Speeding across galaxies, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker set out on a mission to rescue Princess Leia from imprisonment by the sinister Darth Vader. Arriving at the evil Empire’s main base, they free her from her cell but must evade multiple foes on the way back to their ship. At one point, their only choice to avoid enemy pursuers is to dive into a chute that deposits them into a garbage bay on the space station. Standing in stinking debris surrounded by metal walls, they quickly realize that their escape route has led them to a dead end. As they search for a way out, the purr of a motor kicks into gear and the room lurches ominously. Within moments, the walls start closing in on them and they realize they’re lodged inside a gigantic trash compacter. Scrambling atop the heaps of refuse, the characters make vain attempts to brace the walls and save themselves. They are hard pressed on every side and it seems they’ll be crushed in a matter of minutes.
You may laugh when you read this, but I envisioned that scene from the 1977 hit movie “Star Wars: A New Hope” as I read Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Although most of us have never experienced the hardships Paul endured, (or being inside a trash compacter on a space station) I think we can relate to the idea of feeling “hard pressed on every side.” The pressures and demands of life feel crushing at times, especially when we face challenges on multiple fronts.
Lately it seems I’ve encountered a significant number of people who feel hard-pressed by difficult circumstances. Relationship challenges, health issues, struggling kids, aging parents, wayward grandchildren, financial difficulties, traumatic experiences, and day to day stress have left them feeling overwhelmed. However, I’ve also noticed that those who follow Jesus find their strength by leaning into Him for hope and wisdom.
Their examples inspire me and make Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians come to life. He explains “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV) Despite our human weakness, we have access to God’s all-surpassing power. The NIV study Bible explains that our insufficiency as human beings reveals the total sufficiency of God. Rather than focusing on the perishable container (our frail humanity), we choose to focus on the priceless contents (the Holy Spirit).
Doing this requires us to be intentional in our perspective. Our natural inclination is to look horizontally and focus on the walls closing in on us, lamenting that we will soon be crushed. A wiser choice is to fix our gaze on God and maintain a vertical focus, trusting that He will use our troubles for our good and His glory. Paul explains it this way: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV)
Even hardships that last for many years are light and momentary in comparison with the vastness of eternity. And God promises to be with us, to give us access to His power, and to help us every step of the way.
You may have noticed that I didn’t tell you what happened to our heroes from Star Wars as the walls were closing in. Their attempts to stop them from moving were fruitless because they didn’t have the physical strength. However, they were clear-thinking enough to seek aid from an outside source. Although it took a bit longer than they’d hoped, help did come through for them just in the nick of time. It’s a cinematic example of what happens when we stop trying on our own strength and tap into God’s limitless power.
Just for fun, instead of a song I’ve included a two-minute clip of that scene from Star Wars so that you can get the full visual experience of being hard pressed on every side. You’ll hear Luke Skywalker pleading several times “Shut down all the garbage smashers on the detention level!” If you’re feeling hard pressed today, call upon God’s all-surpassing power instead of trying harder on your own. Shout out to Him, fix your eyes on what is unseen, and watch how God works in your heart, mind, and circumstances.
Kelly Minter, All Things New: A Study of 2 Corinthians, Lifeway Press 2016.