Stress Is Predictable - The James Code

Stress Is Predictable

James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings. My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.

James 1:1–2

What?!? James was telling us to count it all joy when we “fall into various trials”? Most of us count it joy when we escape the trials of life, not when we fall into them! And notice that James was not saying to count it joy if we fall into trials. He said we are to count it joy when we fall into them. Experiencing stress is not an if; it’s a when. Stress is predictable: it is inevitable, inescapable, unavoidable. We all experience it. We can’t avoid it. Stress happens.

In fact, we can read the Bible from cover to cover, and nowhere will we find the promise that we’re immune to stress or sickness, exempt from trials or tribulations. Some, however, teach falsely that if we’re living the Spirit-filled life, we’ll have only smooth sailing on the sea of God’s will. But may I remind you that our Lord Himself warned, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Yes, stress is predictable. We can’t avoid stress, but it can actually be good for us. Stress can, for instance, be a motivating factor: it can motivate us to make changes in our life or our lifestyle. However, too much stress coupled with not knowing how to deal with it can be detrimental mentally, spiritually, and physically. Stress can contribute to depression, which is real and rampant in our fast-paced society. Among its spiritual implications, stress and life’s pressures can lead us, like Elijah of old, to run away from God’s plan for us and find our own juniper tree where we sit in defeat and self-pity (1 Kings 19). Physically, stress prompts our body to pump adrenaline into our bloodstream, preparing us to fight or flee. If we do neither, the adrenaline remains in our system until our bodies break it down and slowly absorb it. High stress levels in our bodies over long periods of time can cause high blood pressure, ulcers, heart disease, headaches, and other serious health issues.

Although stress is predictable and can indeed have ramifications, it does not have to be our foe. Stress can be a friend. Consider that God never calls upon us to work harder than He did in the creation event—and He took the seventh day off! Many of our physical challenges are the result of our own bad decisions, and the same is true about mental challenges. Isaiah put it like this: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3). In the New Testament, the apostle Paul had his own prescription for stress: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7).

James continued his instruction. We should count it joy when we face what? Trials. There is a difference between a trial and a temptation. Trials come from God to strengthen the Christian’s ability to stand; temptations come from the Devil to cause the Christian to stumble. None of us can avoid trials. They are predictable. No matter who we are or how long we have journeyed in the Christian faith, we will face stress. The sooner we realize this fact, the sooner we can learn to deal with it. The tragedy of today’s tranquilizer mentality is that it simply prolongs the day when we finally learn to deal with stress.

It is also important to note that James said we should count it joy when we “fall into” trials of various kinds. Interestingly, the Greek word used here is also used to describe the man in Jesus’ parable who “went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves” (Luke 10:30). Here was a guy minding his own business. He rounded a corner and—WHAM!—he was suddenly surrounded by unexpected trouble. There was no warning, no time to run away. He “fell into” this trial, and this same thing happens to us at one time or another. We are sailing through life, going around the bend, and—WHAM!—we, too, “fall into various trials.” Things are going pretty well, and then we get the doctor’s report or the pink slip at the office . . . or the roof springs an expensive leak . . . or additional income tax is due . . . or the health insurance premium skyrockets beyond our ability to pay, or death comes knocking unexpectedly on a loved one’s door.

None of us is exempt from falling into various trials. The New Testament writers constantly reminded us that trials are a part of life, and in that sense they are predictable. Peter put it like this:

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6–7).

No one ever had more trials come his way than Paul. He said that he served “the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews” (Acts 20:19). And even our Lord knew stress. He wasn’t exempt from falling into various trials. In the upper room the evening before the crucifixion, He said to His disciples, “You are those who have continued with Me in My trials” (Luke 22:28).

Jesus knew better than anyone that stressful trials come our way, yet He never appeared to be stressed out. We never find Him wringing His hands or anxiously pacing. Instead we see Jesus get away, alone with His heavenly Father, from time to time. If He needed those times of solace and solitude, how much more do we?

As followers of Christ, we will encounter two basic kinds of trials: trials of correction and trials of perfection. God allows them both. When we are out of His will for our lives, trials of correction often come our way. Just ask Jonah. He got into a major storm of correction and learned his lesson, corrected his way, and was greatly used by God. On the other hand, trials of perfection come to us when are in the will of God, when we are exactly where He told us to be and doing exactly what He told us to do. Ask the disciples who obeyed Christ’s command to get in the boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They were where Jesus told them to be and doing what He told them to do when they “fell into” a storm of massive proportions and feared for their very lives. Jesus came, walked on the water, stilled the disciples’ storm, and strengthened their faith.

Yes, stress is predictable: all of us will experience it. None of us is immune to trials. Paul said these stressful situations are “common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Clearly, it’s not nearly as essential to try to explain trials philosophically or even theologically as it is for us to simply learn to deal with them. Once we realize stress is predictable—as in unavoidable—we can learn to deal with it, as James will teach us in the following chapters. Trials are when, not if. Stress happens to all of us. It is predictable.

Just Do It! So you find yourself a bit stressed? Don’t be surprised. James just tapped you on the shoulder to remind you that stress can’t be avoided. After all, stress is when, not if. Stress can bring emotional, mental, and physical problems as well as spiritual challenges if we do not recognize that stress is predictable and learn to deal with it. The battle is often in the mind, rooted in our surprise that life is hard. If you think you’re going to live a stress-free life, you’re mistaken. See the stress of life for what it is. God is allowing it. So “count it all joy.”

From the Book:

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The James Code
By O.S. Hawkins
Thomas Nelson

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