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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 10.30am service, 2002-04-14

Text: Philippians 4:4-9

Our topic for this morning's message is one which I believe many of us can identify with: Stressful Living and the Christian. Stressful living has become a way of life for many of us. In the course of having fellowship with fellow believers someone will share about how his workload in the office has increased, how he is now doing the work of 3 or 4 people, how he is under great stress, etc. A recent survey of Asian nations revealed that Singaporeans are now the most stressed of all Asians, surpassing even those who live in Hong Kong and Japan. Now Singapore has scored many 'firsts' in the world, but I don't think that this is a good thing to be first in, because stressful living can affect us quite adversely. So let us endeavour to know how we as Christians can cope with stressful living. I. The Definition of Stress First of all it is helpful for us to know what stress is. Stress is defined as the way you respond physically and emotionally to any change in your life. It produces a physiological response in your body - your adrenaline level shoots up, you become more alert, your muscles get tense, your heart beats faster, your blood pressure rises and your hands get a little cold and moist. Now, stress is not necessarily bad all the time. It is quite normal and it can actually help you to concentrate, focus, perform and it often helps you to reach your peak efficiency. Many people in fact, achieve their best work when they are under stress. What helps us to deal with stress is the fact that most of the time, there is a period of rest and relaxation after the change is over, or after the challenge has been met. This gives our minds and bodies time to be recharged and refreshed before the next change or challenge comes. This is perhaps the reason why the Lord Jesus Himself sometimes took His disciples away from their tasks for a little retreat, as in Mark 6:30-32 'And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately.' This is also partly the reason why God has given man the day of rest - the Sabbath day, when we cease from our labours and get ourselves refreshed before the next week begins. II. Causes of Stressful Living The problem comes when you don't relax, or you can't relax when a change or challenge comes along. If you have no time to rest, the unending stress that this puts on your mind and body will be detrimental. It is now widely known that constant stress is linked with many physical ailments - from insomnia, tension headaches, and stomach ulcers, to acute hypertension and heart attacks. One elder in our church recently had to be hospitalised because of severe symptoms of stress! Such ailments are now very common in our fast-paced Singaporean lifestyle. Many who push themselves too hard end up with no time at all to rest or relax. A. Fast-paced Lifestyle and Overwork It seems quite ironical that with our technologically advanced environment, the 'e-lifestyle' that IT makes possible, with every kind of gadget which is supposed to save us much time and labour, and free us to pursue the more important things in life, we seem to be working even harder and having less time than we had before! Have you wondered why this is so? The reason is simple. It is because Technology has heightened everyone's expectations. The increased speed and efficiency that technology brings have made it possible to accomplish so much more than ever before. But this has the effect now of fostering a desire to take on more responsibilities and activities. Through the use of automation and information technology, our limits have been greatly extended. Things that could not be done before, can now be done. And since they can be done, the thinking is: They must be done! And so most professionals, especially in service industries, are expected to work long hours, meet shorter deadlines, do overtime work, frequently work on weekends and take work to do at home and during vacation in an effort to meet their clients' demands and keep up with competitors! Let us be warned that if we keep on bearing such a heavy workload and we push ourselves to the limit, we are going to wear ourselves out and suffer from 'burnout.' This was the warning that Jethro gave to Moses when he was faced with the great task of meeting all the needs of the Israelites in the wilderness. Exodus 18:17,18 'And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.' This led to the appointment of new leaders to help Moses to bear his heavy responsibilities. Dearly beloved, are you facing the same situation as Moses - wearing yourself away by bearing burdens that are too heavy for you to bear? 

I think that many of us may have to admit that we are bearing more than we can handle. We are just too busy doing too many things (This is given a grand name, 'multi-tasking'). If you are too busy, perhaps it is time for you to just pause for a while, and make an honest evaluation of your life. Perhaps you need to be more realistic about how much you can really bear, and you need to cut down your workload to a reasonable, manageable level. Don't try do everything by yourself, but delegate your tasks, wherever possible. And make the right choices - sometimes you just have to say 'No!'

And the most important thing is that you should always remain focused on Christ in everything that you do. Let us be like the apostle Paul: He was a 'one thing' person who said, 'Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.' (Philippians 3:13,14) We notice that Paul said 'this one thing I do' not these 10 things I do. When you are focused on one main thing in life, you are not as likely to end up worried and troubled all the time about too many things. 

Now, what we have just seen - a very fast-paced lifestyle and overwork - is one of the major causes of stress. And it is one that we can control to some extent. But there are other causes of stress that are sometimes beyond our control. For example, how do you handle the stress that is caused by: 

B. Failure and Disappointment? 

Have you ever been paralysed by a sense of failure and disappointment? Have you ever felt so frustrated, so helpless and hopeless, that it seems as if there is no way out? In an achievement-oriented environment like ours, it is not surprising that many should end up feeling like this. People always seem to be under pressure to accomplish things successfully, and to perform well. 

It seems that no matter where we go, we are tested, examined, judged, evaluated and graded, all according to our achievements. Hotels have their star rating, Schools have their point-system of rating, and even hawkers are graded with alphbet ratings! We are accepted if we have reached a certain level of achievement, but rejected, if we have not. That is the way in which the world sees our worth. 

Now, this poses a problem, because not everyone can reach those standards of achievement. Many who try to do so, will fail. And the sad thing is that there isn't usually much sympathy for those who fail. In the eyes of the world, those who fail to achieve cannot be of much worth. For this reason, failure is one of the greatest causes of stress. When one is unable to meet the deadlines, the expectations and standards we are expected to meet, one can easily be driven to the point of total despair. 

Dearly beloved, if you have experienced failure or disappointment, bear in mind that you are in good company, for even a great man of God like Moses experienced this. With the tremendous burden of taking care of the logistics of 2 million people in the wilderness, there were times when he felt really hopeless and helpless. These feelings became especially severe when the Israelites murmured and complained to him that they did not have enough food or water. We can see one instance of this in Numbers 11:13-15. Here Moses expressed his frustration before God, saying, 'Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat. I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.' 

The question we want to answer then is how should we deal with failure and disappointment? Here are some steps we can take: When such things happen to us, we must learn to accept the things we cannot change, and to act on those things that we can change. Be sure to learn from your failures and see them as opportunities to learn lessons that will help you later on. Failure is not always bad. They remind you that you are not omnipotent! Your failures teach you what your limitations are, and these are limitations that you must learn to accept. 

And failures can serve a good purpose when they cause you to look up to God for help and direction. When the apostle Paul was struck down by Christ on the road to Damascus, he must have been utterly shocked and humbled to learn that all the great achievements he took pride in as a Pharisee, were actually displeasing to God. He realized that he was not the successful Jew that he through he was all along, but a failure before God! But that sense of failure led to his full dependence on God for all the help and direction that he needed. 

When Joshua and the armies of Israel suffered a humiliating defeat at Ai (Joshua 7:2-9) he came before the Lord, and the Lord not only revealed to him to cause of the failure (Achan's sin) but He also provided Joshua with detailed instructions on how to conquer the city of Ai successfully. Joshua then led the Israelites to deal with the sin, and and also to a resounding victory not only over the city of Ai, but also over the neighbouring city of Bethel! So let us now be discouraged when we fail, but use it to learn from God. 

We have already considered two causes of stress: Firstly a Fast-paced, Overworked Lifestyle, and secondly Failure and Disappointment. Now we come to the third source of stress, which is: 

C. Fear of Disaster and Death 

The fear of disaster and death produce what is called the classic 'fight or flight' response of stress. Fear is one of the most powerful forces that works in the hearts of men. It makes people do things they would not normally do. It brings out the worst responses in people, causing them to resort to lying, stealing, deceiving and cheating in order to escape disaster and death. 

When David was being pursued by King Saul who was out to kill him, he did some things out of fear which he should not have done. He lied to the priests at Nob that he was on King Saul's business, and asked them to provide him with food and with a sword (1 Samuel 21:1-10). The priests complied with the request in good faith, but were later slaughtered by Saul for helping David. David then went over to join the Philistines who were the enemies of Israel while at the same time trying to maintain his ties with the people of Israel. This disastrous union led to more lies and deception by him. What made David resort to all these unethical practices? It was his great fear of being overtaken and killed by King Saul! 

How do you think David should have handled the stressful life-threatening situations that he was in? He should have overcome his fear by trusting fully in God to help him. Listen to what David himself wrote later on as he reflected on all the fears that he had. In Psalm 56 he said, 'What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.' And we too need to learn how to do this. 

When you find your life being threatened with loss or illness or even death, you can overcome your fears, by trusting that the Lord is with you. It does make a great difference to know who is with you as you go through any painful or stressful experience. That thought alone can remove fear from your life.

Jesus said in Jn 14:27, 'Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,' He also said in Matthew 28:20 'lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.' and also said in Heb 13:5 'I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.' Paul the apostle testified in Rom 8:38-39 that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Dear friends, in the light of all these wonderful promises from God, what should your response be when you are faced with fear? Simply trust in what God has said, and then act upon it. Are you fearful or worried about how the present recession or increase in GST is going to affect you and your loved ones? Are you worried about how your business will perform in the midst of the present sharp global competition, where major companies pull out of Singapore to shift to cheaper places? 

If you are worried then you must trust in the Lord for help, and express your trust in Him in prayer. If you are the kind of person who has the habit of worrying a lot, you should develop the habit of praying and committing all your cares to the Lord. For the rest of this message we will focus on a wonderful passage of Scripture found in Philippians 4:6,7 'Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.'

Let us look at the various terms mentioned in v.6. The words 'be careful for nothing' really means 'do not worry about anything.' When you feel like worrying, remind yourself to pray. And as you pray, your worrying will gradually give way to a wonderful sense of serene calmness and peace. I have personally seen tearful emotional Christians transformed by this peace that passes all understanding! This is an inward peace that comes from God, a wonderful peace that passes all understanding. There is nothing in this world that can bring such perfect calmness and peace to the anxious or worried Christian than to look to the Lord in prayer. Books on Stress Management will tell you to deal with the anxiety and stress of modern living by using de-stressing techniques such as deep breathing and stretching exercises. Some will tell you about autogenics, visualization, biofeedback, and progressive muscular relaxation. Doctors may prescribe tranquilisers, psychotherapy or group therapy. But as the hymnwriter Joseph Scriven wrote: 

'Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear. 
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.'

Returning to our text in Philippians, we go on to the next two verses where Paul continues to prescribe practical helps to maintain the sense of peace and tranquillity in our hearts. Very often, the problem of stress and anxiety is started by a thinking process: dwelling on the most negative and unrealistic thoughts. When changes and problems come our way, we tend to think about all the worst possible hings that can happen to us, and if we are not careful this can easily send us into a deep spiral of depression. In order to prevent this from happening, we should apply what the apostle Paul wrote in v.8 of our text:

'Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.' Some have called this short passage, 'the charter for Christian thought.' If we discipline our thought life to follow these guidelines, we will find it much easier to survive all the storms of stress. Now, the thing that we should note that all these terms in v.8 can easily be used to describe the things that are related to the Lord Jesus Christ. All that is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, attractive, virtuous and praiseworthy can easily be found in His Teaching, His Kingdom, His work in our lives and even Christ Himself. And so we should make it a point to think about these things. Don�t let your mind dwell on negative things, or on things that are sinful and worldly. 

But let your mind dwell instead on Jesus Christ, and on things that are related to Him as often as you can. Jesus Christ is the ultimate source of a Christian's joy, peace, contentment, and sufficiency. Meditate on Him often and talk to Him often. In v.13 of this chapter we are told that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. It is through Him that we can cope with every kind of situation in life, whether poverty or prosperity. All this is true only if you already have Christ in your life. If you do not have Christ in your life yet, please come to Him today! No one else can comfort, bless, strengthen and keep you the way that He alone can. And the wonderful part is that He is always there! 

Through some unfortunate events you may lose everything you have - your possessions, your job, your home, your health and even your life, but you can't lose Christ! When you have Christ in your life, you have the most valuable treasure in life. Only He can satisfy the deepest needs of your soul as nothing else ever can. And thus you should seek to find your full satisfaction and contentment in Christ. This will then affect your attitude to the things of this world - Everything else will pale in comparison and diminish in value when you have Christ in your life!

The bottom line of this message is this: Overcoming Stress is a matter of the mind and the heart, in relation fo Jesus Christ. With our minds we should focus our thoughts on Jesus Christ and dwell only on the things that are good and encouraging from Him. With our hearts we must trust in Him to be with us and to help us. Such trust is expressed through prayer. May the Lord enable you to treasure up these things in your hearts, so that you may live victoriously in Him!

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25