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Grace Under Pressure

Right now, the world is reeling under the threat of the Corona Virus.  People are scared.  Whole sections of grocery stores are sold out.  All public venues are closed down.  How do we respond to all of this?

The Apostle Paul had pressures in his day as well.  Listen to his insights.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia.  We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.  On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.
2 Corinthians 1:8-10

It’s my hope and prayer that you’re never in a life-threatening situation.  I’m also trusting God to keep us safe and healthy in spite of all that’s going on around us.

I know, however, that weather, accidents, and natural disasters can come when least expected.  It seems like every day there’s something going on in the United States that could have tragic results.  If and when that occurs, you will be faced with a choice – do you despair and give up or do you continue to put your hope in God?

I’ve been in that kind of situation.  I know what it feels like to be trapped by an unforeseen incident with no way out and no help in sight.

At one point, I was on a solo hike in the backwoods of Maine.  I had an accident that resulted in a severe sprain.  I could barely walk and I was miles from the nearest road.

At about the same time, a huge thunderstorm hit the area.  I can tell you that at a time like this there’s a great temptation to just give up.

I praise God that the Holy Spirit within me was there to encourage me.  I continued on, even through the pain, and was miraculously brought safely out of the wilderness.  I say “miraculously” because this was before I had the use of a cell phone.

It’s truly in those times of need that God proves Himself faithful.  I can say, without hesitation, that God has never abandoned me to my problems.

We’re facing many challenges right now in our society.  The question is; how will we respond to the pressure?

The key to making it safely through a problem, either present or future, is to make the choice now, that whatever happens, you will not abandon your trust in God.  You’ll find that He’s always there with you to help you in your time of need.

The main thing that helped the apostle was the ability to look back and see how God had been faithful in the past.  As you remember what God already accomplished in you, it’s easier to trust Him with your future.  Because God showed Himself strong in my past challenges, I can expect Him to show up in my present situation.

In your prayer time today, reaffirm your trust in the Lord to take you through the hard times.  Place your life fully in His hands.

Question: What challenges has God already brought you through in the past?

© 2020 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2020 in Encouragement, Faith, Power of God

 

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Help Given and Received

For the past couple of years, I have been posting systematically through the New Testament.  I’ve been going book by book in the order that they were revealed to the church through the Holy Spirit.

Recently, I put that on pause because I felt led to do a series on spiritual warfare.  I’m now going back to where I left off in the original series.  I had just finished 1 Corinthians at that time, so I’ll now begin with 2 Corinthians.

Paul wrote his first letter, and sent it off with Titus to Corinth during the two years he spent at Ephesus (Acts chapter 19).  He then had to leave because of the rioting.  He went to Macedonia and waited for Titus to return with a report of his visit.

It turned out that many in Corinth received the epistle favorably.  However, there were still some who rejected Paul’s authority and teaching.  So Paul sends off another letter to respond to what he’s heard.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
2 Corinthians 1:1-4

The word trouble in this passage is actually the Greek word for pressure.  I don’t know about you, but personally, I dislike pressure.  I try my best to avoid it.

In actuality, we’ll never be exempt from the challenges and pressures of life.  But there is a positive outcome that it can bring us.

Pressure qualifies us for ministry. When we learn to endure pressure, we can help others who are undergoing the same things.

Most of us like to be helped.  When facing a difficult challenge, even a word of encouragement can go a long way.

If you’re like most people, then you’ve relied upon help at one time or another.  Scripture teaches us that part of showing gratefulness is taking the blessing you received and passing it on to someone else.

It can be anything – a kind word, food, a ride, or a helping hand carrying things.  If it’s done in obedience to God’s Word, it’s powerful and life-changing.

What we need to start realizing is that even though all these good things came through the people around us, God originated them.  All the blessings that we receive come from the Lord’s hand.  It’s in thankfulness to Him that we’re willing to pass a blessing on to someone else.

So when we help someone else in their pressure, it’s the Lord who’s actually helping them through us.  We become a channel of God’s love reaching out to those around us.

Look for an opportunity, today, to be a blessing to someone.  Do something unexpected.  Take the good things you’ve received from God and pass them on to someone around you.  The Lord will see to it that someday, in some way, you’ll be rewarded for your act of gratefulness to Him.

Question: What are some pressures that God has given you the victory over?

© 2020 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2020 in Encouragement, Ministry, Spiritual Walk

 

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God’s Armor – The Shoes of Readiness

As I continue with my series on the Armor of God, today we’ll look at the shoes.

…and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
Ephesians 6:15

It’s obvious that this piece of armor protects our feet.  The question is; what are our spiritual feet?

Simply put, we walk with our feet.  This includes three aspects.  Direction…we point our feet where we want to go.  Speed…this could be determined by a number of factors.  Endurance…as a hiker I know that I can only walk as long as my feet are able.

So to answer my question I need to understand what it is that determines my direction, speed, and endurance in my spiritual walk.  In life, it’s my will that brings all of these things into focus.

It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.  He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights.
Psalms 18:32-33

God perfects the way before me, but I still have to set my will to walk it out.  My will determines my direction, speed, and endurance.  This is important for us to know.

Knowing this, we’re told that something needs to be fitted on our spiritual feet.  The word, fitted, in the verse from Ephesians literally means an under binding.

That’s because my will is where I come in contact with the world.  It’s just like in the natural; my shoes protect my feet as they contact the earth.  When I live for Christ, my will comes in direct opposition to that of the world.

It’s in this place of contact that your endurance can get worn down.  If you don’t wear shoes, or don’t wear the right shoes, the earth determines how you walk.  With the right shoes, you determine your walk.

Like I’ve said, I’m a hiker.  I have a good set of hiking boots.  I’ve gone out for day hikes with friends who only had a pair of flimsy sneakers.  I laughed as they slowly picked their way so as not to step in mud or on a sharp rock.  But I was able to move straight forward because my feet were properly protected.

As I look at the armor, I notice that there’s a specific order to put it on.  It starts with the mind (The belt), then moves to the heart (The breastplate), and now we prepare our will.

That answers a question that many ask.  How do I know God’s will for my life?  Once you protect your mind and your heart, you’re ready to hear God’s will.  There’s a divine order to it.

Having said all of this, I think the keyword is readiness, the preparedness to do God’s will.  We must realize, even before we know God’s will for us, that it’s going to be the opposite of what the world desires.  Unless we’re prepared to protect it, our day to day life will wear it down.

Any believer can start doing God’s will.  Only those who can endure to the end can finish what they started.  We need the preparation that can only come from the Gospel of Peace.

We sometimes get the idea that everything’s okay.  “When something comes up, I’ll do the right thing.”  NO!  You won’t unless you’ve prepared yourself for that evil day.

The fact is that if you don’t prepare beforehand, you won’t choose God’s will when you’re under extreme pressure.  The Lord has provided a way for us to walk in victory, but we have to put the armor on.

At one point in Paul’s ministry, he knew God’s will for him was to go to Jerusalem.  All along the way, prophecies came forth warning that he would be arrested.  The church people pleaded with him not to go.

Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Acts 21:13

We need that same preparation.  No matter what comes our way, we’re ready to follow through and complete God’s will for our lives.

Question: What’s the next step in God’s plan for your life?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

 
 

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What’s Your View of Ministry

Sometimes you just need to get real with people.  I’ve found that in the ministry, that’s a hard thing to do.  Many people can’t handle the truth about it.

In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul bares his soul to them.  He hopes that it will cause them to open their hearts to the Word of God that he’s preaching.

He starts by comparing how they see themselves with their perceptions of him.

We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!  We are weak, but you are strong!  You are honored, we are dishonored!
1 Corinthians 4:10

Paul is exposing their thoughts.

“Paul only shows up here to tell us what to do.”

“Paul and his team are morons for what they’re doing in Christ’s name.  We are sensitive and thoughtful in Christ.  They’re weak, but we’re powerful.  Our opinion carries a lot of weight, theirs is valueless.”

I wish that this was an isolated case; only the opinions of an ancient church that died out long ago.  However, I’ve found these attitudes in the church of today.  There are Christians who won’t listen to godly counsel.

“Pastor, you don’t understand real life.  I can’t live for Christ on your level.  You don’t understand the pressures I face.”

I have to laugh when I hear arguments like that.  I lived a Christian life as an Electrical Engineer for many years.  Even now in my part-time job and hobbies, I’m constantly interacting with non-Christians.  I’ve experienced the same pressures as everyone else.

Then, to top it off, the ministry itself has pressures that are not apparent to most believers.  Paul tries to get this across to the church.

To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.  We work hard with our own hands.  When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.  Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.
1 Corinthians 4:11-13

Based on his other writings and the book of Acts, I don’t believe that Paul was talking about physical, material things here.  He was talking about the weight of the ministry.  The fact is, the more of God you encounter, the hungrier and thirstier for His Spirit you become.

The phrase in rags actually means naked.  That’s one of the worse pressures for a minister.  No one else feels more naked than a pastor.

Every aspect of his or her life is scrutinized under a magnifying glass.  Everything is inspected – their spouse, children, free-time activities, and how they dress.  Doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professions not treated like that.

On top of that, no matter how badly we’re treated, we’re expected to portray the love of Christ to all people.  If we make one miss-step, we’re labeled as mean spirited.

No, I’m not griping about the ministry.  I wouldn’t choose any other calling.  The rewards far outweigh the challenges.  I’m simply pointing out the truth that Paul’s trying to get across to the church.

As believers, we need to understand the price that’s being paid for the Word that’s being preached to us.  Then we can receive that Word, knowing that it comes from a heart that seeks God’s best in those who are listening.

Question: What price has your pastor paid to bring God’s Word to you?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2019 in Leadership, Ministry, The Church

 

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Prayer Under Pressure

How do you pray when you’re facing a severe trial?  Is it any different than when everything seems to be going your way?  If you’re like most people, those two prayers are vastly different.

In my last post, I talked about the fact that Jesus only took His three closest disciples with Him into the garden of prayer.  It was only hours before His trial, and He wanted them to watch how He prayed.  The Lord wanted them to see a prayer under deep emotional distress.

We know that Jesus felt the same pressure that we do while being tested.  The difference is that He knew how to walk in victory over these trials.  It was His goal to train His disciples to walk the same way.

He started by explaining what He was going through.

He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them.  “Stay here and keep watch.”
Mark 14:33-34

Jesus was deeply distressed because he was about to face something that he never experienced before.  He has existed since eternity past, but the Lord had never been touched by sin or death.  Now it was all going to come upon Him.

He told His disciples that His soul felt like it was totally surrounded by grief because of what He was about to face.  He knew that His humanity had to be dealt with.

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.  “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you.  Take this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Mark 14:35-36

This passage causes many people to question whether or not Jesus wanted to go to the cross.  It sounds like, just before the end, the Lord was trying to get out of it.  That’s not what’s happening here.

We know from Jesus’ conversations with His disciples that He was focused on what He needed to do on the cross.

Remember what Jesus said when James and John asked to sit on His right and left hand in the kingdom.

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them.  “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
Matthew 20:22a

There was no question in the Lord’s mind that He was going to drink the cup of death for us.  And there are many more places in the Gospels where He confirmed this thought.  Then why did He pray for the Father to remove this cup?

Simply put; this prayer was a teaching time for the disciples.  There were many times that Jesus prayed for the benefit of those who were listening.  This happened when He raised Lazarus from the dead.

So they took away the stone.  Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
John 11:41-42

What Jesus prayed in that garden was for the disciples’ benefit.  He wanted them to know how to pray when they felt overwhelmed.

Sometimes the pressure on us is so great that we lose sight of where God is bringing us to.  In those times it is very appropriate to ask God to bring an end to our trial.  But, we must always remember to finish the prayer by confirming our desire for God’s will to be done and not ours.

Question: When was a time that you had to pray while under great pressure?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2018 in Encouragement, Prayer, Spiritual Walk

 

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Is Your Faith Known?

In my last post, I talked about the need for a faith-coach. In sports, coaches are needed to overcome the challenges that an athlete faces during their competition. I believe it’s the same in our Christian walk. It’s how we’ve been coached that gets us through our challenges.

Paul tells the Thessalonian church the reason he was sending Timothy to coach them…

…so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.
1 Thessalonians 3:3-5

First of all, let me say that I’m not particularly thrilled with this passage. Paul makes it clear that it’s an undeniable fact of life that we will certainly face trials. Both of the words he uses – trials and persecution – mean pressure, narrow spaces, and challenges.

The Good News is not that we have an easy life with Christ. Instead, the Lord strengthens us to overcome in all of our trials.

This is why Paul wants them to be coached. In our trials, we should never be unsettled. That word literally means to wag – like a dog wags his tail.

Too often we, as Christians, end up simply reacting to our trials. We don’t expect them. Worse than that, we don’t know how to correctly operate in faith to walk through them. God has a better way for us. Listen to what He said to Israel when He taught them the law.

The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom.
Deuteronomy 28:13

The Lord never wants us to be wagged – to simply react – to the challenges of life. We have been given the Holy Spirit so that we can be ready for anything that comes our way. By watching others overcome, we can be equipped for the same victories.

Unfortunately, many refuse God’s mentoring system. They end up learning to overcome by trial and error. Personally, I want to know the strategy before I enter the heat of battle.

Back in the verse from Thessalonians, Paul said that he wanted to find out about their faith – literally he wanted to know their faith. The fact is, that true faith can be seen and known by those around you.

Trials and challenges – the pressures of life – serve an important purpose. They come so that the faith that you have on the inside can become evident on the outside.

Listen to how Peter describes the result of trials in our lives.

These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
1 Peter 1:7

Do what needs to be done in order to prepare your faith. Then when the trials come, as you know they will, Christ will be revealed in you.

Question: How has watching other believers prepared you for your trials?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
 

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How Can you Measure Spiritual Power?

We have been talking about the nature of God’s power in your life – how His Spirit produces change in us and in those around us.  We also saw that in nature, power is composed of two components, voltage and current.  How about spiritual power?  Scripture gives us some insight into this.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7

It’s obvious from this passage that the Lord doesn’t want us operating in fear.  What He desires for His people is a spirit of power.  It seems that the more I meditate on this verse, the clearer I see it.  I believe that this verse is telling us that the spirit of power is evidenced by two component parts – love and self-discipline.

The natural power law says that power is voltage times current.  It’s a known fact that in the natural, power is always measurable.  I believe that if you know the Word of God, you should be able to gauge your level of power.

The first component of power we’ll look at is voltage.  In the natural realm voltage is electrical pressure.  It’s the force that’s pushing the electrons through the wires in your home.  How does this translate into the spiritual?

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.
2 Corinthians 5:14

It’s Christ’s love in us that compels us to work for the Lord.  By using the word compel, Paul means that it’s the love of Christ that puts pressure on us to minister for the Lord.  This verse makes it obvious that love is the spiritual equivalent of voltage.  It’s love that puts pressure on us to serve God, to reach out, and to help others.

Jesus Christ walked in more power than anyone who ever walked the earth.  Do we see the evidence of this love putting pressure on His life?

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Matthew 14:14

This incident in the life of Christ happened just after the death of John the Baptist.  Jesus had recently been told that Herod had beheaded John.  Not only was John a colleague in ministry, he was also a family member.  If you read through Matthew chapter 14, you’ll find that Jesus went to a remote place to get away from the crowds so that He could mourn the death of John in private.

When He arrived at what He thought would be a secluded spot, Jesus found that the crowds were waiting for Him.  What would we do in that situation?  We know what Christ did.  Scripture says that He was moved, pressured by compassion to minister to the people in spite of His grief.

Question: Have you ever been pressured by the compassion of Christ to go beyond your normal boundaries?

© Nick Zaccardi 2012

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2012 in Power of God

 

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