The Stranglehold Of Stress
April 22-23, 2000
The ads are widely popular. They’re in magazines. You’ve seen them on buses and television. They depict various men and women, who’ve obviously just taken a big gulp of milk, sporting those white mustaches. At the bottom of the picture is a two-word question, “Got Milk?” Today, as I look across this vast array of seemingly well-adjusted Metroplex suburbanites who’ve taken a big gulp of life, I want to ask you a similar two-word question, “Got Stress?” Today I’m focusing on the stranglehold of stress. I’m going to talk to you about four pressure points that we all need to understand and process.
Do the following statements resonate with you? “The NASDAQ is down again!” “These kids are driving me nuts!” “I’m in the deep weeds.” Statements made in the stranglehold of stress. Stress affects us all, from the child to the parent, from the executive to the homemaker. It permeates everything we’re about. Are you stressed right now? Are you dealing with something, are you trying to process something, that seems to weight you down, that seems to trip you up? What do you do when stress strikes?
Some of us explode. We say things we later regret. Others of us get quiet. Recently, I’ve been asking some friends of mine what they do when they’re struck with stress. One of my friends named Henry told me that when his family gets stressed out, he walks in to the family room, leans over a little bit, sticks his neck out and makes this noise: “gug-gug-gug-gug-gug-gug-gug-gug.” He said, “Ed, I just look at them and go gug-gug-gug-gug-gug-gug.” I said, “Man, what’s up with that? That’s weird!” He said, “I don’t know why I do it, but it seems to relieve the stress. They begin to laugh.”
We can laugh at stress, but stress has reached epidemic proportions in our culture. The US Center for Disease Control estimates that half the deaths in our country between the ages of 1 and 65 are due to our stressful lifestyles. Stress is pricey. It costs industry an estimated 150 billion dollars a year. We Americans consume 800 million dollars’ worth of anti-anxiety pills annually. That’s a staggering statistic: we make up 5% of the population of the world, yet we consume 33% of its pills. Stress. Stress is tension that tends to strain and drain us mentally, physically, and emotionally. Stress is conjured up internally and also externally.
My favorite professional wrestler is a man named Rick “Nature Boy” Flair. He has long flowing blond hair and he’s famous for this sound: “ph-whoo!” Rick’s best hold is a maneuver called the Sleeper. It’s kind of a stranglehold. No one gets out of the Sleeper. One day, though, I saw him wrestle Hulk Hogan. It looked like Hulk was going to be beaten because Rick had him in the Sleeper. The announcer said, “It looks like curtains for the Hulkster. Look at the referee checking Hulkster’s vital signs.” Finally the crowd began to go, “Hulk, Hulk, Hulk, Hulk, Hulk, Hulk.” He grabbed the Nature Boy’s white hair, flipped him over, pinned him for the three-count, and Hulk won another match.
I wish it were that easy to break the stranglehold of stress, don’t you? Professional wrestling is staged. Life is not. When you talk about stress, I think you have to begin with the most stressful event in history: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Over the next few moments, we’re going to peer over the shoulder of our Savior and lift out several statements from His dialogue. Jesus made these statements in the stranglehold of stress, and when we download them into our database, I truly believe we will get a proper read on stress. Now I’m not saying that if you show up next weekend, and download this stuff this weekend, you’ll never deal with stress again. Part of life is processing stress. But I will make you this promise: when you do what Jesus did, when you apply these principles to your life, it will change the way you handle it. It can give you freedom and exhilaration and an excitement for living that you never thought possible.
The first statement was made the night He was arrested. Christ left the upper room. The Gospel of Luke says that, as usual, He ventured into the Mount of Olives area and ultimately ended up in the Garden of Gethsemane. The word Gethsemane in the Aramaic means an olive press. Literally, Jesus was pressed with anxiety and stress. He knew what was on the Palm Pilot of his life. He knew that in a few short hours He’d have to pay the price on the cross for all of our sinfulness. He asked His disciples to pull an all-nighter and pray with Him. These followers of the Lord should have been saying prayers, but instead they were sawing logs. Doctor Luke records that Jesus was so stricken with stress that He sweat blood. It said He fell flat on His face and began to call out to the Father. When Jesus found Himself in the stranglehold of stress, He prayed.
Let’s listen to His words: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” What was transpiring here? Was Jesus trying to shirk His responsibilities? Jesus didn’t cower in the face of stress. He didn’t call for cosmic help from the angels. He faced it. He said, “Father, I submit my will to your will.” And the cup here represents the horrors of the crucifixion, which Christ realized. It also represents the fact that His Father had to sequester Himself from His Son, because the sinless one became sin. God cannot wink at sin, because He is holy. He can’t look at sin. Thus He had to turn His back on His very own son. When stress strikes, what do you do? Do you freak out? Do you go ballistic? Do you walk into the family room and go, “gug-gug-gug-gug-gug-gug”? When stress strikes, I encourage you to strike up a conversation with God. If it was good enough for Jesus, I think it’s good enough for you and for me.
God can speak to us through many different ways, many different forms. We only talk to Him through prayer. Carve out conversation time with God. Just carve it out. The Bible says, “as usual, Christ went into the garden to pray.” It was a regular part of His day. Talk to Him. When you pray, don’t get intimidated. You don’t have to use big words or the King’s English. Just share your heart with Him. Jesus poured His heart out to the Father. And as you carve out conversational time with God, allow God to spot you.
How many weight-lifters do we have here this morning? If you’re a weight-lifter, raise your hand. I can tell some of the men and women are so muscle-bound they can’t even get their arm up. “Man, I can’t lift it up, I’m so muscle-bound!” When you’re lifting weights, you need some one to spot you if you’re really going to build strength and size. For example, the last two or three repetitions are the repetitions where you build strength and stamina. If you have a spotter, the spotter will help you lift the last two or three lifts, and that will give you a maximum workout. If you don’t have a spotter, there’s no way you can work out like you should.
A while back, I saw someone at the gym where I work out who had a barbell on his chest. He couldn’t get it off his chest. He was going, “Help, help, help.” So I rescued him. If the bold reality was to be known right now, most of us have a barbell across our chests and we’re going “Help, help, help.” The stress of a career. The stress of a marriage. The stress in a relationship. The stress of an illness. Jesus wants to take the stress. He wants to help us with that rep. He wants to ease it from us. Let’s give it to him. Then, while he’s spotting us, let’s just take a step back and watch the results.
This past summer, I had both my eyes checked. They were 20/400. That’s not very good. A friend of mine who’s an eye surgeon from Columbia, South Carolina, a guy I grew up with, Dr. Rick Milney, performed lasic surgery on my eyes. He leaned me back in this la-z-boy type chair, and I heard this sound: “bzz bzz bzz.” He leaned me up, and I said, “Rick, I can read the clock! Rick, I can see the leaves on the trees without my contact lenses, without my glasses! Unbelievable, incredible, thank you very much!” And he did it for free.
If we don’t pray we will have a skewed perspective. We will not see the stress in the grand scheme of things. If we don’t pray, we see stress like this: “I’m just stressed out. I’m just focused on this. I just can’t get my eyes off this.” Well, I carve out conversation time with God, I allow Jesus to spot me, then I watch the results, and suddenly — whoa, I see it now, I understand it now. Dr. Walter Calvert, who did a study on stress and anxiety, discovered that only 8% of the stuff we worry about is even worthy of our worry. In other words, 92% of the stressors in our life are just superfluous stuff.
If this is your first time to Fellowship, we have many exciting ministries, and one of my favorites is our Children’s Ministry. Right now, in our Children’s Church, the first through fifth graders are having church on their level. It’s a microcosm of this service, kind of like a Christian Nickelodeon. And our Children’s Church is so popular, kids are dragging their parents to church. “Mommy, Daddy, you overslept, come on, come on!” One of the songs the children learn is a song that goes like this; I’ll sing it. “He is exalted, the King is exalted on high, I will praise Him.” Thank you very much. Two days ago, I was at home, and I heard one of my 5-year-old twins singing a form of that song. She was singing, “He is exhausted, the King is exhausted on High…” I said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, you’ve got the song messed up. It’s exalted.” “Okay, Daddy! He is exhausted…”
You know, what she was singing might be true. I often wonder, does God look at us, people that matter to Him, and ever get exhausted because we will not carve out time with Him? Because we will not allow Him to spot us? Because we will not allow Him to give us perspective? Does He? When stress strikes, strike up a conversation with God.
The next statement made by Jesus in the stranglehold of stress was made several hours later, after He was arrested, after He was convicted for a crime he did not commit, after He was abused and flogged. You know what flogged meant? They stripped our Savior and tied him to a post. Then a Roman Soldier took a leather whip, with pieces of bone and lead tied into the ends of it, and whipped Him 39 times. Roman historians write that many who were crucified didn’t even make it to the crucifixion because they couldn’t get past the flogging.
After the flogging, they put Christ’s limp body on the cross, and they nailed 5 to 7 inch spikes through His hands and His feet. In a real way, my sin and your sin nailed him there. And while these people were pounding the nails through His flesh, do you know what He did? He locked eyes with them and He said these words: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they’re doing.” They didn’t ask Jesus to forgive them; He just released them. Who in your life do you need to forgive? Is God bringing to mind that person?
Some of you are saying, “Well, I’m not going to forgive, because I want to keep score. I want to retaliate. I’m not going to forgive my ex-spouse who bolted on me. I’m not going to forgive that so-called friend who ripped me off in the business deal. I’m not going to forgive.” When we harbor a hurt, when we invite it into the cove of our lives, it throws over an anchor and can ruin us from the inside out. If you ever come into contact with a critical, bitter man or woman, nine times out of ten that’s a person who’s harboring a hurt.
Whenever we harbor a hurt, we give the ultimate mountain-climber an opportunity. Ephesians 4:27 exposes him: “Do not give the devil a foothold.” We’re completing our Apex youth facility to the south. Whenever you come to our church, you’ll see all the construction crews out there. In a couple of weeks, it will be done. This thing’s going to be a facility for students like I’ve never seen. One of the things it will have in it is a giant rock-climbing wall. Don’t worry, parents, we’ll have ropes and nets and release forms. But a rock-climbing wall is basically a wall with little ledges where you can climb up the wall. When I have a spirit of unforgiveness, when I’m a scorekeeper, let me tell you what happens. I allow Satan to hang on my life. He’s tenacious. Right now, could the evil one be repelling through the relational world of your life? Could he be saying, “Don’t let go. Don’t push me off. Let me have a foothold. Let me have a grip.”
I want to argue God’s case for why you should release people. I’m not talking about accepting them, or their behavior, or the way they live. I’m talking about loving them because Christ loved them, not necessarily accepting what they do, but releasing them. I should run to release people because I’ve been so richly forgiven. I don’t deserve what Jesus did for me, even on my best day. Neither do you. Thus I should forgive others.
I should also rush to forgive because unforgiveness will pollute my life. Unforgiveness will move into the cove of my life and will anchor in anger. I’ll have a Valdez-type toxic spill and it will ruin me. It’ll ruin you too. I should also rush to forgive people because I’ll need a measure of forgiveness in the future. I’m going to mess up; so will you.
Another reason why God urges us to forgive is because, and I love this one, blessings will accrue in my life. Blessings like a clear conscience. You know what it means to have a clear conscience, don’t you? To be able to lock eyes with anyone and not flinch. When you don’t have a clear conscience, you could be shopping in Tom Thumb and suddenly you’ll say, “Oh, there she is!” Or you try to scatter at the office when you see that guy that messed you up.
Jesus hung on a cross, suspended between heaven and earth, and he uttered three words. These words happen to be the next statement we’re going to discuss regarding the stranglehold of stress. Jesus said, “It is finished.” It is finished. One of my family’s favorite restaurants is California Pizza Kitchen. I guess we like it so much because it’s so kid-friendly. We have four children — really, three children and one teenager. And when they invade CPK, California Pizza Kitchen gives our little ones placemats they can draw on. One of the diagrams is a picture that’s incomplete. They love to complete the picture. That’s what Jesus did on the cross. When He said, “It is finished,” He was saying, “I have completed the incomplete redemptive plan of my Father.” It’s done. The debt has been paid.
You see, I have a debt, you have a debt, that we can’t pay. I don’t care how good we are, how sweet we are, how kind we are, how compassionate we are, how generous we are, we can’t pay the debt. The good news of Easter is that the debt has been paid and Christ has conquered the grave. This is what separates Christianity from all the other world religions. All the other world religions — Buddhism, Islam, Mormonism, you name it — they’re all task-driven. “I’ve got to do this, I can’t do that. I’ve got to do this and this and this.” Christianity is completion-driven. It’s been done. The work has been done for all of our sins, past, present, and future, and the grave has been conquered. That’s the good news of Easter.
It is finished. I stands for identity. Jesus knew who He was. T stands for His task; He knew why He was on the planet. Jesus was only trying to please an audience of one: His Father. Do you know what “it” is for you? Do you know who you are? You were bought with a price. You were made in the image of God. You have a unique skill set. If you aren’t you, who’s going to be you? If you weren’t here, there’d be a hole in God’s creative order. But oftentimes people don’t know who they are. Do you know what your task is? My task and your task should simply be to please an audience of one in everything we do and say.
If we don’t know what “it” is, we’re subject to those priority prowlers. We’re subject to criticism. “What did you say about me? Oh, you mean you heard that about me? Really? Well, who said that behind my back?” Jesus was being criticized from all sides. He didn’t wig out. He didn’t freak out. He knew his identity. He knew his task. When we don’t know what “it” is, we’ll be subject to competition. Everything in our life will become competitive. “Oh, I’ve got to get ahead. I’ve got to elbow my way. I’ve got to be out front. I’ve got to be the man. I’ve got to be the woman.” Jesus wasn’t worried about competition. He wasn’t competitive with Herod or Caiaphas or Pilate. He was trying to please His Father, and he did, perfectly.
Priorities, those non-negotiables. We don’t have to pray about our priorities, because they’re already here in the Bible. Well, to show you how priorities play out, to show you what kind of curve they throw when we don’t understand what “it” is, take a man and woman: this couple gets married, after a couple of years let’s say they crank out a couple of kids. It’s so tempting for the mother to marry the children and the father to marry his career. They separate, they drift apart, no longer do they romance one another, no longer do they love one another, no longer do they date regularly, alone, about twice a month. They’re married to the career and married to the kids. And one day they wake up and go, “Who in the world are you?” They’ve forgotten what “it” is, their identity and their task.
Jesus was buried. Jesus rose again. And when Christ rose again, when He conquered the grave, He appeared to a lot of people. One time He appeared to over 500 people at once. I think it’s fascinating, because Jesus, right before He ascended into heaven, made another statement that we must download. I love this one. Matthew 28:19-20. Jesus said, “Therefore go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” What was He doing? Jesus was delegating.
So often we stress out because we try to take the weight of everything on our shoulders when we should share it. We should delegate. Jesus shared it with a bunch of foul-ups, the disciples, and ultimately, He’s given the redemptive plan of the world to you and to me, a colossal collection of sinners. I ask you, do you think Christ could do a better job than you and me? But He delegated. We don’t delegate because we say, “Oh, no one can do it like me.” We don’t delegate because we say, “Oh, if I do delegate, they might do it better than me.”
We have a saying around our staff: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth delegating.” Delegation is not an excuse for relaxation; it’s an answer for multiplication. If you want to multiply your life on the career front, on the marital front, on the family front, delegate. My wife and I had dinner with a couple from this church who have three boys about a week ago. They told me something about delegation that I thought was fascinating. They said, “You know, when mom cooks, the three boys clean.” I like that. My wife has been delegating chores to our children, even our twins, for a long, long time. Our twins are five now, and since they’ve been three years of age, they’ve been making up their beds. Now, the beds don’t look that great, but they make them up.
If you want to see someone who is pitiful at delegation, study the life of Batman. Man, the guy was the crime fighter in Gotham City, and look who he had at his disposal. He had Chief O’Hara, he had Commissioner Gordon, he had Alfred the faithful butler, he had Aunt Margaret, even Robin. But he tried to do it himself, and it always got him in trouble with the Penguin and the Riddler. A lot of us try to do the Batman thing. Don’t do it.
Prayer. Prayer leads to peace, the peace of release from forgiveness. From there I understand the non-negotiables, the priorities in my life, and from there I segue into the power of things like delegation. I’ve talked about stress. I’ve talked to many groups here, but there’s one group I’ve not addressed yet. I want to talk to people here who are carrying around the weight of sin and shame on their shoulders. Some of you have never realized and owned the fact that the message of Easter is God commissioning Jesus to die on the cross, for all of your sin and shame and guilt, and to rise again. And the same power that brought him back from the grave is available to you. He’s done the work. You either accept it or you don’t.
I opened up this talk by asking you a two-word question: “Got Stress?” I want to ask you another two-word question: “Got Jesus?” Because if you have Jesus it’s like Easter every day.