Why You Can Find Hope in Stress

Note from Randy Alcorn: Today’s guest blog is from our newest EPM staff member Karen Coleman. Karen is a dear sister who brings with a deep love for the Lord and a heart for ministry. She and her family served 23 years as missionaries in Africa.

Karen and I also worked together years ago at Good Shepherd Community Church when I was a pastor. Nanci and I have always loved and appreciated Karen, and we respect deeply how she has, in recent years, faced great difficulties with God’s grace in view. It’s a privilege to have her on staff with us at EPM.  

I was thinking (stressing?) about my stress level yesterday, and decided to go online and take the Holmes and Rahe Stress Inventory. My total was calculated and it was actually off the charts in the highest category, which then warns rather ominously: “You have a high or very high risk of becoming ill in the near future.” As a cancer survivor, this is not the kind of news I take pleasure in hearing!

In the past two plus years, I’ve been through a series of transitions, some very big and painful—including two major moves (across states and continents) and nine minor moves (living with friends or house-sitting for the past year), a year-long battle with cancer and its brutal treatment methods (with 3 major surgeries, thousands of dollars of bills, and Christmas day in the ICU), major job transitions, loss of involvement in a ministry I had valued and enjoyed for over two decades, an empty nest (with my sons not only leaving home but also leaving the continent), and far-reaching relationship difficulties that have struck a blow to the foundation of who I am. Reflecting on all I’ve experienced, I think I have good reason to be stressed, overwhelmed, even devastated. But in fact, most of the time, I don’t actually have the typical feelings associated with such a high number of stress-producing life events.  I wanted to figure out why.

Last fall, when my life circumstances truly seemed to be falling apart, I read Randy and Nanci’s insightful book Help for Women Under Stress.  I bookmarked this passage:

Hope is the light at the end of life’s tunnel. It not only makes the tunnel endurable, it fills the heart with anticipation of the world into which we will one day emerge. Not just a better world, but a new and perfect world. A world alive, fresh, beautiful, devoid of pain and suffering and war; a world without disease, without accident, without tragedy; a world without dictators and madmen. A world ruled by the only One worthy of ruling.

This hope isn’t mere wishful thinking or an unrealistic dream or fantasy. Rather, it is a hope secured by the blood-bought promise of our Savior and King. After making the pledge that He will end all suffering and death and wipe away every tear, “He [Christ] who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Revelation 21:5). Jesus was saying, “That’s my promise, bought by my blood, permanently inscribed in the scars on my hands and feet.” This is a promise we can take to the bank. In a world where little seems certain, this is certain!

How do we gain this godly perspective that allows us to see beyond our stress? One way is by seeing how God uses our circumstances for His glory and our good. Once we understand that stress is a powerful tool in His loving hand, we will never look at it the same way again.

That is a game-changing perspective! Think about that for a moment—“stress is a powerful tool in His loving hand.” Granted, there are times when stress feels like a sledge hammer, pummeling and flattening me right down to the ground, or like a chisel, whittling away what I thought were important parts of me. But He is still—and always!—loving, and using it all for His glory and my good.

I’ve had my share of “wishful thinking” and some romantic notions about how I always imagined my life would be. And it’s not necessarily wrong to plan for and dream about the future. The problems—and the stress—come when we pin our hopes on our own plans regarding the world and people around us. “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21). As Randy and Nanci explain, “The fulfilled life largely consists of unclenching our fists, releasing our plans and giving ourselves over to His purpose.”

There is a great passage in 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 that reminds us how to “see beyond our stress.” I like these verses in the Message version:

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever… The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.

That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? …Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that’s what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions. 

So when the inevitable ruts in your road or rocks in your path start causing you stress, stop and take heart in the lavish celebration to come, and refocus your attention on cheerfully pleasing the God who daily bears our burdens (Psalm 68:19).

That is the main thing, and a great recipe for stress relief.

photo credit: Sunny tree via photopin (license)

Karen Coleman served as a ministry assistant at Eternal Perspective Ministries for three and a half years. She spent 23 years in Cameroon, West Africa involved in Bible translation and missionary care. Before going to Africa and before EPM began, she served as Randy’s assistant when he was a pastor. In June 2018, Karen went to be with Jesus.