Stress in the Body

Just as stress affects our physical bodies, it can also affect our church body. I am not a strong man. As much as a want to be, and as much as I try to let the semblance of strength linger around me, when the stresses of life start applying pressure, my body succumbs to its presence. I live with a chronic illness, and the stress and strains of life wear on my body much more than they used to. When I need my physical health the most, that is the minute it begins to let me down. As we all know, stress is not merely an emotional or spiritual reality. It manifests itself in a multitude of tangible ways, and each person experiences it differently.

The body of the local church is not much different. When conflicts, financial pressures, or any other external force begins to weigh heavily on the church, there will be symptoms that arise among its members. The restrictions of COVID-19 are an excellent example of this. Regardless of what you think the right path forward is, there are people in your congregation who disagree and are as distressed about the situation as you are for different reasons.

Typically, in difficult times, we would go to our church family to find refuge when we are heavy-hearted, but what we are facing right now is bigger than any one of us. We are all feeling its weight in different ways. When we need our church family the most, we might find that it too is manifesting the stress we came to forget. On top of that, one of the essential aspects of corporate worship, drawing near to each other, is stifled. It is hindered not only by the governmental  restrictions in place, but it is also hampered by the multitude of opinions of how closely the church should follow those restrictions. Whether your church is abiding by all the guidelines or is gathering as usual, there is a portion of the body that is uncomfortable with what it is doing.

When my physical body begins to show its weakness under the stress I am facing, something interesting begins to take place. It is as if my faith rises to meet the challenge. When I speak of my faith, I speak of it in two ways. First, it is the biblical truth I believe about Christ, and the trust I have in him. Saving faith always involves correct data, assent, and trust. Second, it is the gift of God. The reason our faith as Christians is powerful is not that it is our faith, but because it is born from above. Not only is it born of God, but he also sustains it. We are kept by the power of God through faith (1 Peter 1:5). For this reason, scripture tells us, For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith (1 John 5:4).” Faith is the victory that overcomes the world because it is the work of the Holy Spirit, and greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Amid my weakness, the Lord empowers me through faith by turning my eyes away from my strength and ability and placing them directly upon my hope and stay Jesus Christ. Here, in my frailty, his power is made perfect. Every time this happens, it is a step forward in sanctification of sorts, because I should have never been trusting in my strength. In the furnace of affliction, the Lord brings the dross to the surface to remove it. With my eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, many of things I thought were important fade away. As they fade, so does much of my unnecessary concern and the bodily impact that came with it.

I believe the same process can happen in church bodies. It is easy for a group of believers to experience stability for so long that their eyes begin to look more to the body’s health and benefits than their Savior. When the manifestation of stress begins to show in the congregation, we begin to realize, even as a church, we all still have a chronic illness that makes us weak. Though we have been forgiven and declared righteous in Christ, every single one of us is still dealing with indwelling sin. We are not as strong as we think we are, even as a group.

When frustrations with their local church begin to manifest, many people start looking for another body to join, but they will never find what they are looking for because we are all the same. The grass is only greener on the other side until you step on the first sharp rock. If the stresses of 2020 are impacting your relationship with your local church, my prayer is, as a congregation, the spirit will use this time to draw your eyes to your Savior. The body is only as healthy as its focus on Jesus.

It is only when we all have our eyes on him that we will be able to navigate the troubled waters with unity. Unless your church is violating essential teachings of the faith or openly engaging in or embracing sinful activities and ideas, this is not the time to jump ship. It is time to double-down on your commitment to the people you have been worshipping with all along.

They need you now more than ever. Take your eyes off the waves of dissatisfaction, look to Jesus, and go out of your way to love one another because they are as troubled by all of this as you are, even if it is for different reasons. As we regain our focus, many of the church’s concerns will fall away, and so will many of the effects on the body that came with them. If this begins to happen across the church, you will know that Lord has taken your eyes off your failing body and put them on him. He has caused the church’s faith to rise to the challenge, and in its weakness, his strength is being made perfect.

-D. Eaton

Christian, You Need to Slow Down

If you want to grow in godliness you need to slow down. What is it about being forced to slow down that makes us want to run faster than we were before? I think it is because, when sickness or some other obstacle hits us, we want to have the will to power through. Whatever it is, slowing down is something we resist, and when we are forced to do it, it is often uncomfortable.

When we have no choice but to slow down, however, we realize we had been taking our time and abilities for granted. On top of that, we realize that though we were running fast, much of it was spent on directionless pursuits. It is amazing how we can feel pressured to check social media, or check a gaming app on our phone. There have been times I have felt like my evening was pressured because I needed to write a blog post, but no one is sitting at their computer waiting for me to post. My mom doesn’t even do that. Still, something inside me says you better get something written soon.

These are small examples, but we fill our days with these types of anxieties. Many of the things that have us running so fast could be eliminated without hurting anyone. Often, the only real negative impact we feel is the effect it has on our pride. We tend to think, “if I am busy, then I am important. People need me to fulfill all of my so-called responsibilities, because if I do not, things will fall apart,” but it is not true. Much of what we feel pressured to do is noise.

We rarely realize this until something hits our life that forces us to start reevaluating. There comes a time when your body or emotional state says, it is time to change pace. At first, we usually think we can work through it, but, in the end, we find that providence is serious about making us slow down. It is at this point that we will hopefully start to gain perspective.

The process is painfully pleasant. A few years ago I found myself in a similar situation. First, I wanted to power through as if my will-power could right all the wrongs with my health. Once I resigned to the fact that I could not do it, I settled in to make some changes. The first thing that I needed to do was to get rid of all the needless distractions that had been adding stress but did nothing to help me be productive with important things.

I started by reevaluating what truly mattered. The key to this was making sure my mind was set on things above, or in other words, making sure I was seeking first the Kingdom of God. I will not talk about this much here because most of my posts deal with this in one way or another, but if we fail to seek Him first, even slowing down cannot help us.

Upon reflection, I found I had filled my life with needless interruptions, and they were not benefiting me in any way. I also began to realize that I did not know I was being distracted because I was not even aware of what I was being distracted from. I believe this is the case for many people.

Then began the process of slowing down and removing needless stress. This process involved deleting apps on my phone, limiting social media time to once a day, and I even began to schedule time on my calendar to check email only three times a day at work, instead of checking it constantly. This reduction was the part that felt painful at first. I felt like I was going to miss out. If much of my productivity happens with email, how could I accomplish all that I needed to get done?

I noticed myself repeatedly looking to my phone for notifications that were no longer available. My brain’s habitual response needed to be retrained and it did not like it. The result of this was that I was not less productive, I was more productive. I had hours in the morning, afternoon, and evening, which were email and social media free. These uninterrupted hours forced me to become more strategic with my time at work and home, instead of wasting it always checking to see if I had new messages and diverting my train of thought. This also gave me more time to do something I enjoy, writing.

Regarding social media and time online, I realized I was not missing out on much. I also noticed that my executive attention, the ability to focus on something for an extended period of time, began to grow stronger. Before I was forced to slow down, I had already realized that the internet had started shrinking my thoughts. I began blogging 2005, that was eventually reduced to Facebook posts, and then I was down to 140 characters on Twitter. Though all of these can be powerful tools if used correctly, sustained thought is not something online platforms encourage. The big takeaway was that my mind was spending much less time flitting from one unimportant thing to another.

I also began to choose my television time much more carefully, and I would always keep my Kindle or a book with me. If I was going to spend time doing something during my free moments, I could at least make it something mindful. I could continue to tell you about more of these little changes, such as how the boredom created by the absence of so much entertainment and social media actually sparked creativity, but I think you are getting the picture. Let me conclude with a few thoughts on the importance of slowing down.

Slowing down is not something we have to be forced to do. It is something we can do even when our health is strong. Jonathan Edwards once said this about a man he honored deeply, David Brainerd.

“[One] imperfection in Mr. Brainerd, which may be observed in the following account of his life, was his being excessive in his labours; not taking due care to proportion his fatigues to his strength.”

Much of what I have written about to this points is removing the unnecessary and unproductive activity from our lives, but sometimes we even need to slow down on that which is worthwhile and godly. Our Lord has put His treasure in jars of clay, and though the outward man is wasting away, the inward man is being renewed day by day. This truth should teach us two things. First, our bodies cannot do it all, and these jars of clay will eventually fade. If we do not slow down, we will soon be forced to. Second, when our bodies force us to slow down, even in our service to God, we are not necessarily reducing our pace in being renewed spiritually, which is the ultimate goal.

It seems our Christian culture has come to believe that overworking and godliness are inextricably bound. If you are not running fast, then you are not redeeming the time. Sometimes, the best path to being spiritually renewed is through slowing down. Maybe it is time to take due care to proportion our fatigues with our strength. In doing this, we find we are redeeming the time more effectively than when we were before.

It is important to remember that doing less does not mean we stop doing difficult work. Much of our most important undertakings are challenging. This is why we often prefer busyness over slowing down. If we are using our frantic pace as a form of procrastination in regard to the things that matter, that type of busyness is actually a form of laziness. In the end, I found during my time of slowing down that I was actually accomplishing more.

A divided mind, one caught between heaven and earth, will never find peace because it is chasing things in two different directions. A heart that is united in the fear of the Lord will be able to slow down and cover more ground because it has only one direction to go. This need to slow down and regain focus, like all battles with the sinful nature, is a daily struggle. Part of what prompted me to write this post is the fact that I have allowed many of these things to begin crowding my life again. We must continually guard our hearts against being pulled away from the Lord and his service by things of little or no importance.

Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. – Psalm 86:11

D. Eaton