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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what we’re responsible for

…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:34

So often we can either get caught up in the past or the future. Downcast because of past mistakes and sins. Apprehensive because of possible future consequences or fear of the unknown.

That is part of the ploy of the enemy (spiritual, of course). But what we’re called to do is what Jesus tells us here (click reference for context). We’re not to worry about tomorrow, and we’re not to be frozen or even defined by past mistakes. What we’re responsible for is the present, right now.

We repent over past sins, and try to learn from past mistakes so that we can do better, gathering wisdom from Scripture. Of course we can’t undo the past, as much as we would like. But hopefully it can serve as a help for us, so that we can help others. Nor do we wring our hands in apprehension over the future. Jesus’s words address that directly in Matthew 6 (click link above). Our Father knows all we need, and will take care of our needs as we trust in him, and seek first his righteousness and kingdom in our lives, and in life in general.

It is so vitally important to have hope for today, right now. Not to be down because of the past, or be worrying about the future. It’s the present we’re responsible for. We don’t want to let the devil get us down and out because of what is out of our control.

It’s the present in which we live, where God meets us, and helps us to receive from him so that we in turn might give to others. In and through Jesus.

trusting in God no matter what

At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den.When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”

The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

Daniel 6:19-23

Daniel was faithful no matter what. But underlying that faithfulness was a rock solid faith in the faithfulness of God. Daniel trusted God.

Daniel’s trust was not hinged to good circumstances. It was trust in God through good times and bad times. It was honed and made solid from years of daily practice. The development and growth of faith takes considerable time.

The king, Darius, was led to make a decree which was set up by men who were jealous of Daniel, and wanted to get rid of him. But Daniel payed no attention to the edict to pray only to the king, and continued day after day to open his windows and face Jerusalem, praying to God. According to the edict, whoever prayed to anyone other than the king was to be thrown into the lion’s den.

Daniel trusted in his God no matter what. I’m sure he wasn’t assured of the outcome, but he was assured that through life or death God could be trusted. In this case it was an outcome which for Daniel was good, but not for his enemies. A pretty ruthless day and age.

The passage talks about the king’s emotional state, but not Daniel’s. I’m sure Daniel had emotions throughout it. But above all, he kept trusting God, I’m sure by praying. And if he had scrolls, looking into God’s word, or hearing it at weekly gatherings where it was read. And he continued to do what he was called to do.

We might face fearful circumstances, or quite often just fearful thoughts which frequently are baseless.  The roaring lion, the devil prowls about looking for someone to devour, the context in Peter in the midst of suffering (1 Peter 5:8-9). But God shuts the mouth of the lion. In a certain way now the devil can’t touch us (1 John 5:18). The roar is meant to instill fear. We need to ignore that and continue on in faith. Doing what God has called us to do, and above all continuing to trust in him. God will always see us through to the very end in and through Jesus.

handling trouble in a godly way

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish[b] woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Job 2:9-10

Job lost everything except his wife: his livelihood, his seven children, and then his health. And the rest of the book is well worth reading, rereading, and pondering. But Job did not abandon his faith in God. He was up against it, at his wit’s end. The story ends well. But part of what can be instructive for us upfront and right away is Job’s initial response to all that happened.

It’s interesting how some seem to go along in life without little care. And that includes those who are responsible. While others of us seem to be chomping at the bit to descend into fear and the fretting that ordinarily accompanies that.

How much better to trust the heavenly Father, just as Jesus taught us (Matthew 6:19-34). To leave everything into God’s good, more than capable hands. To trust that the Father will see us through. And to learn to live in that prospect with the peace that accompanies it. So it’s a matter of trust versus fear.

Paul gives us what perhaps is the most direct, specific direction in dealing with trouble and troubling thoughts when they come:

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

Seems like an impossible command, I say loving directive, not to be anxious or worry when trouble comes. But instead, in every situation we’re to pray, and tell God our concern. And thank God for the good in our lives. With the promise that God will give us peace, a peace that goes beyond our limited understanding. That our hearts and minds will be guarded in Christ Jesus. I have thought that worse than nearly any problem is my own reaction to it. We do our best, but in the end, God is the one from whom all blessing flows. This world is not trouble free, even as Jesus told us. We simply need to submit ourselves to the Father’s care.

I wonder if this is a part of the spiritual warfare we’re up against as Christians. I’m sure the spiritual enemy does try to exploit whatever weakness we have. We do well to go back to Ephesians 6:10-20 and ponder that in prayer.

What is crucial for us is how we react when trouble comes. Job initially does well, and then we see the rest of the book, how he responds further. Of course he didn’t have all the revelation we have now, or the person writing the wisdom story, one of the oldest if not the oldest writings of the Bible. It’s not like there’s going to be no wrestling or anxious moments. But whatever we’re experiencing within or without, we need to commit ourselves to growth in doing so in a godly matter, depending on what God’s word tells us. In and through Jesus.

it doesn’t come easy

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.[a]

Mark 9:14-29

I remember the story of George Muller, that he prayed for two people faithfully over his lifetime, but that they didn’t receive Christ until his funeral, at least one of them, perhaps the other one later. But that goes to show the necessity of persistence and perseverance in prayer, and how some answers don’t come easy. Muller was known for being systematic and consistent, as well as a man who prayed and seemed to have a special gift of faith, though I think he wanted to deny that. He wanted his life to be an encouragement to Christians to seek God for their needs, and not think it all depended on them. Christians in those days would often work sixteen hours daily, I suppose six days a week to provide for their families. In the case of Muller and his wife, they prayed for God’s provision for orphans, opening up an orphanage which I believe continues on to this day. And by faith they saw over and over again God’s miraculous provision.

It is so easy to simply get lost in the tumble and actually rumble of the spiritual warfare. In the passage above, Jesus informs his disciples that they needed to pray (and in some manuscripts, fasting is added) to cast out the demon. What often happens is that we more or less get sidetracked and kind of take a plunge down and out of the sense that all will be well, not just out of step with God, but in no step at all. What can be behind that is simply the spiritual reality and resistance we’re up against. To think it’s easy to break strongholds that have perhaps been in place for generations is naive at best, and dangerous at worst. Sometimes answers seem to come easily, but most the time what is required is perseverance in prayer.

Some might ask (and I’ve wondered a bit, myself) why doesn’t a good and great God simply answer and change the situation for good, especially by grace moving people’s hearts to trust and obey? I think the obvious hard fact of the matter is that God simply honors the free will of people. And that the process from our perspective can be arduous, long, and difficult. And we have to hold on by faith and over time. In the case of Jesus’s disciples above, without Jesus’s presence with them, they might have had to pray for a night over the situation, though I imagine simply praying would have sufficed. Some manuscripts add “and fasting” which suggests that it would take more time and effort in looking to God in prayer.

What we need to remember is the reality we’re in, and what is required. God will move, though I don’t believe forcing his way on anyone. People with God’s grace given (called prevenient grace) still are involved in that they have to respond to saving grace. Of course apart from the grace preceding, no one would. But prayer from others can be essential in helping the breakthroughs take place. I’m sure I’ve been the recipient of such. And I hope to be a blessing to others that way. In and through Jesus.

our struggle is not against people

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:10-12

God gives us his strength and “armor” to wage spiritual warfare no less. Never against humans.

This is far more important than we normally might think. We tend to evaluate problems in human categories. And actually we can gain knowledge and insight in doing so. And there’s no question that we can offend others. When we do so, we need to go to them and make it right, asking for their forgiveness. But when we have problems with people that are really not our fault, or just seem to be beyond the pale of what fault we have, we need to remember where our struggle lies.

For one thing, this will help us get our focus off the person. The problem does not really lie ultimately with them but with the spiritual entities in the mix behind whatever might be transpiring between us and them. We need to direct our attention against the real foe, which is spiritual.

And we do so in no less than the strength of God’s might, with no less than the armor God gives us in Christ through the gospel. Which of course is why we need to focus on that entire passage (Ephesians 6:10-20). Meditating on it with the view of putting it into practice. In and through Jesus.

holding on to faith and a good conscience

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

1 Timothy 1:18-20

It would be nice to live in a world in which there were not challenges to one’s faith and conscience. For myself, I don’t mind doing the hard thing, going the extra mile, etc., although I realize I can be too easily tied into knots and worried about whether I did good enough, or even exactly what I should do. It’s when what I’m facing is up against what others are doing when it can be especially hard. Sometimes one doesn’t really know what to do, and you should always pray to begin with, and actually continue to pray. None of us will get it perfect, but we should try to do what’s right in God’s eyes, as best we can understand it. And remain in the peace God gives.

Fighting the battle well is how Paul frames it, written for us. A pastoral epistle written to a young pastor, so for pastors and Christian leaders today, but by extension for all of us, since we’re to follow their example, as they follow Christ. Just to realize we’re in a battle is helpful; it’s no cakewalk.

If we’re careless in regard to faith and a good conscience, we can suffer shipwreck with regard to the faith itself. In other words, we can lose out entirely. It is interesting though that when the Apostle handed over two who had done so, over to Satan himself, there was the potential that they would be taught not to blaspheme, or so it seems according to this scripture. That was what they were doing when they suffered shipwreck. For others of us it could simply be walking away and never returning without uttering a word.

Hopefully it would be hard for us to leave faith and a good conscience behind. Having a bad conscience is miserable enough. This may seem unrelated, though I think not. I have an interesting habit, especially when I’m at work, or out and about some, to pull out my little New Testament/Psalms and Proverbs, and pick up where I left off, a little metal clip making it easy to find. It reminded me last night of how people especially in times past, but probably more now then we might think, pull out a cigarette out of habit and addiction, and to calm them down, or whatever relief they get from that. For me, it’s a part of how I engage in the battle and in the endeavor to hold on to faith and a good conscience, come what may. God is good and gracious in all of this, understanding our weakness. Christ is right there with us to help us, knowing firsthand what it’s like.

Part of our learning and existence in this life in and through Jesus.