These thoughts have been going through my mind as I work on my forthcoming book on Stress!
What is quite clear is that everyone seems stressed; everyone worries (at least in the western world). And, because Christians are not exempt they are also tend to add “guilt” to the list, assuming that believing in a sovereign, loving God should mean that we don’t worry and don’t feel stress.
We cannot expect perfection in this life. Moreover, we live in an overstretched world; consequently we often feel close to breaking point. Of course, the Bible has plenty to say about how to live a life trusting God and with an expectation that God will supply all that we need in Christ (e.g. Phil 4:19- “… my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”). But how can we put this into practice?
As I have continued to ponder this issue, two dominant themes from early days as a Christian have returned to me. In my teens I attended a large Sunday night youth group. I remember a talk which I gave entitled:-
God wants warriors not worriers
The theme was that we dissipate worry by getting to work fighting for the cause of the Gospel. It’s not bad advice, of course. But, again, I ask: how does this work in practice? If you tell a worrier not to worry then you add to their worries their own anxiety over worry itself!
When Jesus told his disciples “Do not worry” (Matthew 6:25) He spoke about the futility of worry (you won’t live any longer by worrying – actually it is likely to have the opposite result!); He said: you need not worry because your heavenly father looks after the lilies and the birds, so how much more will he look after human disciples; and He encouraged a God-directed focus so as not to be preoccupied with the affairs of this world. “Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness…” (v33).
My other regular teenage activity was night fishing. After several hours peering into the water, imagining my float was about to go under, ever expectant of hauling another fish out the water, exhausted, I finally went to bed. But then sleep was elusive as my mind was swimming with the sight of fish swirling around my mind!
Worry causes sleeplessness, of course. Not least because the mind is filled with all the activities and stresses of the day, swimming around the mind!
Part of the answer to sleeplessness is the redirection of one’s gaze. Christian meditation is not about emptying the mind, but rather filling it with thoughts of God. Telling a worrier not to worry doesn’t help. But assisting them focus on the God who won’t give us up and won’t let us down, is the perfect displacement.
This leads me to a related thought which also came from my teenage youth group.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
We used to end every Sunday evening singing the same song:
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.
These were good thoughts: staying focussed on Jesus does put this world properly into perspective. This is consistent with the advice we find in the Bible: “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
More on this anon, but before I finish writing my own book on the matter, you might like to check out two helpful recent IVP books on these matters:
* The Worry Book. Finding a path to freedom (Will can der Hart & Rob Waller); and
* You can Change. God’s transforming power for our sinful behaviour and negative emotions (Tim Chester).