Last Thursday we looked at our second in a series of 3 seminars on issues relating to work. Posts on the first session ‘work & ambition’ can be viewed here and here. Here is the first of three posts on coping with stress and anxiety.
Work & anxiety
What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labours under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 2:23
1. Stress can be defined as ‘the reaction of mind and body to increased pressure’ – Jago Wynne
2. Although it can have positive effects it is usually a negative response to pressure. It can lead to anxiety, depression, physical illness and ultimately to a feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to cope with work.
3. Stress affects pretty much everyone at some time and is now the most common cause of sick leave from work.
A. Stress and work – a brief Bible overview
1. Stress has its origins in God…
We only experience stress because we live in a world subjected to frustration by God (Romans 8:20-23). That’s why your computer crashes!
We experience stress because we now live in a world in which work in particular is affected. In Genesis 3 we remember that work now has a downside ‘Cursed is the ground because of you.’
2. Stress is exacerbated by our sin and the sin of others
The sin of others impacts our lives. Pride, selfish ambition become evident in work-place bullying, cultures of overwork, etc.
Our sin, particularly when we make work or what we derive from work our idol, means we choose to work in unhealthy, unsustainable ways and we put unfair and unrealistic pressures on ourselves.
3. Stress finds its resolution in Christ
In our culture we are given all sorts of remedies for stress. But if ’Stress originates in God’s righteous punishment, and only he is able to deal with it.’ Rodney Green
It makes sense that we should therefore look to him rather than to coping mechanisms to relieve feelings of stress. Restored to a right relationship with God through Christ we can now find rest in Christ. ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28 .
4. Stress can have a God-given purpose in our lives
As Christians much stress is as a result of circumstances thrust upon us. How can we trust a sovereign God in times of stress and work?
Stress is not sinful in and of itself. It can infact be a godly reaction to circumstance. A sense of feeling overwhelmed becuase of trial, temptation, suffering, etc., is in no way wrong.
Reading Paul’s own account of stress directly as a result of the work that God gave him to do in 2 corinthians 1:8-11 and we find him describing himself as ‘under great pressure’ and ‘beyond our ability to endure’ so much so that he ‘despaired even of life’. Paul was certainly no super-hero immune from daily pressures. But through a time of trial he could testify that God had allowed him to endure so that he ‘might rely on God.’
Stress as an experience of suffering in a fallen world is common to all and God allows his people to suffer times of pressure so that we might not rely on techniques, breathing exercises, stress balls, etc. but on God himself.
The greatest encouragement for us when we go through difficult times at work is that it is Jesus himself who knew what it was to be stressed because of the work that God gave him to do (John 17:3). In the garden of Gethsemane we remember his experience of anguish (from the Greek word agonia) and we remember his response – prayer. He took his stress to God and God met him in his need. We are told that he experienced God’s grace through the ministry of an angel.
5. Stress will finally be gone!
Romans 5:2b-4 shows how suffering has the purpose of creating hope in our hearts. It works out character, perseverance and finally hope for the future. Whatever our struggles in a world of stress we do know that one day they will be gone and in the new creation work will be free from the effects of sin and judgement.
Next post: Worry, stress & work. What is the difference between stress and anxiety?
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