sadness is good for the heart

A good name is better than fine perfume,
    and the day of death better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person
    than to listen to the song of fools.
Like the crackling of thorns under the pot,
    so is the laughter of fools.
    This too is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 7

Back to one of my personal favorite books of the Bible; it’s there for a reason, and not just for its ending. I like to think that Jesus could laugh with the best of them, but was more given to being with those who suffered, entering into their world and suffering empathetically with them, and relieving that suffering so that ultimately they could take up their cross and follow.

In the series at the church we’ve been attending, taking our grandchildren, and may become a part of, we’re in the midst of a new series on the book of Philippians called “Choosing Joy Under Pressure.” It seems to me that this deep joy thrives in the midst of pain and sadness, yes indeed- pressure. So that what the writer of Ecclesiastes might be getting at is how superficial people can be, so that their thoughts and lives do not at all rise to any level beyond the absurd.

Maybe this is in part why Jesus said the poor and poor in spirit are blessed, while the rich are not, at least not necessarily so, but open to woe and rebuke, and a cursed existence. I for one have lived with a lot of internal pain most all of my life. But I am also more and more realizing the joy of seeking to follow the Lord in the midst of it. Grace and peace from God accompanies all of our life in Jesus, including our pain.

In following Jesus, we are not living it up with partying and laughter, though that is a part of life as God created it to be, and can be a way to get to understand where people live, Jesus himself eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. The very heart of God is what we look for, and that is a heart of love, giving everything for others, for the world, in and through Jesus. And to do that, we must enter into the depths of what it means to be human, both in the enjoyment and appreciation of life, and in the difficulties, even death, which accompanies all of that. In and through Jesus.

living well under pressure

Life consists of pressure in this way or that. There is no let up, and we might as well not only face it, but accept and embrace it. We do like those times when there’s a relative lull, and the pressure is more or less gone. Vacations can (and often should) consist of such times. And there are other times, unexpected, when what we have to do is relatively routine.

But when pressure seems especially heavy, and perhaps even threatening, we need first of all to accept it. Often our first response, at least mine, is to want to somehow escape it. That is particularly true when I face the pressure of what I chalk up to be spiritual warfare. Some would attribute it to pure psychology, and that is a part of it. But there are malevolent spirits at work on earth to deter and destroy good. They are especially set against the gospel, which ironically is not only their very undermining, but their undoing and actual defeat. We in Jesus have to hang in there, accept the pressure, and pray about whatever matter it is that weighs heavily on our minds. We have the promise that as we resist the enemy (“the devil”), they/he will flee from us. We have to hang in there and resist, which does amount to standing up under pressure.

It is good to anticipate the different kinds of pressure we may face, some an ongoing part of ordinary everyday life, and some which can pop up unexpectedly out of the blue, making the most sunny days of our experience overcast and even dark with storm. We need to be ready for that, realizing it is part and parcel of our existence here and now.

God’s word tells us that pressure can help us mature and become more like Christ, that God uses it for our good. We likely won’t want to say, “Bring it on!” But that can help us to learn not only to accept it, but even embrace it when it comes. It’s all a part of our development as human beings, in Jesus getting us ready for what God has next, which will be culminated someday when the kingdom is revealed in its fullness to the world. Begun here and now in Jesus and the church through the gospel, the good news in him.

life in the fast lane

Here in America it seems to me in the corporate world it’s all about getting ahead. I hope my perception is off, and perhaps an emphasis nowadays on teamwork blunts this at least pervasive perception. Since I am not part of the corporate world, not having an office job, I can only look from a distance, and question those who are in it. It’s about working “smart” and getting ahead, or at least not lagging behind the others.

But even in the more “blue collar” work, in which I live, speed is an intrinsic part. And all the pressure which goes with that. More and more it’s about automation with less need for workers. “Hands free” is a motto which no longer seems as far fetched as it once did. Which means working fast on one’s feet is also fading in importance, though it remains an essential where I work, at this point. And that means, especially for the younger, the necessity of training for work which requires knowledge and skills beyond the willingness to simply work hard.

All of this adds up to “life in the fast lane.” Just to hold down a job, one has no choice. The normal pressure of hard work is increased with an emphasis on efficiency, and getting more done. I am thankful that where I work (RBC Ministries) all of that is tempered with a conviction that we are in this together in Christian love.

While I am used to working fast, and seeking to be as efficient as possible, along with the goal of working “smart,” I am also learning to slow down when I can. I’m actually finding that I think I am doing better work as a result, less mistakes. And certainly more at rest in my spirit, as well as my body. Of course there are many instances in which one has no choice but to work fast. But my new practice (within the last couple years, or so) helps me even then to do so in a more relaxed mode, in which I think my work ends up being better.

I want to work hard, with all of my heart in love to the Lord, as well as loving my neighbor as myself. So I’ve struggled a bit with the idea of slowing down, and trying to work less hard, and more smart. Although my work affords me plenty of opportunity in which I’m pushed close to my limits, and here and there, especially by the end of the day, or the week- like last week, seemingly beyond them.

How do you look at working for the Lord in love with all your heart in relation to the demands put on you by your employer? How hard is it to avoid “the fast lane” along with the dangers that go with that? Can we live in the Sabbath rest into which we’re called in Christ, and still do well in today’s work world?

 

life on hold

Do you ever think at times, or have you ever thought during a particular time, that your life was on hold? That everything had come to a standstill? You had no place to go, no where to turn, you were just waiting?

I think in scripture people experienced this. I think of psalms and I think of the prophets.

Life can seem overwhelming at times. So many things coming at us. And then maybe the hard thing confronting us, or hard things.

Of course our lone hope is in God in and through Jesus. We come to him, and ask him for his direction, for his control in our lives. God does not control everything, but God is in control and at work in all things. And so we appeal to him in his goodness, for his good will to be done in all things, big and small, on earth as it is in heaven. In specifics of our lives, as well as things general. Together in Jesus for the world.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

pressure

Pressure is a part of everyday life, and indeed a certain amount of it, along with a certain amount of the stress accompanying it (often called healthy stress) is part of life. But when it seems one is in the pressure cooker, then we need to take a second look.

First of all, for us in Jesus God promises not to let us be tempted, or tested beyond our ability in God’s grace to stand up under it. And not only so, but we can be assured that God is at work in our trials to make us mature, indeed to conform us to the image of his Son, Jesus.

As we understand that God is at work in the troubles and trials we face, we can better endure, knowing there is a purpose behind all such. God is working his purpose out in everything, working for the good of those who love him, and are called according to his purpose.

When is pressure unhealthy? When we lack faith. Through faith we can endure in hope and love, through Jesus. I like to consider Psalm 23 as one example of how the Lord helps us through trials. He meets all our needs in his goodness, and all such troubles are only for a season.

In it all, I look to the Lord and his strength. I seek his face, always. That is what I want to be my demeanor, my posture, my practice in it all. As I entrust everything into his hands. Along with others in Jesus, together for the world.

pressure

If there is one thing that often seems true in life, it’s the reality of pressure. We face it on every side for one reason or another, so that times where it is absent can be treasured. I don’t refer to routine down times which I hope we all have on a regular basis, hopefully daily, and for some, a weekly sabbath, or kind of sabbath.

Paul spoke of it in terms of facing death itself, or more literally, feeling the sentence of death in themselves, that they may no longer trust in themselves, but in God who raises the dead, and who delivered them from the peril of death. He also wrote that he faced death daily. And that there were pressures inside and out.

What prevails for us in Jesus is the resurrection life of Jesus in us by the Spirit. When all else fails, and it will, that life in God for us remains. A life in and out of which we live. A life of taking up our cross in following Jesus, crucifixion with Jesus, resurrection life in Jesus, exaltation in Jesus over the powers even in this life. A life that takes in past, present and future through Jesus in the here and now. (See Spirituality According to Paul: Imitating the Apostle of Christ, by Rodney Reeves.)

A life not only committed to the gospel, but a gospel oriented life. We must first be the gospel in the sense of living as those whose lives are being impacted by it. The good news in Jesus, reflecting Jesus, and God’s grace and kingdom come in him. A life of love, of grace, of holiness. Through God’s work in Jesus trusting that the big picture is in play, even in the midst of the pressures of life. In other words that God is at work through Jesus in us according to the big picture, indeed working all things together for good. And also at work in all things after the counsel of his will. According to his purpose in Christ.

Pressure is to be expected. And for all kinds of reasons in a fallen world, or a world that is only a shadow of the world to come in the new creation in Jesus when heaven and earth are one. Half of the battle is to accept that. The other half is to then learn to trust more and more in God through Jesus. To not only see us through, but to help us be more than conquerors together in the way of Jesus for the world.

pressure

Pressure is a part of life. Sometimes to the breaking point it seems, though when that happens new wisdom and strength can accompany it. I often can live in a kind of chronic, low grade pressure cooker, which doesn’t necessarily bring out the best in me at times, but the marination in the long run is good hopefully, making us more like Jesus, and more like Jesus in his death.

It’s when the big pressures come that hopefully the work from the chronic pressure becomes evident in us in that we find ourselves more like Jesus than we could have imagined. Though in my own life I can be such a mixed bag. Grumbling with salty language to myself (or to my wife), but then convicted and repentant, and growing more from it.

Pressure is most certainly a part of life which is inescapable. We do well to seek to live under it, and out of it- in and through Jesus. Learning more and more to rely on God in and through Jesus. In and out of the pressures of this life.

pressure

I remember at Prairie Bible Institute a most favorite teacher and pastor, Dr. Ted Rendall in one of his sermons quoting from a poem which I occasionally have thought of since, about pressure. How life is full of it, what it’s like, and how it drives us (or should) into knowing God’s help. Sometimes I’m not sure that I get as far as knowing God’s help, but I sure can know my own frailty.

Pressure stalked Mary and Joseph on every side. From the time of the angelic visitation to Mary to the time when she and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem when she was close to the time of giving birth to Jesus, and then beyond, we see that pressure was part of their lives.

Jesus being as fully human as you and I was certainly no stranger to pressure. In fact we know for sure that he felt it especially evident in the Garden of Gethsemane where he sweat drops as it were of blood (I don’t take it as actual sweating of blood, but a metaphorical description of his sweating to indicate the intense suffering he was undergoing).

We often think we’d do better with less pressure. Life easier managed. Or maybe a life of ease, with everything going our way. But not according to scripture, nor according to my own experience. Of course there are moments when I begin to wonder just how much more I can take, or I think I don’t want to take anymore. This is where our attitude of mind in Jesus can come into play. An attitude not meant to be independent of God or of others, especially of those in Jesus.

There is no doubt that we need periods of rest and relaxation. Hopefully uninterrupted. And the issue becomes just how well we learn to cope with pressure. And not only cope, but how we end up being changed, or what we’re becoming through it.

In God’s will in Jesus, we’re becoming conformed into the image and likeness of Jesus, no less. A part of the new humanity in Jesus together. Whatever it means, and I have my own understanding of this along with accepting an inevitable element of mystery: Jesus himself learned obedience from what he suffered.

Pressure comes in all kinds of forms including temptation, challenges to our faith, etc. But like Mary and Joseph, and Jesus himself, pressure in life is the lot of all who would seek to live in God’s will in the here and now.

May we learn to embrace pressure as God’s rule of helping us grow and live in his grace and kingdom in Jesus together for the world.