Does pressure ever get to you? It gets to me. Let me share a slice of our lives from my journal several years ago:

A plumber has just informed me our house could explode due to a faulty gas line. A corner of the wallpaper has started peeling above the shower. Leaving for the office I hit every red light possible—arriving late. Walking into my office, an associate informed me of two urgent situations needing a decision. A three-inch pile of unanswered letters on my desk cried out for immediate attention. PRESSURE. Barbara was on the phone needing a decision from me on refinishing our ancient hardwood floors—’What color stain should we use? When should the floor man come? Should we do the kids’ closet? Who’s going to move the couch? (Remember it’s the one that has a queen size hide-a-bed in it).’

And if that wasn’t enough, all six of us were leaving in 48 hours, having just returned from eight weeks on the road, to speak at a Family Camp in California.

Barbara started sneezing. Ashley and Samuel chorused in, and by midnight one half of the Rainey Zoo had asthma. In less than eight hours we were to leave for Family Camp. Who needs Family Camp?! We prayed about cancelling. The next morning the lawn still needed mowing, the kids were still sick and Rebecca was crying for Cheerios. I had to get this tribe to the airport, but our bills were due and the paycheck hadn’t come. The phone rang as we locked the door, but we had to go or miss our plane. The kids chimed in unison, “Could you stop for doughnuts, daddy?” Secretly I thought, “Who needs Family Camp, hardwood floors, or DOUGHNUTS! This must be a sinister plot to over-throw my family!!!”

As I reflect back to those pressure-packed moments, I think life was pretty simple then compared to today. Stress, it seems, has become the ninth family member. My hope is that God is using stress to make us all into diamonds—diamonds are just lumps of coal that have been under pressure for a long time.

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Stress. Pressure. We work under it. We are driven by it. We suppress it. We deny it and try to escape it. We take vitamins for it. We feel it in our chest. Our stomach churns. Our palms get sweaty. And all of us are squeezed by it.

The questions for all of us are: How do we live with it? and Is pressure always bad?

J. Hudson Taylor, the great pioneer missionary to China, has some great advice, “It matters not how great the pressure is, only where the pressure lies. If we make sure it never comes between us and our Lord, then the greater the pressure, the more it presses us to Him.”

But sometimes I want out. Don’t you? We often think less stress would be better (and sometimes that’s true). However, many of us want less pressure from the things that are good for us to bear. There can be positive effects from pressure. It is not pressure, but our response to pressure, that determines pressure’s effect on us. Joe Bayly, a modern-day “psalmist,” captures what our response ought to be in a poem entitled, “A Psalm While Packing Books”:

This cardboard box
See it says
Bursting limit
200 lbs. per square inch.
The box maker knew
how much strain
the box would take
what weight
would crush it.
You are wiser
than the box maker
Maker of my spirit
my mind
my body.
Does the box know
when pressure increases close to
the limit?
it knows nothing.
But I know
when my breaking point
is near.
And so I pray
Maker of my soul
Determiner of the pressure
Stop it
lest I be broken
or else
change the pressure rating
of this fragile container
of Your grace
so that I may bear more.

Isn’t that what I need to ask God for? Our prayer should be, “Change the pressure rating and broaden my shoulders. Strengthen me, O Lord, to handle that which has come into my life.” He will. He promised. Here is His response to that prayer:

“Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.
For My yoke is easy and My load is light”
(Matthew 11:28-30).

Only Jesus can promise that. Only Jesus can truly deliver.

A modern day parable

So then, how must we learn to view stress in our lives? Perhaps the burdens we desire to “cast-off” are those that God wants to use in our lives to press us to Him—to cause us to trust Him. Totally. Completely. Without reservation.

The following parable of Sadhu Sundar Singh, a Hindu convert to Christianity, beautifully illustrates how God wants to use burdens and heavy pressures in our lives.

Shortly after coming to Christ, Sadhu felt called to become a missionary to India. Late one afternoon Sadhu was traveling on foot through the Himalayas with a Buddhist monk. It was bitter cold and the wind felt like a cold blade slicing into Sadhu’s skin. Night was fast approaching when the monk warned Sadhu that they were in danger of freezing to death if they did not reach the monastery before darkness fell.

Just as they were traversing a narrow path above a steep precipice, they heard a cry of help. Down the cliff lay a man, fallen and badly hurt. The monk looked at Sadhu and said, “Do not stop. God has brought this man to his fate. He must work it out for himself.” Then he quickly added while walking on, “Let us hurry on before we, too, perish.”

But Sadhu replied, “God has sent me here to help my brother. I cannot abandon him.”

The monk continued trudging off through the whirling snow, while the missionary clambered down the steep embankment. The man’s leg was broken and he could not walk. So Sadhu took his blanket, made a sling of it, and tied the man on his back. Then, bending under his burden, he began a body-torturing climb. By the time he reached the narrow path again, he was drenched with perspiration.

Doggedly, he made his way on through the deepening snow. It was dark now and it was all he could do to follow the path. But he persevered, though faint with fatigue and overheated from exertion. Finally, he saw ahead the lights of the monastery.

Then, for the first time, Sadhu stumbled and nearly fell—but not from weakness. He had stumbled over some object lying in the snow-covered road. Slowly he bent down on one knee and brushed the snow off the object. It was the body of the monk, frozen to death.

Years later a disciple of Sadhu’s asked him, “What is life’s most difficult task?”

Without hesitation Sadhu replied:

“To have no burden to carry.” May the burdens you and your mate carry press your hearts to Christ and merge you into one as you rightly respond to circumstances together. Tonight before retiring, why not spend a few moments in prayer together. As a couple, take those “things” which are pressuring you to the One whose burden is easy and whose yoke is light.

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