How to De-stress Your Distress
The Oxford English Dictionary defines distress as extreme anxiety, sorrow or pain. If that description sounds familiar and you are feeling like your stress level has progressed to a state of distress, you are not alone. Scripture includes multiple examples of strong leaders who served in a state of distress.
by Bert Jones, ACC
“In my distress I prayed to the Lord and the Lord answered me and set me free"
(Psalm 118:5, NLT)
I picked up the phone to return a call from a message I had received on my office voicemail earlier that day. The call was from a doctor. I called the doctor back and said, “Hello, this is Pastor Bert from CMDA returning your phone call, how can I help you?” After a pause, he responded, “Thank you for calling me back; I don’t know how much longer I can continue to practice in this environment." As he continued to download die heavy burden he was carrying, I realized die doctor on the other end of the call was in distress. It was a 911 call for spiritual help. Unfortunately, that phone call is becoming all too common and frequent in my office.
One of the simultaneous consequences of the pandemic has been the increase of stress and the decrease of well-being. It’s the rise of frustration and the fell of fulfillment in serving. This has been especially true for those serving in the healthcare profession. Under pressure to perform long hours, few have forced themselves to address the personal stress the)' face as a result of the ongoing crisis. Failure to address the stress in one’s life will often progress into a state of deep distress.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines distress as extreme anxiety, sorrow or pain. If that description sounds familiar and you are feeling like your stress level has progressed to a state of distress, you are not alone. Scripture includes multiple examples of strong leaders who served in a state of distress. The phrase, “in my distress,” is repeated multiple times throughout the Bible. Leaders like Jacob (Genesis 35:3), Moses (Exodus 3:7), David (Psalm 4:1,55:17,18:6,120:1) and Paul (Philippians 4:14) experienced the depths of distress and despair and prevailed.
The word distress is an interesting word. It literally means “from a strait place.” It means being in a tough spot. We often hear of people being in “dire straits" or in an extremely difficult or dangerous situation. The Psalmist describes this situation as “in my distress" (Psalm 18:6). It is an incredibly real and personal place for the writer. It is my distress. It’s interesting how a general pandemic that impacts everyone around the world has deeply personal and unique implications for each of us, implications that can be quite different from others with whom we serve. The meaning of this word strait is significant. It is used in reference to a situation that is characterized by a specific degree of trouble or difficulty.
It reminds me of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is die gate, and broad is the
way, that lcadcth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (KJV). We often imagine the wrong word here in thinking the strait place is a straight place. Jesus is not speaking about a road without curves but a path that may rattle your nerves along the way—an unsettling journey that may be lull of stress and leave you “in distress."
Jesus has already faced what we are facing. I le prayed in the garden for the cup of sorrow to pass if it was God’s will, but through intense prayer, He understood the path before Him would lead to everlasting life for all who choose it, but it would require Him to follow the strait way. Don’t be discouraged in your distress. Jesus warned us in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; 1 have overcome the world.’ [My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding]" (AMP).
Psalm 118 is the last of the five “Hallcl" Psalms. “Hallcl" means praise. The Jews used these Psalms as a celebration of Passover, which God instructed them to do just before their exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:14). They worshiped God while singing these songs and making sacrifices to Him. Israel learned that sacrifice often involves suffering.
Notice the verses of thanks and praise that precede the prayer of distress, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Let all Israel repeat. ‘His faithful love endures forever.’ Let Aarons descendants, the priests, repeat: ‘His faithful love endures forever.’ Let all who fear the Lord repeat: ‘His faithful love endures forever’" (Psalm 118:1-4, NLT).
While the Bible challenges us not to ramble in our prayers (Matthew 6:7), there is plenty of evidence compelling us to repeat portions of our prayers. When it comes to prayers made "in distress," some things really are worth repeating.
In Psalm 118:2-4, did you notice the Psalmist challenged his readers three times to repeat a portion of the prayer? As I studied this passage, I began to notice six places in the prayer where the Psalmist repeated a portion of this prayer “in distress.” I think it sets the stage for us to begin to de-stress in our state of distress. Take a look at these repeated portions of the prayer from Psalm 118.
- GIVE THANKS (verses 1,29). The most powerful prayers in a season of distress begin and end with a heart of thanksgiving. We need to confess gratitude and remember the word “hallcl" means praise. The Lord has taught me through the years to start with praise when I’m facing a problem. Our tendency is to make a to- do list for God, but we often forget to praise I lim forwhat He has already done. Paul encourages us to give thanks in everything (1 Ihessalonians 5:18). Before you ask God for something, acknowledge what He’s doing for you now, and then thank 1 lim for what He will do for you, as a result of your prayers. Raise your praise and give Him thanks!
- HIS FAITHFUL LOVE ENDURES FOREVER (verses 1-3). Four times in just two verses, we are called on to repeat the phrase, “His faithful low endures forever.” What a great reminder when in distress. In 2 Thcs- salonians 3:3, Paul said, “But the Lord is faithful; He will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one” (NLT). In 1 Corinthians 1:9, he reminds us that we have been called into fellowship with the Son of our faithful God. As we look with our natural eyes, we often have a tendency to be fearful of what we see, but as we begin to look up and sec the Lord, we will be amazed with His faithfulness. We will begin to comprehend, “Great is his faithfulness..." (Lamentations 3:23, NLT).
- THE LORD IS FOR ME (verses 6-7). One of the schemes of Satan is to make us think we arc alone in our times of distress. We comince ourselves we arc flying solo with no one on our team. That is simply a lie. Jesus promised to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Many years before Romans was written, the Psalmist understood the teaching of Romans 8:31b, “If God is for us, who can be against us?* Several times in Pauls wirings he testified to the Lords presence through some incredibly difficult and dangerous rimes (Acts 23:11,2 Timothy 4:17). He also found that God used those moments of distress to further the gospel (Philippians 1:12-14). The conclusion of the Psalmist is . .so I will have no fear..." (Psalm 118:6, NLT).
- TAKE REFUGE IN THE LORD (verses 8-9). Notice the Psalmist points out twice that it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put our trust in human intervention. Don’t forget, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1, BSB). In times of despair and distress, we can either retreat backward or look upward to God to be our place of refuge. We should trust I lim with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). We need to rest in the One who is our shelter.
- ALL AUTHORITY IS AVAILABLE TO YOU (verses 10-12). The writer details the feeling of fear he experienced in his moment of distress. He was surrounded by those who were against him, swarming like group of bees ready to attack. In that moment, he stood not on his own authority but on the Lord’s authority, and he was victorious. I’m reminded of those moments when Jesus sent out His disciples to do the work of ministry. When He sent them, He gave them power and authority (Luke 9:1-2). Even though they were being sent out as lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3), they came back rejoicing in what the Lord had done for them (Luke 10:17). In Jesus'final commission to His disciples, which includes us, He gave us all power and authority to go and fulfill the Great Commission of spreading the gospel (Matthew 28:18). I challenge you to stand against the schemes of the enemy, not on your authority but on His.
- THE LORD IS MY STRENGTH (verses 14-16). Someof us have an incorrect view of what it means to be strong. There is a tendency to honor and glorify the physical strength of leaders who hold out and stand firm on their own ability and in their own strength through adversity. As followers of Christ, though, we don’t have to go through those seasons alone. We haw One who desires to come along and be our strength in times of weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). He invites us to take His yoke (Matthew 11:29) and find our strength in Him. Remember Paul’s challenge to the Ephesians, "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10, NKJV).The writer in Psalm 118 repeats his reference to the strong right arm of the Lord to show us His strength and power, as well as remind us of what glorious things strength and power can do. I challenge you to rely on His strength and comfort when you struggle in distress.
I believe repeating these portions of the prayer will reduce the defeat and depletion of our souls and lift us above it as wc commune in the spirit with the Lord. They will offer us hope and help us begin to dc-stress in our state of distress.
In Matthew 26, we find the last Passover celebration Jesus shared with His disciples in the upper room before going out to the garden and eventually to the cross. Wc call it the last supper. In verse 30, they sang a hymn and then went out to the Mount of Olives. Have you ever wondered which song in the hymnal they sang that night before they left? Do you have any idea which song may have given them comfort for what they were about to face? Bible scholars believe Jesus and His disciples would have sung the Psalms of Hallcl.
Just think about that for a moment. Picture Jesus and His disciples confidently singing in repetition these verses in Psalm 118, while Jesus knew fully what was about to happen. In light of the night ahead—including His betrayal, denial, arrest, pain, suffering and ultimate crucifixion—He continued to sing,“In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free" (Psalm 118:5, NLT). What an example for us to follow (1 Peter 2:21). If it was the song Jesus chose to sing, maybe we need to learn the words for our hour of distress.
Billy Graham once said, “Don’t let circumstances distress you. Rather, look for the will of God for your life to be rewaled in and through those circumstances.” It has been helpful for me to understand that doing the will of God docs not exempt you from the press of distress (Luke 22:44). We also need to be mindful of the stress we cause ourselves because of bad decisions we make, along with the stress that comes because of uncontrollable circumstances. Remember to keep 1 Peter 3:17 in perspective, “For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing cviT(NKJV).
Through this prayer of desperation, we discover God is listening and acting on our prayers (verses 5,21). 1 Peter 3:12 tells us God’s ears are attentive to our prayers, and 1 John 5:14 explains that we can have confidence in God hearing and answering those prayers if we ask according to His will. Jacob discovered that God responded to his prayer in distress, so he went back to Bethel and built an altar to the Lord (Genesis 35:3). We can begin to de-stress our distress by giving our burdens and cares to the Lord (Psalm 120, Psalm 55‘22,1 Peter 5:7).
David understood what it was like to overcome the feeling of distress and be victorious. His song appears in 2 Samuel 22:1-7:
“David sang this song to the Lord on the day the Lord rescued him from all his enemies and from Saul. He sang: ‘The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. He is my refuge, my savior, the one who saves me from violence. I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and he saved me from my enemies. The waves of death overwhelmed me; floods of destruction swept over me. The grave wrapped its ropes around me; death laid a trap in my path. But in my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I cried to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry reached his cars’" (NLT).
May we learn from die example of the Psalmist and from Christ Himself who prayed in distress. Let Psalm 118:21 be our benediction in the midst of our affliction, “I thank you for answering my praver and giving me victory!" (NLT). Will you be willing to thank God in advance of a change in your circumstance?
Look what the Lord does when this prayer of distress is prayed—He sets them free (verse 5). Some translations say, “The Lord answered me, and set me in a large place;” literal
ly, the Lord answered me on the open plain.The idea is that the Lord gave me enlargement—took me out of my straits—and “...set my feet in a large room” (Psalm 31:8, KJV).
Arc you feeling wear)’ and heavy-hearted today (Matthew 11:28-30)? Call on the Lord! Warren Wcirsbc said, “Let God enlarge you when you arc going through distress. He can do it, you can’t do it, and others can’t do it for you."
Take a moment, repeat these promises in Scripture and pray them over your situation. God will hear your prayer as He heard the psalmist. He will help you de-stress in your distress.
Pastor Bert L. Jones serves as CMDA's Director of Leadership (A Church Relations. In this role, Bert oversees the Center for Well-being and church ministries. Bert also serves as chaplain of CMDA. Since 1988, Bert has led multiple teams across the street and around the world Bert has traveled on five different continents and to more than 33 different countries to teach and preach the gospel. He has engaged in leadership development nationally and internationally throughout bis ministry. Bert co-authored the book Servant Leadership Proverbs in 2017 with Dr. David Stevens. Prior to this project, Dr. Stevens and Bert co-authored the book Leadership Proverbs. Bert is also the author ^Practical Youth Ministry.