When I talk about “choosing relaxation” over stress, I am not referring to an escapist mentality that refuses to confront real problems. Nor am I suggesting some superficial solutions that fail to deal with the root causes of stress. Instead, I am speaking of meeting the root causes of stress head-on and developing appropriate mental, emotional, and spiritual responses to those stresses. Relaxation is not as much an activity as it is an attitude. How can you develop an attitude of relaxation?
1. Gain God’s perspective on problems.
Stress is an attitude that initially results in our responding to problems with panic. But an attitude of relaxation responds to problems with expectation. James 1:2 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”
James says that our first response to unavoidable stress should be joy. I don’t think James is speaking about giddiness. Instead, I believe he is referring to a calm assurance that God is in control of the situation. He is saying that Christians can respond gracefully to stress. In fact, the words “joy” and “grace” come from the same root word in Greek. James goes on to explain that problems are opportunities for us to grow spiritually.
2. Live life in the present tense.
When we spend our time dwelling on mistakes we have made in the past (which we can’t change), or anticipating problems in the future (which we can’t foresee), we are prone to stress. And we are robbed of the joy of the present moment. It is interesting that in the Old Testament the most holy name for God is translated “I Am” (Exodus 3:14). And throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to Himself as “I Am.” God is active and involved in every part of life, but He wants us to live in the present.
3. Take a day off every week.
One of God’s earliest commands was to rest one day a week. In the Old Testament, such a day was known as the Sabbath. The Sabbath was more than just a day of worship, it was a day of rest, patterned after God’s own work schedule (Exodus 20:9-11).
Man was not made to work seven days a week. Such an unrealistic schedule is guaranteed to produce stress and burn-out. Obviously, God did not need a day of rest. He did not finish the work of creation and say, “Whew, this has worn Me out! I need a break!” Instead, God was setting a pattern for the way we should work. We do need a day of rest to replenish our physical, emotional, and spiritual resources.
Let me sound a word of caution here. A day of rest should not be confused with a day of recreation. In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was a day, first of all, of worship. Even Jesus, the Son of God, saw the importance of gathering together with other believers for worship. Part of His schedule was a regular day of worship (Luke 4:16).
Secondly, a day of rest is also a time to regain perspective as we meditate on God and His work in our lives. Few people have ever possessed the zeal and energy of the Christian abolitionist William Wilberforce. Yet Sunday served as a balm for the stress in his life. In his journal he wrote, “Blessed be to God for the day of rest and religious occupation wherein earthly things assume their true size. Ambition is stunted.”
4. Spend some time every day doing something you enjoy.
Everyone needs something to look forward to every day. Sundays really are an endurance contest for me even though I absolutely love what I’m doing. It’s the Super Bowl, and I spend all week getting ready for it. I start early at 5 am running, final sermon prep, praying, preaching, meeting our guests, and sometimes a host of other things.
By the end of Sunday, I’m so wrung out,but I reward myself with a large bowl of popcorn, a giant Diet Coke, and an old movie. One way I make it through the day is by eagerly anticipating the end of the day, when I know I will be able to relax. Just knowing that you are going to get to spend a few minutes doing something you want to do—a hobby, a sport, reading a book, watching a television program—can help relieve the stress of the day.
5. Spend time with God each day.
In my own life, I have discovered that the way I begin and end each day greatly affects my stress level. It is impossible to effectively manage stress without spending time with the One who offers the ultimate solution to stress.
I believe that Jesus’ secret to “overcoming the world” was in the amount of time He spent with God. Jesus refused to allow His many responsibilities to keep Him from spending time with His Father.
I have always been fascinated with Mark 1:35: “And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there.”As you examine the context of this verse, you will find that this was one of the busiest days in Jesus’ entire ministry, yet He began the day on His knees.
To Jesus, time spent with God was not just another religious requirement; it was the secret of His strength and the source of His tranquility. And God offers the same strength and tranquility in the midst of a stress-filled life to you (Isaiah 40:29-31).