Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stress, Distress, Bless

A Special Edition of Sabbath Walk (incorporating a brief remembrance of Brother Eric Tan)
“In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me…” (Jonah 2)
The Presence of Stress and Distress
It is common knowledge that stress is a big and growing part of an adult life. Even kids nowadays have experienced pressures like never before. Some children get ushered quickly into adult demands when they exhibit ‘special’ gifts, like math prodigy or music gifting. It is sad when a child is not allowed to be a child, simply because he or she has qualities treasured by the grown-up world. Mentally, adult life at work can be extremely demanding. Emotionally, trying to balance our responsibilities to family, accountability to work and church can exact a toll to a previously carefree life. Physically, stress can weaken the body, exposing one from simple things like headache to more serious cases like stomach ulcers, even strokes. Those of us in ministry work are also not spared. Ministry to people is tough. Some even said that ministry demands can be higher. One of my seminary professors jokingly said to the class that if we have a choice to avoid ‘full-time’ ministry work, avoid it. Working with people can be more challenging than machines like computers. Stress can lead to anxiety. Worry can lead to distress. Who can we call? Who is our hero?

In my childhood days, I remember reading fairy tales where a beautiful damsel in distress waits for a knight in shining armor to rescue her from the evil witch. The plot is usually attractively laid out, with the damsel describes as beautiful, the knight as handsome and concludes with a ‘happily-ever-after’ ending. The lady has to call, even to cry and then to wait for her rescuer to turn up. Fairy tales makes our hearts feel good because the heroes and the good guys always win. Who can the damsel call? The knight, of course.

Adulthood is different. Tales now become reality where it is more like M Scott Peck’s famous words: “Life is Difficult.” Both employment and unemployment come with some tension, the former with meeting expectations of the company, the latter coping with expectations of society. A insensitive boss? Power hungry colleague? An unreasonable customer? A frustrating job interview? Marriages go through tough times too. Parent-teen relationships can be pretty rocky sometimes. These little tensions in life when amalgamated resembles a ticking time-bomb waiting to implode. Adult tales can be highly complex, often with unpredictable endings, like a lottery win, business failure, customer win, collapse of one’s dreams, or sudden death. Who are we gonna call? Stress-busters?

The Presence of God
Jonah is a prophet who ran away from his call. Instead of preaching repentance to the city of Nineveh, Jonah headed in the opposite direction. Yet, God followed him to Tarshish. God followed him via the great wind (Jon 1:4). God was present even as they cast lots on who to bump overboard. God was present with Jonah in the great fish (Jon 2:1a). In that moment, Jonah cried out to the LORD waiting nearby and was able to say, ‘he answered me’ (Jon 2:1b). Think about it. After all the running away, all it takes is a simple call, a gentle request and the multitude of God’s love and presence comes storming in. Jonah was able to sense not only the answer of the LORD, he hears God in the deepest grave (2:2). He knows that God listens to him even at the bottom of the ocean. He feels the presence of God amid the stormy waves sweeping around him. The beauty of it all is, before Jonah called, God is already there.

Remembering Eric Tan (1961-2009)
This week, we remember brother Eric Tan, who passed away in Malaysia at a tender age of 48. The passage of Scripture accompanying the funeral service was from 2 Tim 4:7, a special credit to a life well-lived:
“I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”
From the reading of Jonah, we can picture how God has been with him. As Eric was fighting the good fight, the LORD was with him. As he was finishing the race through his respective work responsibilities, the LORD was also with him. As he played his last badminton game in Kuala Lumpur on the 12th July 2009, even as he breathed his last breath, he kept the faith, knowing that the LORD was with him.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the LORD’s presence is the best comfort we can ever receive. During the times of stress, as the LORD has been with Jonah, he will be with you. In places and situations of great distress, the LORD is there. As you sense the presence of the LORD, take off your shoes, for where the LORD is, the ground that you are standing is holy ground. Bless him.

Join with me to honour God with this song:

“Come bless the LORD. All ye servants of the LORD.
Who stands by night, in the house of the LORD.
Lift up your hands, in the holy place.
And Bless the LORD. And Bless the LORD.”

Thought: What comes to mind during times of distress? Do you feel alone amid the pressures and demands all around you? Who walks with you? Perhaps, during such moments, it is not doing more or working less. It is the recognition of the unseen person, the Good Shepherd who walks with us. Whether we ascend the mountain of doubt, or descend the valley of darkness, or simply feeling stuck in-between, God is present with us.


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