Overcoming Stress (Part I)

Where the Rubber Meets the Road is where friction between the vehicle (you the leader) and the pathway (kingdom living) occurs. When we embark on the journey of kingdom service we will experience friction or what has come to be known as “stress”. And so it is at this point of friction that my thoughts on leadership are focused.

2 Cor 11:26-28 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (NIV)

Paul was a leader who understood the meaning of the word “stress”. Besides all of the physical stressors he face the cares of the churches were constantly with him. Yet he remained faithful to the call.

When I first entered kingdom service I thought that the call was all I needed. If you were called then you were “the man”. Little did I realise that the call was only the beginning. The enablement that followed included times of testing – very stressful. These testing times are designed to produce character (Rom 5:3,4) and it is important not to lose sight of that fact.

In his book, the making of a leader, Dr J. Robert Clinton points out that “though there may be fruitfulness in ministry, the major work is that which God is doing to and in the leader, not through him or her.” This is because a major principle of leadership is that “ministry flows out of being” and communion with God “is more important than success in ministry”.

Today there is a great deal of emphasis put on stress as more and more leaders succumb to the pressures of 21st century life and kingdom service. If we as leaders are going to remain faithful to the end as Paul did then it is helpful for us to have a good understanding of what causes us stress and how to “press on toward the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”.

Before giving some guidelines to avoiding the destructive nature of stress I want to identify what I consider to be of first importance. Stressful events and circumstances are useful to help us stretch and grow (Rom 5:3,4; Jms 1:2-4), to further the kingdom (Phil 1:12-14) and it is a guarantee of future reward (2Cor 4:17). If this is a true saying then such an environment is not to be avoided but to be endured and overcome. I think that succumbing to stress can at times be associated with wrong thinking and a negative attitude.

Those called to become kingdom ministers are not corporate executives but servants of Jesus Christ. The stress associated with a wrong “job description” is clear. In the business world success is measurable in terms of numbers and dollars and outcomes etc. In the kingdom of God success is measured in terms of obedience to Christ – a very subjective and not easily measured “outcome”.
An unhealthy hedonistic world-view – the philosophy that life should be “pleasurable” – is another harmful thought process. The pain of suffering is very clearly a principle of kingdom living and not to be pushed into an avoidance basket of “lack-of-faith” theology. Count it all joy when suffering comes, is James’s philosophy (see also 1Pt 4:12).

“I cannot keep going” is another oft heard cry. Yet Scripture assures us that we are able to cope and need to stand firm (Mat 24:9-13; Heb 10:32-39; 1Cor 10:13). A major theme of reward for overcoming is prevalent throughout Scripture – both Old and New Testaments.

In summary there are some major points to consider BEFORE we think about practical ways to overcome stress. Do we have the right view of kingdom service? Are we outcome focused or obedience focused? Do we have a healthy respect for the benefits of suffering that will inevitably come our way? And finally, do we believe that no matter what we encounter the “prize” is worth the pain and, having done all, are we determined to remain standing?

To be continued…
In the next edition of “Thoughts on Leadership”

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