A Greek philosopher by the name of Epictetus once said, “People are disturbed not by a thing, but by their perception of a thing.” He wrote that in the first century AD and it is no doubt just as easily applicable in our present dispensation. Today, however, we might use the word stressed in place of disturbed as the two are very close in meaning. Chronic stress — stress that interferes with your ability to function over an extended period – is now becoming considered a public health crisis. According to The American Institute of Stress, 77% of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress and 73% regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress. Needless to say, its effects are felt within the Church of God as well.
It is a must to isolate the source of the problem if we are to have any hope of dealing with stress positively. Solomon shed some light on it when he said, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he…” (Proverb 23:7). It is a simple truth that we become what it is that we think about the most. So, what is it that occupies our thoughts? The answer to that will vary among us as to what we esteem the highest. In Christ’s time, He said this to the Pharisees, “…You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). Christ is referring to them highly esteeming unrighteous mammon, but in principle, we could insert anything that men highly esteem that God sees as an abomination. In our modern culture, the purveyors of negative information – the media – are often highly esteemed. For some, that is not the case, but their negative messages are nonetheless thought about extensively to the point of causing physical and mental stress – stress that, left unchecked, can and will become chronic.
One of the remedies to stress then, is to think deeply about the things that God esteems highly. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9). What God esteems highly doesn’t drag us down and destroy our faith – it increases our faith as it melts our stress away. It is very important, too, to understand that what Paul is advocating here doesn’t constitute a “milk of the word” type of instruction. This is for the spiritually mature. Negative news is magnetic to a carnal mind. It is so compelling and heavy that it is hard to see any hope beyond the moment and it can induce a debilitating stress.
Those of us who have been called by God and responded to it, still live in the real world – with the same exposure to stress as everyone else. We can hear and literally sense the anger and hostility in our culture, but then we can dwell on the solution that will come. Mankind will be retrained in the Millennium — it is certain. Nations can, will and are arming themselves for war. We can soberly acknowledge that and then dwell on the fact that Christ will soon return and bring all nations under His authority with whatever level of power that is needed. We can be sick – perhaps critically so – and think extensively about a miraculous healing now or the resurrection to immortality at Christ’s soon appearing. Our perception goes beyond the physical.
You see, Epictetus was right. People are stressed not by a thing, but by their perception of a thing. Those who think about good things – the things that God highly esteems – will recognize stressful facts and then dwell on the good solutions to come. We are so privileged to be able to see and dwell on the fact that all things truly do work together for good to those who love God.