“The seed cast in the weeds represents the ones who hear the kingdom news but are overwhelmed with worries about all the things they have to do and all the things they want to get. The stress strangles what they heard, and nothing comes of it.”
Mark 4:18 MSG
Stress strangles. It can strangle our faith, our dreams, our relationships, and our confidence. Today 44% of Americans feel more stressed out than they were 5 years ago, 3 out of 4 doctors visits are for stress-related ailments, and studies say that stress is the basic cause of 60% of all human illness and disease.
My husband and I have two kids, one of whom has special needs. On any given morning we have to make sure the routines for each kid are consistent, while balancing therapy appointments, homework, carpool rotations and getting ready for our own jobs. Needless to say, we definitely understand stress. But we’ve found that though we may experience a lot of stress in our lives, with God’s help we do not need to be consumed by it. What I’ve found is that the strength to conquer my stress – rather than being controlled by it – is determined by the depth I have in my relationship with God.
The following scriptures provide us with a pathway to developing such a depth in our relationship with God in the face of our daily stressors. Here are 5 keys to building a stronger relationship with God to discover peace in a stress-filled world.
Be Still, Not Stressed
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Psalm 46:10 NIV
How often do you take time to be still and listen to God, reflecting on what God is saying to you in the midst of the noise around you? Being still for me means to be without any distraction, disruption, or deadline to get to. It means giving my complete attention and uninterrupted focus to God.
Mornings can be the most stress-filled times for me as my husband and I get our kids ready for the day, but it helps me to set aside a specific time and location I look forward to going to every morning where I can pray without distraction. I believe we all have the opportunity to start every day without distraction, but we have to choose to do so. When we take ourselves away from distractions and disruptions we will have the clarity of mind to reflect on what God wants, consider how he feels about us, and look at what thoughts and feelings are in our hearts. Taking time to become aware of these things is how we develop depth with God – where God no longer becomes just someone we acknowledge from a distance, but one we become attached to and interact with personally as we share with him what’s on our minds.
What practical decision can you make to start your day being “still” with God instead of being stressed?
2. Use Stress to Discover Joy
As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in your commands.
Psalm 119:143 NLT
How can stress help us discover joy? This scripture shows us that pressure and stress are meant to drive us to the word of God. When we read God’s word in the Bible we will get God’s perspective on what we are going through, and God’s perspective leads to experiencing greater joy even if our circumstances don’t change. God helps us see the bigger purpose in what we are going through and he promises over and over again that he will take care of us and give us victories (Matthew 6:33, Psalm 18:29). Reading the Bible builds our faith helps and us see that our obstacles and setbacks aren’t the end.
Keeping God’s perspective, priorities and purpose clearly in our minds throughout the day will prevent us from being blinded by our immediate circumstances. How often do you overcome your stress by studying more scriptures? In the midst of pressure, we need scriptures to help us gain perspective beyond our immediate circumstances.
What I’ve found personally helpful is finding one scripture to hold on to that gives me perspective in approaching my day, and sharing the scripture with my friends and husband in conversations and texts throughout the day.
There are countless scriptures I find invaluable in reminding and helping me find joy in the midst of stress, such as:
- Psalm 16:11 – You will teach me the right way to live. Just being with you will bring complete happiness. Being at your right side will make me happy forever.
- Psalm 28:7 (ERV) – The Lord is my strength and shield. I trusted him with all my heart. He helped me, so I am happy. I sing songs of praise to him.
- Proverbs 17:1 (Voice) – Better to gnaw on a bit of dry crust in peace than to feast in a house full of stress.
What scriptures can you memorize in order to get a greater perspective in the midst of stress?
3. Choose What’s Essential, not Urgent
As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. “Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.”
41-42 The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”
Luke 10:38-42 MSG
For me, multi-tasking is rarely effective, and always stress-inducing. For instance, I cannot effectively read the Bible and get something personally from the scriptures to address my own spiritual condition while thinking about my to-do list and my kids. Depth in our relationship with God begins when we simplify our focus and align our priorities with what matters most to God. What is the most essential priority in your life, according to Jesus in the above scripture? Do you value getting stuff done and making people happy over listening to God?
In the above scripture, Jesus tells Martha that Mary chose what was essential (listening to Jesus) over what was urgent (preparing for a big dinner). How much effort do you make to first understand what’s most important to God rather than what’s most urgent to yourself? Do you think God would say you prioritize listening to him over everything else? When I choose to listen to God, I experience greater peace and clarity of direction. Choose to concern yourself most with being close to God over everything else that feels urgent and you’ll find your stress immediately calming down.
4. Focus on Who, Not What
31 So do not consume yourselves with questions: What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? 32 Outsiders make themselves frantic over such questions; they don’t realize that your heavenly Father knows exactly what you need. 33 Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too.
Matthew 6:31-3 Voice
Too often we are driven by “what” rather than “who.” This scripture teaches that a frantic, stressed pace in life is driven by “what”: what we have to do, what will happen to us, what can go wrong, and what we want – rather than who we seek first and who we’re most attached to. It’s often easier for me to be driven by all the “what’s” regarding my kids – what they need for school, what their next activity is, and what homework they have – and to forget that reacting to all these “what’s” is futile if I’m not staying engaged with their hearts. Being focused on “who” means prioritizing relationships and those who matter most to God: who am I influencing, who am I affecting spiritually, who will benefit from the choices I make, who matters most in the decisions I’m making, and who has God put in my life to inspire and impact?
This scripture also promises that when we pursue God and prioritize building his kingdom first, God will fulfill all our needs — all our “what’s.” How much do you trust God will take care of all you need? Decide to focus more on who you need to connect with than what you need to do this week and notice what happens to your stress.
5. Turn Pressure Into Prayer
6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Philippians 4:6-7 MSG
According to this scripture, when we feel worried we have two choices: pray or panic. The Bible says that choosing to pray will lead to greater peace that comes from God settling us down, while choosing to panic will allow worry to be at the center of our lives.
Feeling pressure usually makes me think I don’t have time to talk or connect with God or friends. However, I’ve learned that pressure is actually an indicator for me to know I need to let down with God and friends most. The more I talk, the more I build trust and intimacy in my relationships with God and others and the more relieved I feel as I don’t have to carry my burdens alone. From this perspective pressure can actually be a good thing – it can be an opportunity to be more vulnerable and connected with God and people around me.
By taking these scriptures to heart and applying these principles daily, we can develop a stronger relationship with God that produces internal strength and peace in a stress-filled world.