Recently, I've been having lots of conversations about stress. It feels like these days, the whole world is under stress. Some are stressed because of COVID and school closures. Others feel stress due to loss, marital conflict, or unemployment. And what about you? Are you under stress today? Have you found yourself crying more easily, snapping quickly, and trying to escape your negative emotions? Do you feel excessive tension in your neck and back, even right now? Do you find yourself yelling at your children, your husband, or your friends over seemingly minor conflicts? Do you feel burnt out at your job? Do you want relief in your relationships–to somehow escape from this "new normal"? Do you feel a pressure rising within you, like a sizzling, steaming crock-pot ready to explode?
And what should we do when we're stressed anyway? Should we cancel our plans and open that pint of ice cream? Do we turn on the TV and numb out the world? Society encourages self-care or cutting out the toxic people in our lives. But a worldwide pandemic has thrown a kink into some of our normal go-to's. We can't as easily have our nails done, get massages, or go to the movies. And we can't escape the people we live with, especially if we're all working or doing school from home.
In light of this conversation about stress, the following words from Paul are remarkable. Paul was no stranger to stress. His physical body was strained by shipwrecks, stoning, and beatings. He experienced betrayal, mocking, slander, and false accusations. Yet to the very people who betrayed him in the past, he says:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:7-11 ESV)
In this life, we will be afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. We may experience a season of extraordinary grief or a time of tremendous sacrifice for the sake of another. We may even be following Jesus, taking up our cross, and following Him but wondering where He is and why this is all so hard.
Faithfulness is not the absence of trouble; it is clinging to God through that trouble. For as Paul says, even when we experience pressure from all sides, afflicted in every way, we are never alone. Even in burnout, betrayal, and exhaustion, we are never forsaken. Christ, the suffering servant, knows our pain intimately and carries our burdens. He took on the weight of our sins, every single one of them, and died for them. And not only this, but He rose from the grave and promises us new, eternal, and abundant life with Him.
Christ, who suffered more than we ever could, knows our troubles. He is with us through them. During His life on earth, Jesus experienced pressure, affliction, and betrayal. In His stress, He turned to the Father, pouring out tears like blood. For indeed, faithfulness is not an absence of trouble but an active dependence on the Father in the midst of it.
So in light of this, we pray. Daily, we continually–unceasingly–pour out our hearts to God. We tell Him everything in prayer, opening up the steamer on the proverbial crock-pot and asking for His help. We maintain the common graces of calendar planning, exercise, healthy eating, church community, and thankfulness. And we press in to remember–remembering that we're not alone, remembering what Christ has done, remembering that God knows our pain and that He carries us.
In our suffering, we have the opportunity to point to the sufficiency of Christ. Even when everything within us tells us to protect ourselves and flee, we can remain steadfast, proclaiming, "Christ is enough, and He is coming again! This is not the end of my story!" When in hope we identify with Christ's suffering, we display His power that is so mightily at work within us. God has chosen to give us these weak and limited bodies so that we can show God's power through our weaknesses. Each of us has limited time, resources, energy, and opportunities, and whenever these are threatened or stretched beyond our limits, we will feel pressure. But as Hudson Taylor says, "It does not matter how great the pressure is. What really matters is where the pressure lies–whether it comes between you and God, or whether it presses you nearer His heart."
In our stress and tension of the season, let us press nearer into the loving arms of our Savior. He offers to carry our burdens and give us rest (Matthew 11:28-30). He offers a supernatural peace–one that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7). He reminds us that even youths become weary and young men fall, but those who trust the Lord will renew their strength (Isaiah 40:30-31). We can cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).