Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its 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 deficient in any way.James 1:2-4 (MSG)
Really? Consider tests and trials a “sheer gift”? Another translation says “count it all joy when you fall into various trials”. Yet the natural response of most people to challenges, tests and trials is the opposite! Let’s face it, no-one wants to experience times of pressing. It’s uncomfortable! Yet pressing can produce a depth, maturing and refining that overflows to every area of our lives and is precious in the sight of God.
Take the oil of the olive for example. The olive fruit cannot be eaten straight off the tree—it is far too bitter!! The olive has to go through a process to make it useful and to produce the oil (without the bitter taste). This process does not happen overnight—it takes time. It begins with washing, breaking the flesh of the olive, soaking it (in water or a salty solution). All of this is designed to draw out a bitter chemical that resides in the flesh of the olive. And then for the precious oil, it can only be produced when the flesh of the olive is pressed.
Every challenge faced must be faced with faith and an expectation of a good outcome—according to the promises of God to us:
And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.Romans 8:28 (AMP)
The Apostle Paul had a good expectation that despite every challenge—no matter what he faced—he would remain standing—and the last man standing wins!
We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed;2 Corinthians 4:8-9
we are perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed.
Pressing brings us into tight places, but it has the ability to bring great growth and a maturity that can only come by overcoming in the experiences of life.
I was recently reminded of a vacation I had in Mexico over 25 years ago.
I was studying in the U.S. at the time and when the summer holidays came, I was invited to join a family on their summer vacation in Mexico. I had never been to Mexico, so I jumped at the chance to go.
We stayed in a cabin somewhere up in the mountains and some fun activities were planned—like horse riding and water skiing. But things didn’t turn out as expected!
The water skiing was a disaster of hugely embarrassing proportions—so I will leave that story for another day.
On the day we went horse riding, our Mexican guide selected a horse for each of us (the selection being based purely on our riding abilities—of which I had none). I got saddled with a donkey—an ass—while my friends (who were more experienced riders than me) were given “real” horses.
If you have ever heard tales of donkeys having a stubborn streak, it is true! My donkey was one stubborn jackass.
Our guide led the way along the pebbly dirt trail up the mountain. My two friends followed closely behind him on their horses, and then me and the donkey brought up the rear.
The troubles began when the donkey decided it didn’t like the view of the horse’s rear ends (and I don’t blame it), so it squeezed its way in between the two of them. The trail was narrow enough that the horses refused to move over and allow us some room. The squeeze was so tight that my body was continually being knocked against the sides of the horses. Let me just say that the “pressing” I experienced was uncomfortable and I probably sported some bruises because of it.
After a while the donkey decided it wanted a better view and it walked us both over to the very edge of the path—the edge that looks down over the side of the mountain to the sudden stop at the bottom! Despite my best efforts to pull on the reins and move the donkey away from the edge, it continued to walk along it. I won’t deny I was VERY uncomfortable. There were no safety railings; no comforting barriers: just my intense hope in the donkey’s sure-footedness and God’s plans for my life extending beyond that day!!!
To my relief the donkey and I moved away from the trail’s edge onto more secure footings. But just when I thought the pressure was over, that ass no longer wanted to continue up the mountain and turned us both around with quickened pace and headed back down the trail! I was now going in the WRONG direction and no amount of tugging on the reins or yelling at it would change that donkey’s mind! (Thank God for the guide who heard the commotion and came back to grab hold of the reins and lead us both back up the mountain).
What a day! What a journey! What a stupid jackass!
Now the purpose of my story is this: eventually the narrow place of pressing that I had been travelling on, broke open into a wide, green, mountain-top expanse. The uncomfortable narrow place—the place of squeezing and pressing and pressure—was suddenly behind me.
I don’t know about you, but I really dislike the word “tribulation”! It makes me involuntarily tighten my cheeks and brace for something I’m sure I’m not going to like. Tribulation simply means the trials of life, and more accurately it means: a “pressing”, “pressure” and “narrow straits”.
My experience with the donkey that day positioned me in the middle of a tribulation parable. I was in a narrow strait where I felt squeezed, pressed and uncomfortable, but I overcame!
When Jesus spoke the words: “Be of good cheer for I have OVERCOME the world”, it was His response to tribulation that comes by being in this world. Jesus warned us that it would be part of the human experience (just as it was a part of His)—but we have a promise of OVERCOMING in it!
When our trust is in the Goodness of God and His love for us, we recognise what trials and pressing times are: opportunities for us to overcome and to grow (Romans 8:28).
With God, EVERY trial—every experience of pressing and of pressure (irrespective of its desired intent)—leads us into greater areas of influence, capacity and freedom.
Jesus’ response to tribulation was not just that we would overcome because He did, but that we should “be of good cheer” because through Him we also overcome! If you are in a trial right now, you are in it to win it!
“Cheer” is actually the Greek word meaning “courage”. When Jesus tells us to “be of good cheer” in response to the trials of life—the narrow, pressing places—He is giving us a reason for courage: the assurance of victory because of what He accomplished for us! If you are in Christ then you have been given the right and the authority to overcome!
The donkey in my story wanted to give up and head back down the mountain—back to a place of comfort and familiarity. But then it would never have arrived at the wide open plain—the grassy field where there was greater provision and where horses could run unhindered.
Sometimes we feel trapped and want to quit when pressure comes. Don’t quit, just lay hold of the promises of God and trust His love for you in it (Hebrews 10:23).
When we lean into God and speak His Word into the situations of our lives, we apply a greater pressure against the pressure. Lay hold of His promises and don’t quit or turn back. You will come out into your wide open place!
At the end of every narrow, pressing place is breakthrough! Your faith is the assurance of that, so take courage and be of good cheer because with Jesus, the outcome is rigged and you win!