Bible Teaching about Understanding Stress

This Bible teaching about understanding stress targets three areas of concern that this sometimes deadly affliction ladles upon all of us. Of special focus are the character, causes and consequences of the pressures and strains of life that drag down, burden, and sometimes overwhelm us.

In this study, I will point out its nature, and in another lesson on its management. There I will introduce methods to handle the tension on our lives.

Paul Experienced Tension

Paul spoke of those battering intruders on life when he listed his physical beatings, being shipwrecked, stoned, imprisonments, dangers from robbers and others who wished him dead, hunger, sleepless nights, and exposure to frigid weather.

He ended his list of worries this way, “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). Paul knew what tension was – just like we do today.

Have you ever experienced too much stress? I sure have. So have millions of others. Let’s get an overview of the problem.

Character of Pressure

Definitions are slippery, but here is a working description in understanding stress. Stress is the process by which we perceive and respond to certain events that we interpret as threatening or challenging.

You and I cannot escape some nervous tension in our life, nor should we; however, we can get an overload. Some warning signals of overload are as follows.

•Dramatic changes in sleeping and eating patterns.
•Frequent ailments, headaches, muscle tension, upset stomach, and the like.
•Addictive cravings calming “feel good” substances that don’t satisfy as they once did.
•Increased feelings of futility, desperation, being out of control or overwhelmed, feelings of frantic urgency, which lead to exhaustion.

Source of Stress

One source is catastrophes. These are things such as war, flood, earthquakes, rape, fires, and torture. Paul described this as, “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep” (2 Corinthians 11:25). Pretty traumatic, don’t you think?

A second source is significant life changes. In this list we include retirement, divorce, bankruptcy, job loss, illness, and the loss of a spouse. Paul spoke of being imprisoned. A heart attack or breast cancer certainly hurls a hazard into our life that causes strain.

The third general source I consider in this study is the every day hassles and apprehension we face in the workplace, home, or just whatever life brings. Little things that taken one at a time might not seem like much, but they have an accumulating impact on our bodies and minds – and quality of life.

Paul described his daily hassles as, “I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

How Stress Works

It is important in understanding stress that the cycle starts with a danger that confronts you in your physical, social or spiritual world. You draw in the raw data through your senses (eyes, hearing, etc.) regarding the nature of the peril, and interpret the information in your mind.

After you have placed a meaning on the threat, your body dumps stress chemicals, such as adrenalin and cortisol, into your system. Those chemicals you label as an emotion, which is a burst of energy for your body to carry out the instructions given by your mind. After the danger has passed, and you have completed the coping action, then your body settles back down to normal.

An Illustration

Let me illustrate. Imagine that I am strolling down a mountain trail enjoying the scenery. I glance up the trail and notice a huge lumbering hairy object headed my way. I process that information in my brain, and it concludes that the object is a bear! Suddenly, chemicals hit my system. My heart pounds from fear, and I turn and run like mad!

Startled, the bear change course and runs away too! I arrive at the safety of my car, and decide to call it a day. Hiking is done. After a time my heart slows down, I feel tired, take a nap when I get home – then everything is back to normal. But I have a great story to tell everyone.

Note the sequence: threat to mental interpretation to stress chemicals to bodily reaction, then calming down.

Consequences of Constant Worry

When the above cycle occurs, things are normal. We are made to handle threats this way. But, what do you think would happen if we lived in an environment of constant threats, and the cycles never stopped? Such a situation might be in a battle zone where soldiers are in a constant state of hyper vigilance, never knowing when the next grenade, mortar, or sniper bullet is coming?

Maybe the environment is a constantly hostile, pressure filled workplace or domestic violence in a home. The point is you never get away from the steady pounding of danger and the chemicals it dumps into your body. You are constantly walking on eggs, so to speak.

What happens is that eventually your body will wear out and break down. Your energy level becomes depleted, and you become exhausted. What happens then? Actually, it is kind of scary.

Impact of Stress

One of the most fundamental consequences is that your immune system becomes weakened, and that opens the door for all kinds of physical ailments. Here are some of them.

•Hypertension and heart disease.
•General physical ailments such as rashes, lack of sleep, tension headaches, etc.
•Psychological disarray such as nervous breakdown, anxiety, phobic disorders, PTSD, depression, etc.
•Self medication with such things as drug and alcohol abuse.
•Damaged relationships from the yelling, snapping, and generally unhappy worrisome conditions.
•Cancer. Cancer? Wow!

There are several theories of the cause of cancer. But, the other day I was in the doctor’s office for an eye appointment. I picked up some literature on the table from the American Cancer Society entitled, “What Are the Risk Factors for Eye Cancer?

Here is what it said, “The only known risk factor for primary lymphoma of the eye is having a weakened immune system.” That got my attention, because prolonged, unrelenting stress directly weakens the immune system!

There you have it. We have outlined important factors in understanding stress: its character, causes, and consequences. Paul had it. Christians have it. I invite you to click on stress management (link) to learn how to manage this malignant malady. Esmie and I wish you all the best.

Dr. Willis and Esmie Newman


1. Read Luke 22:41-44. Explain the relationship between stress and bodily reactions in the case of Jesus.
2. What did Jesus do to deal with the stress in the Garden of Gethsemane?
3. What are the major sources of stress in your life?
4. What impact does stress have on you? What would other people say the impact is?
5. Read Paul’s experience with trauma in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 and 12:8-10. Sort out the sources of threat and danger he faced. Can you identify with any of them? How?
6. Considering question five, how did Paul handle the threats to his life?
7. Study 1 Kings chapters 18 and 19. Elijah was confronted with rejection, political and religious opposition, and threats on his life. What was the impact of these events on him physically, mentally, and emotionally (cf. 19:1-10, 14)? How did God deal with Elijah’s condition?
8. Study Joshua 1:1-9. What did God tell Joshua to do to handle the pressure of leadership placed upon him? Do you believe God was truthful? Why would you believe such?
9. Study Luke 22:54-62 and John 21:1-22. How did Peter react to the very threatening events of Jesus’ arrest? How did Jesus respond to Peter’s failure?
10. What stands out to you the most in this Bible teaching about stress?

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