It was one of those typical “gym bunny” T-shirts. It read: It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger.
It made me wonder, am I too old to roll my eyes at her? (often at the gym it takes all my considerable strength of character not to be annoyed with people. And their outfits. I’m sorry. Kind of.) It also made me wonder, ok so I know it’s true about exercise, but is it true about life?
Do you sometimes feel under a lot of pressure? Do you sometimes find the pace of your life straight up dizzying? It’s like there is just so much to do and be and get to, and remember, and on top of that so much pressure to make it seem easy and not at all messy and to serve it all up with a smile that reaches all the way to our eyes! And that’s just everyday life, that’s not even when things go wrong as they so often do. Because in between the “standard” pressures of being and doing and giving and going and providing and achieving and solving and fixing and responding that life seems to be made up of, very often a fun cocktail of circumstances, my sin, the sin of others, people, their expectation, did I mention people, and bad timing all conspire to derail this very fast moving train that is your life.
The Bible has lots to say about “pressure”. The word used in scripture denotes the crushing of grapes or olives to produce something useful, precious and lasting – i.e wine and olive oil. You often find this word in the company of other fun words like trial, affliction, suffering, and trouble. So as one continuing to hold on to the promise that God is for me, working all things for my good, and one continuing to hold out for meaning in even the most mundane or maddening parts of my life, I decided to look a little deeper, because surely there has to be some method in the madness of all this pressure!
Pressure has a process: I recently watched a reality TV programme with my boys called “The Forge”. Because when you have boys you end up watching some weird stuff on TV! The science of stupid anyone? This particular one was about blade-smiths (people who make swords and knives and stuff. No worries, I didn’t know that either). I watched a guy banging on a piece of metal and heating it up until it was glowing red hot, and then he plunged it into icy cold water, using a scientific method called “drenching”. Under these extreme conditions of temperature and yes, you guessed it, pressure, the metal becomes stronger, unbreakable. Which is what you want if you are making a sword.
The intention of the process is always to strengthen us, and the dichotomy of it all is that we are strengthened only once we understand our own weakness. Because sometimes what feels like the flat out breaking of you, is actually the making of you.
The process has a purpose:
“The crucible is for silver and the furnace is for gold, but the Lord tests the heart” Proverbs 17 v 3
When gold or silver is purified, the heat brings the impurities to the surface. That is the purpose of the process of refining. So let’s get brutally honest here for a minute. Us girls are all willfully independent and for the most part extremely capable. It takes a lot for us to experience pressure. We all, to varying degrees (yes A types I am talking to ya’ll) experience an immense internal pressure to control everything, fix everything, know everything, do everything perfectly, be all things to all people. In other words, the pressure to be God. So in a way, a lot of our perceived pressure is internal. That’s the bad news. The good news is the pressure to be all things to all people is an opportunity to learn who God really is (the one who actually is all things to all people, the who works all things for good) and who we are (not that!). Sometimes we are trying so hard to control things that are not within our control, and the pressure that desire causes is actually for the purpose of helping us realise we are not God and we can’t do His job, or our own without His help.
When we learn to rest in Christ we learn to let go of our vain attempt to be God. So when we experience pressure through different circumstances in our lives the purpose of them is actually to rid us of these divine delusions.
The impurity that must be burned out of me is most of the time my pride. And when the heat is turned up and I experience pressure, that is what bubbles to the surface. Because really, how will I ever learn to trust on, lean on, rely on God without the pressures and trails that crowd me to Him?
The pressure has a product:
God purifies that which is precious to Him. And incase you’re still not up to speed, that’s you. YOU are precious to Him!
“You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows it’s true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well developed, not defficient in any way. (James 3. v 3-4 MSG)
In the pressures you are experiencing today, be they internal or external, God is bringing forth something new. That’s kind of His jam. Like silver, like gold, like diamonds, these shaping challenges are intended to reveal in you that which was always there. God uses pressure, not as a destructive force like a forest fire, burning up everything and leaving smokey destruction behind. The Refiners fire purifies, burns away the impurities, making that which remains more valuable, durable, precious. Aren’t you glad God doesn’t abandon us in our impurity, that He promises we will go through the fire but not be burnt up (Is 43 v 2), not even have the smell of smoke on us!
So right now, as you face that pressure, that person, that deadline, that demand that threatens to push you over the edge, trust in the purifying mercy of God, don’t doubt His expertise as a refiner. Remember that even if what is happening right now feels like a bad idea, a detour, an unpleasant challenge or unwelcome interruption, if it has the potential to align you with Christ (and it always does), the process is always meaningful. Because not only will a new picture of God emerge as we yield, but the even braver, even stronger, even more authentic us will too.