Reactions to Stress

One of the reasons I find sports so interesting is the psychology of competition.   For example, when professional golfers are placed under stress everything tends to change:   they breathe shallower; they walk faster; their golf swing changes; their thinking process becomes muddled.  The result:  they play poorly coming to the end of a tournament when the championship is on the line.

This is fascinating.  It is the same player with the same skill set, knowledge of the game, tournament experience, conditions of play – the only thing that changes is his frame of mind which leads to physical changes which, in turn, impair his golf ability.

Do you think the same thing can happen to us spiritually?  I do.  In fact, I know it happens to me.

On a surface level, every man who stands before an audience to preach, teach a class, or give a short talk feels the effects of nervousness.  Your brain and mouth become disconnected; your thoughts get jumbled; time seems to move faster; and you perspire more.  You become incredibly self-conscious.  Nothing has changed but the pressure of the situation.

But on a deeper level, the dynamics of life can excite various emotions that compromise our judgment and/or performance.  This is how temptation works.  It alters our perception of the situation, causing us to act as we otherwise wouldn’t. 

Proverbs, for example, counsels a man to “keep your father’s command, and do not forsake the law of your mother.  Bind them continually upon your heart; tie them around your neck.  When you roam, they will lead you … for the commandment is a lamp, and the law is light” (6:20-23).  Why is this important?  Because the seductress will come with flattering words and fluttering eyelids (6:24-25); she will perfume her bed and promise a night of clandestine intimacy (7:16-20). 

And what does this enticement do?  In wild passion the man – who otherwise knows better – “went in after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks … As a bird hastens to the snare, he did not know it would take his life” (7:22-23).  Solomon’s further post-mortem:  “She has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men” (7:26; i.e., Samson, David and Solomon, himself). 

But carnal lust is not the only heightened emotion that can alter our perceptions.  As we noted last week, anger causes us to say and do things we normally wouldn’t (Jas 1:19).  Fear is a well-documented cause of much bad judgment (Gn 18:15; 20:11; 1 Sam 17:24; Mt 25:25; etc.).  At the other end of the spectrum, unbridled thrill can also disorient our psyche.  It is not uncommon for a golfer to make a stupendous shot, get overly excited and then double-bogey the next hole.  We are not to be stoic, but we should learn the benefit of placing all our stresses and the emotions they engender under the control of God’s character and promises.  This will help us keep an even keel.  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Ph 4:6-7).