Today’s theme is not new. I think of how John, when reminding his readers yet again of what Christ had said about loving Him and loving our neighbour, says: No new commandment do I give unto you.
My theme is the oft-recurring one of how to cope with anxious fears. The Bible is so full of words from God, from the Old Testament and the New, about how to cope and not be anxious. Fret not: it tends only to evil doing (Psalm 37:8). Let not your heart be troubled: neither let it be afraid (John 14:1). It’s characteristic of the love of God that He knows us just so well. He understands every human heart. Some are very given to anxious fears, others much less so. This pandemic has probably caused there to be more suffering from anxiety than normal. But I think most human beings at some time, for some reason, are familiar with an anxious thought about today or tomorrow, and Christ, who shared our human lot, said (I paraphrase): Don’t take any anxious thought for tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself. The sparrows are not worried. Your heavenly Father cares about the fall of the sparrows to the ground, and you are of much more value than many sparrows. So He really understands us, He really cares, and He speaks to us again and again in reassurance.
I had intended to meditate on quite a different theme, and the reason that I came to this one was because one day recently, in the context of certain business to be conducted and decisions to be taken in relation to church work, I had some anxious thoughts. The verse on the calendar for that day spoke deeply to me:
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. (Isaiah 26:3)
It immediately brought a stirring and a sense of peace. The word of God is so powerful. It is the weapon that we know Christ used again and again against the enemy; it’s a living word. He said to Martha: ‘You are anxious and troubled about many things.’ We often concentrate on what follows when He says that Mary has chosen the better part, and we could feel a bit sorry for Martha, but He is actually being very kind to her. He says: ‘Martha, Martha, you’re anxious and troubled about many things,’ and shows her the way not to be like that, but to sit in His presence and listen to Him. It is God’s presence that brings us peace. It is as we come into that presence that there comes a stillness inside.
We read in the book of Acts of the apostles and the kind of lives that they had to live. I have been rereading Hudson Taylor, and the exposure to danger and hardship, and trouble from without and within the new work that he was establishing. It was incredible pressure upon him, and yet the testimony of all around him was to the peace that marked his life and in which he conducted the business no matter how oppressed he was. The peace of God that we read of in the book of Acts is phenomenal. And I think that they could live in that peace, could find peace in the midst of persecution, because they were so aware of the actual presence of God. We sing a lovely hymn: ‘Your presence is heaven to me’, but we could equally sing: ‘Your presence is peace to me.’
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusts in Thee. His ‘mind is stayed on Thee’. Often the thing that brings us dispeace is a thought that comes into our mind, but it’s not always that. Sometimes it’s quite simply in our spirit. It may be that we waken up one morning or start going through the day with an unease in our spirit, and we do not actually know why. It’s not related to something that definitely has happened, but it is certainly there, like a thorn in our spirit. What is that to do with my mind? Well, our mind then begins to get active. So we must turn and stay our mind on God. Paul tells us:
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8)
It’s as we turn and resolutely keep our mind fixed on God that His peace comes in, even though there is this something in our spirit. As our mind is fixed on Him, we find that His peace stays in our heart. And I remembered that in one of James Stewart’s books there was a chapter with a lovely title: ‘When God’s peace guards the door’. So I went to it and was presented with this verse from Philippians, in Moffatt’s lovely translation of Paul’s words:
Never be anxious, but always make your requests known to God in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. So shall God’s peace that surpasses all our dreams keep guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Keep guard over: that’s actually a lovely thought. As the author wrote, Philippi was a Roman colony with a Roman garrison. So the citizens of Philippi to whom Paul was writing were very used to seeing sentinels pacing up and down, guarding the gate. And our sentinel is peace.
Paul is writing this to the Philippians. Now the church in Philippi had been established in the midst of a riot and imprisonment and an earthquake, and they knew about persecution, they knew suffering, in which the church had been established and which could come at any time. Paul says to them, first of all: Rejoice (4:4). Then he says: Never be anxious. Coming from Paul, it carries such weight, doesn’t it? Paul, how could you be so at peace? He points to God’s peace that surpasses all our dreams acting like a sentinel. God’s peace ‘means the very peace that dwells in the heart of God Himself’ (Stewart), which is a lovely thought. We think of God as being the God of peace – He is. He’s the Prince of Peace. He is peace. But also it’s the peace of God that dwells in His very heart. Speaking reverently, it’s the peace that keeps Him peaceful. The peace that was in the very heart of Christ was the peace of God. And He has not given us less. He’s saying that’s the peace that can dwell in your heart. It’s the very peace of God, and it acts like a sentinel, a guard, that keeps the things that disturb at a distance. The ‘peace of God is not something to be captured once for all: it is something requiring to be recaptured all over again every day’ (Stewart). I think that’s actually quite reassuring, answering some of the confusion that can be in us. We’ve had peace one day, and another day we don’t feel so at peace; sometimes we feel the peace of God has come definitely to abide forever, and then another day we feel that we are being storm-tossed. But we learn it every day. We learn to trust in it and expect it. It’s not that He goes away or withdraws His peace, but we have to learn how to practise it. It’s not captured once for all as if it was put in a box. We have to recapture it in some senses every day, this day, this moment.
How well God knows us! How well Christ understands us. In what love He speaks to us. He says: I know you. I know the human lot, and I know how a great deal of what brings unpeace is anxiety and fear for the morrow. So don’t take any anxious thought for it. I’ll take care of you. ‘His mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee’. Isn’t that at the very kernel of a peaceful walk with God? It is that we trust in Him. A child with a good parent will trust that parent and will probably ascribe to him or her powers that the parent does not actually have to keep life all on an even keel, but there’s just a sense of security and safety if we have that parent by our side. But we have the all-powerful One, who can keep us in perfect peace.
Oh, the loveliness of the Saviour, the sudden dropping of the Spirit of God of dews of quietness into all our unrest, as He brings to us His own serenity, His own peace. Blessed be His Name.
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