Wednesday, August 12, 2020

God, I Can’t Handle this Stress!

“Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart.” - Isaiah 7:4

I heard about a man who had recently retired. But his “golden years” weren’t very golden. He was having chest pains, and his blood pressure was through the roof. After prescribing some medications, the doctor asked to speak with the man’s wife. Once the husband left the room, the doctor told her that her husband’s stress level was way too high, and he would be dead in six months if she didn’t help lower his stress at home. The doctor recommended that she cook his favorite meals every day, do all the housework and give him back rubs before bed. On the drive home, the husband asked his wife what the doctor said. She responded, “He said you’re going to die!”

That husband had a lot of stress in his life. But I’m sure his stress levels would pale compared to the stress we’ve been dealing with over the past five months. During the COVID pandemic, our stress level has gone WAY up. Just for a simple trip to the grocery store, we have to make sure we don’t forget our face mask. We search for a cart that’s been sanitized in the past five minutes. We try not to pass strangers too closely in the aisles. We keep our distance from others in the check-out lines. And when family and friends get sick, it’s even worse. Recently it’s been taking upward of 10 days to get the results back on a COVID test, and that 10-day wait can feel like an eternity.

Meanwhile, when we turn on the news, it sounds like our nation is falling apart. Businesses and courthouses are being looted and burned. Police officers and federal agents are being assaulted. And because it’s an election year, our politicians are at each others’ throats. All that to say: This is a very stressful time in which to live. And many of us feel like shouting out: “God, I can’t handle this stress!”

Back in 735 BC, King Ahaz was pretty stressed out, too. This was when the nation of Israel was split in two: the kingdom of Israel to the north, and the kingdom of Judah to the south. Judah was led by King Ahaz, who didn’t fear God or obey His commands. His M.O. was to do whatever he felt like doing without giving a thought to what God thought about it. That seemed to work out all right in the early part of his reign, when times were good. But when a crisis hit, his stress level went through the roof.

King Pekah, the leader of Northern Israel, had teamed up with King Rezin of Aram to conquer Jerusalem. Rezin and Pekah couldn’t break through the city walls—but they were starting to break the people’s spirit. King Ahaz and the citizens of Jerusalem were worried and scared, and they were starting to buckle under the stress of it all. Their hearts “were shaken as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind” (v. 2). But then God spoke to Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah, giving him four commands that God echoes to each of His followers who feel stressed: “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood” (v4).

When you’re stressed out, remember the four commands of God contained in that great verse:

1. Be careful. When we’re stressed, it’s easy for our minds to wander into dangerous territory.  Be careful!  When we’re stressed, it’s tempting to say, “What the heck!” and do stupid stuff that we normally would never do. Getting stoned … driving recklessly … having an affair … maxing out our credit cards. You see, STRESS and STUPID are kissing cousins. When you’re stressed, you’re more likely to be stupid. And when you’re stupid, it will make your bad situation even worse. It will end up giving you even more to stress out about.

2. “Keep calm.” Take some deep breaths. Go on a nice, long walk. Pet a dog or cat. Spend some meaningful time in prayer. One of the most effective ways to calm down is to meditate on the things of God. Some Christians say, “I don’t know how to meditate.” Yes, you do! If you know how to worry, you know how to meditate. Think about it: Worrying is basically just focusing for a long time on your problems. Christian meditation is just focusing for a long time on your blessings. The difference between worry and meditation is a matter of focus.

3. “Don’t be afraid.” This is the most repeated command of God in the Bible. Before Joshua led the people of Israel into the Promised Land, God told him, “Do not be afraid.” Before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, God told them, “Do not be afraid.” Before the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to Jesus, God told her, “Do not be afraid.” God says to you today, “I know this situation you’re in is scary. I know it feels overwhelming. But I have called you to walk by faith and not by sight. So, I need you to trust Me. I’ve got this. Do not be afraid.” 

4. “Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood.” In Ahaz’s mind, those two armies were like a raging inferno. But God told him that Rezin and Pekah were like charred pieces of wood after the fire has already passed by. They might be sending up a little smoke, but they were no real threat. In the same way, God says to you, “Trust Me. It may seem that your problems are about to overpower you and crush you, but I’m actually about to whittle them down to size. Your problems’ best days are behind them, but your best days are still up ahead.”

There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a stress-filled year. But you and I don’t have to be stressed out. God will give you His peace and strength if you will fix your eyes on Jesus and do these 4 things: Be careful, Keep calm. Don’t be afraid, and do not lose heart.

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our live outdoor worship service Sundays at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on our YouTube channel (Impact Christian Church) or on Facebook.

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