One medical study after another has documented the negative health effects of chronic stress. Unrelenting stress figures enormously in the development and progression of heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, depression, mental illness, and a host of other maladies. Science and modern medicine have devised many ways to treat the symptoms of these ailments, which are helpful but often have negative side effects of their own. Drugs, surgery, and therapy can only do so much. For certain, science and medicine cannot deal with the source of debilitating stressors in our lives. The root causes of negative stress can and must be dealt with on the spiritual level in order to effect positive change in our lives, as well as in the world around us. The Bible has much to say in regard to handling stress, anxiety, and fear in our lives and the positive effects from gaining control over them.
External Threats Do Internal Damage
The ill effects of stress come from within us 99.9% of the time. Most of us are not living in a war zone, or in the midst of famine, nor have we survived a recent massive earthquake or tsunami. Because of modern technology and telecommunication, we can experience one or more such disasters every day in our minds. Visual images and descriptions of human suffering impact our emotions, causing anxiety within us. Unfortunately, there are many profiteers who seek to capitalize on our fears, telling us to protect ourselves from disaster by purchasing gold, hoarding food, buying guns, or their latest book or DVD. The combination of imagery and hype brings the fear of disaster into our homes and into our minds. Then we look over at the pile of bills on the table, the dunning notices, perhaps the warning notice of foreclosure, and the stress inside grows to overwhelming proportions. Body, mind, and the human spirit react with predictable consequences. Heart attack, stroke, heart failure, cancer, depression, and many other ailments have been linked to stress, anxiety, and fear. Medical science may have only recently linked disease to stress and anxiety, but the Bible made the connections for us long ago.
The Bible’s Answers to Stress, Anxiety, and Fear
I will paraphrase Proverbs 23:7 to establish a truism: “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.” Though this verse is speaking most directly to the sin of selfishness, there is a broader truth in it. The way we think has consequences. It is now estimated that 75 to 90% of visits to primary health care physicians are related to the effects of stress. Stress itself is the way we react to or think about external factors. In other words, stress is our reaction to the world around us; therefore it must be controlled from within.
Spiritual Guidance Can Neutralize Anxiety, Stress, and Fear
God’s word, the Bible, provides powerful help and insight on how to neutralize anxiety, stress, and fear. Christ put these into perspective for us in Matthew 6:25-34: “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they never toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that Solomon and all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothed the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ Or ‘What shall we drink?’ Or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first thekingdomofGodand His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
We can draw a number of very important lessons from these words of Christ:
- Worrying doesn’t help anything. By “stature” Christ means two things. Worry will not change our physical circumstance, nor will it help us mature and grow as Christians. That is why He said, “O you of little faith.”
- Worry damages faith.
- Christ’s main point is that it is better to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness rather than to worry.
Seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness builds faith and good character, which really do increase Christian stature. Our companion article in this issue will help us see God’s righteousness, which automatically will have positive effects in our lives, spiritually, physically, and emotionally. There are both spiritual and physical benefits to being peaceful, calm, and stable inside our minds and hearts. Chronic stress, anxiety, fear, and worry wreak havoc on our faith in God and on our health. The simplest solution in trying to stay calm in a turbulent world is to seek God’s will regarding His kingdom and His way of life. Nothing is more settling and calming than to be in harmony with God.
The Love Factor
Seeking God’s righteousness draws us closer to Him, resulting in harmony. Stress, anxiety, worry, and fear promote disharmony within. Love for God and fellow man is the end result of true righteousness. In John 14:15 Christ tells us how to initiate this process: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” ThekingdomofGodis governed on the basis of the Ten Commandments. If we love Christ, we should want to obey them. In John’s first epistle he explains a wonderful benefit of love in chapter 4:18-19: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.”
Therefore loving Christ by keeping His commandments neutralizes fear, worry, and anxiety, thus eliminating the torment within us that harms our faith. It is all linked together in marvelous ways that God has designed for us so that we may have peace and calm within.
The Health Benefits in God’s Way of Life
In Psalm 34:4 King David eloquently states, “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.” Deliverance from fear and the accompanying stress, worry, and anxiety has many healthful benefits. Many ailments can be connected to breaking God’s laws in some way or by letting the stresses of life get the better of us due to lack of faith. The following Scriptures make profound statements about health and God’s way of life.
Psalm 38:3-5: “There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your [God’s] anger, nor any health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness.”
God has set in motion a cause and effect relationship between sin and illness. This is why so often when Christ healed the sick He said, “Your sins are forgiven.” (See Matthew 9:1-8 and Mark 2:1-12 for examples.)
Modern science is beginning to realize the harmful effects of inflammation on the human body. Let’s continue in Psalm 38:6-8: “I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. For my loins are full of inflammation, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and severely broken; I groan because of the turmoil of my heart.”
Getting in concert with God’s will can help reduce inflammation, which can harm any part of the body including the heart. Psalm 40:11-12 makes a similar connection: “Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O Lord; let Your loving kindness and Your truth continually preserve me. For innumerable evils have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head; therefore my heart fails me.” Obviously ways of life contrary to God’s are very detrimental to our heart. Medical science has found direct relationships between heart damage and such behaviors as anger, hatred, smoking, drug abuse, and of course chronic fear, worry, and stress!
The good news is that God is always there to help if we are willing. Read the following Scriptures to get a perspective on God’s love and compassion toward us. Psalm 34:17-18: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.”
Psalm 4:6-8: “There are many who say, ‘Who will show us any good?’ Lord, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us. You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the season that their grain and wine increased. I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Without a doubt, a good night’s sleep is important for good health.
There are many more Scriptures that provide guidance for good health. Request the sermons “Beat Stress the Biblical Way” and “Our Reactions” for more solid biblical understanding on the subject. In the meantime, remember to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, love God, and love your fellow man, and you will be calmer, healthier, and more peaceful!