Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Stress, Suffering, and Religion

Stress is a very nasty thing - a notion I am sure we are all well aware. Medical findings consistently show that stress effects not only how we feel but it also affects us physically, psychologically (including chemical shifts in the brain), and how we relate with others. There are various resources for how we handle stress - some that we feel may work for us. But, how do our vices change our outlook? Do the things we do to combat stress actually help us in the long run or are they just temporary solutions for a here and now change in feeling with a negative effect on future occurrences of stress? Dr. Archibald Hart, in his book The Anxiety Cure, would argue that we heighten our stress responses with more cortisol and adrenaline that then feed into more stress and anxiety. As he continues his discussion on stress he goes on to talk of the physiological aspect of stress and how it is important to make good practices a habit to build up more "happy" messengers in the brain to combat the effects of adrenaline and cortisol.

 Research shows that faith in a religion can help overcome and prevent stress. But, what practices does religion offer to prevent and reduce stress? Simply put: Spiritual Discipline type activities like creating a sense of quiet and peace, giving up control, increasing meaning, enhancing a sense of connectedness, maintaining a sense of purpose, and gaining perspective. What do these activities look like from a Christian perspective? Creating a sense of quiet and peace can be done through meditating on God and scripture. Think of his word and promises to us (his followers) and take meditation back from the connotations that it is an activity of Eastern religions. Giving up control involves just that - letting God do the work he intends to do with your life. So often Christians can get caught up in a fight over desires that they miss the point of God being in control. This can create undue pressures and a feeling of needing to do it all and do it all quickly. Increasing meaning involves evaluating the situations being faced and reviewing them to see how they can be used for a benefit. A good mantra here would be to remember that all things work for God - will these things make a positive or negative impact on you through your perceptions? Enhancing a sense of connectedness is very important for the Christian faith. Larry Crabb, in his book Connecting, speaks of the importance of investing in others and seeing the vision of God in them. Connecting with others to bring the Holy Spirit in you to the Holy Spirit in others. The support that can result from true connection is boundless in its power. Maintaining a sense of purpose involves doing the things that please God. Do not ask how does this benefit me or get me ahead, instead ask how does this glorify God and further the kingdom. Finally, gaining perspective, when combined with the other activities, helps us see that God is ultimately in control. We are in the world, but not of the world. Our problems are temporary and relatively small compared to the vast power of a faithful God.

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:7-10

We cannot combat stress, anxiety, or suffering on our own and God never implied that we had to. He is there for us, to deliver us, and to be a lighthouse on the horizon as well as a guide on board with us to steer us to safety, to supply us with his grace, and to deliver us from our sin corrupted selves.


  1. Jason,
    I agree stress is a nasty thing and I have heard that stress is a silent killer. Now with that being true, it is important that as believers we allow faith in religion to help us overcome and/or prevent stress or stressful situations. I agree that when we create a sense of quiet and peace around us it can bring us to a place of less stress in our lives. I agree that when we meditate and think on God's word our level of stress diminishes. It is important that we understand that our walk before the Lord is not about us, but it is about those people that we will meet along this journey. It is important also that we have an inner connectedness with God so we can effectively reach people no matter where they are. We must cast all of our cares on the Lord, because we know that he cares for us Phil 4:5-7. I certainly agree that we cannot combat stress, anxiety, or suffering on our own; however, individuals must understand that God is always with us and that he will never put no more on us than we can bear. Enjoyed reading your post!

  2. Jason, I also agree that this was a really good post. In today's society, I think we're all drawn to stress like magnets. Even though God does not intend for us to live lives chalked full of stress, oftentimes I don't think we can help ourselves. We need to be connecting on a deeper level with others, but also taking time for ourselves that we can be rejuvenated by taking time to be quiet with the various activities you've mentioned. And as you mentioned, nothing that we encounter in life is something that God is not more than capable of walking through with us. Jesus himself was a perfect example of giving our concerns to God when he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32:42). We are not meant to be "superhuman", able to take on any and everything all on our own. Instead, just as Christ demonstrated, it is in our best interest to turn our burdens over to God rather than keeping them to ourselves.

  3. Wow! What an awesome encouragement during finals week. It is sometimes difficult to remember Christ during times of busyness. There are times I let my flesh and Satan win as I allow stress to overcome me. However,it is when I am about to break when I cry out to Christ handing over my problems and concerns. Through my times of stress I am reminded that I can not walk this life alone. I need Jesus Christ in the good times but also the times of stress and difficulties. This post was a wonderful reminder of this. Thank you!


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