Make Love to Pressure?

In 2004, Stephen Jackson, shooting guard for the San Antonio Spurs, cemented his legacy in sports media lore when he boldly declared, “I make love to pressure”, referring to his ability to hit difficult shots in clutch situations. Although Jackson’s flair for the dramatic has often transcended into off-court notoriety, with this statement, he inadvertently released silver-linings of truth that we, believers, can rally around, specifically how we merge a Christ-centered approach into the arena of pressure.

Before I continue, permit me to step back a few decades.

I’ve always loved basketball. In terms of athletic uproar, nothing beats the sound of a swished net in an electrified arena with the game on the line. For years, I have retained an enthusiasm for the game as an avid NBA (National Basketball Association) fan, one that started with John Paxson’s game-winning three-pointer in game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals and carried on through the championship runs of the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs.

During this time, I developed a particular admiration for athletes who overcame adversity with perseverance – players like Chris Webber, Scottie Pippen and Sean Elliot among others. In my mind, the best basketball players played with passion, selflessness and contagious confidence. So whenever I took my talents to the basketball court, I made a conscious effort to emulate my style after my hardwood heroes.

Not only did basketball have physical and physiological benefits, but relationally, the sport provided an outlet of relatability and acceptance among my peers. Whenever a conversation transitioned into basketball, I would instantly illuminate, digging into the dialogue through the sharing of random statistics and background info. Occasionally, such hoopfest exchanges would include the off-court shenanigans committed by a particular player or coach. So as I read in my Bible the other day, reflecting on the powerful wisdom in James 1, Stephen Jackson flashed back into mind.

I don’t know about you, but when I think about pressure, I don’t automatically default to strawberry fields and pocket full of posies. If careless, I can allow stress and worry to overwhelm me to the point of fear, whether rejection, failure or unmet expectations. Deep down, I believe in the divinely created man who will consistently ride waves of grace and supernatural strength to victory in the face of pressure; however, on the surface, I can, at times, wrestle with my own preconceptions of pressure and its corresponding triggers. Thus, as the dichotomy between outer angst and innate faith expands, I am compelled to make an important decision. In light of James 1:2-3, will I cave into vain misunderstandings or consider troubles as joys to behold?

The answer should be quite clear. In God’s eyes, to be tested is to be entrusted and ultimately empowered by the power of the Holy Spirit. If you desire fullness in Christ, then it makes no sense to tremble with timidity, but with referent fear and humility. Until we understand how this self-emptying devotion is an emphatic privilege, we cannot know the joy that comes when we persevere under pressure. Let’s think about the battlefield in the context of spiritual warfare. The army of God must not only thrive in pressure, but should also want to love it, as the embrace corporately matures us into His image and likeness. In Luke 12:48, we are told, “To him who is given much, much is required.” Again, God is entrusting us to share His story, counting on us to transform lives to transform the world. How can we not view pressure as privilege? How can we fail to recognize pressure as potential in progress*?

If we sincerely believe in the goodness instilled in us by a supremely sovereign God, and desire to advance our faith, hope and love in Him, we have to shake off hesitation and position ourselves to apply perseverance into pressure. As we walk in this, we will discover how perseverance helps renew faith, sharpen discernment, strengthen hope, anchor prayer and cultivate steadfast love, all the while, teaching us how to receive new life and refreshment from the Lord through His resurrecting power. In all things, we are given the capacity to overwhelmingly conquer through Him who first loved us (Romans 8:37).

So don’t just respect pressure from a distance; go out of your way to appreciate it up close. Don’t go looking for trouble, but believe that God will equip you to endure the trials, adversities and pressures you encounter. The truth is there will be times when God gives you more than what you can handle (Note: many people misinterpret 1 Corinthians 10:13; the reality is God will not let you be tempted beyond your ability), but at the same time, He gives us the gift of perseverance to make it through without succumbing to the flesh. How great is our God? I’m under no pressure whatsoever to proclaim the greatness that He is.

• Voiced by Kurt Warner, former NFL (National Football League) quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals

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