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The Pressure Mounts

Our world is under a lot of pressure. Hurricanes Henry, Irma, Jose, and now Maria. Forest fires in the Pacific Northwest. Earthquake in Mexico. Saber rattling in North Korea. Racial tension in St. Louis. Political conflicts between Democrats and Republicans. The pressure mounts.

Your life may be under a lot of pressure. Young children who demand your attention. A spouse who doesn’t give you enough attention. Expenses that far exceed income. A health concern that becomes a crisis. The pressure mounts.

In my life I face ministry demands, a son getting married, a daughter leaving the country on a mission internship, another son facing his own pressures of school and work. People pulling and time thinning. The pressure mounts.

The words of Paul reflect the anguish of our hearts: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8).

In 1982 Billy Joel wrote a song aptly called, “Pressure.” The inspiration for the song came from his secretary who said, “Wow, you look like you’re under a lot of pressure. I bet you that’d be a good idea for a song” (MTV show, Nightschool, 1982). And so it was.

Unfortunately, the song presents the problem but doesn’t give any real solutions:

Don't ask for help. You’re all alone. Pressure. You’ll have to answer to your own. Pressure. I’m sure you’ll have some cosmic rationale, but here you are in the ninth, two men out and three men on, nowhere to look but inside, where we all respond to . . . pressure. One, two, three, four. Pressure! (Billy Joel, Pressure).

If you believe there is no purpose to pressure, then you also might feel that despair is the only solution. Rather than being all alone or simply coming up with some “cosmic rationale,” or having “nowhere to look but inside,” the Christian faith affirms we are never alone, and, even though we might not see it now, God does have a plan in allowing us to go through the crucible of pain and problems.

At one point the Apostle Paul said, they even despaired of life, “but this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (2 Corinthians 1:9). Pressure drives us to the release valve, to the God who cares (1 Peter 5:7). He is the God who delivered us and “who will deliver us” (2 Corinthians 1:10). He is the God who said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). And He is the God Incarnate who said, “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The pressure mounts, but Jesus surmounts. And so we turn to Him.

Changing the Scenery Doesn’t Always Change the Problem

I know this isn’t going to sound very spiritual, but I didn’t want to come to work this morning. It’s not that I dislike my job; it’s just that sometimes it seems like my routines have turned into ruts. Here I go again. Another Monday. Another week. Same old, same old. How do we muster up a sense of newness in the midst of sameness? How do we keep our minds and spirits fresh when we’re staring at staleness?

Maybe you’re retired, and one day bleeds into the next with the same routine of doctor visits, grocery shopping, and Bunco.

Maybe you work in a cubicle that seems more like a prison than an office.

Maybe you’re a stay-at-home mom who spends her days changing diapers, cleaning up messes, doing laundry, cooking meals, and tomorrow it starts all . . . over . . . again.

Is it any wonder why, even if we’re grateful for the life we live, we sometimes dream about living someone else’s? What if you were in a different job, or had a different spouse, or went to a different church? Would things be better then?

Probably not, because a change of scenery doesn’t change the problem. The problem isn’t the staleness of our job, spouse or church. Staleness comes from within.

In Jeremiah 29 there were competing prophets with competing proclamations. Jeremiah tells the exiles to reimagine life right where they are. They’re staying put for the next seventy years, so they need to “build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce” (Jeremiah 29:5).

Another group of prophets tells them just the opposite. “Don’t put down roots! God wouldn’t leave you in exile! This is only temporary!”

Which message is more appealing? The one promising the quick fix. And we’ve been looking for quick fixes ever since.

God told the people in exile to be patient. Two generations would pass before God would fulfill his promise and bring them home. Everyone who originally heard God’s wonderful promise “to give [them] a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11) knew its fulfillment would not come in Jerusalem. Their grandchildren would experience that fullness in Jerusalem, but not them.

What does that mean for us if our future and hope are more about God showing up where we are than in some dreamed-about better life? Yes, the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise is an eternal future and a heavenly hope. But until then we need to bring heaven to earth (Matthew 6:10), and let God change our perspective about routines before they become ruts.

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