, people who have a lot out of money experience a lot of stress. Ecclesiastes 5:12 says, "The abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep". That was through this rich man. But you know, materialism isn't a problem just for the wealthy, materialism is an attitude that says money or the things that money buys can really solve my deepest longings. Poor people can be materialistic as well. They can be under that illusion too. That money is the answer to all of their problems.
In fact many times, a poor person can be more materialistic than the rich because he's never had money and he is still under the illusion that money can solve his problems. And that's why Jesus said in Luke 12:22-23, "For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious, do not be stressed out for your life as to what you shall eat, nor for your body as to what you shall put on for life is more than the material. Life is more than food and the body more than clothing".
Sixth. Some unnecessary stress is stress caused by physical fatigue. Stress caused by physical fatigue. Because we've talked about this before, I'm not to camp here long, but the great story, the great illustration of that is the story of Elijah, the prophet of God. Remember when he had killed those prophets of queen Jezebel, she sent out the edict, "Elijah I'm coming after him". And Elijah started running. He ran from Jezreel to Beersheba. And remember, after that 120 mile run, 1st kings 19:4 says, "He went a day's journey into the wilderness, and he came and sat under a juniper tree and he requested for himself that he might die. And he said, 'it is enough now, o Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers'". Ain't it interesting? 850 angry prophets on top of mount Carmel didn't face the prophet of God, but one angry female sent him on the run. And he ran and he ran and he ran. And then he sits down under a tree and say, it's enough Lord, I'm ready to go, just take me home. I'm ready to go.
Now, if he had really wanted to die, he could have stayed with Jezebel. She would have taken care of things for him. Why did he say that? Why was he ready to end his life? He was worn out. He was worn out spiritually from that great victory on mount Carmel. He was tired after running 120 miles, who wouldn't be? And he had a distorted perspective of reality. You know, I think of Vince Lombardi's famous quote, "Fatigue makes cowards of us all". There's something about just being physically tired, that distorts your perception of yourself, your circumstances and your God. And that's why again to quote Howard Hendrick, "Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap". Just take a nap, rest. It restores your proper perspective.