The Priceless Grace of Pressure
Pressure is one of the more resented of God’s graces.
I’m not wired to appreciate pressure. But I am wired to need it. I find that when the pressure is on, I often wish it were off. But I also find that when the pressure is off, I tend to waste more time. I have a persistent misconception that I am more creative when the pressure is off. But, while that may be true for a few things, as a general rule it has not been my actual experience. Necessity tends to produce resourcefulness. Deadlines tend to induce creativity. Leisure tends to induce indulgence and procrastination.
Not everyone is wired the same way. There are more driven temperaments that have an inner compulsion to get lots of things done no matter if there are deadlines or not. Bless them. But in my observation, those temperaments are rare. Most of us will tend to do less if less is required.
It is, no doubt, an effect of the curse, a manifestation of the pathological selfishness that is part of our fallen natures. But that being the case, the discomfort of pressure to prod us forward is a gift to be desired, not an annoyance to be avoided.
Read the Bible and you’ll find that, post-fall, it is one story after another of pressurized saints. Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, Naomi, David, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Jesus’s disciples, the apostles, all dealt with significant pressure. Paul felt a daily pressure of concern for all the churches and that kept him praying without ceasing (2 Corinthians 11:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). The press of adversity and affliction called for the exercising of faith, the one thing without which we will never please God (Hebrews 11:6).
When God chooses his servants, he tends to give them an oversized workload. Yes, God works for those who wait for him (Isaiah 64:4), but you’ll note that waiting on God is rarely experienced as a leisure activity. It typically involves being placed in an overwhelming situation that requires a steeling of the nerves of faith to wait. Yes, we are to serve in the strength that God supplies (1 Peter 4:11), but that serving can still push us beyond what we think we can handle to show that it’s God’s gracious supply, not our own strength, that is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9) and to show that we hope in the God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8–9).
He “knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). And so he gives us some seasons of green pastures and still waters (Psalm 23:2). But rarely as many as we would wish. And often not when we think we need it. God knows far better than we do when we really need refreshment when we need to be pushed. It is precisely because God knows our frame, and what kind of dust we really are, that he mercifully doesn’t relent the pressure — because when the pressure is off, we have a tendency to forget our need for God (1 Samuel 12:9; Revelation 3:17). Our proneness to wander is curbed by the priceless grace of pressure.
An Answer to Our Prayer for “More”
I have noticed a pattern that when I ask God for more — to know more of his grace, to trust his promises more than my perceptions (faith), for a deeper understanding of his word, for greater discernment and wisdom, for more love for others, for more self-control, for more of his Holy Spirit’s empowerment — what I receive is more pressure. And frequently the kind of pressure I receive is often not what I thought I was asking for, so I am at first confused and sometimes sinfully frustrated. Because my conception (my imagination) of what “more” I needed was different than God’s.
For example, I’m distractible. I probably fall somewhere on the spectrum of ADHD. Therefore, I can intuitively assume that life would be better if I had less demands. But that’s not the Lord’s assessment. Instead, he has assigned me to lead a family of seven, help lead an internet ministry, help pastor (bi-vocationally) my local church, be a legal guardian for my disabled sister, and try to manage all the things that come with just normal life and my own spiritual struggles. My labors are not heroic. Others I know certainly do more. But I have prayed often about whether God wants me to do less, and he keeps directing me to the same answer Paul received about his thorn (though I blush at even alluding to such a comparison): “my grace is sufficient for you, my power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Over the years, I have found this to be true. I often feel pressed, and at times anxious. And yet there has always been enough grace. In fact, the grace is often the very pressure I am tempted to resent. Distractibility doesn’t improve with less pressure, it just runs freer. Pressure forces focus and helps me to make the most of my time (Ephesians 5:16).
Pray for More!
If knowing that praying for more grace may result in more pressure, we may be tempted not to ask for more. When we feel this way, we must repent. Because we do not know as we ought to know (1 Corinthians 8:2). No good thing will God withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11). Only a fool prefers evil over good, or even less good over more good. We don’t want to be fools.
Jesus promises that if we ask in faith and in his name, the Father will grant what we ask for our joy (John 16:24). Yes, our joy! God only gives us the priceless grace of pressure so that we will share his holiness, bear the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:10–11), exercise love for others (1 John 4:7), put their needs before ours (Philippians 2:3), and to push us toward himself — our exceeding joy (Psalm 43:4).
So let’s pray earnestly for more of whatever God wishes to give us. Let us boldly pray “whatever-it-takes prayers” and take whatever he gives us. And if he graciously answers us with more pressure than we expected, let us not resent it, but recognize it as a gift to help us strive to enter the rest that is coming (Hebrews 4:11).
More from Desiring God on laboring under pressure:
Is There Good Anxiety? (sermon)
How Should I Spend My Time? (interview)
Manage Your Time for the Mission of Love (article)
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