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Striving or Stressing?

“Why are you crawling up the stairs?” I was watching my younger son, who had just started his high school track career, struggling in agony to reach the second floor to his bedroom.

“My legs hurt so much! I took some Tylenol, but it doesn’t seem to help,” he moaned.

“Well maybe you should cut back on your running. Just tell the coach you can’t compete this week.”

“No, Mom! I have to be there! I can’t give up now!”

I’m sure my son wasn’t the only one that year who was growing and competing at the same time… a painful combination. There was no way to dissuade him from his goal. He pressed through that physically stressful year.

Striving is a commendable attribute. Hopefully we all want to strive to do our best, be our best. When there is a deadline to meet and we need everyone’s best effort, we stress to everyone the importance of going all out, pulling out all the stops. Striving is the mark of a good team member, an employee, or a student. These are the people we want to associate with, choose, hire, encourage.

We hear a lot about striving in the Scriptures. Strive to keep a clear conscience (Acts 24:16). Strive for restoration of relationships (2 Corinthians 13:11). Strive to do what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:15). Strive together in prayer (Romans 15:30). Strive to build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:12). Strive for self-control (1 Corinthians 9:25). Strive for peace with everyone (Hebrews 12:14). And finally we are to strive “because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior” (1 Timothy 4:10).

There isn’t a lot of scripture related to stress, however. The most notable are Jesus’ words about anxiety: Do not be anxious about anything because He will take care of us (Matthew 6:25-34). The apostle Paul reiterates that same concern for our wellbeing when he encourages us to go to the Lord Jesus in prayer whenever we feel overwhelmed (Philippians 4:6).

We’re all familiar with stress, that feeling of emotional or physical tension. Some of us handle stress better than others. Some of us are motivated by stress and feel we do our best work when we’re under pressure. Stress is important in small doses to keep us safe, to meet challenges, to finish a project. But when stress spills over into anxiety, suffering and pain, we’re in the danger zone.

As leaders we have to ask ourselves what kind of atmosphere are we creating in our workplace, our committee, our organization, our church, our family? Is it one of healthy striving? Or instead are we putting so many demands on ourselves and the people around us that we are stressing out everyone?

The balance is sometimes elusive. It takes an awareness that we should always strive for: being mindful of our own striving and keeping a close watch over those we lead; watching for signs of frustration, anger, or nervousness. It’s the balance between striving and stress that allows us to continue to encourage excellence in reaching our goals.

We’re all in this race together. Running “with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Striving and encouraging one another. Because we know the race isn’t always easy. We fall. We struggle when we are weary.

But we have the promise of our Lord Jesus that He has already won that victory for us. He was a perfect example of striving to reach His goal, our salvation. He wasn’t going to be told to stop by anyone, including His own disciples (Matthew 16:23). He wouldn’t take the easy path when tempted by the devil himself (Matthew 4:1-11). He spared no effort. He did His utmost. He gave His all. He pulled out all the stops!

And we have His promise that He will be right there with us as we strive to run our own race. He will reach down and pick us up, forgive us, renew us, and set us back on course. Best of all, He will take away all of our stress and anxious moments and remind us of His love and the joy that is ours when we set our eyes on Him, trusting in Him alone, knowing that the hand that is grasping ours is His.

Leaving my guilt at the cross,


(First published at Lead Like Jesus June 2020


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