By Steve Prokopchak
It is seemingly unprecedented and unimaginable that the whole world is experiencing an inordinate amount of stress right now. Each of us responds to stress differently, but the indicators might be anxiety, anger, inability to concentrate or even sleeplessness. In very basic terms, we can allay coronavirus stress by focusing on things we can control related to the epidemic, maybe washing hands and wearing a mask, and limiting the attention given to things we cannot control. We need not be consumed by COVID-19 developments, but consumed instead by the Lord’s love and presence.
The information below will help us walk through this season of change and uncertainty, and the natural human emotion of stress, in a biblical way.
Disease is a word that describes an illness or impairment. The prefix of the word is actually “dys,” which means “not.” We could say that a disease occurs when the body or the soul is literally “not at ease.” Stress and worry create mental, emotional or physical tension. What occurs when this tension is generated many hours over a course of many days? While some medical practitioners believe our bodies attempt to absorb this tension, the body is simply not built to handle long-term stress and will eventually break down. Proverbs 12:25 rightly reveals that an anxious heart weighs a man down.
Francis Chan in his book Crazy Love said, “When I am consumed by my problems—stressed about my life—I actually convey the belief that I think the circumstances are more important than God’s command to always rejoice. Worry implies that we don’t quite trust that God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what’s happening in our lives. Stress says that the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace toward others, or our tight grip of control. Somehow the stuff in my life is exceptional. Both worry and stress reek of arrogance.”
To simplify this thought, I like the words of Mark Batterson in the book The Circle Maker: “Are your problems bigger than God, or is God bigger than your problems?”
The psalmist David requested the Lord to check his heart for anxiety in Psalms 139:23 with the words, “Search me, O God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” Why did he want God to do this? David must have known that anxiety and stress would limit his ability to trust God.
Seven causes of stress
- A state of worry and a high need for control: In Luke chapter 10, Jesus looked at a woman who was serving Him and expressed, “Martha, Martha…you are worried and upset about many things.” If the Lord looks at you and says your name twice, you know you’re about to hear some “you better change your life” words. I think Jesus was saying, “Relax Martha. It’s okay to be who you are, but trust me. I can provide; there is a time for everything.”
- A lack of faith: We become anxious when we lack faith for our needs. (See Matthew 6:25-30.) Is faith the substance of things we are anxious for? No, it is the substance of things hoped for!
- The loss of boundaries or loss of control that lead to insecurity: If children feel safe, they will venture out and explore. If children feel insecure, unsafe and worried, they will cling to their parents. Were you trained to be worried or fearful as a child? Were the boundaries unsure? Was your home and family a safe place or a place full of the unknown and unexpected? It is important to consider our childhood because one’s outlook on life and approach to handlingstress could stem from these early experiences.
- Not knowing the heart of God as our heavenly Father: Psalms 46:10 tells us, “Be still, and know that I am God.” When we do not know the Father’s heart toward us, we will never be able to be still. Until we discover the truth of what our Father is thinking of us, we could have every reason to be in a state of worry.
- A lack of trusting God: Did you know there is a “Do not worry” command in the Bible? Psalms 37:1-8 commands us to not fret, but to trust, delight, commit, be still and refrain from anger. At the core of anxiety is a lack of trust. This could be learned from a lack of boundaries, lack of loving parents, or lack of revelation of God’s total love and approval. Worry andstress indicate the absence of trust.
- A lack of protection and security: I was a child in the height of the Cold War when Americans feared the Communists would drop “the bomb” on us at any time. We not only had fire drills, we hadbomb scare During those drills in school, we learned to place our heads under our desks. If those desks were to protect us from bombs, they must have been pretty powerful! In life, we all need protection. Without it, we will naturally feel insecure. Laws that govern society protect us, and boundaries in the Word of God protect us. For example, when husbands fail to protect, wives will find themselves dealing with anxiety. If we as men are not walking in the governmental authority the Father has called us to walk in, we just might be a direct cause of anxiety within our family, just like Adam was in his. However, when husbands and fathers act in a scriptural manner of godly authority and covering, our wives and our children will be less anxious, more at peace and more secure. Psalms 112:7-8 reminds us, “He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” Why? “His heart is secure; he will have no fear.”
- Fear that overrides faith: Where fear is present, love is absent. Where love is present, fear is absent. The two do not dwell together in any sense of harmony. I John 4:18 reveals, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Listen to Job describe an actual physical manifestation of fear: “Fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake” (Job 4:14).
We might not realize it, but we cannot worry and pray at the same time. Worry makes a demand on us to try to change our circumstances. Prayer says “I cannot change circumstances; only God can.” That’s why the Word of God is so clear in Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your heart and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I am convinced the answer to stress and worry is found in one word: trust. Here are some ways to grow trust in your life.
- Know and apply God’s Word: God’s Word has a calming effect. Discovering God’s thoughts through meditating on His Word will allow our spirit to transmit His thoughts to our minds. Read and meditate on the truth of God’s Word. It will calm you, reducestress, and bring life. Scriptures you can meditate on include Jeremiah 17:7-8; Psalms 37:1-8; Psalms 46:1-10; Isaiah 41:10,13; Luke 21:14; Matthew 6:25-34; I Peter 5:7.
- Realize that anxiety and worry undermine God’s supreme plan: God most assuredly is working out His divine purposes. His plans are higher than our plans. His story is the greater story; ours is the lesser. We tend to become worried when we do not have the finances for a bill that is due—the lesser story. God may be using that present lack of finance to build faith for the greater story of His provision. We might worry and become self-consumed when our car will not start; we begin to imagine that we’ll be late for work and our pay will be docked—the lesser story. But perhaps God is delaying us to protect us from an accident on the highway—the greater story.
- Pursue obedience: Worry,stress and anxiety are simply disobedience. They are opposed to putting our trust in God. (Remember, worry says, “I trust myself” while faith and obedience say, “I trust God.”) We must come to this conclusion or we’ll never be serious about overcoming worry.
- Allow change to move from spirit to mind, not the other way around: Romans 8:5-9 reveals that lasting change is made as God speaks to our spirits and our spirits reveal truth to our minds. When the truth is received in my spirit by His Holy Spirit, my belief system will begin to change. When my belief system changes, my actions will also change.
- The Law of Attribution: This law is quite simple: anything we associate with beingstressful, anxiety-filled or worrisome—will be! Anxiety is a present feeling or reaction resulting from anxious or untrue thoughts that in turn create anxiety and stress. I once encountered a counselee who was afraid to drive across a bridge. As a child, he and his grandfather had been at the very top of a long, high bridge when traffic came to a dead halt. There they sat in their car, feeling the bridge sway in the wind. Grandfather then said in a fearful tone, “Do you feel that? The bridge is going to collapse and we’ll end up in the river.” Deep within this counselee’s memory, a fear was planted that bridges should be avoided at all cost. Was it true? No, but that didn’t matter; the anxiety was real. What fears in your life could be due to the law of attribution?
- Learn to trust: We must settle Romans 8:15 in our hearts, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And we cry ‘Abba, Father.’” Faith draws us away from fear and anxiety and moves us toward our God, knowing He has everything under control and we can trust Him.
Anxiety is up to us. It is our choice. God desires for us to trust Him for our past, our present and our future. There are no anxious ways found within Him or His Kingdom. If He has everything under control and we are His, then at the end of the day we can pray, cast all our worries and anxious thoughts upon Him and go to sleep. I just can’t see God in heaven wringing His hands and mumbling, “Oh my word, what am I going to do now…how can I get through this mess?”
A crazy reality about stress and anxiety is that most stress-filled thoughts and worries never materialize. Allow God to give you His peace that passes all earthly understanding so you can walk away from stress even when it is trying to rage. Putting our trust in our all-powerful Lord, and resting in His love, is the greatest antidote for unwelcome stress.
Learn more in Steve’s booklet Thinking Right in a World that Thinks Wrong. Find it here!
About Steve Prokopchak
Steve serves on the DOVE International Apostolic Council and has been involved in the Christian counseling field for over 20 years. He earned a Master of Human Services from Lincoln University. He is the author of several books, including Called Together, a premarital counseling workbook. He also travels throughout the world teaching and imparting to the lives of many, especially leaders. Read more about Steve or catch up on his blog.