Saturday, December 20, 2014

Finding True Peace

I recently spoke at a women's breakfast. Here is the text of the message.

*********************************************************************************Well, it’s December. Anyone know where November went? Actually, never mind November, how about August?

Our family has had a very busy month. Our son got married 3 weeks ago in Ottawa and then we hosted a reception for them last weekend in Calgary. We loved having him and his new wife with us for the week before the reception but I have to admit, I was ready to get back to routine when it was time for them to go. A week and a half before the wedding, my husband’s brother passed away unexpectedly as well. So between regular life of school, work and church activities, we’ve had lots on the go.

I say all this not to elicit sympathy but to let you know that I’m quite familiar with stress and anxiety. Today I’d like to talk about peace and what it means to be free from anxiety and worry and I want you to know that I’m not speaking in theoretical terms. A few days after we heard about my brother in law’s death, my husband came home from work early as his boss had noticed his stress level was high and he wasn’t feeling well. I said to him that I felt like I had a spring inside me that was getting wound tighter and tighter and sooner or later, it would let go. Anyone else ever felt like that?

I think as women, we often experience high anxiety and worry leading into the Christmas season as well. I’m sure there are some of you here that have all your presents bought and are ready for the season. In all sincerity, I applaud you. I’m not there! But maybe you have other things to worry about. We worry about getting the right gifts, how our family or extended family is going to get along, how we’re going to pay for everything, whether our house will be ready for company and if our children will really enjoy their Christmas.

The other thing I’ve observed about women is that we tend to want to hide everything away and make it look like everything is perfect and we are handling every aspect of living with perfect aplomb. We want it to look like we have it all together because we are afraid of what others might think. Why are we afraid? Because we think that they have it all together and that they will judge us for not being perfectly prepared, organized, clean, or whatever our worry is.

When I was thinking about this, I thought it’s kind of like having company over. You know – when the living room, kitchen and bathroom are perfectly clean and organized – only because everything has been moved into our master bedroom! Once my very helpful children started putting guests’ coats on our bed in our bedroom. That would have been fine except that I hadn’t planned for them to do that so my room was a complete disaster!

But isn’t that kind of what we like to do with our lives? We present an image of perfectly put-togetherness but inside, our “master bedroom” is a complete disaster and we are holding everything together only by the skin of our teeth. And occasionally, it all bursts out.

What I’d like to talk about today is not how we can project and perfect that perfect image while protecting all our hurts and worries and anxieties inside but how we can be honest with ourselves, our friends and families and most importantly, God.
To deal honestly with the griefs and worries that we all face and find a way to know “the peace that passes understanding”.

So whether your worry or anxiety today is from Christmas preparations or busyness or if you have other stresses in your life due to relationships, illness or busyness, I think that the Bible has something to say to us all.

1.       The Promise of Peace – Isaiah 26:3

What is peace?  The dictionary definition tells us that peace is the freedom from disturbance or from violence; the cessation of war. It can also refer to tranquillity or seclusion – being “away from it all”.

As women, it’s pretty hard to get “away from it all”. You all know what it’s like to try to go to the bathroom in peace. Sometimes our desire is just to get away from it all. But I think that we very quickly find that first, we have to go back to “it” sooner or later. There’s no escaping life. And secondly, the lack of peace is not external, outside of ourselves, but internal, inside of us.

Biblically, “peace” can be defined as “completeness” or being “sound”. An animal like a horse is said to be “sound” when it is completely healthy and can do whatever it needs to do.

So today, we’re going to approach peace as a freedom from anxiety or disturbance in our souls, not based on external circumstances but based on being settled internally.

Isaiah, one of the old Testament prophets, has a lot to say about peace. He records a promise from God in chapter 26, verse 3. Here is the promise:

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”

First, let’s just recognize that the “him” in this passage is a generalized pronoun, referring to all of mankind, not just to men. So we can easily read this as “You will keep her in perfect peace, … because she trusts in you.”

In this passage, a song of salvation is being sung and a promise is made to those who trust in God.

1.       Who gives the promise here?

This passage is a song of praise – sung to Israel about God. A picture is painted of a place of safety. A walled city where enemies cannot attack. The singer praises God for the salvation that He brings to his people. A place where a righteous people can enter, live and be safe.

Who gives the promise of safety and peace? Of freedom from conflict or disturbance. It is God, called “O Most Upright”; “Lord”; “Lord, our God”.

The first step to peace is recognizing who gives it. It’s not something we can find on our own. Sometimes we think we have found it, when everything is going well and life is good. But when the worst happens, will you still have peace?

The promise is one of not only peace but perfect peace. Charles Spurgeon says that it is a double peace – “peace, peace.” “You will keep him in peace, peace.” Spurgeon says, “It is the Hebrew way of expressing emphatic peace; true and real peace; double peace, peace of great depth and vast extent.”

Some of you might be thinking that this is an impossible goal – there is no such thing. But the Bible is clear that it does exist.

Remember who gave this promise? God gave it and so our starting point in finding peace must be in our relationship to God.

But the Bible also says that we cannot be in relationship with God because our sin has made a barrier between us and God. There is no peace between us when there is sin between us.

Romans 3 says this:

“There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.
Their throat is an open tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit;
The poison of asps is under their lips;
Whose mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Destruction and misery are in their ways;
And the way of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

That’s quite the indictment of us, isn’t it? And the writer of Romans makes it clear that this applies to all people. He says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Thankfully, just a chapter later, he offers the answer to our problem of sin and lack of righteousness.

Romans 5:1-2

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand.”

Peace with God with no barriers! Access by faith! How? Through Jesus. Verse 8 continues – “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Here is the answer to the peace that we all need in our hearts. God, who promised peace, shows his love toward us in sending Christ to die for us. And he didn’t do it when we were all ready and perfect. Instead, Christ died for us “while we were still sinners”. That’s where our peace comes from to begin with – in our relationship with God – being made righteous by what Christ has done for us.

So the promise “You (God) will keep him in perfect peace” has been answered in what Christ has done for us on the cross.

Now, you may be thinking that this is all well and good but it doesn’t answer the hard questions of life – where to find peace in the midst of busyness, grief or hard times. Let’s continue on.

We’ve looked at who gives peace and what the promise is. We’ll come back to some application of the promise of peace to our lives but for now, let’s consider the “why” of the promise. Why will God give peace?

2.       “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because (s)he trusts in You.”

Why will God keep us in peace? Because our trust is in Him.

What does that mean – to trust in God?

It’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot – just “trust in God”. I think, though that there are a few things to remember that will help us avoid empty words.

The first thing to consider is the object of our trust. Who is this person that we trust in? What makes him reliable?

These days, in the world of fraud online, we’re urged to make sure the “security certificate” online is trustworthy. If you are going to order from a website, make sure that it has an “https” at the beginning – that tells us it is secure. So we put our trust in something that has been deemed secure and trustworthy by those who are presumably in the know. Hopefully, it does prove true.

God is much more trustworthy than a secure website and we have a greater degree of security in Him. Why is that?

Well, first we must consider God’s character. He is trustworthy because His character is proven. The Bible makes it clear through all its pages that God can be trusted. We find that He is merciful, that He is good, that He gives grace and that He loves the people He created. We also find that He is just – He is fair and judges fairly.

All of this enables us to trust God’s character and to know that He doesn’t do anything that is outside of His character. 

Secondly, we can trust in God because it is made clear that He is in control of all things. The Bible tells us that He is sovereign over all. He has no beginning and no end and therefore, His plans are always reliable. Often, we don’t see how the plans all fit together but we have to trust that He will bring good from evil because that’s what He has consistently done in the past.

The Bible gives us the example of Joseph. Sold into slavery by his brothers, unjustly imprisoned for many years, he eventually became second in command in Egypt. When his brothers came to him and realized who he was they expected him to retaliate in anger. Instead he says this: "You meant it for evil but God meant it for good." God put it all together so that in the end, the nation of Israel was saved from famine.

The opposite of trusting is, of course, not trusting. When we say that people are untrustworthy, it is because in the past, they have proven themselves to be untrustworthy. If you have children, especially when they get to their teens, you have probably said that in order to be able to do something in the future, they have to prove themselves trustworthy. In other words, they prove that they are trustworthy in the small things that they do and eventually, we will trust them in the bigger things.

But what happens when we don’t believe? If a child has shown himself trustworthy and then we turn around and refuse to allow him to do something, what is the child likely to say? He’ll probably cry “unfair”, and he would be right. We would be wronging that child if we refused. Sometimes as parents, we refuse permission from fear or from not trusting even when we should.

A couple of weeks ago, we had our newly-married son and his wife with us for a week. It was a cold, snowy week and it took some trusting on my part to allow him to take the car, since he hadn’t driven in snow for a while. But his track record is good and I had to surrender my fear and let him take it. He did report one wobble stopping at a slippery intersection but he learned from that as well and can only improve if he has the opportunity to learn.

Our trust in God can be shaken in the same way. Whether it’s from fear or unbelief, we can be so anxious that we refuse to trust God with a situation and instead, we hang on to it and “worry it to death”, like a dog with a new toy. I sometimes think of it as being on a hamster wheel. Have you ever worried over a situation so much it’s like you are running on a hamster wheel? Sometimes, I make myself jump off but in just a few minutes, I’m back worrying over it in my mind – thinking about all the things that could happen, what I could say or did say or should have said and my peace is completely gone.

3.       You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You

Spurgeon has this to say about “staying”:

“Staying means upholding. We speak of a stay and of a mainstay; it is something upon which we are depending. Such a person is the stay of the house, - its chief upholder and support. See, then, what it is to stay your souls on God, and mind that you daily carry it out. Some are staying themselves upon a friend, others are staying themselves upon their own ability, but blessed is the man who stays himself upon God. We are to have no confidence except in the Almighty arm; our reliance must be placed there only.”

But, you may say, how? How do I have confidence only in the Almighty arm, to put my reliance on him?

First, know Him. We’ve talked about that already but you must know God in order to put your trust in Him. How do we know him? Through His word, reading it and listening to it preached. Through His people. And through prayer.

Do you read God’s word? Do you know His character because of what you know about him through the scriptures? There are many Bible reading plans out there; it’s not important which one you choose but that you do choose one. Start small. If you are new to Bible reading, don’t start in Genesis. Start in one of the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

Do you listen to the Word preached in your local church? A steady diet of good preaching will help you to understand more about God but you may not realize how much you are learning until you look back in a few years and understand how much more you understand.

Spend time with God’s people. Ask for help in understanding. Observe those who you can see have a close relationship to God and get to know them. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to open up your heart to them.

And finally, through prayer. We’ll spend the last few minutes in Philippians 4:4-7.

It begins with “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!”

Sometimes it’s easy to rejoice. When things are going well, when you are settled and comfortable, it’s easy to rejoice. And we’re thankful for that. But when our hearts are not at peace and it seems like there is a whirlwind around us, Paul still says, “Rejoice”.

Ann Voskamp wrote a book a few years ago called One Thousand Gifts. The chief idea is one of gratitude – to find reasons to rejoice in God in the midst of every circumstance.

Our society talks a lot about gratitude. But it rarely talks about who we are grateful to.

Isaiah tells us to put our trust in God; to be grateful to him for every circumstance.

In Philippians, Paul tells us to rejoice in all circumstances. But he also gives comfort and encouragement by reminding us that “The Lord is near.”

Rejoice because the Lord is near. Even when you don’t feel like He is near, He is. Even when you don’t feel like He’s in control, He is.

So we put our trust, we stay our minds on God, in His word. And then we take everything to the Lord.

Paul says: “Be anxious for nothing…”

There have been times in my life that I’ve quoted this verse to myself several times a day, maybe even several times an hour. Be anxious for nothing.

How do we do this?

In everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.

In other words, pray. Tell Him all about everything. Not just what you think He wants to hear but what you are really feeling and need to tell Him. Keep bringing everything to Him. When your thoughts are flying around on that hamster wheel, take them off and give them to God. Quote this verse to yourself. Remind yourself of what the Psalmist says,

“Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him
The help of my countenance and my God.”

Sometimes we need to talk to ourselves and remind our hearts of what the truth is. Sometimes we need to allow others to speak truth to us, whether through conversations, sermons or music.

When we lost our daughter, I found it really hard to sing the songs at church. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe them but I had a hard time singing through tears. But I found that those songs expressed truth that I needed to hear and hearing them sung spoke truth into my life.

And that gives peace.

Here’s another promise:

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

How many of you sang “I have the peace that passes understanding down in my heart” when you were a child? I remember singing that and wondering what that meant. What is the peace that passes understanding?

A few months after Emily’s death, we were practicing the kids’ song for church and we were singing, “I have the peace that passes understanding”. I remember the very minute that I realized that NOW I understood. I knew what that peace was because God had given it to me.

I mentioned earlier that my husband’s brother passed away unexpectedly a month ago. When we went to see the family, both his wife and children expressed to us separately that they understood that peace too. It’s inexplicable in the face of sorrow but it comes as a result of prayer, whether our own prayers or other people’s, and it is real.


So today, we’ve talked about peace. The peace that God has promised us through His Son and the peace that is possible for those “whose mind is stayed on God”.

Perhaps you are here and you really are at peace, inside and out. Whether you are ready for Christmas or not, your confidence is in Christ and you are trusting in Him for all things. If that is the case, be thankful. Trust God and don’t forget about Him when things are going well. Search your heart and see if you understand God’s sovereignty; trust in Him because at some point, you will have to walk through “the valley of the shadow of death” and at that point, you will be able to say, “I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”

Perhaps you are here today and this is all new to you. You’ve thought about peace just in terms of world peace and lack of war. Maybe you haven’t even thought about the war in your own heart against God. If you are in this situation, I urge you to think about it. Try reading the Bible and ask God to help you understand your need for him. Talk to a friend and ask them what it means to have this peace.

Finally, perhaps you are someone here who is walking “through the valley of the shadow of death” even now. This doesn’t have to be actual death; there are so many circumstances that can cause us to question God and His good. Maybe you’ve been trying to hold it together on the outside for far too long and you know that one of these days, it’s all going to break loose. If you are in that situation, please take these Scriptures and meditate on them. Pray, give God all of it and ask for His leading. Don’t be afraid to admit that your “bedroom” is a mess and you can’t clean it up on your own, even though you’ve been trying to make it look like you’ve got it all under control.

Ultimately, peace is rooted in Hope. We have peace because we have hope. Hope in Christ and all He has done for us.

Romans 5 tells us more about this hope: 

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Trust Christ. Confess your sins and receive His forgiveness and then live at peace with God and man.

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