The Best Stress Buster
The pastor’s battle with stress is very real and often comes at us in ways and times we least expect. As a person who has not always won the battle, I am on the lookout for thoughts and strategies that can be of help to me and other pastors so as to be better able to handle those moments when the pressure is on. One of the best insights I have found for this battle is rooted in the story of Jesus’ first miracle as recorded in John, chapter 2. I gained this idea when I heard a message by Charles Price (People’s Church, Toronto). The account of this miracle has given me a nugget of insight that has been a catalyst for me and others to keep a peaceful heart.
The story begins with a joyful assembly. It’s a wedding! Seven days of partying to celebrate the start of a new couple. It was a feast of food and relationships. Included in the feast was an adequate supply of wine, which was to be available for the week of celebrating. Just as a wedding is a place of joyful assembly, so too is the church. The gathering of God’s people is to be a happy place. We know that if a church is marked by joy it will be an attractive congregation and people will be drawn to join.
However, as happens in our churches, a stressful matter arose in the joyful gathering. There was a wine shortage. The demand for wine exceeded supply. This was a wedding crisis. In that time the wedding hosts were expected to have an adequate supply; to not do so was a major social “faux pas”. To run out of wine would be to invite derision and a bad reputation in the community, most likely for years to come. A social crisis had entered the joyful assembly. We, too, as pastoral leaders have crisis spring up in our congregations. It may be financial demands, conflict, a shortage of workers, or personal emotional demands. The demand needed to solve the problem suddenly exceeds our supply. Most stress in pastoral ministry can be boiled down to this basic factor: the demands exceed our supply.
Fortunately, we have a wonderful example of what to do when the crisis hits. Mary makes a great decision about how to handle the problem. Mary tells Jesus about the problem and instructs the servants to do what He says. Her decision opened the way for the grace and power of Jesus to enter the situation. This is the essence of responding to stress in the joyful assembly: Tell Jesus and do what He says.
The servants follow Mary’s advice and Jesus’ directions to, “Fill the jars with water.” They carry out His instructions completely and fill the water jars to the brim. Their example reminds us of the complete obedience that the Lord’s servants are to have when the Lord gives us instructions.
After they fill the jars, Jesus instructs the servants by saying, “Draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” The master of the banquet is more than impressed with the quality. He commends the bridegroom for keeping the great wine for the last of the party. Normally the best wine is served first, leaving the poor quality wine for the end of the celebrations. Such was not the case at this wedding. The best was served at the end. Somewhere in the course of the servant’s obedience, Jesus turned the water into wine.
This first miracle Jesus performed points us to the great realities of Christ Himself. It tells us that He is the best, He comes after all the early wine of the law and prophets, and is far better. Yet the story delivers to us one of the best stress busters we can learn. Jesus is the miracle worker. When I face stress in the “joyful assembly” I remind myself who is in charge of the miracles. My role is to tell Jesus and do what He says. I am to be faithful to tell Jesus the problem in prayer and do what He tells me, but I am not responsible to make the miracle happen. So often my stress levels rise because I have unintentionally placed on myself the burden of making miracles. I expect more of myself than the Lord Himself does.
Many servants of Christ are stressed because they take on themselves the responsibility for the miracles.
This unnecessary burden comes to us in subtle ways. Here are a couple of examples: We preach our best sermon but if people don’t respond like we hoped, we may think to ourselves, “If only I was a better preacher, there would be some life change happening.” We forget only Christ can change the heart. A second example might be in our counseling. We give wise and timely counsel to a couple whose marriage is in trouble, yet they choose not to heed our advice. We may think to ourselves, “If only I had done it better, there would have been life change.” In this deficit of results and resources we stress. We start to look to ourselves to come up with a miracle. It is a subtle but deadly matter. An added dynamic is that within our congregations are people who want us to be the miracle worker, and in hopes of helping them, we try. We take the problem on ourselves, but as we do, the joyful assembly soon becomes a place of great stress.
If you find that your ministry is becoming a great burden or your work is marked by stress rather than joy, take a moment and ask yourself, “Who is in charge of the miracles?”
If you answer the question biblically, you will find out that it’s not you.
Copyright © 2015 Lyndon Wall. All rights reserved.
Lyndon Wall has a heart for pastors. Before founding Refresh Ministries he served as the pastor of Grace Bible Fellowship Church in Sexsmith, Alberta, Canada for fourteen years and he also spent a year as Pastor to Missionaries in Jos, Nigeria. Since 2008, Lyndon, together with his wife, Marlene, has been dedicating his time to helping pastors and missionaries truly say, “It is well with my soul.” Lyndon and Marlene have one daughter and two sons: Lynnea, Madison, and Zachary.