It’s no secret that the last two years have been stressful for pastors. One LifeWay Research study in 2021 found that nearly two-thirds of pastors say they’re frequently overwhelmed.
If that’s you, you’re not alone.
But it’s important that you deal with your stress now rather than later. Your well-being depends on it. Psalm 23 provides us with a tremendous blueprint for reducing stress. In the Psalm, David outlines seven stress-busting habits that will make us happier and healthier.
1. Depend on God to meet your needs. “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need” (Psalm 23:1 NLT).
It’s easy to put your trust in other people to meet your needs—your spouse, your congregation, your friends, and so on.
But that’s also a constant source of stress. We should never base our security on something that can be taken away from us. When you realize God will meet every one of your needs, it calms you down. He will never disappoint you, either.
2. Obey God’s instructions about rest. “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:2 NIV).
So much of the stress you face comes from being in a hurry and working too much. Rest is the antidote to that stress. Rest is so important, God put it in the “Big Ten”—the Ten Commandments.
When God tells us to take a day of rest every seven days, he isn’t giving pastors a pass. Just because we work on Sundays doesn’t mean we don’t need one day a week to rest.
It doesn’t matter whether you take your Sabbath on Sunday, Monday, Friday—or Wednesday. Pastor, you need the rest. Jesus did. When you study Jesus’ ministry, you see how often he took time to relax. Jesus didn’t feel guilty for taking time away from ministry and neither should you.
What do we do on a Sabbath?
- Rest our bodies. Take a nap.
- Refocus our spirit. Spend some time in worship.
- Recharge our emotions. Take part in a recreational activity.
3. Recharge your soul with beauty. “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside peaceful waters. He renews my soul” (Psalm 23:2-3 GW).
One of the reasons that Psalm 23 is the most beloved Psalm is because we can visualize it. We can see the lush meadows and calm lake. They’re particularly comforting in a 21st-century urban world. You need beauty in your life. It’s an incredibly important part of stress management. Beauty inspires, encourages, and motivates. God created humans for a garden, not a skyscraper.
So how can you get more beauty into your life?
- Get outside every day. Take a walk and get in touch with God’s creation.
- Start your day with God, not the media. The first seven minutes of your day set your mood. Start with the Good News, not bad news.
- Intentionally put beauty around you. Surround yourself with pieces of art and music that inspires you.
4. Go to God for guidance. “He guides me along the paths of righteousness for the sake of his name” (Psalm 23:3 GW).
The most common source of stress in your life is indecision. That’s why the declaration of God’s guidance in Psalm 23 is so important for stress relief. God will guide us at the right time and in the right way. He’s never off target.
It’s easy to look for guidance from the latest ministry fad or a pundit somewhere. But the only guidance you can trust completely comes from God. So, depend upon him.
5. Trust God in the dark valleys. “Even though I walk through the dark valley of death, because you are with me, I fear no harm. Your rod and your staff give me courage” (Psalm 23:4 GW).
We all go through the dark valleys. In fact, we’ll go through many of them in our lifetime. Loss is particularly painful, whether that means loss of life, job, or health.
We lean toward one of two responses to loss—either grief (which is good) or fear (which is bad). Grief is a godly emotion. Fear will paralyze you.
Psalm 23 uses a shepherd metaphor to describe how God uses a rod and a staff to protect you in the dark valley of death. God walks with you as you face loss, and he is active in protecting you against anything that can hurt you. You can trust him.
6. Let God be your defender. “You prepare a banquet for me while my enemies watch. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5 GW).
David knew what it was like to be attacked. He spent much of his young life running from Saul. He hid in caves as he was being maligned and demeaned by the king. Yet David wouldn’t say anything bad about Saul. He let God become his defender.
Pastor, you face attacks often. It takes a lot of faith to trust God and let him defend you. When you’re attacked, you want to defend yourself. You want to correct the lies of others. But you are most like Jesus when you remain silent while under attack. It’s what he did when religious people attacked him. He never retaliated.
I’ve learned this from experience. When you remain silent under criticism, you usually end up with more influence, not less. Your critics usually end up helping you in the long run.
7. Expect God to finish what he started. “Certainly, goodness and mercy will stay close to me all the days of my life, and I will remain in the Lord’s house for days without end” (Psalm 23:6 GW).
Another reason we face stress is we fear the future. We’re always asking, “What if?” But notice how David writes of his certainty that goodness and mercy will continue in his life.
We tend to look at our future in one of two ways. We either expect everything to go wrong or we look at the future and say: “Certainly goodness and mercy will stay close to me all the days of my life.”
You lower your stress with the second option.
I don’t know what burden you’re carrying, but I know your stress isn’t too big for Jesus.
Jesus tells us, “Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30 CSB).
Jesus wants to help you carry the load. Will you let him?