Thursday, 30 January 2014

Living well under pressure

We’ve all been there: we’ve lost the car keys, can’t find a favourite scarf, the phone rings as we’re rushing out the door and then we get to work and realise we’ve left our lunch behind! The pressure builds as easily as a kettle on the boil and there’s no escaping it.

I had a day like that which began less than twelve hours after I jotted down this title. Computer glitches, covering lessons in my ‘catch up on marking and admin time’, misunderstandings with colleagues...the pressure piled up until I nearly burst into tears. Nothing, of course, like my friend Lisa in Tanzania whose journey home included a flat battery, crazy driving from other road users, a man who pretended he had been injured by their car, riot police at the border crossing and a forest fire near their home.  And nothing like the pressure that so many people endure daily all over the world: just the pressure of finding food for the day occupies the minds of many.

Still, it feels real and overwhelming to us.

Paul knew pressure well.

(2Corinthians 11:23 – 27 I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.)

Finally, imprisoned in Rome, having suffered too many beatings and misfortunes to count, he handles the pressure so admirably that we would do well to pick up some tips from him.

So what does he do?

1.       He prays for others.
Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God’s Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. (Philippians 1:3 – 5)

2.       He looks for the benefits in his situation.
My imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else, too, found out that I’m in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learned all about him. Not only that, but most of the followers of Jesus here have become far more sure of themselves in the faith than ever, speaking out fearlessly about God, about the Messiah. (Philippians 1:12 – 14)

3.       He doesn’t worry about what other people are doing.
So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on! (Philippians 1:18 – 21)

4.       He gives practical advice to those in his care.
Meanwhile, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ...Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message, the good news, not flinching or dodging in the slightest before the opposition. Your courage and unity will show them what they’re up against: defeat for them, victory for you—and both because of God. (Philippians 1:27 – 28)

5.       He keeps his focus.
As long as I’m alive in this body, there is good work for me to do. If I had to choose right now, I hardly know which I’d choose. Hard choice! The desire to break camp here and be with Christ is powerful. Some days I can think of nothing better. But most days, because of what you are going through, I am sure that it’s better for me to stick it out here....
There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting. You’re involved in the same kind of struggle you saw me go through, on which you are now getting an updated report in this letter.  (Philippians 1: 22 – 24, 29 – 30, The Message)

6.       He was humble.
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. (Philippians 2:1 – 5, The Message)

7.       He offers help.
Paul couldn’t help himself, but sent others to help. I plan (according to Jesus’ plan) to send Timothy to you very soon so he can bring back all the news of you he can gather. Oh, how that will do my heart good! I have no one quite like Timothy. He is loyal, and genuinely concerned for you. Most people around here are looking out for themselves, with little concern for the things of Jesus. But you know yourselves that Timothy’s the real thing. He’s been a devoted son to me as together we’ve delivered the Message. As soon as I see how things are going to fall out for me here, I plan to send him off. And then I’m hoping and praying to be right on his heels. But for right now, I’m dispatching Epaphroditus, my good friend and companion in my work. You sent him to help me out; now I’m sending him to help you out. He has been wanting in the worst way to get back with you. Especially since recovering from the illness you heard about, he’s been wanting to get back and reassure you that he is just fine. He nearly died, as you know, but God had mercy on him. And not only on him—he had mercy on me, too. His death would have been one huge grief piled on top of all the others. (Philippians 2:19 – 27)

So what about us?
Let us:
          look on the bright side; 
                    keep focused on Jesus, not worrying about what anyone else is or isn’t doing; 
                                give help and advice.

Practical ideas? Over to you!

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