Last night we continued our series on practical spirituality, taking some time to think about one aspect of how a Christian handles stress. Here are the notes.
First, we looked a point in King David’s life when I he got some very stressful news, and how he responded. See 2 Samuel 15:30-34. Then we turned to a Psalm that many people think was written by David in response to that news. Psalm 55. We especially looked at Psalm 55:22.
Psalm 55:22. Notice the logic. “Cast your burden on the LORD, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.” (For context and connections with the episode in 2 Samuel 15, see see also 55:1-14 and 55:20-22)
So…do you have a burden? Cast it on the Lord. And then God will sustain you. How? He won’t permit you to be “moved.” That is, you won’t “be moved,” as in you won’t be “shaken,” you won’t “slip or slide” away from the path where you’re supposed to be. Allen Ross says it this way: “God will sustain the faithful in their integrity so that they will not waiver or move from the path.”
Finally, we turned to 1 Peter 5:6-7. In this passage Peter quotes from the Greek translation of Psalm 55:22: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”
So…Do you have cares or anxieties? Cast them on the Lord. And then leave your situation to him. (In other words, things that stress us make us feel like they’re going to ruin our life, but Peter tells us that “we’ll be exalted in God’s timing.” The idea of being “exalted” is the idea of being lifted up or honored. It’s kind of what we mean when we use the word “success.” In other words, our life won’t be a wreck if we refuse to let stress or worry dominate us, because what we’ll be doing is refusing to think we have to run our lives and make sure they’re successful all by ourselves.
One note. How are we supposed to cast our burdens or stress on God? These verses imply it, and almost expect us to know, that we do it in prayer. Philippians 4:6 says it directly—“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”
What I realized about my own tendencies.
When something’s bothering me, my natural reflex is to talk about it with someone. For me, that someone used to be friends, but after I got married, my go to person to talk to became my wife.
So, you know, something’s stressing me, and I talk to her about it. It seems totally innocent. We talk about everything, so why wouldn’t we talk about this negative-feeling stuff too? But what I’ve discovered is that sometimes in these situations, maybe even most of the time, when I “get things off my chest” or just “talk it out” what happens is, I can leave the conversation feeling better, but she leaves it feeling worse. She might feel bad for me or angry at the situation, or just agitated by the stress I was describing. So what just happened? I took the agitation I was feeling and I used my words to unburden myself onto her. I just handed the burden or the stress to her with a conversation.
I kind of knew that I did this. Pieces of this realization had already been slowly coalescing in my mind, but recently they came together for me. I love how God does this when we’re actively following him. He’s really good at using all kinds of ordinary things to create this sort of daily school where he’s teaching us. In this case it was the “speaking” aspect of both conversation with other people and prayer that provided the connecting point for me, and gave me my light bulb moment.
Like I said, when I talk about my stress to my wife, I’m using words to unburden myself. And the Lord brought these two verses to my mind, from Psalms and 1 Peter, and I realized—this language of “casting my burden” or “casting my cares” perfectly describes what I do to Veronica. And of course, what do these verses invite me to do instead? They invite me to cast my burdens on God. In other words, God Almighty is asking me to use my words to talk to him about my stress. I think it has to mean, literally, in the same way that we might tend to use other human beings to unload on, God says, “Unload on me.” And when we see that, I think we have to also see that there’s probably an unspoken, silent acknowledgement of the other side of this coin. “Unload on me, and not so much on other people.”
And this leads us to a couple more insights. Both David and Peter tell us things about God’s ability to handle our burdens that show us why he’s really a superior burden carrier than anyone else.
David says, “Cast your burden on the LORD, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved,” and we might add, “and remember, whenever you’re talking to other people, they can’t sustain you, and they have no power, ultimately, to make sure you won’t be moved. Only God can do those things.”
And Peter says, “Cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you,” and we can imagine him saying, “No one else has the same kind of love and concern for you that he does. His love is actually big enough to handle all of your stress, and his desire to help you isn’t limited by any human limitations.”
It’s not negativity; it’s just realistic to finally notice that no one around me can handle the stress of my soul. I can’t. So why do I keep expecting other people to be able to? In fact, what realizing this actually does for me is free me up from being disappointed with people all the time. It frees me up from feeling like people have let me down if I make them handle my stress and then (surprise, surprise) I don’t actually feel sustained and strengthened afterwards. Because you know what it’s like, at some point the stress comes rushing back and then you’re just looking for a few more minutes to make someone listen to it all again. And when I’ve relieved others of the duty of carrying my stress, it actually frees me up to love them with much more realistic expectations for my relationships.
The fact is that God did not make my wife to handle all my stress. That’s not why he led her to marry me. And it’s not what she’s for. And that’s the craziest part of this whole thing—God says that that’s what he wants us to use him for. God presents himself as Someone who understands that we live in a world filled with things that overwhelm us. And what he says to us, really through the whole bible, is that his solution for that reality is himself. It’s like he’s saying, “you were never meant to face the world without me. Come talk to me about that world that’s stressing you out.”
And so that’s it. The follower of Jesus learns to handle stress by telling God—unloading on God—about everything. And then we leave it with him. We get up from telling God about the situation, and we let the words of David and Peter shape our thoughts. We think things like, “Ok, I told God. He won’t let this destroy me. He’ll get me through. He cares about me.” And then we go about our day with that confidence.
This way of operating becomes our becomes our go to. God becomes the main person we think: “I can’t wait to talk to him about this. And think about it—he will never get tired of listening. We never have to worry about gossiping if we’re alone with him. He loves everyone else we talk to him about. He knows everything about us and about any situation we’re in, and he has total power and wisdom to do whatever should be done about the situation. And none of those things are true about any of our friends or family.
Does this mean we shouldn’t talk to each other about our problems?
Now, I’m not saying that any of this means we can never talk to another person about something that’s messing with our heads. That would just be weird. And of course, God does use other believers to bring his grace to us, and to help us with all kinds of things. That’s why Paul writes to the Galatian church, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And if we love each other, we want to help each other out with hard things. That’s not the issue. The issue is what I do when I’m feeling stressed out. Yes I want to help other people. And they want to help me. But that doesn’t dictate what to do when the issue’s mine.
I think the key to see how all this goes together is to understand that, if we let Psalm 55:22 and 1 Peter 5:7 do their work on us, and we learn to use prayer as the way we handle stress, it’ll enable us up to use our relationships the right way. We will be the kind of people who can talk about difficult things, when necessary, without loading the burden on others. We won’t expect them to do things they could never do or bear weight they could never bear. We can ask for prayer, or advice, or help, and do it in a way that we’re actually asking people for things God will enable them to do for us. We’ll use the community of Christians in the right way. Our relationships will be healthy. We can go through hard things with each other, and, when we each let God be God for us as individuals, we can then be the body of Christ to each other.
I suspect that nailing this down early in life will save us a lot of relational pain down the line.
And there’s one more thing here. If you’re not a follower of Christ, can we just say to you that we’ve found that it’s better to live in a world where there’s someone who knows and cares about all our stress, and has the power to help us, than in a world where there’s no one like that, really, anywhere to be found. And it’s not only better to imagine that kind of world, but we’ve found that that world is the real world. There’s no such world where men and women are left to fend for themselves against cold hard impersonal reality—except where ignorance and evil have separated people from friendship with God. So we’re people who go around spreading a different message. God’s here. He’s close. Only our sins have blocked us from knowing him. And that’s the real source of our stress.
And we see that in both of these verses we’re looking at in this study.
In Psalm 55 it says, “He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.” Only “the Righteous” have this promise. Psalm 1 says that to be in the opposite state (there it uses the terms “ungodly”) is to be like chaff, which is just like a weightless plant husk. And chaff totally gets moved. It gets blown away by the wind.
In the bible, one thing it means for a person to be “righteous” is for them to be totally aligned with God’s purposes for the world. God is in the process of undoing every lie and all evil and sweeping it out of the world. Those who want and work for the same thing are called “righteous.”
But the bible is also clear that none of us actually think and live that way. We have this problem where we love evil. So God’s solution is that Jesus Christ came and lived this way. For his entire life. And then he died by being nailed to a cross like someone who hadn’t been righteous. So he took the penalty for our unrighteousness in that way. And then God raised him from the dead. So now, even though you and I, and everyone else, haven’t been righteous, anyone who places their trust in Jesus as the only hope for humanity—God grants them the status of “righteous.”
No matter how evil you’ve been, when someone turns away from evil and puts their faith in Christ, God calls that person “righteous.” And what happens next is that we consciously begin to let God actually make us people who someone would call “righteous.” When we start to follow Jesus we begin a lifelong process of having God make us actually good. We become people who want to align themselves with God’s purposes in the world. And those who have aligned themselves with him are invited to give their burdens to God, so that difficult things won’t ultimately move them.
Peter is actually getting at a similar thing from another angle in the first part of verse 6, when he says, “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.” To really begin to know the peace of having God himself be your burden bearer, you first have to humble yourself before him. You have to acknowledge his presence in the world, and his total goodness and authority. You have to acknowledge that you’ve sinned and dishonored his authority, and so you don’t deserve a place in his kingdom. And you have to acknowledge that Jesus is the king, and that he’s God’s solution. You have to pledge allegiance to King Jesus. That’s what’s going on when someone humbles themselves before God.
And when you orient yourself toward Jesus that way, this is the word to you: “now cast your cares on him. He cares for you.”
You’re invited into a life with this kind of confidence and hope. It’s a life that nothing can ultimately ruin. And it’s a life God wants everyone to know.