How many of you have experienced life as a pressure cooker? At times, it seems like life turns up the heat and forces us out of our comfort zone into less-than-ideal situations. These conditions can leave us feeling unsettled, irritated, and far from our desired place of peace.
Take, for example, the recent situation of a close relative. Employed as a cashier at a local store, her store was robbed over the weekend by a thief waving a butcher knife in her face. In what was a scary and terrifying experience, she managed to remain calm and alert other employees to the robber’s presence. Ultimately, her quick thinking and calm demeanor not only saved her life, but the lives of other employees in the store.
Then yesterday, I had the unfortunate experience of having my car towed. I was having lunch with a friend and thought that I had parked in a valid two-hour parking zone. Unbeknownst to me, this was a tow-away zone after a certain time of day. When I walked out of the restaurant to find my car missing, my heart started beating fast. Immediately, I thought that someone had stolen my car, but soon realized that it was towed.
For a second, I felt like I was in that pressure cooker. I thought “I can’t afford to have my car towed! How am I going to pick up my kids? What am I going to do for transportation?” My thoughts then turned from my situation to blaming and condemning myself. “Anique, how did you not see that sign? What were you thinking? How could you allow this to happen?” My emotions went from worry, to anger, to frustration. I felt pressure.
But then, something beautiful happened. All at once, I felt a calm and a peace come over me, almost like a fresh wind. As I quieted my mind and allowed the peace of God to envelop me, I heard the Spirit of The Lord say “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)
In that moment, I allowed the Word of God to take hold of me and reform my way of thinking about my situation. No longer did I condemn myself for the mistake that I made, or fret about how I was going to pick up my sons. Instead, I chose to receive the peace of God.
Ultimately, my dear friend left work early, took me to the tow lot, and waited in hot weather until I got my car back. He even helped me to scrub the inventory numbers off of the windows of my car–in a suit, no less! And, by the end of the day I was safely at home with my car and both of my sons.
Later that evening, when I had time to shower and reflect on the day, I praised and thanked God for His grace and His perfect peace. I realized that through a less-than-ideal situation, God was teaching me to trust Him and to exhibit grace under pressure. Instead of focusing on the problem at hand, God wanted me to see His grace at work. And I was more than grateful for the lesson.
All of us have experienced those moments when we feel like “God, I can’t take anything else! I am at my limit! When is the fire going to be turned down in my life? Can I get a break?” For some, substance abuse becomes their way of coping with life’s challenges. For others, diving into work or other hobbies provides some temporary release from the pressure cooker. Still, others take their frustrations out on those around them, making their friends and loved ones feel like “anger depositories.” Everyone seems to have their own way of dealing with the pressures of life.
To be sure, we can deal with things situationally–taking each situation as it comes and managing the stress that accompanies it–or we can choose to take a completely different perspective on life and learn to abide in a place of peace, regardless of what we may face.
The book of Daniel in the Holy Bible provides a powerful illustration of grace under pressure. In Daniel Chapter 3, three of Daniel’s closest friends and officials in King Nebuchadnezzar’s province of Babylon were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship a golden image that the king had created. The king was so angry at these three men that he ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual! Not even the soldiers that threw the men into the furnace survived.
However, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, clothed in their robes, trousers, and turbans, were unharmed. In fact, when the king looked inside of the furnace, he saw four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed. One of the king’s advisors exclaimed “…and the fourth looks like the son of the gods.”
Seeing that the men were unharmed, King Nebuchadnezzar ordered the three men out of the furnace, calling them “servants of the Most High God” and praising them for their steadfastness to worshipping their God. The king was so moved by their demonstration of faith that he decreed that anyone who said anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be punished, and promoted the three men in the province of Babylon.
This biblical narrative teaches us four key lessons in handling adversity and trusting God:
1. Before entering the furnace, the three men made an affirmative decision to trust God and believe that He would be with them, no matter what situation they found themselves in.
2. Even when the heat intensified, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not change their posture of belief and faith in God.
3. God could have removed them from the fire, but instead chose to walk with them, refining them through their trial.
4. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s witness of tremendous faith against difficult odds became a lightning bolt of faith for the king and those around him, causing them–and their God–to be revered, feared and elevated in the sight of men.
When we encounter difficult times, we often ask God to remove us from our circumstances and to “turn down the heat.” We avoid pressure at all costs, and prefer to live a life without stress, difficulty, sickness, money problems, marital woes, and job struggles. However, we must understand that as women we will encounter challenges in life (and often at “inconvenient” times). These challenges may be different for us all, but each one forces us to confront how we handle pressure. And for some of us, our way of handling pressure lacks the faith that God requires to change our circumstances and the faith of those connected to us.
It is imperative that we adopt a posture of faith and belief in God, regardless of the situation. The “faith posture” or grace under pressure is not only necessary to keep us in a place of peace, but it is often used by God as a testimony to build the faith of those around us. For if we buckle under the pressures of life, then what lessons are we teaching our children, our co-workers, and our loved ones on how to deal with hard times? Are we demonstrating that our God is bigger than our problems or are we exalting our problems above our God?
If you desire to handle the pressures of life by receiving the grace and peace of Jesus Christ, then repeat this prayer with me:
Lord Jesus, I acknowledge that the way that I handle pressure and stress in my life is not pleasing to you and does not demonstrate a posture of faith. I feel angry, confused, frustrated, and sad when I encounter difficult situations, and I need Your grace and Your peace to abide in me and to renew my mind, regulate my emotions, and comfort my heart. Lord, remove the heavy weight that accompanies these challenges and replace it with Your Spirit of Peace and Joy. Remind me everyday that no matter what I encounter in my day, that You are with me and that You are in control of every aspect of my life. Let me be a light and testimony to others of grace under pressure. In Jesus’s name I pray, Amen.
Ultimately, our response to problems and situations will show others what we are made of and what we really believe. More than our talk when things are going well, trying times seem to reveal the best (and sometimes the worst) in people. At the end of the day, however, we have a choice in how to respond to these situations. We can see them through the eyes of faith and grow stronger in our walk with God, or we can see hard times as God’s way of punishing us.
To truly receive God’s grace in hard times and appreciate God’s plan in them, we must understand the purpose of trials. James 1:2-4 (NIV) says it this way:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Having my car towed was not a pleasant experience. Nor was it pleasant for my family member to encounter a robber at her job. We are all challenged by difficult circumstances. However, if we choose to walk with God through our circumstances versus either running away or resenting God because of them, we will persevere and ultimately mature in our faith walk. And as we mature, those around us will take notice and desire the same walk of faith that we demonstrate.
Beautiful sisters, do not think that God is punishing you because of your challenges. Even those situations that you create will be worked together for your good. Instead of blaming yourself or others for your situation, or adopting a posture of anger or resentment toward your “pressure cooker,” choose to see your situation through the eyes of grace and faith. Focus on God’s grace in the problem, and not the problem itself, which is merely temporary.
God is with you in the fire, but your faith in Him and knowledge of and belief in His Word will determine whether you come out of the fire unharmed, or with 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree burns. Make a decision now to live a life of faith and not fear, and you too will emerge from the fire (or the tow lot) as a beautiful reflection of God’s saving grace.
Walking with you, Anique