How can I cope with stress?

Its been a pretty good time for pharmaceutical company shares –  at least those selling stress reducing medications… First, there was the government sponsored report that revealed the next generation of home buyers will struggle to even get a toe hold on the property ladder. Whereas in 2000, house prices averaged four times annual earnings, by 2026, house prices will cost 10 times average earnings – so mortgages will get costlier and take longer to pay off. The solution? Simple. Live with your parents until you can move in with your children…

Then came a report by an eminent chronobiologist, Professor Russell Foster of Oxford University, who predicts we are becoming a “Zombie Nation”. We are literally sleep walk our way into economic disaster. Extended work hours and a growing 24/7 entertainment, shopping and TV culture is leading to serious sleep deprivation. The consequences are weight gain, a rise in irritability, hallucinations and motor car accidents.  The answer? For years the army have used the drug modafinal to help. Want to get more out of life, can’t afford to sleep but don’t want to be a zombie? Try modafinal. Problem solved.

But then there was research published this week by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the law firm, Eversheds, entitled “War Zone of Office Politics has High Cost” showing that conflict is rife in the workplace. Half of all senior executives surveyed, confessed they were unable to cope with internal backstabbing, conspiracy, jealousy and plotting. And 25% of executives rated office politics as the toughest challenge they face – not the competition, not shareholders, not innovation but internal politics.

That is not surprising perhaps because another survey revealed that a third of all office workers admitted clashing with colleagues on a weekly basis. This rises to 45% for 16-24 year olds. The main cause of tension in the office apparently is constant talking and interruption. The answer? Simple. Raise the school leaving age to 25 and buy everyone else an iPod on their expense account.

Which brings us to the ever popular issue of multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is what most working mothers would say they do most of the time – but apparently this is also bad for your health as well. In an article entitled “Multi-taskers lose ability to focus“ Sarah Womack, writing in the Daily Telegraph, warns, “Experts say that emailing on your Blackberry and talking on the mobile, while wondering what to cook for dinner and whether you have run out of dishwasher tablets, is mentally damaging.

“The bottom line is that you can’t simultaneously be thinking about your tax return and reading an essay, just as you can’t talk to yourself about two things at once,” says David Meyer, the director of the Brain Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan. “People may think otherwise, but it’s a myth.” Habitual multi-tasking may also condition the brain to an overexcited state, making it difficult to focus on anything, he says. “People lose the skill and will to maintain concentration.” His comments come amid concern that, with the growth of electronic gadgets, an increasing number of children are multi-tasking – listening to music on their iPods, watching TV and doing their homework simultaneously – and failing their exams as a result. So while multi-tasking may have been the buzz word in a previous generation, scientists are only now realising what people have known for centuries – if God had intended us to multi-task he would have given us more than one brain.

Which is probably why research from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has revealed that stress actually begins, yes you’ve guessed it, even before birth. Unborn babies as young as 17 weeks are showing signs of stress in their mother’s wombs. They found that when levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, rose in mother’s blood, it also rose in the amniotic fluid surrounding the baby as well.

The cumulative effect of these surveys helps explains why three our of four of us visiting our GP next week will do so for stress-related reasons. Whether you are an unborn child, a teenager, a mother, a city slicker, or well and truly retired, stress is the number one issue we face. Which is why I want us to consider the question, “How can I Cope with Stress?

Have you ever stopped to think about the stress Jesus Christ was under? There were gruelling demands on his time. He rarely had any personal privacy. He was constantly interrupted. People repeatedly misunderstood him, criticized him, and ridiculed him. He felt enormous stress that would have caused any of us to cave in. But as we look at his life, we are amazed to see that he remained at peace under pressure, he was never in a hurry, never late, always at peace. How did he do this? Jesus’ life reveals some profound spiritual and psychological principles that we would do well to learn from.

So that we too can cope with stress the way Jesus did.

If we follow Jesus’ pattern, we will experience less pressure, have more peace of mind and experience more of the abundant life Jesus came to bring. Please turn with me to John 8:12-30 (page 1074 in the Church Bibles) and lets find out how Jesus coped with stress.

1. Identification: Know who you are

Jesus knew who he was. He said, “I am the Light of the world.” (John 8:12) On another occasion he said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6) “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11) “I am God’s Son.” (John 10:36). To handle stress you must know who you are. If you don’t know who you are, other people will pressure you into being someone you aren’t.

A lot of stress results from wearing masks, being unreal with others, living double lives, or trying to be someone we’re not. Who are you? If you have trusted in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, God says you are a child of God. “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12). So who am I?

A child of God! I was put on Earth for a purpose, not by accident. I am deeply loved and accepted by God because of Jesus. He has a plan for my life, and because he died in my place, I am significant in God’s eyes. Therefore do not let other people treat you as less than a child of God.

1. Identification : Know who you are.

2. Organization: Know where you are going

The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going.” (John 8:13-14)

Jesus knew where he was going. He knew what he wanted to accomplish. He was on a mission and nothing deflected him from it. In Luke’s gospel we read,

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51). He set his face toward Jerusalem and the cross. That was his mission.

Every day you either live by priorities or you live by pressures. It’s so easy to operate under the tyranny of the urgent instead of focussing on the important. And then come to the end of your day and think, “Have I really accomplished anything? I used a lot of energy and did a lot of things, but did I accomplish anything important?” Have I achieved anything that will have eternal consequences? You will greatly reduce your stress if you spend a few minutes each day praying through your schedule for the day. Ask “Lord, is this really how you want me to invest my day for you? Ask yourself, “Am I willing to exchange 24 hours of my life for these activities?” How can I cope with stress?

Identification: Know who you are.
Organisation: Know where you are going.

3. Dedication: Know who you’re trying to please

“But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me… “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also…The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him” (John 8:16-18, 29)

The third principle of stress management is dedication. Jesus knew whom he was trying to please. When you don’t know whom you’re trying to please, you cave in to three things:

  1. criticism (because you are concerned about what others will think about you),
  2. competition (because you worry about whether someone else is getting ahead of you),
  3. conflict (because you’re threatened when anyone disagrees with you).

Criticism, competition and conflict. Precisely what the surveys uncovered this week in the office, in the work place and the home. Jesus promised, “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.” (John 14:18). He sent the Holy Spirit to be with us and in us, to help us please God. If I focus on pleasing God, it will simplify my life. I will always be doing the right thing, regardless of what others thinks How can I cope with stress?

1. Identification: Know who you are.
2. Organisation: Know where you are going.
3. Dedication: Know who you’re trying to please.

4. Meditation: Develop your personal walk with God

I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.

They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father… I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” (John 8:26-28)

Jesus strength and direction came from his daily communion with the Father. He spoke to the world only what he heard from his Father in heaven. The Father spoke to him, and taught him,  and gave him the words to say. Jesus often got up “very early in the morning, while it was still dark … and went off to a solitary place” to pray. (Mark 1:35) The fourth principle of stress management we learn from Jesus is to make a habit of personal prayer. There was balance and rhythm in his life. There were regular times for rest and solitude. If Jesus needed to commune with God the Father on a daily basis, if Jesus needed to get away and rest on a regular basis, how can we cope with the pressures we face without drawing direction, wisdom and strength from Him. Jesus said he only spoke what the Father had taught him. What is God teaching you? Teaching you about who you are? About what where you are going? About who you are trying to please? Prayer and Scripture reading is a gigantic stress-reliever. A quiet time alone with God is like a decompression chamber. We talk with God in prayer, tell him what’s on our minds, and let him teach and train us as we read the Bible. To review our schedules, evaluate our priorities, and wait for instructions. Most people are speeding through life, but they don’t know who they are, where they are headed or what their purpose is.

No wonder their lives are stressed. How can I cope with stress?

1. Identification: Know who you are.
2. Organisation: Know where you are going.
3. Dedication: Know who you’re trying to please.
4. Meditation: Develop your personal walk with God

5. Concentration: Focus on one priority at a time

“He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come… So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.  29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” (John 8:28-29)

Principle five for stress management is the principle of concentration. Everyone had a Plan B for Jesus, but he kept right on doing what he knew God had told him to do. Teaching in the Temple courts, proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God, preparing for the Day of Atonement when he would be, as he says here, ‘lifted up’ – crucified on a cross. This would be ‘his hour’ and nothing would deflect him from it.  When I’ve got 30 things to do, I clear my desk and work on my highest priority. When I finish that, I pick up my next priority. When we diffuse our efforts, we are ineffective. When we concentrate our efforts, we are effective. Jesus Christ did not let interruptions or other people’s agenda’s deflect him from concentrating on his mission. What is your mission? To know Jesus and….

And what are our five purposes in life?

Worship – we were planned for God’s pleasure.
Fellowship – we were formed to be part of God’s family.
Discipleship – we were created to become like Christ.
Ministry – we were shaped for God’s service.
Mission – we were made to tell others about Christ.

How can I cope with stress?

1. Identification: Know who you are.
2. Organisation: Know where you are going.
3. Dedication: Know who you’re trying to please.
4. Meditation: Develop your personal walk with God
5. Concentration: Focus on one priority at a time.

6. Transformation: Give your stress to Christ

“Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.” (John 8:30)

The sixth principle of stress management combines all the other five. It is transformation. We are transformed as we put our trust in Jesus. As we rely on Jesus, as we put our weight on Jesus, as we depend on Jesus, as we rest in Jesus. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28). He didn’t say, “Come to me and I will give you more guilt, more burdens, more stress, and more worries.”  You will never cope with stress enjoy complete peace of mind until you give your stress to Jesus.

Today may be the first time you have ever done this. Then do it.

The transforming power of Jesus is a continuous process as he makes us more like himself. Jesus is saying, “I am the Stress Reliever. When you get in harmony with me, I will give you inner strength.” The greatest source of stress comes from trying to live our lives apart from the One who made us, the One who

Has given us purpose in life. Isaiah 30:15 says “In repentance and restis your salvation, in quietness and trustis your strength.” How can I cope with stress? Six ways we can learn from Jesus:

1. Identification: Know who you are.
2. Organisation: Know where you are going.
3. Dedication: Know who you’re trying to please.
4. Meditation: Develop your personal walk with God
5. Concentration: Focus on one priority at a time.
6. Transformation: Give your stress to Christ.

Give your life, with all its stresses, to him today, for he cared for you. Lets pray.

Lord Jesus, please take away the stresses I feel this morning. Please replace the burdens I carry with the peace you promise. Help me follow your principles of stress management and cope better this week than last. And they all said, Amen.

Based, with thanks, on chapter 1 of  God’s Answers to Life’s Difficult Questions by Rick Warren.