Our world, greatly marred by sin, is a crucible of trials and tribulations that test the limits of fallen mankind. Who among us can say, “I am stress-free?“ If you have spent any time existing in our world, you have undoubtedly experienced the debilitating effects of stress. The profound lyrics of a poem penned by Joseph Scriven in 1855 hold the key to surviving stress and anxiety. “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”
The effects of stress on the job can lead to burnout, a psychological phenomenon described by Newstrom (2015) as, “a situation in which employees are emotionally exhausted, develop cynicism about their work, and feel unable to accomplish their professional goals” (p.408). I have known pastors who have experienced burnout where they experience a diminished enthusiasm for their work, mental and physical fatigue and short outbursts of anger. A pastor deals with a lot of stress each day, such as counselling troubled relationships, comforting those who have lost loved ones, the pressure of preparing sermons each week, caring for family at home, and making sure the church is thriving. These are major pressures that can last for long periods of time. If a network of support is not in place to reduce stressors, these conditions will likely lead to burnout.
Since it is probable that we will face stressful situations in the workplace, it is important to know how to cope, or else it will begin to impact job performance. Stress and job performance are interrelated because stress can directly impact one’s performance. Newstrom (2015) suggests that symptoms of stress can negatively impact a person’s emotions, and thought processes. Behaviours, and even physical health. For some, situations that are stressful can motivate productivity. Constructive stress encourages a healthy response in workers to face a challenge and overcome adversity. As Newstrom puts it, “As stress increases, performance trends increase” (Newstrom, 2015, p.415). His rationale for this increase is the fact that people call up more resources to meet the tougher job requirements (Newstrom, 2015, p.415). These ideas are compatible with the Bible’s positive assessment of difficult circumstances, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (English Standard Version, 2016, James 1:2).
Stressful situations reveal what we are made of. In this way, stress is helpful for good performance, but when stress becomes too great, it is a destructive force. Bridges, for example, are designed for certain weight limits. Once the weight load becomes too great for an extended period of time, the bridge may collapse. People are the same way, once stress levels exceed the level of tolerance, they will begin to break down.
Knowing that human beings are frail and have limits, it is wise to allow the God of the universe to bear your load. Scripture offers an invitation to, “Cast your cares upon the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken” (English Standard Version, 2016, Psalm 55:22). Those who pray about situations that are beyond control, transfer the concern from themselves into the capable hands of the creator of the universe. Elizabeth Moyer from the Institute of Faith, Work, and Economics concludes that “Uncertainties in life are opportunities to depend on God the way he intended us to” (Moyer, 2018, para.7). This type of thinking is anchored in a biblical response to handling stress. The Bible addresses anxiety, fear and worry, which are symptoms of stress. The apostle Paul, who endured much stress in his ministry boldly commands, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (English Standard Version, 2016, Philippians 4:6-7).
The Biblical view of dealing with stress provides an outlet for relief and offers a purpose for the difficult circumstances we face. When we carry everything to God in prayer, as Scrivener’s poem so wisely suggests, we can enjoy great peace and cope even within a stressful environment.