Written By Hans Anthony, originally in Bahasa Indonesia
“Problems are a sign of life.” How true. As long as we’re alive, problems are inevitable, aren’t they? The only time we no longer have to face them is when we’re no longer alive.
The problem with problems is that they often shift our focus from what’s important, and weary us in the process. Life becomes a mess. We feel stuck. We get stressed. How do we get out? Based on my own experience dealing with stress, here are five things I encourage you to do.
Sounds clichéd? As Christians, we know that prayer is a channel for us to communicate with God. When problems set in and stress hits, we are reminded to pray and ask God for His help. But do we actually practise this in reality? More often than not, we try to find our own way out, or look to others to solve our problems.
I remember a stressful situation I faced in 2012. My company had to pay around 100 million Indonesian Rupiah because I miscalculated the tax for imported goods. Logically, the bigger your problem, the quicker you run to God, isn’t it? Yet, I wasted days stressing over it, trying to find my own solution, only to realize that I had no way out.
We know the Bible teaches us to cast all our cares on God, the One who has power to take care of us (Psalm 55:22). It also tells us not to worry, but in every situation, to present our requests to God (Philippians 4:6). But perhaps, we are not really convinced that He cares. There are so many problems in this world and so many people who present their requests. Will God bother to listen to mine? And even if He cares, what solution can He provide? It seems that there are better things to do than just pray.
So God had to give me a huge problem to bring me to my knees. I desperately acknowledged my limitation and asked God to enable me to think clearly and find a solution. When I did that, it felt like a heavy burden was lifted from my head. It is true that when we surrender to Him, He replaces our frustration with His peace which transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7). My problem is still there, but I am not caught up with stress anymore, knowing that I am not all alone facing the problem.
2. Be among godly company
Who we are with affects how we cope with our problems. If we’re surrounded by optimistic people, problems are likely to seem less daunting. But if we are around pessimists, we might end up discouraged and disillusioned.
I am thankful that I have godly friends whom I can speak to during my stressful days. While they are not “experts” who can fully understand and diagnose my problem, they give me a lot of encouragement and uphold me in their prayers. When I share with them the stress I’m going through, I start to see my situation in a different light. And my stress level decreases significantly.
To fight stress, look for a community that seeks to build up its members. Be among those who love God and desire to grow like Christ. That way, we can bear each other’s burdens and uphold each other (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10; Proverbs 18:24).
3. Give thanks
You may be familiar with this quote: “Do not tell God how big your problem is, but tell your problem how big your God is”. When we focus merely on our problems, we are likely to feel stressed and overwhelmed.
As I come to God in prayer and surround myself with the counsel of my godly friends, I realize that I have many things to be thankful for. God gave me the opportunity to learn this important lesson while my business is still small. I cannot imagine if it happened when my company is much larger. Not only would I have to pay bigger sum of money, I may even implicate others who work with me (along with their families).
American philosopher and psychologist William James once said: “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” And that’s what I exercised, choosing to shift my focus from the what (problems) to the who (God). And, you know what? Even amid difficult times, we can count our blessings. After all, thanksgiving is God’s will for us, not only in good times, but also in stressful times (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
4. See things from God’s perspective
As humans with limited understanding, we often jump to the wrong conclusions. The story of the 12 spies always reminds me how important it is to see things from God’s perspective. When 10 of the spies reported that the land was teeming with fortified cities and powerful giants, the Israelites concluded that God had abandoned them and their situation was hopeless (Numbers 14:2-4). But Joshua and Caleb saw the situation from a completely different perspective. They recognized God’s goodness for presenting them with such a wonderful land, and had full confidence in God’s protection over them (Numbers 14:7-9).
Instead of being overwhelmed by stress and hopelessness, I learned to dwell on this question, “By allowing me to face this problem, what does God want to do in and through me?” I’ve found that through problems, I can grow stronger in character, wiser in solving problems, and more careful in administration. This makes me be a better businessman for His sake.
5. Learn from the process
Casting our cares on God does not mean we become passive and careless. If we do not apply what we learn from the process, we may find ourselves facing the same level (or sometimes even more!) stress when we come across similar problems.
To complete my story, I decided to find out more about tax computation. As I browsed the Internet one day, I found an article that explained about it. According to that article—and to my surprise—my calculation was actually correct. I showed the article to my tax consultant and received an affirmation that I did not have to pay any fine. What a relief!
When God allows His children to face problems, He promises that the problem will not exceed what we can bear, and He will provide a way out so we can endure them (1 Corinthians 10:13). As we saturate our mind with God’s promises, there will be no room for stress. We will be able to accept our situations with thanksgiving and be open to lessons we can learn because we know that God can use any situation to shape His children into His likeness. He will even prepare us for bigger things.
Think of the 13 difficult years that shaped Joseph before he became the second in charge of the whole Egypt. Think of the many challenges that tested Daniel’s faith under the reign of pagan kings, before the king set him over the whole kingdom (Daniel 1-6).
As long as we’re alive, problems are inevitable, and we may go through a lot of stress. But I learned that we don’t have to be defeated by it. We can deal with stress by depending on God, holding tight to His promises. We can seek counsel of godly friends and shift our focus to God. We can fill our mind with thanksgiving and set our eyes on the lesson God wants to teach us for His sake!