Stress is just a part of ministry. If you don't have any stress in your ministry, you're probably not being very effective. You need a certain amount of stress in your life to accomplish anything. Stress is what gives you the energy, the effort, and the ability to actually accomplish what God has called you to do.
Take a violin for example. You have to put stress on the violin strings to make music. If you stress it just the right amount, it creates beautiful music. On the other hand, if you tighten it too tight, the strings snap.
Stress can be a problem for our ministry as well. When you get so stressed you feel like you're ready to pop, that's bad for your ministry. The Bible gives us four things we need to do when we're stressed to a breaking point.
1. Release your frustrations.
Stress creates all kinds of negative emotions – like anxiety, worry, fear, guilt, shame, and depression. And it can create frustration as well. What do we typically do with that frustration? Instead of taking it to God, we push it down deeper inside of us. Then we just pretend everything is OK. We're the pastor. We can't let anyone see that we're vulnerable.
But is that really what God wants? Does he want you to be a phony? Of course not.
God wants you to be real. God understands your emotions. He created you and gave you the ability to feel what you do. So he wants you to express those emotions.
The Bible says in Psalms 62:8, "Pour out your heart to God, for he is our refuge." He wants us to just lay it all out to him. Whatever it is that you're feeling, just tell him. Don't repress your feelings of frustration, let them out.
2. Resist becoming bitter.
Bitterness is often a by-product of finding yourself stressed to the breaking point. You start thinking, "This stress is unfair. It shouldn't be happening to me." You can't prevent hurt from coming into your life.
Although you can't control your circumstances, you can control your response to circumstances. At some point in your life, you have to decide whether you're going to be bitter or happy. The sooner you make that choice the better. You can't have both.
After many years of ministry, I've learned something about contentment. There's no connection between circumstances and happiness. Most people want you to believe that there is. They want you to believe that if you were serving at a bigger church, had more money, or a nicer home, you'd be happy. But it's a lie.
We all know people who have it all and are unhappy. Obviously, it's not a matter of circumstances. Happiness is a choice.
Hebrews 12:15 says, "Watch out that no bitterness takes root among you. It causes deep trouble, hurting many in their spiritual lives." Bitterness never changes anything. But gratitude does. It's the antidote to bitterness. Studies have shown that gratitude is the healthiest emotion that you can possibly have. When you feel like bitterness is taking over, you need to find something that you can be thankful for. You can't be grateful and bitter at the same time.
3. Receive help from others.
It's tempting to isolate yourself when you're stressed out. That's the last thing you should do! When you are at your breaking point, you need people in your life. You need people who will give you support, strength, and perspective.
Pastor, that's why you need a support system. You may find that kind of support within your church family. You may need to find some other pastors in your community who can support you through stressful times. Regardless, you need a support system.
And you need to set up a support system before a crisis hits. If you wait until a crisis hits to try to find people to walk through it with you, it'll probably be too late. One day you'll hit the wall. Count on it. In your life and in your ministry, you'll hit the wall many times. And when that happens, you need to have people you can count on.
4. Refocus on Christ.
When you get stressed, your life gets out of focus. You start looking at your problem and stop looking at Christ. All you can see is your pain. That's when you need to get your focus off of yourself and on to Christ.
That sounds good, but how do you do it? You do these three things:
Read God's Word. God's Word is a great stress reliever. Go through your Bible and underline verses that mean a lot to you. I have a study Bible that I use during my quiet times, but I also have a stress Bible as well. Every time I get stressed, I open up that Bible and read through the verses I have underlined.
Remember God's goodness. Usually when we're stressed, we're focused on what's wrong. And not only do we focus on the bad things in our life, but we exaggerate them. That's exactly when we need to focus on the goodness of God. God is good. You need to remember that when you're stressed out.
Rely on God's power. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:9, "In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead." If God can raise a dead person, he can raise a dead marriage; he can raise a dead career; he can raise anything. He can turn things around that you think are hopeless. In times of stress, remember you're in good hands with God.
Pastor, are you at a breaking point today? I don't know what kind of pain you're dealing with, but God does. He cares about you, and he cares about your ministry. Hang in there, release your frustration, resist becoming bitter, receive help from others, and refocus on Christ. Your most effective ministry may well be ahead of you.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.