25At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Stress. It’s a major problem today. As a hospital chaplain in the past, and as a pastoral care pastor for Trinity, I can safely say that I spent and spend the better part of my day dealing with people under great stress. My wife says that I deal with other people's stress very well, but not so much my own. You know it is as they say, "physician heal thyself". Fortunately, for reasons I do not understand, the Lord has blessed me with a personality that does not easily absorb other people's stress and make it my own.
I have a gazillion stories of people under stress when I was a hospital chaplain. One evening I had a woman who had to have an x-ray with an iodine contrast and in the past had had an iodine allergy. She had to have the x-ray there was no way around it. She had had the procedure once before and had to be resuscitated. Basically, when someone with an iodine allergy is injected with iodine, it causes a life-threatening drop in blood pressure due to shock. Needless to say, she was extremely stressed about the upcoming procedure. She had a husband and a young daughter to live for. Her husband was a Vietnam veteran with posttraumatic stress syndrome and he needed someone to talk to about it. He recounted how he had shot a North Vietnamese at point-blank range in the dark and when he woke up the next morning he found bits of brain matter on his face. I spent the better part of an evening working with this stressed-out family. One morning I had to comfort a 12-year-old girl who had just seen her mother die right in front of her as she was getting ready for school and try to help her understand that it was not her fault, that even though she did not know what to do there was nothing anyone could have done anyway. Another evening I comforted a young woman and her husband in their 20s who had to undergo an abortion to save the life of the mother. The baby was mere days away from viability. I also worked with a 21-year-old father of a one-year-old. The father was dying of bone cancer and especially painful process. He had no life insurance and did not know how he was going to provide for his baby. He was especially grieved to know that he would never see her grow up. These are just a few of the literally dozens of people I cared for in my one year as a hospital chaplain.
As a pastoral care pastor for Trinity, I visit the sick and the homebound. Loneliness of the homebound is the most common complaint, though I often have to help surviving spouses through the grieving process. I am currently working with one family in a hospice situation. Between these two assignments I could tell stories of people under stress four hours.
Stress is pervasive in our world today. It would not be human for people to never be stressed, and everyone is under stress to some extent. According to current statistics a very high number are under extreme stress. A simple Google search produced statistics about stress in the United States today. The top 7 stresses in the United States are: #1 Job Pressure, #2 Money, #3 Health, #4 Relationships, #5 Poor Nutrition, #6 Media Overload, and #7 Sleep Deprivation. Percent of people who regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress 77 %, Regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress 73 %, Feel they are living with extreme stress 33 %, Feel their stress has increased over the past five years 48 %, Cited money and work as the leading cause of their stress 76 %, and Reported lying awake at night due to stress 48 %. Stress has a profound impact on our lives. Percent who say stress has a negative impact on their personal and professional life 48 %, Employed adults who say they have difficulty managing work and family responsibilities 31 %, Percent who cited jobs interfering with their family or personal time as a significant source of stress 35 %, percent who said stress has caused them to fight with people close to them 54 %, Reported being alienated from a friend or family member because of stress 26 %, annual costs to employers in stress related health care and missed work $300 Billion, Percent who say they are "always" or "often" under stress at work 30 %. It’s stressful just to think about stress. Chances are extremely high bill come across at least one person this week who is under considerable stress. The question I have for you today, is what are you going to do to help them? Perhaps our greatest hope that we can give others is hope in Christ.
How can the Christian faith be helpful to someone under great stress? Jesus, in our gospel lesson, offers us very comforting words when he says, “Take my yoke upon you, … and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” What are some of the ways our Christian faith can help us and others in times of stress? For me, perhaps the most comforting thing my Christian faith gives me is an assurance that a firm hand is on the wheel. God my Father has proven himself over, and over again that he is indeed faithful. That I can cast my burdens upon him. Psalm 55:22 reads “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Psalm 3:4 “I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill.” Psalm 18:6 “In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.” From the belly of the whale Jonah cried out saying, “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.” (Jonah 2:2, ESV) God's Word offers us assurance that he hears our prayers and actively responds to them. I worried a lot more when I was younger, but throughout my life, God has proven abundantly faithful. Reading God's Word serves as a reminder of God's faithfulness in that it is one of the best things that can be done when we are under stress, particularly the Psalms. King David was often under great stress, and the Psalms not only record his cries to God, but also the comfort and assurance he received.
As did King David, our Christian faith affords us an opportunity and venue to cry out to God regarding the concerns of your heart. It relieves stress to vent one’s fears and frustrations and doing so can also help one come up with answers to problems as one takes vague feelings and puts words and thoughts in order. Paul said in his letter to the Philippians “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6, ESV) God said through the prophet Isaiah “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” (Isaiah 65:24, ESV)
Our churches are to provide a community of care. We are called by God to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Early Church understood this. The book of Acts records: “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:34–35, ESV) Paul admonished the Galatians “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, ESV)
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, God the Father is deeply concerned for us and loves us dearly. Psalm 103 assures us, “But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to their children’s children,” (Psalm 103:17, ESV). Jesus himself reminds us in John 3:16 ““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV)
Paul wrote to the Corinthians “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4, ESV) The answer to our earlier question of what are you to do for a distressed person couldn’t be clearer. Comfort them according to the comfort we have received from God. What would that look like? Let me illustrate. Lee Eclov related the following story for Trinity Magazine:
I called him Two-Phone Joe. The first time I met him, I was sitting at an outdoor table at my favorite coffee spot. He came out, cell phone pressed between shoulder and ear, talking a blue streak. He had a cup of coffee in one hand, a Coke in the other, and another phone on his belt. When he put his cup down to hang up, I said, “Man, you’ve got to relax a little!” And that’s how my friendship got started with one of the most hyper guys I’ve ever known.
Joe and I talked often. Actually, Joe ranted and raved, and I mostly listened. Once I was sitting at an inside table and he came in, assaulting his phone as usual. He talked, loud and angry, the whole time he ordered, and then, after he sat down, he kept arguing for the whole coffee shop to hear. When he finally got off the phone, I said, “Joe, come here.”
“What?” he barked guardedly.
“Sit down here,” I repeated.
“Why?” he asked, but he sat down.
“Joe, I don’t know if anyone has ever done this for you before, but I am going to pray for you right now.” Joe’s eyes got big, and he looked at me like I was crazy. Before he could run, I just put my hand on his arm and quietly prayed for a few seconds, asking God to quiet Joe and to give him peace.
“Thank you,” Joe said softly, and I wondered if that might have been the first holy moment in Joe’s entire tumultuous life.
—Lee Eclov, “Christ in a Coffee Shop,” Trinity Magazine (Spring 2006).
That’s exactly what it looks like. Does it take a little guts? Yup! You might not be able to pull something like this off with a casual friend like two-phone Joe, but surely you could with your close friends and family. As I said, chances are high, according to our statistics that you will encounter at least one person this week that is very stressed. Keep the following in mind when you speak to them:
First, don’t do all the talking or give a lot of unasked for advice. Instead, just listen, then listen some more. Most people already know the answers to their own problems. Their just waiting to see what someone else’s reaction to them is. They’ll never have that opportunity if you do all the talking.
Second, reassure them of God’s abundant love for them. You may not be able to quote the verses I just gave you, but you can remember their concepts. Comfort them with God’s Word. Encourage them to speak to their pastor or some other trusted spiritual advisor. You might recommend to them reading portions of the book of Psalms. I personally find the Psalms very comforting when I am distressed.
Third, offer to pray with them and/or for them. People are touched by the idea that their problem is important enough to you that you yourself bring it to God.
You may wonder why I preached about caring for others instead of how you can care for yourself in your own stress. I have found that the best cure for stress, is of course, God and God’s Word, but a close second is losing yourself in the concerns of others. Somehow in helping others you end up helping yourself. You realize that you are not alone in your worries, and it builds self- and God-confidence as you feel good about helping someone else and remind them and yourself of God’s promises.
We can make a difference in the lives of those around us by being used of God to bring comfort as we have been comforted. Additionally, you are used by the Holy Spirit to bring others to deeper faith or faith where there previously was none. That is, after all, job number one for all Christians. Loving your neighbor by loving God and answering his call to make disciples of all nations. The odds are strongly in favor that someone is going to need you this week. Be there for them. Answer God’s call. The stress you relieve may well be your own. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. Amen.