Has the pressure has been getting to you lately? Career, financial decisions, leadership responsibilities, a spiritual life to nurture – how are you supposed to stay on top of all that? You feel like the proverbial camel with the badly strained back: one more straw and you know what is going to happen. You are in over your head, and you cannot even tread water because you are holding onto too many important things. So what can you do?
I think we can learn from Saint Paul, who should be the patron saint of the distraught, the overworked and the undervalued. The man faced more pressure per square inch than any of us are likely to, and he survived – well actually he didn’t, but that is another story, and it wasn’t the pressure that killed him. We can learn a few things about handling pressure from Paul.
Here are some of the things that Paul said about his lifestyle: “I have worked . . . harder . . . I have been constantly on the move. . . I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern”(same word translated as worry or anxiety every other time it is used in the New Testament) “for all the churches.”1 In this same letter he writes, “this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn – conflicts on the outside, fears within.” Paul understood pressure.
It is not just when things are going wrong that we feel pressured. Sometimes the pressure is greatest when everything is going right. I once read about a bowler who rolled eleven straight strikes. He only needed one more for a perfect game. But the guy got so psyched out that he couldn’t bring himself to roll the last ball. The pressure was too great. He sat there for a long time, then finally took off his bowling shoes and went home. It was the last time he ever stepped into a bowling alley.
St. Paul knew more about pressure than that man. He was incarcerated, beaten, and tried as a traitor to the empire. Several of his letters that appear in our Bible were written while he was in prison. When he wrote the letter to the Philippians, he was waiting to hear whether or not the court would sentence him to death. Paul knew what pressure is all about, and he learned how to handle it.
Perhaps 2 Corinthians 4 offers the most insight on handling pressure of any of Paul’s writings. Here are verses 8 and 9: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you are there. “Hard pressed on every side.” The word Paul chose is used of squeezing the juice out of grapes. Perhaps you feel like your circumstances are squeezing the life out of you. Now notice the next two words: “But not.” That is the refrain that runs through these verses. Things can sometimes get very tough, but not too tough for us to handle, as long as we are receiving God’s help. We can do this!
(Look for part 2 of How to Handle Pressure next week.)
1 See 2 Corinthians 11:23-28