daily Broadcast

Learning How to Stop Stress Before it Starts, Part 1

From the series Overcoming Emotions that Destroy

Deadlines, flight delays, traffic jams, crying babies - what do all these have in common? Well, for most of us these situations cause us stress. We are surrounded by stressful events every day! How do we keep the chaos of life from stressing us out? Chip clarifies God’s solution for stopping stress BEFORE it starts.

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Message Transcript

Ephesians 4:26 says, it’s the good summary of anger in Scripture, “Be angry” – that’s a command, “yet, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger, lest you give the devil a foothold or an opportunity.”

So, your anger quotient talks about the environment that you’re in, certain environments raise the possibility of anger. Certain perspectives that you have either increase or decrease your relationship with anger and it’s all tied into, no matter what your environment or perspective, obeying Ephesians 4:26.

I want you to circle the “E” if you will, and I want to talk about your environment. I want to talk about the environment that can allow you to be either more angry or the environment that can cause you to be far less angry.

I want to read just a little section. My teammate, I’ve never teamed up and done a book with someone before and it’s been kind of fun to get a woman’s perspective and especially someone that’s worked with so many people. She’s a practicing psychologist and counselor and she did this experiment. Just a couple paragraphs.

She said, “One day I decided to keep a mental log of all the times I felt angry. I wanted to know how often I got angry and what I got angry about and what triggered the anger. I encourage you to try this too. The results were surprising and quite humbling.

“I was shocked at how often angry feelings came to the surface. Prior to consciously counting these episodes I had mistakenly assumed that anger was only an occasional visitor to my emotional arsenal. I was wrong. Very wrong. I had to be honest about my feelings of anger, frustration, and actual infuriation. I had felt either flits or fits of anger at not being able to find my favorite socks, running out of milk, the kids taking too long to get ready, the slow driver in front of me, the long wait at the pharmacy, the store that was closed on Monday, having to put gas in the car, the price of the gas in the car, the long line and the slow service when I got gas in the car, the kids leaving their clothes on the floor again, the computer freezing on me again, and I was only halfway through the day.

“Though some of these feelings could describe fleeting frustrations, when I was honest, far too many of them, were actual anger. Then came another humbling lesson, I realized that most of the day-to-day anger I experienced was all about small, insignificant stuff, that I face all the time. When I stopped and looked at how often I got angry and what I got angry about, I had to admit that it happened too much and too often. Then I took a further step. I ask, ‘What is it that contributes to the anger of my day to day life?’
“And the answer was surprisingly simple – stress. Stress. The relationship between stress and anger in my life isn’t unusual. The more pressured, burned out, overwhelmed, or busy that you become, the more your anger will lie at the foot of your feet, ready to explode at any moment. The key to lessening our anger is our ability to minimize stress.” Final line. “The more stress we’re under the more likely it is that anger will make its appearance. Our goal is to reduce stress.”

And so I want to just encourage you in our time together, I’m going to be really, really practical. Not an outline, I’m not going to go all kind of different texts. I basically want to give some practical wisdom about how to reduce stress in your life.

I am a type A personality. I have been a workaholic. I have been characterized by being driven.
And I’ve pastored anything from a member church of about thirty-five people where thirty-four of them are related – that produced a lot of stress – to six or seven thousand people coming through the doors every six or seven days and a very large staff and big budgets and being totally overwhelmed.

And so, all I want you to know is, I understand what it’s like and I just want to walk through some very practical ways that people far wiser than me and many things that I’ve experienced that might help you.

Number one stress reducer is: eliminate hurry.

John Ortberg, went to teach at a large church in Chicago, and has since gone back to California. But when he was ready to take that big step. And it was a big, big, big church and he was going to be the teaching pastor with a team of guys, and he met with Dallas Willard and he said, “You know, you’re a wise man in the things of God, you’ve written books on the spiritual disciplines, what piece of advice could you give me as I take my family into all this responsibility, and all this pressure, and all that I’m going to face.” And he said, “You know I got my pen out,” and he said, “I’m going to take lots of notes. This is Dallas Willard. And he leaned back and he looked at me and he said, ‘Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.’ And so okay, yeah, okay, good. Uh... So… ‘No,’ he said, ‘That’s it. Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Speed and godliness are incompatible. Speed and peace are incompatible. Hurry and loving others is incompatible. Hearing God’s voice and hurry are incompatible. Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.

I heard that at a time when our church was going through some significant growth and a capital campaign, a building campaign, someone mistakenly took a couple of the messages and stuck them on a local radio station and then some other station put it on some other station and that started down the road and to say that I was under pressure and living a hurried life would be an understatement. And I think there’s times in our life where God will give us a message that is so for us that the entire trajectory of our future can be changed if we’ll just obey that one word for us in that moment.

And I remember thinking to myself, and then Ortberg, he’s a tremendous teacher. If you’ve never read any of his books, I’d just highly recommend them. And so, I remember deciding: I’m going to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from my life.

I was the guy, you know, the plane door, it’s leaving, one more person’s getting on. Ingram gets on! Okay sits down, briefcase, got to do some work, da da da. You know, I mean doing this, getting to a meeting one minute just before it starts because you can’t be late but you’ve got to do five things just before you get there, multi-tasking all the time, talking on the phone, answering email on the computer, and three other things if I could. And he gave some practical ways to do it and so I went into training. I literally went into training. I took some of his suggestions.

Number one: For two years I drove in the right hand lane of the freeway. It was just, I’m just going to drive in the right hand lane. I’m not going to be in a hurry. I’m not going to count how many cars go by in the toll lane. If I get in this lane right here, I think, let’s see, one, two, three, four, the yellow car got in with me, and, oh man, I should have picked that line.

You know what that tells you about your mindset? You must be really, really important. You must be so important that you have to get wherever you’re going that matters so much more than everybody else. What I realized, my hurry was rooted in arrogance, and what he called grandiosity. My being overextended was rooted in my grandiosity. For all the right reasons, doing really pretty significant things for God, I had come to believe unconsciously, it wasn’t willfully, that I’d become indispensable. I had to be everywhere and do everything and I had to hurry and the more of it I could do, the more God would be pleased.

I also went into the discipline of when I went to the grocery line, of going to the longest line, instead of the shortest one. It was painful. But, then I just, “Hey, how’re you doing? Good! So, you shop here often?” “Yeah, pretty much. Yeah. You?” “Nah, I just come you know my wife sends me for stuff and you know, I pick up what I can remember it’s usually the wrong brand or something. So do you live around here?”
You know what happened? I started relating to people again. Pretty soon the knots in my stomach when I was driving because I always had to…

I could tell you when you get off this ramp if you go in the left hand lane for the first two and a half miles, then if you go to the right hand lane because the exit comes this way then you get back in the right hand lane then you could, I mean I had, I was always in a hurry. And I began to slow. Slow down. Slow down. Slow down.

And it was really amazing, just the quality of life. I did something weird, I always try to figure out how, let’s see, they say you have to be there, this was before 9/11, you had to be there so you know like, an hour before a flight, and so I would just, I mean, everything was down to the wire, and then I decided, you know something? I think I’m going to get there an hour and a half early. Sometimes two hours.

And I’m going to get there early, and I happen to like a very good cup of coffee. I’m going to get a very good cup of coffee, I’m going to put my feet up, I’m going to think about what’s going on. Think I’m going to spend a little bit of time writing in my journal. Going to thank God for some of the people in my life maybe return a few calls, I think I’m going to call some people while I wait that I just…

Have you ever just opened your phone and just thought, “I wonder who I haven’t talked to lately?” for no reason. Bob in Tampa. I’ll probably get a voicemail but that’s okay. “Hey, Bob! Er do do do. Beep. This is Chip, you know what I’m sitting in the airport in Dallas and I just want to remind you, God loves you, Bob. And you remember two years ago when we had that little meeting? You came to my mind today. I love you. You are a friend like few I’ve ever had. And I hope you’re doing well today. God bless you.”

And I just started doing some spontaneous, non-urgent, not having to get it done, eliminating hurry from my life. Now, do I have some regression now and then? You bet. But I still get to airports early. I don’t always drive in the right hand lane, all the time, but I, for a period of time, I just got that, I’ve-got-to-get-there attitude out of me and it made a huge difference.

I read a poem that many of you will recognize and it was about that classic slow me down, Lord. And then after it, there were some observations that we made. “When I’m in a hurry I don’t notice the flowers blooming alongside the road. When I’m in a hurry there does seem to be more irritating drivers on the road than normal. When I’m in a hurry I don’t strike up friendly conversations with those around me. When I’m in a hurry I avoid people, places, and things that take time and energy, and effort. When I’m in a hurry I pretend not to see the person behind me in line who only has a few items when I have a cartful of groceries. When I’m in a hurry, my heart pounds and my muscles are tense and my mind races.

“When I’m in a hurry, I rush through the day and I rush by people. When I’m in a hurry I don’t ask people how they really are or if I do, I don’t stick around to hear the answer. When I’m in a hurry, my devotional life is a task to get done, instead of a time to treasure. When I’m in a hurry, I’m abrupt with people. When I’m in a hurry, it feels like life is a race to be run. When I’m in a hurry, I get angry more easily and more often.

“When I’m not in a hurry, I enjoy my food more. When I’m not in a hurry, I smile more and just feel calmer. When I’m not in a hurry, life seems to be a lot more enjoyable and less stressful. When I’m not in a hurry, I’ll ask about others, about themselves, how they’re doing, and I actually like hearing what they have to say.

“When I’m not in a hurry, my times in prayer are more meaningful. When I’m not in a hurry, I think I’m actually a nicer person, more thoughtful, and kinder to others. And when I’m not in a hurry, I’m more patient, loving, understanding, and tolerant. When I’m not in a hurry, things just don’t bother me as much.”

See, we can talk about anger and the A-B-C-D and it’s a secondary emotion. But your AQ, your anger quotient, will be determined by your E, environment, plus your P, perspective, times your willingness to obey Ephesians 4:26. So eliminate hurry.

Second, is downsize your expectations. Most of us try to do too much too soon and we feel overwhelmed and it puts us under pressure. And because our expectations are so high and we’re under pressure, then anger bubbles out.

Most dramatic experience ever. And this is not my biography, but I just want to tell you how life really works. I think sometimes people get up and they come to a place like this and so people think you’re way smarter than you are, way more holy than you are, and all of us are exactly the same ordinary people with regular ups and downs.

And in seminary I had a conviction that my wife should be home with our kids. And that was a really important conviction because that meant I needed to support us and go to school full-time, which was really hard. And so, I would get up at about 4:30 in the morning and study Greek until 7, catch a carpool, and then the carpool, I’d go to work, from work, I called it work, I went to seminary from 7 until about 4:30 and I would either read or be in class a hundred percent of the time, come home, play with the kids, eat dinner, go to work at 6:30. Get home at 11. Do it again.

So I was under lots of pressure. And where I went to school they wanted three years of Greek and two years of Hebrew and it wasn’t always that it was so hard, but it was just so much to do.

And I remember a guy that became a great mentor and a friend for the last twenty-five years was Howard Hendricks. I actually went to school to be around him. And I’ll never forget one day, he had a group of us together and we were kind of whining about our lives and demands and he has this, “You know the problem, don’t ya?” “No, prof, what’s the problem?” “The problem is you guys don’t get enough C’s.” What do you mean? “You don’t get enough C’s.”

He had this funny way of, you know, always doing like this with his nose. And, C’s, what do you mean? “Yeah, you’re a bunch of smart guys here. You came from schools where you’re smart guys and you think getting A’s is where it’s at. I got news for you guys, God doesn’t care whether you get A’s. Secondly, no one’s going to look at your résumé, whether you got A’s or not. You’re competitive, driven, carnal guys. Get some C’s. Love your wives. Have some fun!” You know?

And, so I was involved in ministry and I was involved in working and it was like someone just took the expectations and said – I wasn’t probably near as smart as a lot of guys, but I always was one of those students that could figure out what was going to be on the test so I always got really good grades. I’m just kind of a street smart, but I’m not super academic.

And I said, okay, this Greek class, a zillion hours, I’ve got to read all these book, I’m supposed to have all these, let’s see, two thousand words memorized and all this – and that’s worth ten percent of my grade, and when I get out, a computer has all those words somewhere. So, okay ten percent, that gets me from a hundred to a ninety – not going to do that. And then this other thing you’re supposed to read this, this, this, and that. Well, I want to learn to do the exegetical work, this, this, this, that’s what will help me be the man God wants me to be. I’m not doing that, that’s only five percent.

And so, I started to go the last couple years, and I’d go to the professor and say, “I just want you to know that I’m not sluffing off, it’s not that I don’t care about you, it’s not that I don’t think that what you’re doing is important. It’s that all these words are in a book, and when you do the little quizzes on the vocabulary, I won’t do well. I’m not even going to try. I’m starting your class with a B. Okay? And I just bought myself seven hours a week and it will probably make me a better dad, a way better husband.” And I just went through my classes.

Now, you know what? As crazy as prof was, even after doing that, most all of us, we just got B’s and A’s anyway. But it was just that – who’s putting the invisible gun to your head that says your house has to be absolutely spotless all the time? Who’s putting the invisible gun to your head that says you always have to return every call the same day or that this new thing, beep beep beep. An email comes. Ohhhhh! Oh my gosh! I’ve got to return the…

I mean, who made these rules? I didn’t get that. “It’s been seven minutes and they haven’t returned my email yet.” Why if I’m doing something over here that’s the will of God, how, how does someone electronically shoot something through a satellite that says it’s now the most important thing in my life? Where did we start doing that?

If I didn’t know better, that would be stupid. That would just be stupid. And then we get so overwhelmed. I’ve done this. Have you ever done this? You know, you get sort of those, they’re not quite spam – they’re from Harry and David’s and different people you order some stuff every now and then, or Delta Airlines is telling me about new fares.

Have you ever felt like you’re so overwhelmed that you want to feel like you’ve accomplished something and I sit at my computer, delete that one. Delete that one. Have you ever done that? Like the day is going so overwhelmed and I feel like, “Harry and David, that one’s gone. Delta Airlines, that’s gone. Those three advertisements gone. Boy, do I feel good about myself.” Is this nuts? Anyway…

Three: Learn to say no. I was privileged to get some mentoring from Chuck Swindoll, and as the radio was growing every year they’d have this dinner and we’d get a chance, and somehow I got to sit next to him and every year for about seven or eight years he literally took me for about a half hour, put his arm around me, and basically gave me that, “Now young man, here’s what you need to remember.” And it was amazing.

And so, I remember one year, he said, “One of the greatest things you’ll ever have to learn, learn to say no. Kindly, artfully, and with excellence.” And he said, “It will save you so much. I mean, people need to know you would love to, but the answer is no.” And I thought, “Wow, you know that is...” I didn’t really understand what he meant. And then there was a certain book that I thought would be really important and we were friends, and so I called him or wrote him and asked him if he would endorse the book.

And I got the nicest, most excellent, kindest letter. That I felt like, when I got done reading that letter, I was, next to Cynthia, maybe the second or third most important person in Chuck Swindoll’s life. Wow. “No.” I mean it was just like, “Chip, I appreciate you so much and what you‘ve done and I’ve glanced this, this is going to have a great impact. I’m so excited. And our times together and – our board and the priorities, they’ve just limited what I can do. I would love to do it. But I just can’t.”

Learn to say no kindly. Don’t take stuff on in church, don’t do stuff for friends, don’t let guilt drive you to get your schedule because under stress when you’re doing stuff you don’t feel really called to do, you get resentment and you’re going to have more anger.