finding peace (and holding on to that)

Peace in Scripture means a number of things. First in the Old Testament it is about human well being and flourishing and that in community. That involves justice and righteousness and mercy. In passages in the New Testament it is more in terms of one’s position through faith in Christ. Christ himself is called our peace in that in his Person and by the cross, his death, he has broken down the walls which separate people into warring parties, instead uniting them together in him. And then there’s the peace which surpasses or goes beyond all understanding. That’s the peace I’m referring to in this post. But the other aspects of “peace” found in English Bible translations are in play here.

You find this sense of peace by being willing to live at times without it. If you make living in peace the end all, then you might well miss out in it altogether. We can’t bring it about ourselves. It’s the peace of God, therefore from God, including what Jesus called his peace that he gives to his disciples which is referred to here.

For myself, I’ve lived much of my life in the absence of peace. Usually I’ve went from one anxiety or worry to the next one. And as a Christian, that is decidedly the weakest point I think, where therefore the spiritual enemy attacks. I’ll be fine, and out of the blue, or sooner than later I’m not fine anymore. I’m so used to it, yet it’s something you never get really used to, because it’s too unsettling.

But the opportunity out of that is that no matter what, and I mean no matter what, we can pray and find God’s peace. But that takes a commitment and refusal to lapse into the way we’re used to dealing with problems. It requires prayer. And the realization that we are indeed in a spiritual battle. I don’t think I can emphasize enough that it’s important in the midst of all of this to accept one’s lack of peace. That’s hard, but a part of faith. Only God can give us what we need. Yes, we can try to find answers in the realms of wisdom and knowledge. But in the end it is God alone who grants us peace. Something I’m always reaching out toward, and seeking to live in. In and through Jesus.

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fear an opportunity for faith

In this world there are endless possibilities to be anxious about something. And there are indeed many things to be concerned about. I am the kind of person that when troubled can pray and get God’s peace, but can almost immediately think of something else that troubles me. And that really never stops when you consider the nature of things in this life. What if we lived more of an anxiety-less existence in the midst of the inevitable trouble that comes our way? Scripture tells us how, and perhaps no more clearly and to the point than here.

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

I think quite often our breakthroughs come when we’re in the midst of the worst of what we experience. When we’re in that kind of struggle, we need to be in prayer. And we need to go on what God gives us, the thought as well as whatever peace might come our way, of course I’m talking about inward peace. Maybe even our own thought, or so it would seem. Recently I had what I would call a major breakthrough on an issue, deciding that I was no longer going to concern myself so that I actually break that old rule and simply trust in God, come what may. We can fashion many ideas or practices simply out of fear. That’s a sign it’s not good. And as a former pastor told us, we should never act from fear.

Except that fear can oddly enough become an impetus to move us to faith. There are few things worse than living in fear. For some people they have certain phobias, fear of this or that. Or some may just live in fear of just about everything. These people need special help. Psychiatric counseling might be good; how many of us have seen a psychiatrist or psychologist? I have, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of, and indeed can be helpful. But what I’m getting at here is more the fear we normally encounter usually over one matter at a time. As a good Christian man who worked where I work in the past used to say: “Do your best and hang the rest.” Yes, we want to be alert and do what we can. It’s not like we just become passive in our faith. But we ought to start with prayer in faith in the midst of the worry. Keep praying. And act from there or not act at all if we are unsure of what to do. Of course we use common sense in seeking counsel (Proverbs).

In the end we bring all our fears to God. Believing he can take care of everything. Notice that the passage above says nothing about the actual outcome. The promise is that God’s peace will settle in, in a way canceling out our own understanding, certainly surpassing it (Proverbs 3:5-6). And so our fears can oddly enough become an opportunity for faith. As we keep turning to God again and again in and through Jesus.

 

holding on to God’s peace

Life is lived in experience. The Christian life is not an exception to that. But life is also lived in faith. We assume and basically take for granted a good number of things. And there are contingencies to be sure.

Experience is important, but it’s not what should direct us. Yet when by faith we enter into an experience of God’s peace over a certain matter, we do well to hold on to that. And hold on we will have to. I think of one of the beloved servants of God, pastors, and writers of my generation, Chuck Swindoll who said something to the effect that if we have peace about something in answer to prayer, we should never let go of that.

One element of the life of faith is that we are led by God’s peace. If we don’t have peace over something, that’s a sign that somehow we’re off track. But if we have peace about it, that’s a sign that we are in sync with God, or trusting God to take care of it.

In my life I’ve so often gotten in the way. I’m always investigating and asking questions. But there comes a point when one just needs to let go of all of that, praying and making the best decision one can, sometimes in the midst of that breaking through into something of God’s peace to go one direction or another. And then not going back on that when the inevitable doubts come. That can be a test of our faith. Are we trusting God or not? Or are we relying on ourselves and our own understanding?

Something I have to keep working on, but in recent years have grown a lot in through experience and remaining in the word and in prayer. In and through Jesus.

prayer in difficult places

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. Of David.

Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.

I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
For you, God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Increase the days of the king’s life,
his years for many generations.
May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.

Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
and fulfill my vows day after day.

Psalm 61

There are times when we don’t know what to do, or where to turn. We’re not sure what step to take. Those are times for me to especially petition God, and hopefully draw near to God in prayer. And I seek to get counsel from others I respect.

In the past I’ve gotten peace from God in answer to prayer to move one direction or another. There’s no question that it’s not like I’ve got this all down to any kind of science, with clear answers one way or another, on everything. Life is complicated. Our prayers factor in what we’ve done, or failed to do, and God’s answer doesn’t always means clear sailing. Read scripture, and you’ll see that again and again.

The prayer by the psalmist above, is a request that God would lead them to a rock higher than they are, to a place of safety. When I think of safety, I think of freedom from all harm. But that’s not promised to us in this life. Instead God promises us his presence, and that nothing in all creation can separate us from his love to us in Christ Jesus.

More important than specific outcomes is our journey. We do need a sense that God is in it all, and that he will take care of everything. That he will lead us as needed.

The psalm above is suggestive and instructive concerning this. And of course we need to pray it with the truth that all of God’s promises, or in this case, intimations of what is available to us, are indeed fulfilled in Christ.

We know in the end all will be completely and perfectly fulfilled. In the meantime, we long for God’s peace, the sense that all is okay now, and will be okay no matter what we face. And that Christ will be exalted through our lives, and in everything.

faith: it’s not psychological, but embedded in reality

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Romans 4

I have noticed for my faith to take hold, I have to let go of thinking it depends on my own reaction or thinking. Not to say our reaction and thinking aren’t important, but that’s not the bedrock of or what’s behind our faith. If we’re depending on ourselves, good circumstances, fortune, whatever, other than depending on God, we’re leaning on a stick that will inevitably break. It is a false hope.

We either depend on God, take God at his word, and believe as in trust and obey, or we hang on to something of that kind of faith plus our own response. I often in my life have struggled to have everything lined up according to what I think is good, right, best, or acceptable compared to what is not acceptable or even considered bad, perhaps dangerous. I could trust in God as long as I was alright with everything myself. And I would seek faith in God to either get things alright, or accept the fact that things won’t always if ever be completely right. That last thought is getting us warm to the kind of faith we need.

The kind of faith we need is simply dependent on God and on God’s promises, period, end of thought. Not on anything else. And we find God’s peace in that. It’s not like we simply throw out our minds as being unimportant. God is concerned about the renewal of our minds, but that renewal involves a knowledge and acceptance of God’s good and perfect will (Romans 12:2). And it involves a commitment to trust in the Lord completely, and not on our own understanding at all (Proverbs 3:5-6). God’s peace transcending as in going above and beyond, leaving the other behind, so that in spite of whatever understanding we have, God’s peace can prevail (Philippians 4:6-7). I don’t mean to say our thoughts are not factored in at all. Read the Bible, and you’ll see otherwise over and over again, including in the life of our Lord during his life on earth. But our trust must be in God and the gospel alone as our foundation, with a willingness to let go of our own thoughts and fears, whatever, and really trust in God, instead.

So our faith is not psychological, but real, dependent on God no less, and God’s promises to us, in and through Jesus.

 

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.

 

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.