This is The next level series on Fervent Prayer. We are using the book Fervent by Priscilla Shirer, and I highly recommend you purchase it as a resource. You’re probably going to want a paper copy, because it’s one you will pull out again and again if you’re like me. We are going through the 10 most common strategies the enemy uses in our lives, and we are leaerning how to strategically pray so that we can combat those dealings in our lives. This is a deeper series that the previous one we went through. It’s spiritual warfare. Are you ready to go to war on this?
If you’ve missed any of the previous posts, you can find them here.
If I were your enemy, I’d make everything seem urgent, as if it’s all yours to handle. I’d bog down your calendar with so many expectations you couldn’t tell the difference between what’s important and what’s not. Going and doing, guilty for ever saying no, trying to control it all, but just being controlled by it all instead… If I could keep you busy enough, you’d be too overwhelmed to even realize how much work you’re actually saving me.
Your Pressures. Reclaiming Peace, Rest, and Contentment.
Pressure to keep up. Pressure to keep going. Pressure to stay ahead, stay afloat, stay relevant. Pressure to do for others what they maybe ought to be doing for themselves.
Pressure to plan for your retirement years. Pressure to lose weight and stay young looking. Pressure to take on another ministry project at church. Pressure to always be the one they can count on to say yes. Pressure to jam another activity for your kids into the schedule. Pressure to do a better job of keeping a journal, organzing your pantry and closets, getting your Christmas shopping done early… then posting your clever thoughts and carefully posed pictures on Instagram when you’re finished.
Pressure to perform a certain way, look a certain way, dress a certain way, be interested in certain things. To be the perfect parent, the perfect wife, the perfect daughter, the perfect friend, the perfect employee, the perfect party planner, the perfect image of everything that everyone expects you to be.
Oh, and pressure to not be the first one who cracks.
Under the pressure.
Granted, there’s a baseline level of pressure that’s necessary to keep us from settling into laziness and self-absorption. Life without any pressure wouldn’t be what’s best for us. But life with this much pressure? From a nonstop pace? A schedule that never allows time for rest or refreshment or maybe actually enjoying the people we’re staying so busy with? Pressure from the unrealistic demands we place on ourselves through our perfectionism, obsession, control, the making of appearances? Pressure from the unreasonable demands others place on us? Pressure that makes us feel like we might be wrong… or selfish… or coldhearted… or snooty to enforce margin and boundaries in our schedule so that we can actually maintain enough time to be obedient to what the Lord has called us to do?
Consider this. Ever notice how many of the pressures in your life resemble slavery? Like you’re just being bossed around, day in and day out? “Do this… go there… now come back over here… do it again…” Slaves don’t rest. Slaves just work. They don’t control their agenda for the day; the day’s agenda controls them. That’s the regular dynamic they’ve come to expect; it’s what the others expect of them as well.
The enemy’s intention is always to ensalve you. Primarily, of course, his stock-in-trade is keeping you bound up and bogged down by all the sins Christ has already died to set you free from. But when that doesn’t work, when you defeat him on the normal temptation front, he’s not out of other ideas… because he’s actually not biased toward limiting his temptations to bad things. He can enslave you to good things too. Your job, your ministry, even your recreational hobbies – nothing is so healthy and life-giving that he can’t turn it into a cruel taskmaster, one that bosses you around and runs your life.
When God delivered the ancient Israelites from four hundred years of bondage in Egypt, slavery was all they’d ever known (Exodus 1:8-14). The rhythms and demands of slavery had been internalized within them from birth. Whatever their taskmasters said, that’s what they did. Refusing wasn’t a choice. Saying no wasn’t an option. I’m sure they didn’t like it, but what could they do about it? – till the Lord sent Moses and ten mighty plagues and delivered them from the iron clutches of Pharaoh.
Israel was free. They were no longer a slave people. But being offically declared free doesn’t automatically take the slave mentality out of a person’s heart and mind, now, does it? God knew He would need to radically adjust their perspectives in order to get them thinking like people who weren’t slaves anymore.
Enter… the Sabbath.
“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work.” Exodus 20:9-10 (with emphasis). Don’t. Work?
These people had never heard these words before. Never been given that alternative. The whole idea was a foreign concept. All their background and training were built around going, not stopping. Working, not resting. Complying, not declining or decompressing.
So you’d think the prospect of being allowed (no, told) to take regular breaks from their weekly work would sound incredible, relieving, reprieving. Right? Think again. They balked against their seventh-day vacation allotment and went out to work anyway.
Why does the concept of stopping, resting, shutting off, stepping away, pulling back, taking a deep breath- the biblical command of Sabbath – why was it so hard for them?
Same reason it’s so hard for us.
Because to some degree, we’re slaves just as they were. The thought of deliberately choosing a rhythm of rest and margin around our full slate of activities feels almost unthinkable – because it lands on people who still think the way a slave thinks. People who’ve been trained over the years to not say no. People who are unwitting servants to their master calendars.
That’s a slave talking. Hear it? “I can’t just… not… can I?”
No, you can’t. Not if you’re a slave.
But… you can if you are free.
And guess what? “It was our freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). Enough can be enough – not just on our calendars but in every area of our lives. Then we can sit back in the freedom that helps us start again tomorrow with our spirits rested, alert, and renewed.
A free woman possesses the God-given ability to know when He is truly asking her to do something – as well as the God-given ability to know when He’s not. Then, she has the God-given discernment to know her limits and the authority to know when she needs “to cease, to stop, to pause” – accepting the gentle yoke of Jesus instead of the tyrannical yoke of slavery. “For my yoke is easy,” He said, “and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30).
Your Father just wants you to be you. And that means not have to be two of you to get it all done. Jesus was the poster child for this kind of margin. Listen to Him: “The Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner” (John 15:9). Even Jesus – the Son of God – realized that everything wasn’t supposed to be His thing to do. He only did what He saw the Father doing. Nothing more. Nothing less.
See how fear and insecurity come into play in your pressures. Those words always have an enemy ring to them, don’t they? Satan’s ploy is to make you believe your value as a person is tied to how much work you do, how much activity you can accomplish, how much stuff you can accumulate, how much business you can generate… etc. Our insecurities make us fear what others will say or think of us (or of our kids) if we don’t do everything they deem to be required of us or don’t acquire enough to impress them. It’s why we turn Christian living into legalism, for fear that God will be displeased if we don’t rigorously stick to the program. It’s why we don’t know how to sit still. It’s why we’re so rarely satisfied with where we are or what we have.
It’s intimidation. It’s based totally on lies and fear. Fear that we don’t have enough. Fear that we won’t be enough. Fear that we’ll fail and will no longer come off looking as perfect as we want to appear. Fear that somebody else who’s working harder and moving faster will get what was supposed to be ours.”God doesn’t want something from you. He wants something for you.” Your value is not placed in what you do but in who you are. This, too, is what Sabbath is meant to communicate. You don’t need to keep pushing, rushing, gathering, hustling. You’ve already received approval from the only One whose approval really matters. He has stamped His value on you, and that is enough.
One additional thing: pressure is often a mask for idolatry. God’s purpose in giving you Sabbath spaces amid your full, productive life is to help you be uninhibited in your devotion, service, and worship. Margin keeps you from marginalizing God. When our lives are packed to the brim with things that squeeze God to the periphery, it’s a sure sign we’ve replaced our devotion to God with a love for something else. The pressure to perform, for example, often means you’ve made an idol of your reputation. The pressure to maintain a ridiculously jam-packed schedule: the idol of self-reliance. The pressure to maintain an impressive standard of living: the idol of acheivement. The pressure to take on everything in which your kids show even the slightest interest: making an idol of your children. Our hearts can make idols of anything… yet sometimes be the last to realize what’s happening.
The primary purpose of Sabbath margins – of saying no, when appropriate – is to diminish our devotion to all other suitors and crystallize our allegiance to God. The enemy wants other things and people to replace God’s preeminence in our schedule, in our mind, in our heart, in our home. He wants our loyalties lured away from our Creator and dispersed among a dozen others, without our even thinking about it.
Unmanageable, incessant pressure, then, is not just another nagging problem in your average day. It’s an attack against your full devotion to God as your one and only Lord. It’s a cosmic battle for your contentment, your peace, your rest, your sense of balance, health, and wholeness, your ability to worship attentively, to trust fully, to be free and satisfied in Christ, available to move at the invitation of His perfectly timed will.
It’s a matter worth our serious prayer. We’ve missed the connection for too long. We’ve been too tired and overwhelmed to see it. But now our eyes are open, and we can see the enemy’s stategy exposed. So let’s use prayer, like a sharp pair of scissors, to help cut ourselves loose.
This one life’s all we’ve got. It’s our one chance to choose: Will we let them dominate and define us? Steal our hearts and devotion? Or will our service and adoration of the Father determine how we operate – determine what fills our plate?
When we become strategic and focused in our prayer, God will not only begin the process of tearing us free, but He will weave new threads of peace, rest, and contentment into their place.
Perhaps, before you collect scriptures and develop a prayer strategy in this area, you might want to start by doing a little personal inventory. It might help you be more tailored in your praying. Try identifying the most common pressures and expectations in your life that cause fatique, fragmentation, distress – occasionally even an emotion that borders on despair.
- Check your schedule for patterns where you’re allowing yourself to be ensalved to things that aren’t truly as critical, important, or indispensable as they seem.
- Check your motivations for why you say yes to so many things and why you feel such guilt and loss of importance for saying no.
- Check to see if the places where you most typically overload your time involve people or goals or interest areas that you’ve elevated to the status of idols.
- Check how much emphasis you place on the current status of your wardrobe, house, car, job, fitness, education, and any external measure that causes you to feel defensive, pressured to keep up and compare.
Ask the Lord for real discernment here because some of these can be subtle and hard to spot. A close friend or family member whose wisdom you trust might actually be helpful in this process as well if you’ll promise to consider the validity of everything they say and reveal about you, even the things you don’t quite agree with at first.
By the Spirit’s power helping you gain control of your schedule, creating spaces within which to breathe, obeying the principles of God’s Sabbath, and establishing boundaries based on the truth of His all-wise Word, your destiny comes into clearer focus. Your worship blossoms into brilliant colors. And your day amazingly brightens into joy.
The enemy’s going to hate this. Let’s do it…
I am at rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock, and my salvation, my stronghold; I will never be shaken. Psalm 62:1-2
From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a shelter for me, A strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Psalm 61:2-4
He is not impressed by the strength of a horse; He does not value the power of a man. The Lord values those who fear Him, those who put their hope in His faithful love. Psalm 147:10-11
You are my hope; O Lord God, You are my confidence from my youth. By you I have been sustained from my birth; You are He who took me from my mother’s womb; My praise is continually of You. Psalm 71:5-6
I, the Lord, am your God, Who brought you up from the land of Egypt; Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. Psalm 81:10
If you… call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 58:13-14
You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.
You shall remember that you were a slave in the hand of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. Deuteronomy 5:15
…being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Matthew 6:33
Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4
Few things hold the potential to drastically alter the landscape of your life as when you claim godly authority over the insane amount of unnecessary pressures you face. Be ready to see your eyes opened as you close them in prayer.
One day soon a whole new person is going to be emerging from that prayer closet.
A free one. A rested one. A contented one.