following God’s peace

There are times when we would like to work at resolving issues in a way which seems strongly reasoned and fair. And we are full of words. And actually there might be plenty of truth in what we’re saying.

But if we can look beneath the surface and have some discernment beyond what is obvious, we might find out that there’s more to be thought and said. We need to look for other possibilities as to what is happening and why. At the same time being careful not to put the worst case scenario with reference to ourselves in that case, although being open to any sin of ours which either might be clouding our thoughts (such as pride), or factors into what we’re concerned about.

And above all, we need to seek God’s peace. What might God have us do, as well as not do in the given situation is a good question. Where God’s peace lies, is another important consideration here.

This is all together, since deliberation in search for discernment is ordinarily part of the process that God wants of us as his children, and as such, as those who are responsible and in a certain sense, adults. There are exceptions to the rule when we might not be able to put our finger on why, but we just have the strong sense that God’s peace lies in a certain direction, but not in another.

By God’s peace here, I mean an inner feeling and sense that would be considered mystical. But through Christ by the Spirit, through faith, we can indeed experience this, at times quite strong, at other times, simply present. Ideally it is experienced with others in Jesus. But often enough, it will be experienced only by ourselves. If it’s of God, it should be persistent and prevailing.

This can be especially important at certain junctures of life, when change is in the air, and decisions are being made. We should expect a kind of general peace along the way from God, but I refer here to something stronger to help us either avoid what is wrong, or go in a better direction. In and through Jesus.

 

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radical reliance on God

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

I like the NRSV rendering, “and do not rely on your own insight.” We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, or at least I’ll speak for myself. I read scripture daily, but I also go over it slowly. I find especially at certain parts, that I do well to slow down, sometimes back up then slow down, and ponder all of it in its parts, which hopefully will help me understand it better as a whole.

For me the first thought here, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart,” is particularly striking, and actually challenging, unfortunately, given my own propensity to depend on information gathering and reason. Not that those shouldn’t be in the mix, but in the end we’re to either trust in God, or rely on our own insight. One or the other.

I like The Message‘s rendering of this passage:

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track.

It’s important to consider each part, but it’s a mistake to isolate it from the whole. We’re to consider each part carefully with reference to the whole. And what I find is nothing short of a radical dependence on God, which does not imagine that anything short of that is satisfactory in and of itself. So that when we’re confronted with something in which we know we’re in need of special wisdom, wisdom from God, we can proceed on this track, that of radically relying on him.

Of course this doesn’t at all mean that we ditch science, or human knowledge, along with rationality. Those in their place can be part of the equation, in their proper place, indeed gifts from God. But we don’t do well to put our confidence in the gifts, but rather, in the Giver. Our confidence in the end has to be in the God who gave us those things, or the ability to come up with the working knowledge we humans come up with. But we know that we’re limited even in that God-given sphere, and in the end that we not only do well to, but actually need to put our trust completely in God, and quit trying to figure everything out and arrive to a satisfactory place ourselves.

This will require prayer, being in the word, more prayer, certainly regular participation in church, prayer, being in the word, more prayer, and more participation in church. And time, with the waiting on God that goes with that.

God is at work in ways we probably are not capable of fully understanding and appreciating. We need to work at trusting in him. God will give us the insight and help we need if we commit ourselves to radical dependence on him. Which means we are willing to wait and take our hands off the process. Waiting for his peace to keep us on his path for us in and through Jesus.

a simple look at the translation of the Greek word transliterated hyperecho in Philippians 4:7

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:7

In the great promise on avoiding or dealing with anxiety, I like the New International Version‘s translation of the Greek word transliterated hyperechotranscends. I used to not care much for it. Surpasses, though is not a word we use that often. And in this context, to me it is confusing. The peace of God surpasses our understanding. What does that mean. In our thinking it might mean it simply bypasses it. What it really means, if we think about it more, is that it is greater than our understanding. And we could say, above and beyond it. Even the idea from the New Living Translation that God’s peace exceeds anything we can understand, while helpful, still is not quite satisfying to me, when trying to make sense of this.

So the NIV‘s “transcends” I end up finding helpful, after all. It has the idea to me of above and beyond. So that we’re to live in that peace when our understanding fails, believing that God is in it, and that we can trust him. Which is at the heart of what the promise in Philippians 4:6-7 is all about. In and through Jesus.

fear or love

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:18

The older I get, the more I realize just how important it is to understand the experience of living in God’s grace/favor in terms of love. So that if we fear, somehow we are falling short of what we have in Christ: namely God’s love.

God’s love is not merely theoretical, or something we know in our heads. It is indeed something we’re to enjoy in our hearts. Bringing us peace, not fear.

So in a sense we should always be running away from fear toward love.

I am coming to judge more and more God’s direction in terms of whether or not I have God’s peace about something, which comes out of his love. A note: This is from John and in John’s gospel account of Jesus’s Upper Room discourse on the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus ties peace and love together, that in him his disciples are to have peace, so that they’re not to let their hearts be troubled. That they’re live in his love, just as he lives in the Father’s love (John 13-17).

If I am quite troubled, or fearful about something, that’s a good indication that God is not in it. I’m not referring to a healthy fear, which is something entirely different. For example a fear that I will hurt someone in some way. But rather a debilitating fear in which one’s existence in some way or another feels threatened. In God’s love in Jesus there is always peace, even the peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). And that includes God’s convicting work of our sin, as well. It is never condemning in Jesus, the point of the 1 John passage quoted above. The devil’s argument to us is that God is out to get us in condemning us, rather than the truth that God is out to love us in and through Jesus. And as Jesus said, that he had not come to condemn even the world, but to save the world.

It’s either one or the other. Of course that doesn’t mean we have God’s peace apart from God’s love. God’s love certainly involves living in Jesus, which means living in God’s will. We don’t just do whatever, and think that we’re living in God’s love. God’s love for us in Jesus is always present, but we have to return home, and live in that love, not in the pigsty and deception of the world (and the flesh and the devil). We learn to live in the Father’s embrace, as imperfect as we are, even when we might be a mess, and struggling with a sin issue. Always and forever it is God’s love in Jesus which makes the difference for us, a love which we share with all others. The love of God in Jesus.

finding the wealth in poverty

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5

Scripture and especially in the way of Jesus is full of paradox in which the normal order of things seems upside down. What works in the world isn’t at all what works in the way of the Lord. Unless somehow the world’s values are imposed on the church, which all too often is the case, and which we need to guard against both in our personal lives, and together, in the life and witness of the church. Of course that’s not to say that somehow we don’t try to connect with others in following Paul’s example of being all things to all people to by all possible means save as many as possible (1 Corinthians 9).

The way Jesus starts out the Sermon on the Mount is especially near and dear to me, since most all of my life I’ve really struggled internally. And scripture and especially the gospel does answer much of that struggle, for example the Lord gives us his peace in his presence in the Father’s love by the Spirit which is for all of us, for all who believe.

I find over and over again that accepting the struggle and hard places of life, instead of trying to find an answer past or around them is key for me. I find the Lord in those places, his strength in my weakness. I also have found again and again that the Lord meets me in the depths, in the hardest places. And that I shouldn’t be afraid of either pressure or even controversy, both inevitable even as simple followers of Jesus. But I am more than happy for those times which are relaxing and in which there doesn’t seem to be a care in the world.

The poor in spirit is an apt description of myself and my own spirit and spiritual state. But I find that’s where faith is born, and grows, and even thrives. Not in a world in which everything is awesome with high fives. But in a place of struggle which encourages humility so that we’re cast upon God.

I get in trouble when I am trying to find the spiritual secret to getting out of my mess. But when I accept the poverty, then ironically I find the Lord’s hand to help me to a place that seems more like Jesus, in him. Paul’s thought in Philippians comes to mind here:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

Philippians 3

Over and over again, we find this to be true in the witness of scripture, and in life. With that comes the danger of caving in, and not having the right attitude in the midst of difficulty. Instead we need to press on in faith, and learn to rest in Jesus and the Father’s love in him. Accepting poverty so that we might find true riches in and through Jesus.

dependence on God and the peace that follows

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
    for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal.

Isaiah 26:3; NIV

You will keep the mind that is dependent on you
in perfect peace,
for it is trusting in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
because in the LORD, the LORD himself, is an everlasting rock!

Isaiah 26:3; CSB

You keep completely safe the people who maintain their faith,
for they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD from this time forward,
even in Yah, the LORD, an enduring protector!

Isaiah 26:3; NET Bible

The NET Bible note on one key difference in the translation we’re focusing on here (see the entire note for explanation of why the nation is in view rather than individuals):

In this context שָׁלוֹם (shalom, “peace”), which is repeated for emphasis, likely refers to national security, not emotional or psychological composure (see vv. 1-2).

We are blessed today with reasonably priced Bible tools on line. My guess is that the Logos Bible software is as good as they come, but I haven’t looked into it. Yet it’s amazing what we have at our fingertips that is completely free (the first level of Logos is free as well). I use Bible Gateway, and sometimes the NET Bible with its substantial extensive notes.

Putting all of this together on this well known verse of scripture, it seems that what is probably spoken of here is the shalom which includes all human flourishing. Yes, safety from enemies, in the note above, “national security,” but contrary to that note, “emotional” and “psychological composure,” as well. The Hebrew Bible context of shalom is a fulfillment of what a people, including individuals were created to be: blessed to be a blessing. So that actually both the NET Bible rendering, along with the more traditional understanding of that passage are likely apt together. Although the same word can have different meaning depending on its context.

A key help for me is from the CSB rendering which brings out the need for dependence on God. Add to that this insight from John N. Oswalt in the first volume of his outstanding Isaiah commentary:

To experience the security of God’s city one thing is required: a fixed disposition of trust. This is the opposite of James’s “double-minded man” (Jas. 1:6-8) or Jesus’ servant of two masters (Matt. 6:24). This person has cast himself upon God without any reservation. To trust one’s ability partly and God partly is the surest prescription for insecurity and anxiety (8:11-22; 57:19-21). That person will never know the wholeness (shalom) which having all his or her commitments in one place may mean. This is not to say that we denigrate or deny God-given abilities. But it is to say that we refuse to believe the lie that we are independent and have in ourselves the keys to ultimate success in life. The person who…steadfastly looks to God can know an inner oneness which makes possible a confident outlook on the darkest scene. For our mortality, short-sightedness, and weakness, we receive in exchange God’s immortality, omniscience, and omnipotence. That is security.

So the crux of the matter of entering into and holding on to a faith which lives in this peace is a complete dependence on God. Of course not denying our own abilities, but not depending on them, either. Our very thoughts as well as actions are to be dependent on God, and not on ourselves, or anyone else. That’s of course not to say that God won’t use other’s thoughts, maybe even our own seemingly, to direct us. The point that must not be lost by us is that we need to commit ourselves to a dependence on God which is fixed, regardless of how we feel and the circumstances we are going through. It involves a commitment which is to help us to a fixed disposition in which we live.

One of my go to passages again comes to mind:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

That is one concrete way we can deal with the inevitable problems and troubling thoughts that will come our way. And we’re to cast what burdens we have on the Lord.

For me, again, the bottom line is dependence. If I depend on God, I won’t be depending at all on myself. If there’s even a little dependence on me, then my dependence on God for all intents and purposes is null and void, empty.  And in all of this as God’s people, when we consider the Isaiah 26 passage along with the rest of the Bible, we’re all in this together, so that somehow there is an interdependency among us all. One indication in Galatians 6 where we’re told to carry each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

And so if I am troubled over something, that’s a sure sign that I need to hand what troubles me over to God, to relinquish any thought that I might somehow be able to figure out and fix the problem. Of course, I may factor into God’s answer. But my part and set disposition should be to trust it entirely into God’s hands and therefore to simply do nothing, to let it go. Until I get a sense of what God might want me to do.

Something I continue to aspire to and work on so as to confirm and grow in the change into which I’ve recently entered. In and through Jesus.

avoiding the “if onlys”

Life seems replete enough with regrets, sometimes over things we had little or no control in. Of course there are those matters in which we knew better. Or because of much weakness, we didn’t do well enough in. The “if onlys” hit us because we are left with the consequences of what happened or what we did or failed to do.

In the first place we don’t live in a fool proof existence. Invariably trouble will hit us; it’s just a matter of what the trouble is. We will avoid one problem if we could, only to discover another problem.

This is not to say that we can’t learn from others, especially those who are older, and  do better in some ways than they did thanks to their wise counsel. And we should take very literally the meaning of scripture. If scripture says don’t touch that or even go near it, because it’s hot and you’ll get burned, then it is foolhardy to think or act otherwise, even a little bit. I also can’t help but think that I would have avoided some dumb decisions and made better ones if I would have been more in God’s written word, scripture. I have always been in scripture for the most part in my Christian journey. But I could have done better, and want to continue to grow in that.

When it comes right down to it, the “if onlys” don’t help at all, but take away from the attention and energy we need to give to the Lord and God’s will, and life before us. Sure we can learn from mistakes, moral as well as the details of living. Of course provided that we confess our sins and by grace actually are in the process of change. Not that we can get beyond sinning in this life; it’s just that we learn to nip in the bud any sin rising up in us. Nor that we won’t keep making mistakes along the way. Sometimes it does seem that things are a crap shoot, that we simply, hopefully after prayer, even much prayer, make the best decision we can and then let it go at that, working with it.

In the end we have to believe that God is behind us and before us, all around us, to help us in this life in every way needed until he calls us from it. We have to learn to rest in that. The Spirit will confirm God’s word from scripture to us, that God cares for us. It is good to hold to this truth by faith as we read the scriptures, and it is good to pray and get God’s peace over whatever matter we’re praying about. I am referring not to issues which already have a clearcut answer in scripture, such as the necessity of being faithful to one’s spouse in heart and body. I am referring to difficult matters which we’re invariably faced with by simply living in the world, in this existence. God is faithful.

And so our “if onlys” can turn into prayers and remind us to turn our attention to the One who is our help and salvation in this life and beyond.