The Pressing

"Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ." Acts 18: 5

As Gen. Grant, and The Army of the Potomac closed in on Gen. Lee and the Army of Northern Virgina, he telegraphed President Lincoln. He informed the President that the conflict would end if he kept up the pressure on the Confederate forces. Lincoln's answer was terse and to the point, "Let the thing be pressed." Grant obeyed, and pressed Lee to surrender his forces at Appamattox, Virginia in April 1865.

Pressure is a powerful weapon in the hands of a general seeking to defeat the enemy. The strategy is designed to keep the foe from regrouping, catching their breath, and maintaining resistance. It is also an effective tool in God's hands to bring a preacher to the edge of the cliff, to take a leap of faith, and to leave the results up to God.

Note to self: As a preacher, you don't have to survive, just serve. Make sure you serve God, not yourself. God can raise the dead. You can't. Don't live to survive. Live to serve.

In April 1985, I was at such a point. I was pastor of a church that had devoured 16 pastors in 24 years. One of these shepherds had lasted 2 weeks. The same tag-team Deacon Board that ran the church was in the process of doing the same thing to me. I found myself in the middle of a crisis brought about by their strategy. It was a well-oiled machine of secret post office boxes, anonymous letters, with-holding of finances, the manipulation of the committee system, and the high-jacking of the business meeting process. All the while, the public statements of support to my face and the congregation were supportive, but behind the scenes, the back-stabbing was effective. They were deceptive, destructive, and were very good at this. Can I get a witness?

As the crisis mounted, staff salaries would be reduced, program's cut, and hand-wringing induced to bring about a loss of confidence, and the eventual departure of the pastor. That would be me. Don't get me wrong. It wasn't personal. It never is. It simply doesn't matter whose name gets erased, as long as control remains in the hands of the few, the entitled, and the determined. Just because a church is death-defying doesn't mean it is life-giving. Check the graveyard. It is usually filled with former pastors.

One day, while I was alone in prayer and the reading of Scripture, I came across this passage. In a moment, the angst, anger and anxiety disappeared. The pressing down on my soul was released, and a huge burden was lifted. I heard from God. There was a new sense of freedom and expectancy. Come what may, I was not alone, nor was I a punching bag. I only had two cheek, not four. I had turned both. It was time to stand up, not to take a kick in the pants.

"Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, 'Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city.' And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them." Acts 18:9-11 KJV

The pressing of Paul's soul, and the words of the Lord spoken to him, reveal much about the man. He was at times hesitant to speak his full mind, and fearful of the beating he would take if he did. Paul was not a robot on remote control, but a living, breathing human being who hurt when hit, and at times felt the sting of loneliness like anyone else. God pressed his soul, with a reminder of His Spirit's Presence, and with His touch, Paul found a new freedom to preach Jesus. This only happens...EVERY TIME.

For my part, when I read this, God led me to go without a salary for a year. It didn't seem possible, or plausible, but when I shared this sense of direction with Dana, she had heard the same thing. Sunday I told the congregation that I had a special announcement to make at the close of the service.

I could tell by the looks on the faces of the ringleaders, they were expecting me to quit. This was not their first rodeo. When I rose to close the service, I thanked the church for their patience with the process, and shared with them how God had lifted the crisis. I was able to say with confidence, there was no longer any financial need to reduce staff salaries, because I would serve the church without compensation for the next year. The standing ovation was deafening. The shocked looks on the faces of those seated told me all I need to know. They hadn't counted on God showing up at the beat down. Back stabbers always bring a knife to a gunfight, and God always outguns the opposition.

The pressing down on my spirit had been enormous, but I was more than overwhelmed by the sense of freedom that it forced to the surface. The power grip of the few had been broken. They were exposed for the frauds they were. Over the next two and a half years, I discovered what preaching with freedom was all about. "Let the thing be pressed." Indeed.

The Pressing of a preacher's spirit is often the way God prepares His preachers to lead His people into a fresh out-pouring of His Spirit. Comfortable preachers and complacent people lead to compromising churches that are conformed to the culture, but will never see it changed with the message of Jesus as Christ.

Stop looking for a massage from the culture. Deliver the message of Jesus to it. Preach Jesus, not just God Bless America. Jesus is not a Democrat or a Republican. He is not even an American. The ash heap of history is filled with nations, and empires who pressed their values on others, but in the process lost the virtue only Jesus Christ can place in a culture, one life at a time. Preach Jesus.

This Thanksgiving, thank God for the message of Jesus Christ, and prepare to share Jesus with someone this Christmas. Faith Hill sings a beautiful song that says it all, "A Baby Changes Everything." From the cradle to the cross, from the womb to the tomb, from Heaven to your heart, Jesus changes everything, one life at a time. He longs to say the same words to you, He spoke to Paul, "...I am with Thee." Listen. He is praying for you by name. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!