Sometimes we find ourselves in a pressurized situation suddenly. Like the very old man who watched a little boy trying to reach the doorbell. The man walked up the walk to help the boy and pushed the doorbell, saying, “Now you just wait.” But the boy answered, “No, now I run!” Other times we end up stewing for a long while in a pressurized situation, as if we are living in a pressure cooker. Day after day of a difficult situation can pile stress and pressure upon us. Even children can experience life in a pressure cooker, as described in the book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst. After a day goes wrong Alexander finally decides to move to Australia. After one of those days, have you ever felt like doing that?
Yet we know that most cycles of stress and pressure cannot be avoided by moving away- we must learn to manage the pressure of life. My brother, a military chaplain, was describing what many of the troops he counsels face. Many are living in a survival mode mentality, and not only those who are suffering from post traumatic stress. Fear, family challenges, guilt, and fatigue can break a troop’s spirit. You may know someone whose life is pressured beyond the normal stresses of life. I know a couple that feels as if they are in the final stages of battling a vicious cancer. When I asked how they were doing, they responded, “We’re surviving!” Yes, they are in survival mode, but they are able to help each other stay on the precipice of despair and not fall in. And there are so many people, entire populations in fact, in third world countries who live in survival mode, going from one day to the next with just enough hope to keep on.
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he described a situation of pressure that he finally surmounted. He wrote, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9) Paul focused his efforts on his mission and was able to overcome the despair of living in a pressurized situation. His life contains lessons we can use today.
The first lesson that we can learn is to bring our life into focus again. When there are so many things in our vision we can lose sight of our goal. Every now and then we need to refocus, see what really matters and what we can let go. Much like a road trip, when we define the goal to which we are heading, our direction, our speed, our arrival time, and our progress can be assessed. Even the church has to do this every once in awhile. Someone once asked me how the church chooses which programs to do. Many opportunities come to the doorstep of the church. Some seem to be a lot of fun. But when we bring our mission of “Growing our Community of Faith” to light, some may not fit. Some of the questions we ask are, “Does this program grow our community closer together in fellowship? Does this help us grow in our service to others? Does it help us grow educationally? Does it help us grow spiritually?” Some programs that are very attractive simply do not fit into our mission. One of the ways we keep our church on track is to focus on our mission statement and welcome programs that grow our community of faith.
Too many commitments can blur our lives. Life can become overloaded pretty quickly. Suddenly everything seems to require our time and attention but we only have a finite amount of time and energy. Instead of enriching our lives we realize that we have become overscheduled and overwhelmed. Instead of becoming renaissance people involved in many things, we have turned into “Jacks of all trades and masters of none.” During those times the pressure of life can really take a toll. So one way to relieve pressure is to give something up. The Apostle Paul backed away from many responsibilities to focus his life. He realized what was really important to him and he pursued that. Even though his missionary journeys brought even more pressure and stress, his focused approach gave him strength to carry on. If you feel a lot of pressure in your life, maybe it is time to sit down with your schedule and look at what you are doing. What is your priority? What are you moving toward? What things can be eliminated from your busy life in order to relieve pressure?
Maybe there are things that cannot be eliminated but have to be there. Can you get help with those things? We can also follow Paul’s example by allowing ourselves to be helped by others. If your workplace is filled with pressure you may need to delegate. We feel as if we need to do every job ourselves in order to make sure that it fits our expectations. Or we want to get all of the credit for the job. But when we trust our coworkers to help or become less concerned about taking credit, we can release pressure by doing a better job on other tasks.
The Apostle Paul began to delegate his missionary journeys. He trusted other apostles to participate with him. As an Old Testament scholar, he knew the story of Moses from Numbers 11, a classic story of delegation. In a frustrated but very humorous tirade to God, Moses asks God how in the world he is supposed to do
so much. He tells God that he did not give birth to all of the people and that he cannot carry them around like babies. God tells Moses to gather the elders together to be blessed to help Moses. And Moses began a life with less pressure and more help.
So many times in life we are like Moses, struggling silently until we finally get to a breaking point. Why do we find it so difficult to accept help? Moses discovered that being in community is not only about fellowship and worship. The relationship that we share as a community of faith means that we care for one another and love one another. Paul told the church in Rome to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (12:18)
Our Stephen Ministry program offers a listening ear to help you through a transition in life. The Stephen Ministers are an important part of the ministry of the church, providing confidential, one on one care. I am very proud of the way these Stephen Ministers complete over 50 hours of training and then continue to meet for continuing education and support. I commend this program to you. Have you ever considered accepting the help of a Stephen Minister? Do not wait until you become like Moses, so anxious and discouraged that you finally blow up. Try it out. You might like it. Being in a community of faith means that we “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) The law of Christ is love, and when we open ourselves to God’s love we support each other, and the pressure of life becomes much easier to manage.
So, to release the pressure of life, first let us try to get rid of things that are making us too busy. And maybe we can find some things that we can delegate and accept help from another. Another way to relieve pressure is to realize that we can turn to God for help in prayer. In our Scripture today the Apostle Paul wrote that they relied upon God. This does not mean that Paul and his colleagues had an unrealistic outlook upon life. They were not saying, “It doesn’t matter what happens, God will save us.” They avoided dangers on their travels and took precautions. They did not throw caution to the wind. But they did have an underlying faith that they drew upon. How could one best describe this faith? When they were at the end of their rope, their energy depleted, they did not give up, but realized that it wasn’t their energy that would keep them going, but God’s. That helped them keep working toward their goal. Yes, it works! God can and will give you energy that you never knew was available.
When Paul addresses the pressure of the church in Corinth, he doesn’t say, “Just try harder!” He doesn’t give a clichéd saying like, “When the going gets tough the tough get going!” Instead, he says that there are other resources beyond ourselves that are available for us to draw upon. These are the resources of faith. When we stop what we are doing and take a moment to ask God to give
us energy, purpose, inspiration, or just a reason to live, it really works. The resources that Paul describes built the church. They call for God to keep us going. Paul isn’t saying that we give up and turn it all over to God, but for us to look to God for help to replenish us. Paul describes a strategy in which God empowers. When a farmer has not had rain for several months and wants to give up, this faith gives a farmer the idea and willingness to diversify. When a student is failing at a program, this faith gives a student the idea to change majors instead of dropping out. When a child is out of sorts, this faith gives a parent an idea to swallow pride and seek help. Paul writes these words of faith from a prison cell. Even from that context he has faith to look to the future with hope.
The pressures of life surround us. They threaten to overwhelm us. If we can get some things off of our plate or delegate, that will certainly help. And when we trust in God, we can keep moving forward. Each of those steps is a deliberate choice of faith that calls for us to stop before life’s pressures spill over. The British Navy’s whistle in a time of disaster calls for all sailors to stop and take a moment to think. This is the still whistle. Once the still whistle calls for attention, the pause keeps panic from taking over. Let us hear that still whistle today above the deafening pressure of life. Let us seek that calm center that focuses our life. Let us look for help from others. Finally, let us ask for God to help us find a new way so that we will not be immobilized by pressure and stress. Amen.