Peace


“So shall My word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to Me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” declares the Lord.

Isaiah 55: 11

God is known for His resolve. When He determines to do something, He just doesn’t stop going after it until it is done. Granted, the timing of reaching that finish line is also His to control, and that part of the entire process is often the one that seems the most mysterious and perplexing to me. For there are a lot of things that I am certain are the expressed desire of God’s heart that He just seems to take way too long to bring to completion, and either my attention span or my willingness to stick it out, or both, are tested beyond what I believe to be their limits of endurance.

However, that is really my problem; as these situations provide me with a chance to engage in a little spiritual and emotional workout session. The simple but sometimes hard to embrace truth is that I can trust that God really means what He says. So, if I am hearing His word and perceiving His desire, God will make those things happen, and regardless of my skill, intelligence, or patience with the process, He will cause a great result to come out of it all. What I am seeing here as the greater truth is that God’s true desire is not about the situation, itself. He did not send His word of truth specifically to heal the illness, to provide the job, or to free the oppressed. Rather, God gives us His Word to bring us to Him. The Lord’s desire is fulfilled when people learn to love and to trust Him with all of our hearts and with all of our minds and souls.

As we grow in our ability to trust God and to wait on His timing, His Word starts to open up to our hearts in ways that it had not before, and the deeper truths that the Lord wants us to hear and to understand start to reveal themselves to us. There is a process here that is of God and that is His to accomplish. For I have found that as I start to embrace the fact that God will respond to everything in my life that is reflective of His heart’s desire and wait in trusting obedience on Him while continuing to act on what He has revealed to me, God’s Word speaks ever more clearly and with a voice that is impossible to ignore. I can rest in and trust on the reality that the Lord will succeed in all things and over all opposition. 

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And Jesus said to him, “’If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”

Mark 9: 23

Belief is not an easy thing to hold and to have. People are taught and trained to be skeptics about most things. It just seems natural to want to see the proof before we accept the validity of claims that others make or before we are willing to become vulnerable by trusting what is represented to us as being true or even as possible. In this situation, the trust that this father of a child has held in the capability of Jesus has been shaken by the inability of His disciples to get the job done. Now, the man asks for help from Jesus, but he does so with serious doubts expressed in his tone of voice and in his choice of words as he says, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” (Mk. 9: 22)

How normal and natural is it to hold out this sort of uncertainty in any number of situations that are encountered in life? This is even more reasonable when it comes to matters of the spirit and in the realm of the supernatural. It is hard to place trust and to have faith in things that we cannot readily see, touch, and evaluate. We want the proof before we open our hands in surrender or give our hearts in expectation of the results that are desired. This is the situation in the story of this man, his son, and Jesus. He is desperate to see the demon driven from his son; yet, he naturally holds onto a doubt that helps to guard his heart from the pain of disappointment. We all do this, and God is not put off by it, either. The Lord responds to our ifs with His emphatic, ”I can!” 

In fact, God’s capacity and His compassion far exceed our ability to imagine outcomes. He can and does heal all that is broken, and He removes from us everything that binds our spirits and holds our hearts captive. Even when our faith in Christ is minimal and our belief is shaky, He enters into the problem or the trial that we are experiencing, and He provides solution for the deeper issues that lie beneath what we are struggling with. The cure for what is troubling us may not be as dramatic as was the driving out of the demon from the boy, but it is just as real and as certain as was the Lord’s response to the boy’s condition. Jesus does not always cure the illness, repair the broken heart, or completely remove the pain and grief that we are experiencing. That form of healing is not necessarily the sort of thing that best serves our eternal needs or the requirements of God’s Kingdom. However, as we place our faith in Christ, we are brought into the presence of God, we are provided with the comfort and the consolation of His Spirit with us in the situation at hand, and we are given an unshakable assurance of the glory to come to us as we dwell for all time with Jesus. So, it is possible and even rational to expectantly say, “Jesus, I know that You can!”   

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;

   let them ever sing for joy,

and spread your protection over them,

   that those who love your name may exult in you.

Psalm 5: 11

There is something really strange going on here. It is the sort of thing that I cannot remember ever having seen in film or encountered in a book, either. The. Author is facing some sort of dangerous adversary, and it would seem that the opponent is gaining the upper hand in the moment; yet, this same imperiled person starts singing. The song that is sung is not one of those nervous and tenuous sorts of tunes that are intended to demonstrate courage and a calm heart but actually show the exact opposite, either. This is a song of joy, peace, contentment, and even one that speaks out about victory in the current situation long before any rational person would have seen that victory was possible. This is the type of song that may not be expressed in audible fashion, for it is a song that starts and that resides deep within the singer’s heart.

A song like this is something that is formed out of the words that God implants within His people. These lyrics are the hope, joy, peace, and confidence that are shaped up out of the eternal certainty that comes from knowing God through and by being in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Yet, this sort of knowledge of God is useful and helpful not only as assurance of life beyond this world but it is also something that can be relied upon to provide strength, wisdom, and courage to face into all of the challenges, fears, and risks that come our way during the process of living out our daily lives. The song on view here is individual and personal for each of us as we engage in walking through our days with the Lord, but it is also something that we can join together with other followers of Christ in singing. Christ invites us to join in His choir of faith that is continuously formed up by all people who know Him. The words to the songs that it sings are supplied through God’s Word and are made accessible to the chorus by the presence of the Holy Spirit in its midst. God is the author of these lyrics of joyous praise, the Spirit trains and coaches the singers in their deep meaning, and Christ is the director of this heaven-focused band.

All of this would sound great, but it would be practically useless if it were not for the reality of God’s involvement in the lives of people. We may not even realize the extent or the nature of His involvement in our days, but the Lord is with each of us in the various situations and circumstances that form up the substance and the structure of each of our days. This protection and care are usually not highly apparent, for God’s hand is operating all of the time in the background of our world as He holds together the fabric of this chaos-bound environment. Still, there are times when God and His ministering angels are the only truly rational answer to what has transpired in a moment or during the process of the day. Still, hard, harsh, and painful things happen in our world. There are instances when the hand of God seems to reach out and stop the dangerous or the harmful event in its course. There are other situations wherein God’s presence brings comfort in the wake of the injury or the illness. In it all, we are always granted the hope of our assurance in Christ that there is nothing that can come our way in this world that can truly and eternally harm our souls. In all situations and through each circumstance that life tosses at us, we can join the choir of faith in singing out in exultant praise the name of the Lord who protects and whose love has saved us from all harm.   

But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Mark 8: 33

These are harsh words. These is the sort of thing that most people are very uncomfortable with saying to someone else; especially, to someone that we are close to and that we care about greatly. Yet, this was exactly what Jesus needed to say to Peter and to the rest of His close group of followers. When Jesus had stated the reality of where they were headed and of what that destination would mean for Him, they were troubled to the point of completely rejecting the idea of sacrifice. They seemed to be pleased with the miraculous healings and even with the way that Jesus managed crowds and fed their physical bodies while filling the souls with new life. They didn’t necessarily understand most of this, but they were delighted to participate in it all. But now Jesus reveals the balance of the story, and with that image of suffering and of pain came the sobering prospect of their own participation in that same self-sacrificing service to God.

Yet, that sacrifice is what was to be required of Jesus in order to overcome humanity’s sinful rebellion against God. The antagonism of the world would need to be poured out upon the perfect love that God gave to Creation in the form of the spotless lamb of glory, the Christ. By extension and by virtue of inclusion this same antagonism is something that all people who follow Christ do encounter. In conjunction with healing, deep joy, peace, and fellowship with God and with His body of faith comes pain, rejection, grief, and real loss. So, these last elements of life in Christ are things that Satan would have us join with Peter in attempting to reject. “Surely an all-loving and caring Father, God would not demand that His beloved children undergo such hardships. Either you are misunderstanding what God is requiring of you, or He is not all that great and caring a being. Regardless of which is true, God’s commandments and His direction for life and about living it are to be questioned and set aside when they disagree with personal comfort, pleasure, or happiness.” So, spoke the Serpent to Eve and Adam, and so too we hear Satan’s whispered lies in our ears.

In the light of this reality, Jesus does not sound so harsh. As I consider that the alternative to listening to Christ is following Satan’s guidance, even a verbal slap in the face from the Lord is not too much to handle. In order to truly live as a child of the Risen King, I must be willing to set aside the easy and the comfortable things of this world and follow Christ to His cross and beyond it into a life that is guaranteed to be unpopular and troubled. In so committing myself to serving Him, I am placing truth above conformity, love as greater than safety, compassion in the role of guiding principle for embracing people, and loyalty to justice as supreme to any other form of allegiance that might attempt to call my name. Jesus loved Peter and His disciples greatly, and He loves each of us with the same depth of passion and absolute commitment to caring for our hearts, minds, and souls as He did them. That is why He was so direct with them in matters such as this, and this is why the Lord is also direct with us. We must be willing to trust Christ enough to follow Him into the sacrificial living that seeking to make a difference in our world requires. We are called upon by the Lord to love when that is unpopular, to give away what we hold dearest, to speak and live out truth even as it is held in disdain by our culture, and to give up all human rights for the sake of eternal glory. These are the sorts of actions that leave Satan and his whispered lies behind and that relegate him to the dust of his destiny.      

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians 4: 16

People around the world celebrate the rolling over of the calendar at the end of the current year and the beginning of the new one. We look ahead with anticipation and with hope that things will get better than they have been in the prior twelve months. This change suggests a new beginning, a fresh start, and a reset for some of life’s ledgers that record our wrongs, shortcomings, and failures. Yet, in all of this effort and planning that is focused around refreshing life, there is one calendar, a singular clock that is never set back and that moves forward with relentless pace and purpose, for in the real world, no one gets even a second younger or a day less aged when the new year tolls its entry. Every day that we live in one more to mark off the allotment of days that we have received. Each year that goes by will contain events, situations, and circumstances that have a negative impact on the probable longevity of our lives. This was one of the two primary subjects that Paul is bringing up here.

Paul knew physical and emotional stress as he had experienced them in great and powerful ways and on numerous occasions. His body had to be a bit worn and often a lot tired as a result of the life that he was living in serving Christ with true diligence in a world that was mostly hostile to that message and to its author. The Apostle was fully acquainted with the hardships of travel, he had experienced shipwrecks and been arrested and locked away in jail, he was forced to flee from angry mobs, and he had been mocked and rejected. The lines of care must have been deep on his weathered skin, and the spring surely had gone from his step. Yet, his passion for the Gospel of Christ and his zeal for proclaiming its life-giving truth had not grown any less powerful. He continued to love people and to speak forth Christ until the very end of his life on this earth. I can envision Paul during those later days with his body battered and bruised and with aching joints as he went to the Lord in prayer regularly while continuing to repent for the sinfulness in his own life and seeking out wisdom and counsel for following Christ along the path that was to be his during the day to come. 

The Spirit was present with Paul just as He is with each and every one of us who know Christ. As we yield ourselves to the Spirit, He brings us the cleansing of God’s grace, the fresh water of God’s truth, encouragement for our spirits, and wisdom to renew our hearts and minds. The Spirit’s work within and upon us does what it did for Paul, it sets us back upright when we are knocked down, and it gives us the courage and the strength that we need to continue on Christ’s righteous path of engagement with our world. The Spirit also points our hearts and minds to the reality of that journey, for Christ takes us into the realm of the spiritual and reframes all of life within the bounds of God’s kingdom come to this world. So, this is the other subject that Paul is discussing. We live in a world that is hostile to the spirit of truth, justice, righteousness, and love that is the essence of God’s realm.  In serving Christ we are breathing in conflict; so, we will experience the abrasive and harsh impacts of those encounters in our bodies, minds, and hearts. This is where the Spirit also works as He brings peace to troubled days, grants rest when the nights are long, and provides shelter when the heart is weary and in need of time to regroup and recover. This life will be hard and its challenges are going to be continuous and grueling, but the Spirit of Christ is more than sufficient to take each of us through it all so that even when the body is broken down and the heart is feeling overwhelmed it is His strength that enables activity and His love that fuels the spirit into living out Christ’s will for this day.     

Commit your way to the LORD;

   trust in him, and he will act.

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,

   and your justice as the noonday.

Psalm 37: 5, 6

Commitment is not an easy thing to have or to receive from others. We may say that we are committed to something, to a cause or a relationship, but actual follow through on those words is something very different from the profession of that intent. Commitment means that there is nothing that will deflect or deter a person from living out the promise given. Commitment is all-consuming as it is related to the subject of that promise. God is committed to His Creation in a way that resembles how a parent is usually fully focused upon its children. Unfortunately, people tend to make promises to God and then break or redirect them rather readily and with little regard for the impact that this turning away from God’s truth and His way of living may have on ourselves, upon others, or the grief and pain that it brings to God.

Even when we are less than fully on-board with God’s standard for how people should think, speak, and act, the Lord stays committed to us. We might wander far from His righteousness and even enter into a life that is deliberately lived outside of the camp of the holy; still, Christ will continue to pursue us and call us back into living inside of God’s way of truth. Christ’s presence with us in this journey through life is a blessing, and His righteousness equates to strength for those travels. The Lord gives us the gift of clarity and understanding so that the complex issues and situations that we do encounter will be illuminated by His Word with its unceasing supply of wisdom, counsel, and truth. The qualities of Godly wisdom are too often lacking in our world’s public and private discourse; yet, their presence does bring justice and peacemaking into the conversation.

God has not designed His relationship with people to be a one-sided affair, and He does not desire to force involvement or engagement in the nature and the course of that relationship upon anyone, either. Thus, it becomes important for us to also commit ourselves and our lives to living in close and intimate relationship with Christ. Such a commitment means that I have determined that there is no one and nothing else that is more important to me than is Christ. This places the truth of God’s Word above all other forms of guidance, direction, or counsel that I may encounter or receive. This way of living constitutes a promise of myself to service to Christ and to His kingdom purposes as my primary calling in life. Committing my way to Christ establishes His way of interacting with people as my way, and it eliminates all other views and approaches to engaging with people as invalid. Christ loves all, seeks justice for all others, and desires to enter into a relationship with everyone, and as a committed follower of Christ, so should I do likewise.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and do confirm the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands.

Psalm 90: 17

When a child has completed a craft project or done a job around the house that required some special effort, she will often come to a parent with that special, expectant look on her face and an uneasy sort of anticipatory tension in her body language. The child is waiting for the look of acknowledgement and words of acceptance of the efforts that she has put out. This need to have the work that we have done approved by one who loves us and who we respect never goes away. We all still want to hear and understand that what we have done is good and worthy.

Unfortunately, many people are reluctant to give praise or to even make mention of the efforts of others. There seems to be an unwritten rule among people that says that everyone should just know when they are doing things well and that too much praise causes others to develop inflated egos or to become lazy. However, the Lord doesn’t seem to function that way. He never stops bringing words of encouragement to His children. Sometimes they are expressed in the form of a quiet voice that seems to just exist somewhere inside of me. He also speaks from the pages of His Word straight into my heart. In addition, God uses the expressions of other people as His way of telling me of His praise and approval. Regardless of the method, God is never silent.

During those times when I am questioning my direction, when I am wondering about the validity of my efforts, or when I am hearing disapproving voices, I can just suspend the busy activity of my mind and open my heart to listen to the Father’s voice. These are times when I need to stop and talk with Him, slow down and allow the deeper meaning of His Word a chance to be revealed to me by the Holy Spirit, and quiet my voice so that I can hear the Lord’s words to me. For, as a reminder to myself, God is never absolutely silent and He is always the One who brings praise and encouragement to my soul. 

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