Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Overcoming Pressures

Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (2 Cor 11:28)
Pressures of Paul the Apostle
Sometimes I wonder at how Paul is able to overcome all these pressures. The word ‘epistasis’ (pressure) in this verse is used to describe the burden and the repeated stress upon the apostle as he was working out his ministry to the different churches. It can also mean the inward pressures the apostle exerts upon himself, out of feeling responsible for the flock he loved. He does so without complaining, without being jealous of others more fortunate than him. He compares his situation by focusing on Christ, boasting in Christ and choosing to do all things with Christ as his reference. At that time, the Corinthian church has two major problems. Firstly, there were false prophets claiming to be 'super apostles’ (2 Cor 11:5). It creates envy for people around them. Secondly, these people apparently created ‘value-added’ services to the preaching of the gospels for a fee (2 Cor 11:7). In contrast, Paul argues that he gave all of himself in the preaching (without charge) of the gospel, even ‘robbing’ other churches’ contributions to his ministry to serve them! Yet, Paul's way of overcoming pressures is simply to be able to 'boast in the Lord.'

Our Modern Pressures
Pressures are a normal thing in our modern society. We are prone to all kinds of pressures. Patrick Morley lists several modern pressures in his book "The Seven Seasons of a Man's Life." We experience performance pressure to be constantly meeting our goals and expectations from organizations, family and friends. We grapple with technological pressure when we try to do new projects with older existing equipment. We face corporate downsizing pressure in the light of cost cuts and bottom lines, often forcing every worker to do-more-with-less. We suffer from communications pressure when trying to allow individuals to work at their pace while expecting them to work within a community like environments. For those who are constantly on the move, they face traveling pressure that requires them to spend long stretches of time without their family or regular social environments. Then there is the business-deal pressure which many tries to strike a balance between profits and bottom-line thinking; distinguishing competition and cooperation; long-term vs short-term; and trying to explore new opportunities without exploiting the weak and the poor. Are the pressures faced by Paul the Apostle any different from the stresses of a typical person in modern business attire? I believe that the pressures may be the similar in many ways. However, the key difference lie in the MOTIVATION behind handling the pressures.

How do we handle pressure?
For Paul, it is clearly not materialistic in origin but that joy in the Lord. Many years ago, I learned that JOY is actually an acronym for putting Jesus first, then Others, then Yourself. At that time, I thought it was such a wonderful way to know what brings joy. Over the years, I develop an alternative, which I will share it with you. J.O.Y. is a term that comprises a noun, a verb and an adjective.

J – Journey (a noun)
Remember that whatever pressures we face, it is but a part of the journey we have been called to travel on. It could be short. It could be long. As long as it is traveling in the direction toward God, the journey will be worthwhile. Paul longs to be with Christ, yet for the fact that he feels he has a calling, he endures the pain and struggles. "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Phil 1:21)

O – Obey (a verb)
This verb is a doing aspect of our spiritual life. Apart from trust, ‘obey’ is the next most important action we have to do for God. Obedience is better than sacrifice. Better to obey one step in the Lord, instead of pretending to make one hundred self-centered steps and claiming them to be done in the name of the Lord. Paul's desire to serve is out of obedience to his calling. A prayerful person will know what instructions to obey. If we are actively obeying God, we will not be constantly caught up with the worries of the world.

Y – Yearning (an adjective)
This adjective is a great treasure of the early spiritual masters. What could encourage people to sell all they have, to give everything to the poor and to follow Christ? The early Christian saint St Antony of Egypt (251-356) is one such person. He became the father of monasticism from which we get our modern universities. It has been said that without monasticism, Western civilization would not have survived after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the fifth century. He yearns for God so much that giving up becomes a no-brainer. It is like when one person is deeply in love, he does not mind splurging on a lavish dinner on his beloved.

Overcome any pressure with joy. Consider this practice of seeing our life as a journey, obeying the Word and above all, totally yearn for God so much that everything else on this earth is secondary to the primary goal: Seeking God. May the pressures that you encounter at work, at home or anywhere else be considered secondary, compared to the all surpassing joy and peace found in Christ Jesus our Lord. Helen Keller encourages us with this:
"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. (Helen Keller)"
Thought: What are the outward and inward pressures of your life? How are you overcoming it? Are you doing so out of bitterness and using worldly wisdom? Or are you overcoming them with J.O.Y?
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:13, NIV)

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