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“James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the 12 tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings” (James 1:1 NKJV).
Stress! Perhaps no other word is used as much to describe the culprit, the scapegoat, the excuse of modern man. Many of the problems in our homes and with our health seem to relate to this stress factor. But stress has been around through the ages.
Note, for instance, that James addressed his epistle “to the 12 tribes which are scattered abroad,” to those early Christians who had fled Jerusalem. The Greek word James used to describe this is diaspora, from which we get our words dispersed and dispersion. The word picture is of someone scattering seeds. After the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7, the Christians in Jerusalem came under increasing persecution from the Roman Empire. They refused the Romans’ demand to confess that “Caesar is Lord.” Instead, they insisted there was only one Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, the Bible informs us, “They were all scattered… except the apostles” (Acts 8:1).
James was writing to those believers who had to leave their homes, their job, their properties — everything. Talk about stress! Yet God permitted these early believers to experience the scattering and the resulting stress for a purpose. Had those believers stayed in Jerusalem, chances are the Gospel would not have spread so completely through the known world. Everywhere these early followers of Jesus were scattered, they shared the good news of Christ’s redemptive work, and in just one generation, the Gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire.
James wrote to people facing “various trials” (James 1:2). He was instructing them — and now instructs us — on how to deal with stress and pressures that come our way. James addressed stress long before the multitudinous volumes of books on modern stress were written. He was writing to people who were experiencing stress and about to crack under pressure. He was writing to those of us who are trying to live out what we say we believe. Consequently, James was extremely practical as he encouraged his readers to live out a faith that works.
As I type these words, I think about those who initially read James’s letter almost two thousand years ago. Some of them were wives and mothers at their wits’ end. Uprooted from their homes and miles away from what they had always known, they were now trying hard to keep their families together. James was also writing to children trying to deal with new surroundings and uncertain futures, suddenly living in a completely different culture. Also hearing these words were men who had lost their jobs, their land, everything they had spent a lifetime building. These men and women undoubtedly felt as though they were hanging by a thread. They were living under tremendous pressure and great stress.
Out of balance
In our modern world, the moment we hear the word stress, we tense up, clench our fists, and grind our teeth — as if stress were our foe. Yet stress can be our friend. In fact, Dr. Kenneth Cooper has written a book titled, Can Stress Heal? The subtitle gets to the heart of the issue: Converting a major health hazard into a surprising health benefit. Stress is often God’s way of telling us that our life is out of balance. In fact, James was teaching that stress is a warning signal that can actually be one of life’s greatest tools. Learning to effectively deal with high anxiety when it comes knocking at our door can result in longer, happier, and even healthier lives.
We might not know — as the Jews in James’s day did — the stress of literally being uprooted from all we have known, nor the stress of crossing oceans in rickety wooden boats to find religious freedom. Still, those who lived just a few years before we were born did not know the stresses of our modern world. Exponential change is happening all around us. We all face our own limits, whether they be limits to time, energy, health or finances, and many of us are perilously close to burnout. Yet as we keep hoping that the pace of life will eventually level out or slow down, it seems to keep getting faster and more intense.
That’s why a great life skill is the ability to cope with stress and pressure. As we look closely at the words of James, we’ll see that he was addressing not just the stress and pressure of a first-century world but of our own fast-paced twenty-first-century experience as well. James’s letter is not so much a theological expose, like Romans. It is much more practical, and focused on how to live out our faith in a pressure-packed world.
In the initial paragraphs of his letter, James revealed five fascinating facts about stress. First, stress is predictable. Stress happens, and it’s not going away. Second, stress is problematic. If we don’t learn to deal with stress, it can be detrimental and even destructive to our health, homes, happiness and hopes. Third, stress is paradoxical. James said to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2). Now, that is a paradoxical thought if ever there was one! Fourth, stress is purposeful. Some of us go through the furnace of stress and come out like refined gold, better suited and prepared for a life of purpose. Finally, stress can be profitable. God can use stress for our good and His glory.
Those early believers were not the only ones living in a diaspora. In a very real sense, believers today are scattered all around the world, living in exile from our heavenly, eternal home. Thus behind the hand of James is the hand of God Himself, writing to you and me at a point of personal need.
Taken from The James Code by O.S. Hawkins. Copyright © 2015 by Dr. O.S. Hawkins. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. O. S. Hawkins has served pastorates, including the First Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, for more than 25 years. For a quarter of a century, he served as president of GuideStone Financial Resources. He is the author of more than 40 books and regularly speaks to business groups and churches all across the nation. All of the author’s royalties go to support Mission:Dignity. MissionDignity.org.
Read more articles by Dr. O.S. Hawkins at: https://www.goodnewsfl.org/author/o-s-hawkins/