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Where Is God in the Midst of Stress?

Written By Samuel Herianto, Indonesia

I grew up in a Christian family but began asking a lot of questions about the faith in high school. Questions about God began to emerge as I studied chemistry, physics, and math, but nobody—not my teachers, Sunday school teachers, or even the youth pastor—seemed able to answer my questions satisfactorily.

I eventually began to find some answers through a sermon I heard based on Genesis 3 about how sin has affected the way humans view everything—including nature and every part of life. This inspired me to look to God as Creator to understand the world around me better.

I continued to wrestle with these questions up to college. I spent a lot of time thinking and praying about these two things in my life—being a Christian and being a scientist. Truly understanding the gospel changed my whole life. Thus I believed that becoming a scientist who is Christian could help me offer a cohesive view of science and faith to other young people. I could help answer the same questions that I had always asked pastors and teachers.

God subsequently answered my prayer by giving me a full scholarship to study in Taiwan, and since then I have been studying molecular biochemistry under the guidance of a Christian professor. I learned about lipid-protein interactions and soon began experimenting independently in the laboratory. In just one semester, I realized that the scientific world is a world full of stress and pain.

By the second semester, after conducting some 70 failed experiments, my health declined and I experienced chest pain and dizziness. Doctors were unable to find any physical illness. The last doctor I visited was a cardiologist who suggested that I see a psychologist because of my stress. I began to ask, Where is God in the midst of my stress?

I found myself frequently crying all night because I was unable to interpret the data to generate a good story for the report. I had never felt so stressed or pained before, and I knew that even my supervisor would not be able to offer the specific advice I needed for a breakthrough. Trying to still be grateful even as my hair started to fall out one by one due to stress was not easy.

At one point, I visited a pastor in another city and poured everything out to him. He encouraged me to find God’s will and purpose by reading the Bible, instead of focusing on my stress. After three months of regular Bible study under his direction, here are some answers I’ve found.

 

As a Christian, I am not immune to stress, pressures, and temptation.

Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41)

Before becoming a true Christian, I used to work independently through my own methods. It worked brilliantly at that time. Everything was fine, and I always topped my class. Since becoming a Christian, it seems that I still did not throw this attitude out completely. I was still tempted to work on my own—without involving God—particularly in my experiments. I thought I was strong enough to overcome any difficulties in my path. I did not guard against overconfidence. It was as if I had said to God, “I can do this by myself.” Hence, God used these experiences to show me how weak I was and how vulnerable I was to stress and pressures.

Moreover, the temptation to worry and give in to stress still afflicts me from time to time.  But Matthew 26:41 is the medicine that reminds me to watch and pray. Surrendering my fears in prayer and acknowledging God’s sovereignty helps  to calm my mind.

 

God uses stress to get my attention.

I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me. (Psalms 120: 1)

God saw that I began to value achievement in my area of research over valuing Him. Let me explain. As a researcher, I behaved like a creator—at least, like the small creator—who controls creation. I planned, designed, and executed the experiments according to my plans. I tried to control the results according to my hard work, without involving God. I tried to control the outcomes so that I can glorify my work—and ignore God in this domain.

However, as I experienced failure up to 70 times and grew increasingly stressed, I saw how God used that stress to draw me back to Himself. Now I understand that God wants me to put Him first in my experiment, because He is the Creator of lipid-protein networks. I should continue to work hard in my experiments—not for my ambition, but for His glory.

 

God wants me to rely on Him only.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

In scientific research, everyone is working to discover something new, and very often our experiments are so technical that no one can help us, not even our advisors. During the past 1.5 years of training, I’ve had a lot of disappointments due to relying on myself and my own ability. Through this painful training, God has reminded me that He is the only true place to lean on.

As I continue with my experiments, I realize that the mysteries of lipid-protein interactions ultimately belong to God, and He will reveal them according to His plan and glory. In the meantime, I will be patient and work diligently, enjoying and leaning on God in every step of this training.

 

God’s will for me is to be grateful in all circumstances.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I used to think that God would only give happiness to His children. When He allowed me to experience sadness and misery, I started to grumble. I used to think that I always deserved the best from God simply because I am a Christian. I forgot that I am a sinful human who is by nature deserving of wrath (Roman 3:23). I also forgot that all goodness and blessings that I have received—including salvation through Christ—are God’s grace indeed.

Now I am reminded that I should not demand success or grumble over failures, because everything is a gift from God. If I can be thankful for the good things from Him, I should also be thankful when bad things come my way. God is teaching me to be a grateful person.

 

Ultimately, we as scientists cannot find anything in nature without God. God created all of creation, and we should humbly ask God, the Great Owner, to open our minds to understand what He has created. My professor often highlights that God is the owner of the great secret in lipid-protein interactions, as well as all interactions in nature. Therefore, God will give the knowledge to whom He wants for His glory.

I’m sure that whichever field you find yourself in, I am not alone in asking, “Where is God in the midst of my stress?” Through the last few months of searching, I have learned that God is still here with me. Does that mean my stress is gone? No, the stress is also still there, but my response to it has changed.

I know that I may fail again in my coming experiments, but I will continue to work hard. And I will keep being joyful—because God has promised to answer me in my distress (Psalm 120:1).

3 Things To Remember When Feeling Overwhelmed

Written By Rachel Tan, Malaysia, Originally in Simplified Chinese

Recently, I’ve been getting so overwhelmed by the demands of life that there are times I feel like I can’t breathe. I’m consumed with panic when I meet someone new at school and simply forget how to start a conversation. Or I freeze when I’m trying to lead a team in church. Even during class, I sometimes feel so anxious that it impacts my ability to understand the material.

When I find myself freezing up in these daily situations, it tends to make me even more nervous and frightened. My first instinct is to become paralyzed by a sudden fear, quickly followed by a desire to flee—from responsibility, from problems—to a place where I can hide from the world and the emotions that suffocate me.

As the burden of expectations grows heavy on my shoulders, it blinds me from seeing purpose in everything I do. I’m left feeling like all is meaningless—to the point where I feel as if there is nothing to look forward to in life. In an attempt to regain perspective, I have poured myself into searching for the meaning of life. After much journeying, God has begun to help me find some answers in His Word. Here are three truths about God that I hold on to when I’m feeling overwhelmed:

 

1. I have a God who gives purpose in fear

When I turned to the Book of Ecclesiastes, I found a relatable sentiment in the opening. It says,

“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

In context, the writer is lamenting the fact that our labor on earth, the search for earthly wisdom, entertainment, and wealth, are as meaningless as chasing after the wind. The closing of Ecclesiastes helps us understand this more by pointing us to what is truly worthwhile on this earth:

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

I realized that I had been living in pursuit of meeting worldly expectations that I set for myself in the various roles I held as a student, church leader and peer. If these continued to be my focus, then my life would ultimately be meaningless. But these words in Ecclesiastes gave me hope for new meaning in life. They were sweet words of assurance that I did not need to stress over how every situation would pan out, because my goal was not to overcome every problem.

I was created to focus on God—on following, glorifying, and fearing Him—and obeying His words. Understanding this helped me to shift my focus away from the weighty expectations of doing things right in various situations to resting in the promise that God created me to fear Him.

 

2. I have a God who is with me when I can’t breathe

As I further sought God through Scripture, I found great hope in this Psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. . . even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:1, 4)

Whenever I meditate on these two verses, my heart rests in the reminder that the Lord is my shepherd. I do not need to run away in fear, nor do I need to worry that I will be harmed. He is with me. His rod and His staff will comfort me and guide me in the right direction.

Furthermore, Jesus understands all that I experience—including the suffocating pressure I feel as I walk through dark valleys. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” I’m comforted to know that not only is Jesus with me as a guide and comforter, but he can empathize with my struggles and furthermore extend mercy and grace to help me when I am in need (Hebrews 4:16).

 

3. I have a God who invites me to bring my burdens before Him

When the pressure of what most consider a typical day overwhelms me, I am reminded of Jesus’ words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).

As I read this verse, I am reminded that if I am unwilling to dwell in God’s word and rely on Him, my burdens will remain as burdens. I will continue feeling suffocated by them. But something else happens when I willingly come before Jesus to learn from His gentleness and humility—I experience the rest He grants as I seek to learn from Him. I can have confidence to face challenges in ministry or problems in life, understanding that they are not my burdens to bear.

 

Sometimes I still find myself struggling to manage my life without feeling suffocated. But now, I remember that my shepherd calls me to His side and to rely on Him. When I can’t breathe, I hear a still voice prompting me to re-center my mind on Jesus instead of my circumstances. When I encounter problems, I do not flee, but can choose to entrust every struggle to God.

I am also learning to communicate and interact with my co-workers, and to not shy away from situations that have been stress-inducing in the past. None of the problems I faced before have changed—I am just learning (by God’s grace) to adapt and respond differently. I know that Jesus will be with me on the road ahead. I do not need to be afraid. Instead, I remember all that He has taught us, and walk forward while relying on Him.

 

My Quarter-Life Crisis: The Day I Went Berserk

Written By Leslie Koh, Singapore 

I knew something was wrong the moment I started kicking the boxes below my desk.

I’m normally a quiet, self-restrained person (no, really), but that day, something in me just snapped. On the phone, the caller’s tone and instructions rubbed me the wrong way, and I simply lost it. Something in me stopped me from yelling back, but my legs went on their own journey of anger-venting, and I started flailing at the cardboard boxes that I usually stacked beneath my desk to rest my feet.

You can imagine the scene, then. Usually quiet guy, gripping the phone handset with white, shaking knuckles, saying, “Okay, okay, got it, will do”, in the calmest and most deliberate of voices—while below the desk, loud crunching from furious feet driving into said cardboard boxes. Around him, the shocked faces of colleagues, wondering what had just happened.

The next week, I handed in my resignation. Nine years of journalism, check. One career over, check.

It wasn’t the shame or embarrassment; I had apologized soon after to my boss for my “outburst”, and she had accepted it. It was the knowledge that I was burnt out, and the realization that no matter how good the money was or how much potential the job held, I had reached the point where if I were to continue, I would do my mental health some serious harm.

As it was, I had been feeling more and more exhausted for many months, and always wanting to sleep in; it was as if I didn’t want to wake up to reality. The usually long hours in newsroom were taking their toll, and it had been harder for me because some of the tasks—interviewing, for instance—were well out of my comfort zone. I had heard that sleeplessness as well as an inability to wake up were both possible signs of depression, and I wondered if it was happening to me. My work was also going downhill: I was turning in work without caring if it met the minimum standard, and often ignoring instructions from supervisors. Once, assigned to attend an event, I borrowed my parents’ car and drove round aimlessly for two hours instead. (No one found out, as I still managed to get the information required anyway.)

The resignation brought great relief.

Finally, I could stop dragging myself out of bed every morning to face reality. I could stop ending every weekend with great dread over the coming work week. I could stop forcing myself to go through those long hours in office, hating every piece of work that came to me. I could stop those constant fantasies of becoming rich overnight just so that I would no longer need a job. (Or, as was more often the case, fantasies of the office burning down overnight so I wouldn’t have to report for work the next morning.)

It wasn’t always this way, of course. I had gone into the job with the usual enthusiasm of a greenhorn, but somehow, had become jaded over the years as the long hours and constant stress took their toll. Many colleagues thrived on it, but I felt overwhelmed.

Still, it wasn’t an easy decision. At the back of my mind, two main thoughts remained.

One was, “Am I weak? Am I taking the easy way out?” Younger generations have often been called the Strawberry Generation (you know, bruises easily), and it seems I was fulfilling the criticism. “Why, the older generations worked for 40 years without a day off, and they didn’t complain. You’ve not reached even 10 years, and you’re burnt out?”

The other was, “Is this God’s will?” Was I giving up before God could shape and transform me into a better person? Was I running away from His discipline?

To be honest, I still haven’t answered these questions fully today. Perhaps I was not only suffering from a burnout, but was also going through a Quarter-Life Crisis as I tried to figure out my career, my aims in life, and what meaning I ascribed to my work.

Having gone through what I think is a burnout, however, I’d like to say this: It doesn’t matter what others think of you. If you’re miserable and depressed, and your body is falling apart, no job is worth it. Sure, there’s a time to hang on, to persist, to fight back. But all of us have different limits. Don’t compare yourself to others, because each of us has a unique journey. One person may think it takes guts to keep going, while another person may figure it takes wisdom to give up.

Whatever others may have thought of my decision, I can say this with certainty: I could see God’s hand in everything that happened. There was more than a whiff of divine intervention in the securing of my next job. I had applied for one that seemed interesting and more importantly, appeared to promise a peaceful time. When no answer came, I tried applying again. While waiting, a chance encounter with someone—who just happened to be working in that same department—led to a cut-through-the-red-tape interview with her boss. The job offer came soon after.

The very fact that I had no problem adjusting to a new job soon after quitting seemed to suggest that I simply needed a break. Just being able to take a couple of months off work, and being able to move to something else that involved saner work hours and less stress seemed to make all the difference.

My burnout and the “kickboxing” incident are certainly not things I would want to experience again. I’m not proud of my response. But on hindsight, I can see how they formed part of my journey of self-discovery, and of faith. Were they good in themselves? No. Did God allow them to happen? I believe so!

Going through the burnout, I learned to recognize my own limits. Yes, you could accuse me of having pathetic limits and lacking resilience. But hey, these are my limits. Having been pushed past my limits once, I now have a better idea of how much I can take, and how much I can’t. This knowledge has enabled to make better decisions in life since. In subsequent job moves, I found I had a better handle on what I was prepared to do, and what I couldn’t stand doing. The experience has been invaluable.

I also learned to trust in God’s will and hand in my life. Years later, I would see Him use the incident to shape future decisions about my career. But more importantly, I learned to see that He is not an uncaring, inflexible God who has a fixed, non-negotiable plan that we can fall out of if we don’t make the right decisions. Yes, we need to seek His will and understand how He might want us to act or decide in a given situation. But He is a creative God who gives us the freedom to choose while engaging His will with our lives. If we put His law, interests, and ways before our own, He will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4).

Psalm 37 also reminds us to commit our way to the Lord and trust Him (v. 5), and to be still before Him and wait patiently for Him to unfold His will (v. 7). We have the assurance that our good and loving God will do what is best for us—even if we might not see it as such at the time.

The Lord makes firm the steps
of the one who delights in him;
though he may stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

(Psalm 37:23-24)

ODJ: Freedom from Stress

April 30, 2016 

READ: 1 John 5:1-6 

Every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith (v.4).

According to the American Institute of Stress, stress—related illnesses cost the US economy $300 billion in medical bills and lost productivity every year. Forty—four percent of Americans feel more stress than they did 5 years ago. Family relationships, job—related challenges, and even academic studies are a few stressors that weigh citizens down.

The believers in Ephesus were dealing with stress, but it was related to their faith in Jesus. Instead of offering humanengineered ways to chill and feel more relaxed, John pointed them to God and His resources.

The apostle was writing to a group of believers who were being socially ostracized and physically brutalized. Every day they lived with the stress of choosing Christ or losing their jobs and even their lives. Instead of giving in to the temptation of cowering under the pressure, they remained faithful to Jesus. What was their secret to dealing with the constant stress of being persecuted? Knowing that God was their heavenly Father, they found security in His love and knowing that they were “a child of God” (1 John 5:1).

They also found freedom in lovingly and joyfully obeying Jesus. In doing so, they weren’t defeated by the world’s hostility or compelled by it to turn from Christ (v.4). Because Jesus had already conquered the world, His followers could walk in that victory, casting all their anxieties on Him and finding His peace even in the midst of stress.

Peace is possible as we remember Jesus’ words, receive His love, and walk obediently in the victory He’s provided. His presence can cheer our souls, making it possible for us to experience freedom when stress comes calling.

—Marvin Williams

365-day-plan: Nehemiah 5:1—19

MORE
Read John 16:33. Why did Jesus say His followers could have peace? 
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How can knowing that God loves you unconditionally reduce the stress in your life and help you know peace? How can loving and obeying God help you to find the peace He has promised His children? 

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