“Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river”
Concerning the subject of peace, here are some words written by the apostle Paul to the church at Philippi:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NAS)
|The Spirit River down below|
our house is frozen over now
Despite this advice from Paul, we all know what it is to be anxious. We manage to find plenty of things in our lives that give us anxiety: health concerns, job concerns, family concerns, besides a host of other matters of life that cause us to worry.
When we are worried about something, it often does not help to have someone tell us not to worry. It is a bit like telling a river not to flow. Nevertheless, Paul tells us that we should not be anxious about anything and to be at peace.
In the end, we all want peace. But the goal of peace is illusive. Peace is even difficult to define, and how can we expect to arrive at a goal that we cannot even define? More than that, once we think that we have achieved some measure of peace in our lives, it seems that we cannot long hang on to it. Having a goal that is illusive and indefinable is not something that is conducive to bringing us peace.
Many people think of peace is what we achieve when everything in their life is going well. We all have many matters in our lives for which we seek solutions, and we tend to think that if we could ever manage to resolve all of them, we would arrive at a place of peace.
However, if we think about it a little, we can see that peace must be more than an absence of trouble and conflict, since even those in secure positions with seemingly no need to worry about anything are often very disturbed in their personal lives.
How is it then, that Paul simply tells us not to worry?
When Paul tells us not to worry, it is not the same as telling a river to stop flowing. He is not telling us that simple denial of our anxiety is all that is needed to stop our worry. He instead gives us some alternative activities. In fact, Paul tells us three things: there is prayer, there is supplication, and there is thanksgiving. These are, I suppose we could say, three steps at arriving at peace.
We might lump all three of these together into the single category of prayer, but there is a reason that Paul lists each aspect separately. In prayer we recognize and declare the sovereignty of God over all matters of life. This helps us in our anxiety because worry comes about when we feel that we have no control over any specific situation in life.
Actually, this fact is exactly true. If all responsibility for a favorable outcome from any difficulty depended only upon us, we would have good grounds for very severe worry. But in prayer, we are recognizing that it is not we who are in control, but the sovereign Lord and Creator of the universe. We acknowledge that we in ourselves are powerless, and that only God can help us in this matter.
Supplication is not a word that we use often in everyday speech, but of course it means asking for something. However, there is a quality of supplication that is not communicated by the word asking. We might ask someone for something, and if it is denied, we look elsewhere. If we apply to one bank for a loan but are turned down, we might apply at another bank. But in supplication, we understand that we have no other option. If God would turn us down, we have no other place that we could go. We are in a desperate situation.
Is this worrisome to you? Enigmatically, being in this desperate situation is the very thing that can bring us peace. It is not worrisome and instead peaceful because we have declared the sovereignty of God in our prayer. We are bringing our needs to the Sovereign Lord of creation in whom resides all power, and this Sovereign is looking out for our best interest.
By bringing our supplication to God, instead of the situation being worrisome, our reaction turns out to be quite the opposite. We are thankful. How else could we possibly feel since we have we have the omnipotent and sovereign God of the universe caring for our needs? It is when we realize that we are under the authority and protection of God that we can have the peace that we all desire. With this thankfulness, we enter into peace.
This is the specific kind of peace that Paul is talking about in the verse I quoted above. This is a peace that we can have despite outward circumstances. It is, he says, the peace of God. With the peace of God, the river in our lives that once brought worry does not stop, but the water of the river instead changes nature.
The river of worry ceases, and it is replaced by a river of the peace of God. It is a peace that will flow in all seasons.
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