Two Perspectives on Stress
by Charles R. Swindoll
There is an old Greek motto that says:
YOU WILL BREAK THE BOW
IF YOU KEEP IT ALWAYS BENT.
Wise words, but how do we loosen the strings? Even when we make every effort to slow down and relax, others place high demands on us. Their "shoulds" and "oughts" and "musts" hit us like strong gusts of wind, driving our lives onto shallow reefs of frustration—and even despair.
A Biblical Stress Case
To the surprise of some, the Bible often speaks directly to key issues. Let's step into the time tunnel to find a perfect example of stress. It is the classic story of Mary and Martha, two unmarried sisters whom Jesus visited in their home at Bethany. The account is recorded in the last several verses in Luke 10:
Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord's feet, listening to His word. (vv. 38–39)
A lovely scene. Jesus dropped by, probably unexpectedly, for a brief visit. Mary, the younger, realized how privileged they were, so she decided to sit down and really make the most of it. She sat at His feet, drinking in His every word.
But Martha? Well, she was neither sitting down nor drinking in. She was under a great deal of stress.
But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me." (v. 40)
We read that Martha was "distracted." Instead of relaxing and enjoying the Lord's presence, Martha was in a mild frenzy over all her preparations. The lady was trying to fix a nice meal, get everything done on time, arrange the table, and be a good hostess . . . while her sister sat in the room and never offered to help. As her stress reached the point of fracture, Martha reacted strongly.
She assumed the Lord Jesus didn't care—"Lord, do You not care . . . ?"
She blamed Mary for being irresponsible—"My sister has left me to do all the serving
alone . . ."
She tried to work things out her way—"Tell her to help me."
It was okay for Martha to want to serve Jesus something to eat. Commendable, in fact. She was like that: active, energetic, diligent, thoughtful, and determined. All fine qualities. But her problem grew out of hand when she attempted to do more than was necessary. She shot a critical glance at her sister because Mary chose not to spend her time in the same way, hustling, bustling, and fussing.
It's interesting that anxiety-prone people frequently blame others for their plight. Rather than realizing their stress is self-appointed, they often criticize others for causing it.
Does that sound unfair? Read on:
But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (vv. 41–42)
Can't you just hear Jesus? "Marthaaaa . . . Martha!" Then He quickly analyzed her stress in two words—"worried" and "bothered." The term Dr. Luke uses for "worried" is one that means "to be pulled in different directions." The root verb in Greek means "to divide into parts." Martha was being pulled apart from within. Her stress was caused by this internal tearing. A classic case study of a stress fracture! The word bothered suggests originally the idea of "noise, tumult, trouble." She was agitated, ripped apart in turmoil.
For Martha, who allowed herself to get caught in the sticky web of stress, the important got replaced by the urgent.
The Perspective of Jesus
The night Jesus was placed under arrest and later subjected to a series of mock trials which ultimately led to His crucifixion, He had been praying to the Father. In that prayer He said: "I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do" (John 17:4).
When you think that through, you will be surprised. He said that He had completed the job. Mission accomplished. Yet there were still regions which had not heard. There were still hundreds of blind and sick and lame people as yet untouched and unchanged. There were still millions of slaves in the Roman Empire being mistreated. Yet He said He had accomplished what the Father had for Him to do. Even though there were still numerous needs, our Savior was free of stress. Unlike His nervous friend Martha, Jesus maintained the right perspective.
Which approach do you tend to take? If you tend to get caught up in the hurry-worry sindrome, there is a better way to live. In Part Two, we'll talk about overcoming worry.
This devotional is part one of 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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