87 – Feeling Under Pressure? Understanding Your Heart
“How are you doing?” When a friend asked me this recently, I didn’t know how to react. On the one hand, I realize that most people don’t really expect an answer. However, in this case I knew he really wanted to know how I was doing.
I could have answered “fine” and moved on. But as I thought about giving him a serious answer I realized that I didn’t really know how I was doing.
For the last several months, I had felt increasing pressure from various sources – work, church, children’s activities, and relationships. Over the last year the things that used to be easy had become much more difficult, like slogging through mud.
Perhaps you have felt this way before. When I was asked, “How are you doing?,” it caused me to consider what was going on in my heart. I’d like to share with you what I found.
THE STRUGGLE OF SELF AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
Many of the Old Testament prophets contrasted the nation of Israel with the nations around them. Habakkuk described the Babylonian empire that would one day conquer Israel.
I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people,… they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor. Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk… They deride kings and scoff at rulers… Then they sweep past like the wind and go on– guilty men, whose own strength is their god. “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright– but the righteous will live by his faith”. (Habakkuk 1:5-11; 2:4)
Habakkuk contrasts the arrogance of the Babylonians with the people of God. For the Babylonians, their strength is their god. In contrast, Habakkuk says the righteous shall live by faith.
This is the fundamental struggle of man, going back to Adam and Eve. Every moment of every day we choose whether to live out of our own strength and try to be independent from God, or whether to depend on God alone and walk by faith. When we try to be independent from God, we sin. When we walk by faith, Christ’s righteousness is lived out in obedience.
STRUGGLE AND PRESSURE
When asked how I was doing, I was forced to ask, “Why have I been feeling pressure? Why has the struggle become more and more overwhelming?”
I finally realized it was because my projects and pressures have become more real to me than Jesus. Instead of walking by faith, I let my strength become my god. Like the Babylonians, I have become “arrogant and never at rest.”
Why do you think an arrogant person cannot rest? On the surface, arrogant people believe they can handle things – that they can make it happen. Yet somewhere down deep inside they know they are not God, things aren’t ultimately in their control, and they won’t be able to do it all. So they can never fully be at rest, since they are trying to rest in their own strength.
As men, we cannot let our “strength become our God.” If we do we become controlling, angry, panicked, bitter, defensive, proud, and withdrawn.
I don’t get angry that often, but I got angry during a recent family vacation. I was responsible for watching over my 3 children and 6 nieces and nephews while they were playing outside on the family farm. I had given them some instructions about driving a farm vehicle to the front of the house and then stopped to make a quick phone call.
While I was on the phone, one of my brothers came out and loudly overruled what I had just told the kids to do. Although I tried not to show it, I got furious. And this reaction was way out of proportion to the actual circumstance. Why did I get so angry?
Jesus makes it clear that what we do comes from our hearts. He says that “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” and that “a good tree brings forth good fruit, but a bad tree brings forth bad fruit.” Jesus is showing the connection between external performance and inner faith.
PERFORMANCE VERSUS FAITH
How are we as men successful in the world? We quickly figure out that we have to dress a certain way, have a certain job, make a certain amount of money, live in the right house, or have a good family. The focus is on external things that we can do or see.
So we take a man like that and plop him down in church. How can he be a successful Christian? He looks around and decides he needs to dress a certain way, use certain phrases, attend church a certain number of times, give money, serve on committees, and join a men’s class. Often we take a man from one performance-oriented culture (the world) and move him right into another (the church).
The problem is that in both of these cases a man is basically relying on his own strength to be his god. We end up with men who are focused on whether their external behavior matches some ideal, but who are totally disconnected from a heart of faith.
THE FRUIT AND THE ROOT
Why was I angry on my recent vacation? After I thought and prayed about what was going on in my heart, I realized my anger came because my brother implied I had made a mistake. One of the idols that I often love more than Christ is the idea of my own competence – that I am capable of accomplishing anything I attempt. So when my brother overruled my instructions, it felt like he was saying I did not know how to watch the children. Since I couldn’t accept that I could be wrong, I reacted with anger to protect my illusion of competence.
But the deeper question is, “How should I deal with the anger in my heart?” And how should you deal with your materialism, workaholism, pornography, or emotional disconnection from your wife?
As men, the temptation is to try to fix these things in our own strength by focusing on externals. So we get into an accountability group, use a budgeting system, avoid places of temptation, and add items to our calendars and to-do lists. None of these are bad things, but they are all secondary. They all deal with the fruit and not the root.
PICKING ORANGES, TAPING ON APPLES
I have an orange tree in my backyard. If I decided I didn’t want an orange tree anymore, I could go out and pick off every orange. Next I could go to the store, buy a bag full of apples and some tape, then come home and tape apples all over the tree.
But what would happen next year? The oranges would be back. The only way to get rid of the oranges for good is to dig the tree up by the roots.
Often what we do as men is “pick oranges and tape on apples.” We deal with the symptoms of our sin that we can see, but we don’t get to the root of how our sin flows out of unbelief. So even if we are able to use will power to control our sin for a while, eventually it comes back stronger than ever.
Christ offers us the chance for change from the roots, from the inside out. He calls us to stop making our strength our god, and start walking with Him by faith.
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.
“But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:5-8
In these verses Jeremiah gives us a picture of two men. A cursed man who trusts in men and depends on flesh for his strength-whose heart has turned away from God. The other man is blessed because he trusts solely in the Lord and walks by faith.
- Find the Fruit: Identify an area of sin in your life OR Consider where you are having an overreaction to outside pressures.
- Find the Root: Answer the question, “Why is causing me to think and feel this way? What do I think this sin will do for me that God can’t?”
- Ask God to Dig it Up: Consider the promises of the gospel that deal with this issue. Ask Jesus to show you His glory and sufficiency, and to help you know that only He can satisfy the deepest longings of your heart.
Business leader, author, and speaker, Patrick Morley helps men to think more deeply about their lives, to be reconciled with Christ, and to be equipped for a larger impact on the world.
©2000. Patrick M. Morley. All rights reserved. This may be reproduced with proper attribution for non-commercial purposes.