C. S. Lewis once stated that God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself because it is not there. There is no such thing.
The late Elvis Presley indicated that he would have paid one million dollars for a week of peace of mind. The reality is that everyone is under stress and as the stress builds we become anxious and upset. Quite possibly you can identify some element of stress in your life even at this present moment. Some people will try to cope with stress through medication, alcohol or reading self help books. However God’s antidote to stress is peace. But what is the peace that God offers?
The apostle Paul wrote “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:11) We cannot have peace until we know God. The reformer Martin Luther sought to have inner peace with God by performing good deeds and carrying out religious activities, all to no avail. Only when he placed his faith in Jesus Christ and not in his external religious activities did he discover the peace that God offered.
This is the place where we all must begin if we want to experience peace in the midst of daily living.
One of the names of God is Jehovah – Shalom which means “Jehovah my Peace”. God created humankind to have a relationship with him whereby they would know they are loved and cared for and thus experience His presence and peace in all of life. If the first aspect of peace is peace with God then the second aspect is experiencing the peace of God. Paul wrote “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:15)
There are many things that can rob us of peace and yet Paul is telling us to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. The verb ‘rule’ is actually an athletic term and the verse could be translated as “Let the peace of Christ be the umpire in your heart.” The role of an umpire is to make sure the game is played correctly by making decisions on matters of dispute. If there is a disagreement it is the responsibility of the umpire to sort it out.
I am sure we all have situations that cause upset or conflict. The text is telling us to let Christ be the umpire of all that can cause conflict or stress in our interpersonal relationships. He is the one we turn to help us sort out the issues and we ask him to rule on our behaviours and whatever distresses us about others.
Paul connects this with his instructions in Romans 12:18 “If it is possible as far as depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” We desperately need this in our relationships. As I experience peace with Christ, I need to surrender to Him all those situations and people that could rob me of my peace and ask him to enable me to find ways to live peaceably with everyone.
There are many situations and circumstances that can cause us to be afraid. Some of our fears alert us to real danger and help us avoid harm, while others may be irrational. We may fear change, or facing new situations or not knowing what the future holds. When the angel Gabriel approached Mary the first thing he said to her was “fear not.” Somehow I suspect that her fears were related to change, facing new situations and not knowing what the future would hold for her. That message from the angel radically changed her life.
In the Bible there are 365 admonitions to “fear not.” God is aware that there are many situations and circumstances that can cause us to be afraid and He continually says to us “fear not.”
Author and pastor Lloyd Ogilvie suggests four steps to deal with fear.
Step 1. Describe your fear. What causes you to be afraid? Take some time to ask God to help you understand the fears you have.
Step 2. Dissect the fear. Is the fear based in an actual person or situation, or is it an irrational fear? We can only deal with reality so ask yourself the question “What am I afraid of?”
Step 3. Disown the fear. To do this we need to surrender the fear to God. We need to realize there is nothing too difficult for God to handle and that included our fears.
Step 4. Displace the fear. Our fears can be replaced when we realize we are loved by God who is always with us. So when afraid I can choose to focus on my relationship with God and not on my fears. I am loved by Him and his love is stronger than my fears.
The Prophet Isaiah wrote “Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41: 10 ESV)
Good words for us to hear and live by.
The practice of gratitude has been called a way of life or a state of mind. However it is possible that we can take things for granted. If you have children you know that you must teach them to express gratitude by saying “thank you.” It does not seem to come naturally.
Perhaps this is more evident today since we live in a culture of entitlement. This is an attitude that says “life owes me something” or “people owe me something’ or “God owes me something”. If we do not get what we think we are entitled to receive we can become bitter and angry and resentful. Rabbi Dov Heller once stated:
“Eliminating entitlement from life and embracing gratitude is spiritually and psychologically liberating. Gratitude is the recognition that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift. Gratitude is where we begin to experience God is a powerful way. “Thank you” is the simplest and most powerful prayer a person can say. If you can say “thank you” you can connect with God and begin to develop a personal relationship with him.”
There is a famous story in the Gospel of Luke about a ten men who had leprosy. They were outcasts because of their disease and they desperately wanted to be healed. When they cried out to Jesus to be healed, he met their need. However in this story we are told that only one man returned to Jesus to express his gratitude. Did the other nine think they were entitled? Grateful people realize that God cares for them and they never take life for granted. If we do our hearts become cold.
Today how can you express your gratitude toward God? Remember all of life is a gift.
As followers of Jesus we are called to show compassion that is linked with the action of God for his people. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set free the oppressed and break every yoke. Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wandered with shelter-when you see the naked, to clothe him and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)
Our calling is to show compassion, a spiritual practice that everyone can do. Some may be thinking” There are so many needs, what can I do?” You can begin by asking God to make you sensitive to people and to become aware of the situations around you. St. Benedict in his Rule of Life stated that we need to receive each person as we would receive Jesus. Imagine if you made that your prayer at the beginning of each day. There are so many people we encounter. Some we consider to be a nuisance; others may take up our time; but if you saw each person as sent by God, would your attitude change?
Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me…whatever you did for one of the least of these you did it unto me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)
Would you show compassion to Jesus? Take a look around, there are many opportunities.
From time to time we hear of people showing ‘random acts of kindness’. Kindness is really an expression of caring for another person. However for a Christian kindness is not to be an occasional act but rather a way of life. The apostle Paul states “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness” (Colossians 3:12). In other words it is a lifestyle. However this is much easier said than done, because practicing kindness is not always easy. We get busy, tired and irritable; people can annoy us and we want to brush them off. We need to realize that kindness requires commitment, intentionality and effort.
David, the king of Israel was a man who showed kindness. Following the death of Saul the first king of Israel and his son Jonathan the friend of David, David wanted to show kindness to anyone in that family.
Jonathan had a son called Mephibosheth who was crippled in both feet. Through Saul had sought to kill David, David never retaliated. Now David wanted to show kindness to anyone in Saul’s family. When he heard about this young man he ordered him to be brought into his presence.
I am sure that when Mephibosheth heard about this he was somewhat unnerved. Would David seek revenge because of the actions of his grandfather?
When David met him the first thing he said to him was “Don’t be afraid, I will show kindness to you for the sake of your father Jonathan…and you will always eat at my table” (2 Samuel 9:7).
Unbelievable! David brought him into his home and treated him like his own son. What an incredible act of kindness and compassion.
Today be aware of acts of kindness you can do for others. There will be many opportunities. Act upon them and you will be blessed.
There are memories from our past that can hinder us from moving forward, and we need to let them go. The apostle Paul needed to let go of the past. He was an ardent Jew who kept all the requirements of the law and was zealous in persecuting the early church. Could he let go of his past?
There were other things he needed to let go. When he became a follower of Jesus he summarized his life experiences. “What anyone else dares to boast about-I am speaking as a fool-I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am more. (2 Corinthians 11:21-23) Knowing himself as he did it would be easy for Paul to assume that he was more committed to the cause of Christ than anyone else. He had to let this go and not allow pride to control his life.
Paul said “I press on toward the goal to win the prize” (Philippians 3:14). It was an intentional effort on his part. He did not live in the past he let it go and kept moving forward. At the end of his life he would state “the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith. Now there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me but to all who love his appearing. (2Timothjy 4:6-8)
This is the promise of God for all who keep looking forward, letting go of the past and remain faithful to their calling as followers of Jesus Christ.
Imagine your life being so focused that only one thing in life really mattered. Most of us have many competing loyalties and our life feels scattered and fragmented.
In the Old Testament there is a story of a young Jewish woman named Esther. Her life was about “one thing”. At the time of Esther the Jews were living in exile in Persia. The ruler wanted to display his wife before all the guests at a prestigious banquet he was giving. She refused to be treated as an object and subsequently was banished. A search to replace the queen was conducted and eventually the king was attracted to this young Jewish woman Esther.
Now Esther had been raised by her uncle, Mordecai who told her to keep her family background a secret. A royal official, a man called Haman loved to be acknowledged by the masses and he expected everyone to bow before him whenever he went into public, however one man Mordecai refused to bow in his presence. This infuriated Haman to such a degree that he formed a plan to exterminate all the Jews.
Mordecai, Esther’s uncle approached her and told her she was the one hope for the entire nation for only she could change the mind of the king. In fact even though she was the queen, her life would not be spared because she too was Jewish. Then Mordecai spoke to Esther words that have resonated throughout the centuries: “Who knows but that you have come to this royal position for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) Suddenly her life became focused: it was all about one thing-saving a nation.
Most are not called to save a nation but our life can be focused. What is the focus of your life? Do you need to get rid of some “stuff” in order to be focused? Ask God to give you the insight you need.
A lot of people live in the past and at times we hear them say, “what if” or “if only.”
If we allow the past to be the present focus of our life, we simply live out our days reminiscing or moaning about our failures or lost opportunities and we never look forward. Steve Jobs at 30 was fired from Apple. In 2005 he spoke of his experiences at the commencement exercise at Stanford University. This is what he said.
“I didn’t see it then but getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by a lightness of beginning again. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. When I was 17 I read a quote that went something like this: “if you live each day as if it were your last, someday you will most certainly be right.”
For the next 33 years Jobs asked himself every day this question, “if today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am doing today?”
Living in the present is about the here and now, making the most of the opportunities that are before you. The Apostle Paul was a forward looking person. He wrote:
“One thing I do, forgetting the past, I press on toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
How wonderful it is to be able to live in this way. Today make the commitment that you will live this day to the full.
There are many things in life that are hard to let go. It may be our plans, our family, our possessions or even our life. As I write this chapter it is during the season of Lent; a time when many people let of certain practices in order to focus on spiritual issues in their life. Notice how hard it is to give some things up. Imagine going for an entire day without use of your cell phone or checking your email. Some are going into withdrawal just thinking about such an idea.
Try this simple exercise. Take a coin and hold it in your hand and clench your fist. Hold it tight until your knuckles are white. Have you ever noticed how often people actually live this way? We make statements such as “I am trying to hold on.” “I am struggling to get a grip.” We perceive life as a struggle and we are desperately trying to cope as best we can.
Now slowly open your clenched fist and feel the feelings of relief as you allow the blood to rush back into your fingers. In our life of faith when we learn to let go, when we are no longer struggling, we discover that a sense of peace and calmness comes over us.
In the bible there are many examples of people who had to learn to let go. Jacob on of the two sons of Isaac was known not the most upright individual. He had plans to get ahead no matter what it cost him. He deceived his elderly, blind father into giving him the blessing that should have gone to the elder brother Esau. Consequently he had to run for his life for Esau sought to kill him for what he had done. Jacob eventually settled in Haran married, had a family and prospered. However his father inlaw Laban, did not like Jacob. He believed Jacob was stealing from him and Laban’s sons stated “ Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.” (Genesis 31: 1) Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him had changed.
It was time to leave and go home. Forty years had passed since Jacob had last seen his brother Esau. On the journey home Jacob rested one night by the river Jabbok. A through the night Jacob wrestled with God. During the struggle God touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that he was incapacitated. It was at this pint in the struggle Jacob cried out to God to bless him. The blessing of God was the most important thing to him. It was more important than possessions or fame or power or prestige. But Jacob had to let go of all his previous plans if he was to receive the blessing of God.
Mary was a young woman who had plans that were radically changed. She was a young teenage woman engaged to Joseph a carpenter. I am sure she had plans of life together. They would have a home, raise children and live an ordinary life. All that changed when she was visited by the angel Gabriel. The angel told her that God had found special favour with her and she had been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah. Further more the child she would bear had been conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary thought about this. Her life would radically change. What would Joseph think? What would her parents say? How would the small community to which she belonged react? She would have to trust God in all of this. It would be an incredible challenge for a young woman to face. Yet as Mary contemplated all that had been spoken into her life she made this amazing statement “ I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)
Mary was willing, no matter the personal cost to let go of her plans and surrender her life into the will of God.
The most profound example of letting go was seen in the life of Jesus. It began with his incarnation when he left the glory of heaven, came to earth as a baby, grew up as a young man, became a servant and died on a cross. The apostle Paul expressed it in this manner “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2: 6-8)
At the end of his life Jesus would let go. Prior to his arrest, judgment and crucifixion, Jesus went with his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Knowing what was ahead he fervently prayed that the Father would find some other way for him. His prayer that night is really a prayer that we need to learn as we surrender our life into the hands of God. Translator J.B.Phillips brings the prayer into focus “Dear Father …all things are possible to You. Let me not have to drink this cup! Yet it is not what I want, but what You want.” The prayer was not answered in the way Jesus wanted
Author Richard Foster writes: “here we have the incarnate Son praying through his tears and not receiving what he asks. Jesus knew the burden of unanswered prayer. He really did want the cup to pass, and he asked that it would pass. “If you are willing” was hiss questioning, his wondering. The Father’s will was not absolutely clear to him. “Is there some other Way?” “Can people be redeemed by some different means?” The answer- no!” (1)
This prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is a pattern for us. He could have avoided the cross. He could have compromised with the priests, bargained with the High Priest. Pilate wanted to release him and tried to get Jesus to say the correct words so that this ‘innocent’ man could go free. In the Garden on the night of his betrayal, Jesus had enough time to flee from the Roman soldiers. However he used his free will to turn the decision over to His Father.
As we think about these three different stories we discover some insight into letting go. Richard Foster in his book ‘Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home’ describes the prayer of Jesus as the Prayer of Relinquishment, which he says is a “grace filled releasing or our will and a flowing into the will of the Father.” (2)
This act of relinquishment, this letting go, is not easy. There is struggle. Look at the three biblical examples. Jacob wrestled for an entire night before he would receive the blessing of God. Mary wondered about the saying of the angel and was somewhat puzzled . How could she a virgin bear the son of God? As she ‘pondered’ all these things she came to the resolute decision to do as God asked of her. And Jesus in the garden repeatedly asked the Father to remove the cup. This was an issue he struggled with for the entire night of prayer. In learning to let go and to pray the prayer of Relinquishment, struggle is a significant element.
The late Catherine Marshall wrote that this prayer is not one of resigning ourselves to fate but rather it is an act of acceptance. “There is a crucial difference between acceptance and resignation. There is no resignation in the prayer of relinquishment. Resignation says, “This is my situation, and I must resign myself and settle down to it.” Resignation lies down in the dust of a godless universe and steels itself for the worst. Acceptance says “ True, this is my situation at the moment. I’ll look unblinkingly at it. But I’ll also open up my hands to accept willingly whatever a loving Father sends.” Thus acceptance never slams the door of hope. (3)
So hope is always present in the prayer of Relinquishment. We learnt to trust in the character of God. Foster writes “ Even when all we see are the tangled threads on the backside of life’s tapestry, we know that God is good and is out to do us good always. That gives us hope to believe that we are the winners, regardless of what we are being called to relinquish. God is inviting us deeper in and higher up. There is training in righteousness, transforming power, new joys, deeper intimacy.” (4)
So the apostle Paul would write about Jesus