I have spent recent weeks in an intermittent stressed out condition. Stress is not uncommon for me, but it has grown steadily since having triplets, and there are days when it becomes pretty acute.
This morning I heard a message by an area pastor about stress that convicted me about how stress can actually just reflect my lack of faith. His premise was that some stress is good, the stress that moves you from laziness to action, but stress can turn on you when it grows beyond healthy boundaries. Then he shared this insight – “sometimes stress is actually based in our pride.” I have to tell you, I’d never linked them before though I certainly know that I struggle from both pride and stress. How are they linked? Stress means you are trying to do everything on your own and shouting that you have control of your situation and circumstances. We don’t. Even I realize that. If we would just humble ourselves, recognize that we have LIMITS and that God does not, then much of the stress we create disappears.
The pastor used a fascinating passage of scripture I’d never really paid much attention to in the Old Testament before. It sits right in the middle of Exodus 13:
The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.” Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain —and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”
The pastor broke down what Moses was saying to his father-in-law, Jethro. He was saying: Hey, I am stressed out! I’m stressed out because of all this responsibility. People are coming to me and asking me to do this (peer pressure), everyone comes to ME (I’m important), I make the decisions (I’m powerful), and I teach them God’s law (I’m spiritual). I love what the pastor said about those cumulative statements that Moses made. He said, “What’s gonna happen when you’re important, you’re powerful, and you’re spiritual? You’re gonna freak out, that’s what is going to happen.”
Truer words were never spoken. Somehow, even in our attempts to be “spiritual” or “faithful,” we get a big F when graded against God’s gold standard is for us. I am so guilty of this. Heck, I’ve done it this week. I’m headed out to a speakers and writers conference next week and am going to present some work that might kick off a women’s ministry. It is something I believe God is calling me to do, but then I take His plan into my human hands and make a stressed out mess of it. I have lists and action items and ulcers and sleeplessness – and over His calling? I feel pretty confident that is not what He planned.
The good news is that Moses had Jethro. Jethro gave him Godly counsel. He provided Moses with some steps to take, like delegating certain responsibilities, to help him get out of this condition. He was also quick to say, in response to Moses’ stressed out panic rant, “THIS IS NOT GOOD!” Are you listening to those wise people that are in your life saying, “What you are doing is not good”? I have those people. I ignore them a lot. I’m going to start listening. (My mom is somewhere secretly smiling.) I’m also going to stop trying to warp God’s plan with my own human interference. I’m happy to act, under His direction, but His steps for me will not result in an inability to sleep or eat. In fact, I’m pretty sure it will result in deeper rest that I’ve experienced all month.
I Peter 5 – Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.