Shifting the Stress by Prayer and Rest
by Charles R. Swindoll
If you tend to get caught up in the hurry-worry sindrome, there is a better way to live. In Parts One through Three we talked about some strategies for alleviating stress. Prayer is another relief—an essential therapy during stressful times. I'm reminded of David on one occasion. He and a group of his men returned home after a weary three-day journey. They found that while they were away, an enemy tribe had made a raid on their homes and had burned them to the ground. On top of that, their wives and children had been taken captive by the enemy. It wasn't very long before their morale hit bottom.
Then David and the people who were with him lifted their voices and wept until there was no strength in them to weep. (1 Samuel 30:4)
What stress! To make matters even worse, mutiny broke out. The men spoke of stoning David because they were embittered against him. They indirectly blamed their leader for what was happening (that still goes on, by the way). We read of David's response:
Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God. (v. 6)
In the depth of discouragement and the height of stress, "David strengthened himself in the LORD his God." He got alone and prayed. He shifted the pressure from his own shoulders to Jehovah's. He knew that the stress was too big a load for him to carry alone, so he "trusted in the Lord with all his heart," and God immediately began to push away the obstacles (see Proverbs 3:5–6).
Entering Into Rest
We've discussed overcoming worry by leaning totally and consistently on the Lord, refusing to rely on our own strength and ingenuity. We've talked about delegating your work loads that produce anxiety. We've also considered the value of prayer; simply calling on God for relief and wisdom. These are essential techniques in keeping ourselves out from under the weight of anxiety.
But there is one more scriptural insight on stress that isn't mentioned very often. It has to do with cultivating a lifestyle characterized by rest—a mental and emotional rest, virtually free of the tyranny of the urgent.
The biblical basis of this inner rest is found in Hebrews 4, a chapter that has its roots in the Old Testament:
Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest . . . (vv. 1–3a)
The Rest Available Today
The Hebrew people, to whom these words were originally addressed, understood that the writer had their forefathers in mind . . . those people who came out of Egyptian captivity under Moses' leadership. And what does he say of them? Look back at the verses you just read. The truth they heard "did not profit them." Why? Because it remained merely truth—sterile, theological, unrelated information—unmixed with their faith. They heard about God's provisions, they heard about how He would give them the Promised Land, but they didn't take all of it personally. His truth and their faith remained two distinct and separate factors. They failed to enter into the rest He made available. They continued to operate on the basis of sight, which led them into fear, then stress, and finally open unbelief.
Does that mean there's no more "rest" available for God's people today? Quite the contrary.
There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:9–11)
God continues to hold out to all His children a peaceful, worry-free lifestyle that we can enter into on a moment-by-moment basis.
Will it happen automatically? No, we are instructed to "be diligent to enter that rest." What does that mean? Simply this:
- We acknowledge that our God is in full control of our lives. No accidents or surprises occur. He calls the shots.
- We take Him at His Word. We believe His promises (the Bible is full of them—by the hundreds).
- We claim them by faith. We apply them to our particular circumstance almost as if God were speaking directly to us this very moment.
- We rest in Him. We consciously refuse to worry or fret over how He is going to work things out. By entering into that rest, we cease from our own works just as deliberately as our Creator-God ceased from His works on the seventh day of the creative week.
- We continue in that calm frame of mind until God sovereignly intervenes and solves the problem. We keep trusting in Him with all our hearts. And every time an alien thought of anxiety flits through our minds, we turn it over to the Lord in prayer.
This is perhaps the best way to explain one of my favorite verses, Psalm 46:10:
Cease striving and know that I am God.
The marginal reference suggests the alternative rendering, "Let go, relax." What a beautiful, refreshing thing it would be to see most of God's people relaxing in Him! Really, thoroughly at peace as we lean on Him.
When are you going to do this, my friend?
That's the key question.
This devotional is part four in a four-part series.
Excerpted from Avoiding Stress Fractures, Copyright © 1990, 1995 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.
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Used with permission. All rights reserved.