Recently, I began to feel pain and pressure in my stomach and chest, and I ended up in the emergency room. The doctor came to my bed and told me that I had an aortic dissection and an aortic aneurysm, internal bleeding from the main vein leaving the heart. My response was, “Are you kidding?” He wasn’t joking.
I didn’t know what the “dissection” was, but I knew it wasn’t good when he said, "We’re going to helicopter you out to a university hospital." I said, “What will happen if this thing starts bleeding worse?” “You’ll die,” was his reply. 80%-90% of people with aortic dissections don’t make it, even with emergency room treatment. I began to make funeral plans with my wife and family.
After the helicopter landed at the University of Pennsylvania hospital, their specialists told me that I did not have the aortic dissection, which meant I wasn’t going to die. My heart issues are minor, and I just need to control my high blood pressure. It was humbling to have thousands praying for me during that time.
The one word that concerned friends have repeated during this time has been stress. “Don’t stress,” “Reduce your stress,” “You can’t stress,” and “You have too much stress.” This article is in no way intended to be a rebuke to people who care about me, but an opportunity to share my heart belief that there is a difference between the wrong kind of stress and the right kind of zeal.
All of us deal with stressful situations on a daily basis, and there is the temptation to live stressed. It is a fact of ministry. We’ve all heard “stress kills,” and no one wants to overdose on it. Is it possible to effectively minister in the 21st century without “stressing”? I believe it is!
The Bible does not include the words stress, stressed, or stressful. However, God’s Word does include the words zeal, zealous, and zealously. I don’t believe God wants us to live in a stressed fashion, but He does want us to live with zeal. There is a fine line between the two, and sometimes it’s difficult to differentiate. In some ways, the zealous, spiritual lifestyle that God wants us to have looks the same as living a stressed-filled life, but it’s not the same. What is the difference between stress and zeal?
1. Stress is based on the flesh; zeal originates with the Spirit.
Unsaved people in the world live stressed lives because they are trying to accomplish carnal goals based on their own fleshly desires. A zealous man’s motives and vision originate with God and are revealed through His Word and Spirit. “Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.” (1Corinthians 14:12) Zeal is doing the right thing for the right reason.
2. Stress will make you busy; zeal will make you fruitful.
Stressed people live a frenetic lifestyle according to the world’s demands. In the end, they are left with ashes. Zealous Christians follow the path and pace of the Holy Spirit. This results in spiritual fruitfulness and boldness at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Temperance (Galatians 5:23) is knowing how much is enough. Zealous people evidence this fruit.
3. Stress is when we worry; zeal is when we trust the Lord.
Someone who is stressed is full of fret. A zealous man has great faith in God. How could the Apostle Paul say, “Be careful for nothing…” when he had “…the care of all the churches”? He did not worry; he prayed. Paul realized that the Church was the Bride of Christ and that the Saviour knows how to take care of His own Bride.
4. Stress is based on our strength; zeal is based on God’s.
Stressed people are drained. Zealous people are empowered and renewed by God’s omnipotence. “I can do all things through Christ…” should be the motto of our lifestyle. Claim God’s promises for power and thrive.
5. Stress brings attention to man; zeal directs the glory to God.
Watching a stressed person is like tracking a tornado. It catches your eye; it’s really loud, and it wrecks a lot of things in its path. When you observe a man full of zeal, you will see him deflect all glory to God.
6. Stress doesn’t change things; zeal makes a difference.
Like someone chopping with a dull ax, the stressed man has little effect in the areas of spiritual work. When we are “…zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14) we will be used by God to have a positive impact.
7. Stress makes people nervous; zeal will cause others to be inspired.
A horse can sense an inexperienced rider. People can sense a leader who is stressed, and they are hesitant to follow. A man of zeal causes people to want to follow. “…come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord.” (2 Kings 10:16) Inspire through zeal.
8. Stress will leave you burnt; zeal will leave you spent.
Burnout is the ultimate failed end of stress. It’s when chronically stressed people are no longer able to function properly. Christians should not become burnedout as they spend themselves for the cause of Christ. Paul said, “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you” (2 Corinthians 12:15). A burnt life is a failed life. A life “spent” is a joyful, spiritually successful life.
9. Stress is to be avoided; zeal is to be embraced.
Stress is a disease that plagues. Zeal is a healing medicine that gives life and vitality to God’s servants everywhere. Run from the dangers of stress. Embrace the energy of zeal.
"But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing…” (Galatians 4:18). It is good; not bad, to live a zealous, busy, hard working, spiritually energetic life for the Lord. Trade your stress for God’s zeal.