Everyone experiences stress. It is a normal part of life, the result of living in a fallen world under the effect of sin’s curse.
1 Everyone—both Christians and unbelievers—faces problems and hardships that simply occur in their lives. Rude drivers, illness, gossiping acquaintances, pressures on the job, and many other circumstances of life at times make it hard to be calm and self-controlled.
Even though some look for a faith that bypasses stress, stress is actually an unavoidable accompaniment of both spiritual growth and regression. Although faith enables us to deal with the pressures of stress, it doesn’t eliminate them.
When we hold ourselves accountable to God’s standards, we sometimes find ourselves with more awareness of stress than if we were not a child of God. As members of God’s family we are led by the Holy Spirit to acknowledge past sins and failures and come to terms with ways in which we have hurt one another and dishonored God. The sins of unbelievers have consequences, of course, but the sins themselves are less likely to be the cause of serious regret or sorrow. In the short term, life is simpler for people who aren’t aware of the depth of their depravity and in turn are able to rationalize their sins. (See the ATQ article Why Do Morally Unprincipled People Prosper?)2 Consider for instance a word picture, which at first does not seem to have anything to do with stress until we look at it more closely. In Ephesians 5:14 Apostle Paul refers to what may have been an early Christian hymn already in common use:
“Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
This quotation uses two striking images to describe the spiritual changes that occur in the transition from unbelief to faith in Christ. Unbelievers are like sleepers (“Wake up, O sleeper”) or the dead (“rise from the dead.”)
On waking, dreams and fantasies are quickly replaced with consciousness of a reality that is much more demanding. And rising from the dead? It is disturbing even to consider the kind of consciousness that might accompany the return of life to the decaying flesh of a corpse.
Just as warmth can’t dispel the numbness of frost-bitten hands without pain, Christians can’t expect spiritual growth without stress. Spiritual growth only occurs when we are ready to follow a Master who commands we radically reexamine the assumptions of our former life. Jesus said that all of his disciples must we willing to take up his cross and follow Him (Matthew 10:38), and Paul vividly described the reality of stress experienced in the course of Christian service:
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10 ).
“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).
So it isn’t abnormal for a Christian to feel stressed out. Far from it. But stress for Christians is accompanied with purpose and hope that reinforces and strengthens faith.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:1-5).
“For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:5-7).
- “To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat of it,” Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return’ ” (Genesis 3:17-19 NIV). Back To Article
- Although Christians have forgiveness for sin, genuine sorrow for personal sin and harm done to others is an unavoidable aspect of spiritual growth. Back To Article