What makes you anxious? Do you get stressed with deadlines? Are you anxious when you lose something? Do you get jittery when stuff doesn’t go well, maybe when you experience setbacks or obstacles?
It’s interesting to consider that each of us can get stressed about different things. Stuff that would elevate your blood pressure could be non-issues for me. The opposite also can hold true – what makes me chew my nails, might have zero impact on you. But, no matter what is stressful or not stressful to us, no matter these differences, we all experience stress and anxiety to varying degrees and at various times in our lives.
King Saul in the Old Testament had some very stressful experiences! Saul was the first king of Israel and in 1 Samuel 13:7-13, we read about Saul getting stressed. In these verses, he was in a difficult situation for lots of reasons:
- He was a new king, very fresh in his leadership.
- The Philistines were about to attack Israel, which would be one of the first military conflicts under Saul’s leadership.
- He was waiting for Samuel, God’s prophet, to come and offer a sacrifice before the battle.
- The Israelites were beginning to melt away from Saul because of their fear of the Philistines.
For me, it’s very understandable that Saul would be stressed and increasingly jittery, the longer Samuel didn’t show up and the more his Israelites were leaving him. If I were in his sandals and waiting to see Samuel land while watching my army leave me, these developments would increase my stress day by day. That’s what happened to Saul until he came to his breaking point and decided to offer a sacrifice to God before Samuel landed.
Immediately after Saul did the sacrifice, Samuel showed up and asked why Saul had moved forward and not waited for his arrival. Saul explained to Samuel the increasing stresses that he was experiencing, which led to his decision to make the sacrifice before Samuel landed. Samuel was displeased with Saul’s decision and told him in 1 Samuel 13:13, “. . . You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, for now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. . . .”
Whenever I read this experience, thinking about Saul’s increasing stress and Samuel’s response, I struggle because I think that Samuel is harsh with Saul. I think that Samuel should lighten up, not be so harsh. He should have had more grace and understanding, along with being more sympathetic and gentler, and given Saul a break.
But that’s not what happened, and maybe when we are experiencing stresses and pressures like Saul (dwindling resources, time deadlines, opposition that’s troublesome), perhaps we can learn some things from Saul’s mistakes.
I’d say that one of the key lessons that we can employ from Saul’s failure in these verses is to evaluate our focal point. I think this is one of the most significant things to acknowledge when we are under immense stress. While I recognize that Saul was trying to do right by offering a sacrifice to God before going into battle, his focal point shifted from patience to his anxieties. Maybe that’s something for us to think about as well.
Where do we look and what do we do when we’re under pressure, when we are experiencing intense stresses? Do we continually focus on the dwindling resources, time deadlines, etc? Do we act on impulse, as a stress relief, maybe to help ourselves feel better? What do we do and where do we focus?
If we take some moments to think about Saul and learn from his mistakes, then it can be helpful to remind ourselves to keep our focal point centered on God when we are in stressful situations. It’s also important that we don’t choose rash nor impulsive reactions to anxiety, that can make things worse. Rather than having an impulsive reaction to stress, maybe it could be helpful to take a walk, do some deep breathing for several minutes, go exercise, write down the stresses and anxieties or take some moments to be outside, listen for the birds and feel some sunshine.
No matter the level of pressure, let’s be careful that we don’t let stress and anxiety control our focus and vision, nor our behaviors and choices!