The River of Protection
There’s a lovely verse in Colossians that I love in both the old and new translations given in a Bible that I have, but the verse has a peculiar significance for me in the newer version. Paul writes:
We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy … (Colossians 1:11 NLT)
And the old translation is:
Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness (KJV)
– which is much easier to remember, but somehow the more modern translation brings the meaning home, and it underlined to me the fact of the joy of God. We read: The joy of the Lord is your strength, and how significant the joy is in the New Testament! We call Christ the Man of Sorrows, and that is His title; it comes from Isaiah 53, and He does speak of His grief, more than any man’s, but He speaks again and again of His joy.
It is Paul who is writing to the Colossians, and that gives this verse peculiar significance because he suffered so much, and he emphasizes in all his letters again and again: Rejoice … and again I say, rejoice! … Rejoice always! Often we are contented if we can have the patience and the endurance, and we think we’re doing pretty well if we manage that in all circumstances. But Paul says: ‘and with joy’. And I realized just how significant joy is. Joy is part of the strength, and it’s absolutely necessary for us to live the kind of life God wants us to live, where we have a joy that is untroubled by fightings and fears without and within. That joy is strength, and it is the joy of God. And patience, yes, in tribulations, that we may be strengthened with all his glorious powerso that we will have endurance and patience, but with joy.
Strengthened in the inner man – how we need it! We can have a respectable exterior and everything seems fine, but inside we know the weakness and the utter dependency on God. That’s a good thing: as long as we are dependent on Him, we begin to find the strength.
In a house that we once lived in, when we were about to move we ran into a problem because the previous owners had made alterations without planning permission, and so we had to ask the council for a letter of comfort. They were not pleased with what had been done, and they said that although it all looked very nice the construction was not strong enough, and we were instructed at some expense to get a steel bar put in which ran almost the length of the house. Now that steel bar couldn’t be seen: it was hidden, but they said it had to be there for strengthening. And I thought, that is exactly what we need inside us: a steel bar of the strength of God. It’s hidden, but it’s absolutely vital.
How does it come? It comes with going through trial: just with going through life there comes patience and endurance. But how does the strength come? It’s developed through life, but it’s also linked to that joy. And the joy is linked with peace. Christ speaks of both in the same conversation with His disciples at the end of His life: that my joy may remain in you (John 14:27), and my peace I give to you (John 15:11).
Paul writes to one of the churches:
Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. (2 Thessalonians 3:16)
There is a very beautiful verse in Isaiah, where we read in the old translation:
But there the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby. (Isaiah 33:21 KJV)
The Lord shall be a place of broad rivers and streams, and there will be no galleys with oars: that makes me think of a slave ship. There will be nothing like slavery in our life. But the new translation says:
The Lord will be our Mighty One. He will be like a wide river of protection that no enemy can cross, that no enemy ship can sail upon. (NLT)
That is where our peace lies. The Lord will be our Mighty One; He will be like a wide river of protection, a broad stream ‘wherein shall go no galley with oars’. A galley with oars was usually a fighting vessel, so that it’s a river that no enemy can cross and no enemy ship can sail upon. And I think we can all immediately recognize: that’s exactly what we need. An ocean of God around us, cocooning us, that the enemy cannot cross.
Is this possible? Well, I think that’s where the apostle Paul lived. It’s probably where quite a number of them, like John, lived, where the enemy couldn’t reach them. Suffering, yes, in their life, but something in their spirit that was strengthened with the joy of God and the peace of God. It came from that protection that can be around us. Think of Aaron and Hur strengthening Moses there as he lifted up his hands to pray while the Israelites were fighting the Amalekites. He couldn’t hold his hands up any longer until they came on each side and held them up for him. We feel like that sometimes – and who comes to hold our hands up but God Himself and His Son Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and we are strengthened. And we find around us, like a broad river, our God.
A line in Myers’ poem sums it up:
Then let me feel how infinite around me
Floats the eternal peace that is to be,
Rush from the demons, for my King has found me,
Leap from the universe and plunge in Thee!
(F W H Myers, St Paul)
Eternal peace, the eternal calm that is ours, and it comes on the wings of joy that is to remain with us. Blessed be His Name.
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