"We have to figure out how to manage all this stress."
Richard Swenson's first suggestion: live intentionally.
"If you don't fix these problems in your life, nobody else will," Swenson said in the second of his two lectures in Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's Scudder Lecture Series, March 27-28 in Kansas City, Mo.
Swenson voiced the attitude: "There's the kingdom of God at stake. There's Jesus telling me how to walk. I'm not gonna let this culture terrorize me, bully me and push me around." Romans 12:1-2, he reminded, exhorts, "Do not be conformed."
"What does that mean? Be a clone?" Swenson asked, answering, "It means to be transformed by the gospel."
His second suggestion: lower your expectations by accepting human limits.
"It's not a spiritual crime to admit that we have limits in our life. It's a sign of maturity," Swenson said.
The world says, "You should know no boundaries. If you can dream it, you can do it," he recounted.
"I'm not against dreams," Swenson said. But, he reminded, "It's the kingdom of God, the Spirit of God, the power of God who works through us. … We should have excellence and marvelous vision. We should look at the world and see it whole. God should stir in our hearts to have mighty vision for what he wants to accomplish through us."
Third: prioritize your values.
"If you have thirty-six hours of things to do and you have a twenty-four-hour day, it's easy to see that you have to say no to twelve hours' worth," Swenson said, reminding that people's priority systems should tell them when to say yes and when to say no.
"You should be informed from the Scriptures what your values are about and what you say yes to," Swenson said. Hebrews 12:1, he pointed out, says to throw off everything that hinders. "Throw it off, say no to that stuff."
Fourth: Learn to slow the pace of life.
Progress automatically increases the pace of life and, in the process, Swenson asked, "Don't you think that perhaps we will start missing something of the presence of God? When I go at a nanosecond pace, I forget to pray. I have absolutely no time to wait upon the decisions of the Holy Spirit of God informing me.
"So, ruthlessly slow the pace of life," Swenson counseled.
Another way to reduce stress is through laughter, he said. "It is a free gift from God. People who laugh readily, heal faster. We have proven that in medicine." The peak age for laughter, he said, is at the age of four. They laugh once every four minutes or 400 times a day. "If you follow a four-year-old around and laugh every time they do, I can guarantee you that positive things will happen in your emotional energy margin."
Other ways of reducing stress and overload, Swenson said, include:
• Cultivating simplicity and contentment in their lives. The free-est people in the world, Swenson said, are not the people who have everything, but the people who need nothing.
• Taming technology. "Technology is wonderful, except when it isn't. It can serve you, it can be a tremendous blessing; it can also drive you to the brink of insanity," Swenson said.
• Seeking solitude from time to time. Swenson pointed to the Old Testament in citing the need for solitude and rest. All the great figures of the Bible headed to the desert from time to time, he said.
• Turning off the television. According to statistics, the average home has TV on fifty-five hours a week.
• Controlling debt and decreasing spending. Statistics show that 80 percent of Americans have more debt than assets, Swenson said.
• Defending one's boundaries. This is "the idea of erecting a perimeter around the private space of you life and not letting the world come crashing through," Swenson said.
• Connecting with other people, developing nurtured relationships. "People need the Lord and [medical studies] can prove that it's healthy," he said.
To the audience of future pastors and ministers, Swenson said, "You are not wasting your life. You are not wasting your careers. You are doing something that is enormously important. I beg you to pay attention to these issues so that you will be sustainable with passion and joy and excellence and love and caring and compassion over the long haul. I want you to be as in love with the kingdom [of God] and the Word and the people of God in thirty years as you were on the first day you accepted the call."