Is Stress Really Bad for you?

Daily Readings: Job 12, Nahum 12, James 5

Life is not for the faint of heart. Although it is not a Bible word there is a certain RESILIENCE that is necessary to successfully meet the intrinsic challenges of life with a gracious and enduring spirit. The way the Bible describes it is “patient endurance,” “steadfastness”, “constancy” or “persevering to the end.” And that is what we are exhorted to do – To meet trials with smiles (figuratively, at least). Job is the paramount example of the struggle to do so. Even James spoke of this in today’s readings:

As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings; that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.

James 5:10-11

In contemplating resilience, there is one phrase in the current chapter that strikes me. The same phrase is repeated in the next chapter – emphasizing Job’s frustration over the issue. The phrase is; “I am not inferior to you!” Job 12:3, 13:2 This is a good nutshell phrase to describe the way the “mind of the flesh” (symbolized by the bad advice of his friends) attempts to undermine the spiritual thinking believers must struggle to maintain. Like Job, we often feel inferior and even incapable, of coping with the constant problems that parade (unasked-for and unheralded) into our lives.

When the trials hit, they are accompanied by a barrage of questions – lots of questions. Why me?! Why now?! Why this?! Surprised by the intensity of our suffering, we can become unsure of our footing. Our perspective wavers in and out of focus. Like Job, we can lose sight of our place before God, and we demand answers. Now. We demand an end to the physical pain, emotional trauma, psychological agony and social isolation that often accompany our troubles. Also like Job, the end usually does not come quickly – so we are tempted to give up.

At this point, we often turn to sources other than God for answers.  We might get temporary symptom relief in distractions or addictions. But the foundational problems (like Job’s sickness and friends) are still lurking nearby. And coupled with our own tendency to negative thinking, they are self-righteously ready to heap additional pain, scorn, shame, and loss upon us – if we do not vanquish them. These bad sources of input offer false hope, pat answers, and insulting, arrogant advice that preys on our weakest points and our worst fears. We become haunted, miserable wretches; “ a burden to ourselves” and “a joke to our friends.” Ch. 7:20, 12:4

So we must not watch from a fascinated distance as Job writhes under these changed circumstances of his life. He is no longer able to go where he used to go, to eat what he used to eat, to be who he used to be. His pain is intensified by his friends – as they move from stunned silence to judgmental, demanding advice. He is the hollow shell of a once robust man – (from his perspective) struggling alone with his great loss.

It’s a sad tale. But I would suggest that it is often the story of our lives as well. Every last one of us. The lie of the friends is that there is a simple life formula and if we apply it correctly all will go well for us. It is a manifestation of the original lie, the serpent’s lie, “You shall not surely die.” Genesis 3:4 They repeatedly try to pound that lie into Job’s head. But, even in his vulnerable state, he fights back to banish it from his thinking.

Like Job, our own sad tales have disappointments that can tempt us to depression and despair when things don’t go the way we thought they would. We play the “Not Fair” card and chafe against the hand we are dealt. We swallow the lie that life should be pain-free, carefree, and simple. We are fiercely discontent because we put in an order for predictable, controlled (by us, of course) lives that are full of comfort. Anything less than that often catches us off-guard and fills us with bitterness.

Not so, the Bible tales. We recently read, in James 2, about a whole different worldview. We read about a man who was asked to offer up his son’s life in his greatest life test. And about a woman who risked her life to save complete strangers. Were the problems and dangers experienced by these, or other Bible people, fair? And what about Job? Was his layer-upon-layer set of tragedies, fair? No way!

And apparently that’s the point. We are constantly told by “the world” that life is fair, stress is bad. Bad for our health, our relationships – our everything. The Bible paints a different picture. Job’s stress was both inflicted, and ultimately, relieved, by God Himself. And for Job, stress was an opportunity to exercise faith and to grow in character, in spirituality, in maturity. Life was not “fair”. Stress was good.

Each of our lives also contains a flawless and unique “stress package” to allow us too, to mature and be perfected in faith. It is only when we try to live controlled, inflexible lives that trials completely overwhelm us. As Christians, we must flex like Gumby. We must be resilient and bounce back like Weebles. 🙂 We must place our trust in our unchanging, wise and loving God while accepting that our lives are inherently changeable and subject to sin’s consequences – including unfairness. Did I say we must be resilient? Jeremiah expresses the idea like this:

Why should any living mortal or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins? Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord.

Lamentations 3:39-40

Jeremiah and Job teach that we must live differently than The “American Dream” World that dominates human cultures. We must deliberately choose to live outside our comfort zones – especially when it comes to spiritual things. Think of the Apostle Paul’s life. And the Lord Jesus’ life. We must train ourselves to expect, to welcome and even to embrace the unexpected. Job is here to tell us – Stress is good for us. The ‘outcome of the Lord’s dealings” with us, too (if we cooperate) will prove to us “that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” James. 5:11 We are promised we will not be given more than we can bear. 1 Corinthians 10:13

Practically speaking this is living life on the edge – the far edge – of comfort. It means cheerfully going to uncomfortable places and doing uncomfortable things. It means disrupting our well-laid plans and desires in order to serve others. It means stepping prayerfully into sticky situations and messed-up lives to try to help. It means practicing self-control in little things (like eating habits or patience with others) so we are deliberately growing stronger for when the bigger tests come. It means patiently enduring what feels unendurable.  Job was noted to be “blameless and upright” beforehand, so his test took him to the farthest reaches beyond his comfort zone. Job 1:1 Most of ours don’t go so far. His story is here as the Extreme Suffering role model shouting back to us, “You can do it too!”

In the end of Job’s multi-faceted trials, he was a wiser, stronger man. His patient endurance was rewarded and praised by God Himself. It also allowed him to become a part of the salvation of his family and friends. Our own struggles promise similar beautiful well-suited “blessings/outcomes.” If we cooperate and learn the lessons God is custom-designing for our lives. And some of these special lessons are really, really grueling. That’s a given. That’s the part we, like Job, have to work long and hard to get our heads around.

Instead of buying into the Comfortable Life Fantasy, let’s adopt and believe Job’s worldview:

Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?

Job 2:10

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away,

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Job 1:21

And let us consciously resolve to be refined by our life experiences. To meet them with God’s character traits like; patience, longsuffering and joy – no matter what inconvenience and stress they may impose. To see them as individualized faith-building exercises designed by His great grace.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ!

1 Peter 1:3-7

Perhaps this segment of Handel’s Messiah, quoted from Job, is a fitting end to our discussion: