Peace that Passes Understanding

Part 3

Peace Comes from Understanding our Limits

English Bible
Grantley Morris

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To be sure we’re on the path to the peace that passes understanding, we must avoid all the routes that seem promising but lead only to a mirage. We have said enough about the treacherously false peace that comes from thinking ourselves better than the ungodly. The Bible keeps warning against it over and over, not just in the Scriptures quoted in the Forgotten Secret of Inner Peace series of webpages, but elsewhere as well. Consider, for example, what the Lord told the chosen nation of Israel:

    Romans 9:27 If the number of the children of Israel are as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant [i.e. only relatively few] who will be saved

Likewise, despite being God’s chosen, Christians are warned against the perilous conceit of thinking themselves special. Knowing that it is speaking of Jews as an olive tree, absorb the following with appropriate gravity:

    Romans 11:17-22 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the root and of the richness of the olive tree, don’t boast over the branches. . . . it is not you who support the root, but the root supports you. . . .
    Don’t be conceited, but fear; for if God didn’t spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. See then the goodness and severity of God. Toward those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in his goodness; otherwise you also will be cut off.

Another well-worn path to false peace is to think ourselves masters of our destiny, or at least push from our consciousness, awareness that our plans and expectations could at any moment come crashing down:

    Proverbs 27:1 Don’t boast about tomorrow; for you don’t know what a day may bring.

    Jeremiah 10:23  . . . a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps. (NIV)

It’s enticingly easy to fall for the impertinence that thinks this applies only to the ungodly, or to those under the Old Covenant, or to weak Christians. Such warnings are not superseded by the authority given to us under the New Covenant. On the contrary, Christians are divinely told:

    James 4:13-16 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow let’s go into this city, and spend a year there, trade, and make a profit.” Whereas you don’t know what your life will be like tomorrow. For what is your life? For you are a vapor that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. For you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will both live, and do this or that.” But now you glory in your boasting. All such boasting is evil.

This inspired word says such behavior is not just ignorance or cockiness or stupidity, but evil. Vast numbers of today’s Christians rush down this seductive highway to unexpected disappointment, without even realizing that it is expressly forbidden by the Prince of Peace.

In contrast, the writer of Hebrews presumed nothing. He wrote:

    Hebrews 6:1-2 Therefore leaving the teaching of the first principles of Christ, let’s press on to perfection – not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, of faith toward God, of the teaching of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

What could be more certain that God would back this plan? Nevertheless, look at the very next verse (omitting nothing):

    Hebrews 6:3 This will we do, if God permits. (Emphasis mine.)

“You will also decree a thing, and it will be established to you. Light will shine on your ways,” said Eliphaz (Job 22:28). This sounds more like it! But slip to the end of the book, like an impatient reader of a mystery novel. There the Lord tells Eliphaz, “I am angry with you . . . because you have not spoken of me what is right,” (Job 42:7, emphasis mine).

Not even the powerful Apostle Paul dared make such decrees. Refusing to “name it and claim it,” he kept acknowledging that despite having strong desires to do various things, his plans were always subject to God’s will, and that the Lord might decide to overrule the apostle’s decisions, thwarting his intentions. We find him saying such things as:

    Acts 18:21 . . . I will return again to you if God wills. . . .

    1 Corinthians 4:19 . . . I will come to you shortly, if the Lord is willing. . . .

    1 Corinthians 16:7 . . . I hope to stay a while with you, if the Lord permits.

    Philippians 2:19, 24 . . . I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon . . . I trust in the Lord that I myself also will come shortly.

Note that the above quotes do not show the apostle slavishly using the same expression each time, like some superstitious formula. At times, ‘God willing’ is not even articulated, but simply assumed. What matters is not the way one speaks, but the way one thinks and acts – whether we arrogantly think God is subject to our ‘faith’ declarations, rather than humbly acknowledging that God could at any moment override our plans. The Almighty is our master, not the other way around, and to lose sight of this is not some harmless slip, but evil.

Not even the divinely-initiated decree that Nineveh would be destroyed in forty days (Jonah 3:4) came to pass. Even this had an unspoken ‘God willing’ attached – and God was no longer willing, the instant they repented. Surprise, surprise: God is not a slave to our interpretation of his Word. We must persistently seek God’s interpretation of his Word, not our own; acutely conscious of our fallibility, biases and tendency to oversimplify and claim partial truth as the whole truth. Our solemn duty is to humbly bow to whatever God means; not to have the audacity to try to force the Almighty to submit to what our puny minds presume he means.

I cannot declare with absolutely certainty whether Jonah’s full message mentioned repentance and, for the sake of brevity, the divinely-inspired summary omitted it, since the rest of the account confirms to readers the power of repentance. This possibility seems unlikely, however, especially in the light of the Ninevites response: “Who knows whether God will not turn and relent, and turn away from his fierce anger, so that we might not perish?” (Jonah 3:9, emphasis mine).

For a brief look at other Bible prophecies that did not come to pass within the prophesied timeframe, see Divine Pronouncements that Never Materialized. If even the Almighty’s decrees are subject to his will, how dare we forget that our pretentious decisions are subject to his will!

If, whether specifically stated or not, divine promises of disaster are conditional upon the receiver’s response, so are promises of blessing. When read in isolation, many Bible promises seem less conditional than they actually are. That’s because we would need a wheelbarrow and a strong back to carry around a Bible that cited every proviso each time it states anything.

For example, when read in isolation, some of God’s promises to answer the prayers of God’s people seem unconditional, but when weighed up according to the full revelation of God’s Word, all sorts of provisos emerge. It turns out that answered prayer is conditional upon not sinning, obeying God, continuing to abide in Christ, our requests aligning with God’s will, asking with godly, unselfish motives, asking persistently, asking in faith, and so on. We are told to pray in Jesus’ name, but rarely do we pause to think that this means asking for Jesus’ sake, not our own, and acting as his representative, with all the grave responsibilities that implies. (If, as an ambassador, you did anything in the President’s name, I would not want to be in your shoes if you strayed the tiniest fraction from his wishes.) For Scriptures on the critically important, frequently misunderstood matter raised in this paragraph, see Prayer Provisos.

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We noted earlier that the divine path to peace that passes all understanding is bewilderingly contrary to human reason, and here again it hits us in the face. Surely, peace comes from forgetting that our best-laid plans could turn to ashes; not by continually reminding ourselves of this possibility! And yet the Prince of Peace insists otherwise. Is it any wonder that few find the precious peace of God, if we keep looking for it in places where God says it cannot be found? Certainly, nothing could shatter our peace more than having our plans fail, and being utterly unprepared mentally for that possibility.

Significantly, God allowed none of the manna that fed the Israelites for forty years in the wilderness to be stored for tomorrow (Exodus 16:19-20).

Jesus told us to live in the now; living one day at a time. He told us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11, emphasis mine).

We worry about future finances and think the answer is more money now but, “He who loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance . . .” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).

Immediately after telling us to “seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness,” (Matthew 6:33) he said:

    Matthew 6:33 do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (NIV)

Jesus also told us to live as if there might be no tomorrow – not recklessly, but with great faithfulness, knowing that at the least expected moment we could face our Judge:

    Matthew 24:42-44 Watch therefore, for you don’t know in what hour your Lord comes. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what watch of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore also be ready, for in an hour that you don’t expect, the Son of Man will come.

    Matthew 25:13 Watch therefore, for you don’t know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

As another Scripture implores us:

    1 Thessalonians 5:2-8 For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. For when they are saying, “Peace and safety,” then sudden destruction will come on them, like birth pains on a pregnant woman. Then they will in no way escape. But you, brothers, aren’t in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief. You are all children of light and children of the day. We don’t belong to the night, nor to darkness, so then let’s not sleep, as the rest do, but let’s watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep in the night; and those who are drunk are drunk in the night. But since we belong to the day, let’s be sober . . .

Our source of peace is found not in vainly hoping our plans will materialize, but in the assurance that no matter what shocks might be ahead, “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28).

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Having just written about God wanting us to focus on one day at a time, trusting God moment by moment, leaves me itching to drift briefly to something related more closely to joy than peace. The two typically travel together and I expect you to find this little meander worthwhile. If, however, you are the only person I know who has quite enough joy and is looking only for peace, feel free to slip down to the next section where we can meet up again.

My wife’s death would be about the most devastating non-spiritual experience my pea-brain can imagine. Nevertheless, I deliberately remind myself fairly regularly that life is so fragile that, theoretically at least, my precious wife could die at any moment. You might suppose this would keep me miserable. It’s actually the opposite. It maximizes my happiness by inspiring me to continually treasure her and delight in her.

Before dismissing me as a flavor short of a bowl of fruitloops, many people have reported that being diagnosed as having a terminal illness caused them to truly live, and enjoy life like never before, because it caused them to resort priorities, live in the now and value things more than ever (Example).

For a biblical handle on this, consider:

    Ecclesiastes 7:2 It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting; for that is the end of all men, and the living should take this to heart.

I wonder how much in our society, we live longer but live less. Out of the bottomless pool of examples, three jostle for top place in my mind. Each is associated with nature, and splashed me awake because of my wife. If mentioning all three is excessive I’ll settle for two, and give you the choice of reading the few words it takes to describe the third.

I used to enjoy walking in the Australian bush, and was sure I was absorbing every little thing it had to offer. Only since marrying, did Vicki’s love of orchids shatter my consciousness. I was staggered to discover that for a total of hundreds of miles of walks I had been missing an entire world of over a hundred different species of beautiful, fascinating but tiny native orchids. I had been literally walking right past them, quite oblivious to them, while believing I was enjoying every wildflower. They are so easily missed that at times you can be staring at one, and miss another that is just inches away.

It’s obviously off-topic, but if you would like a break from reading, or a little insight into why we find native orchids fascinating and beautiful, see Vicki’s Orchid Photos.

Here’s my second example: Vicki, who had never been in Australia until we married, was entranced by how adorable kangaroos are. I expected the novelty to wear off. It never has. Each sighting is special and fascinating to her. By now, she must have photographed them literally hundreds of times.

Jesus pointed out how wildflowers don’t struggle and strive to acquire beautiful clothes, and yet end up clothed more beautifully than the richest or hardest-working of us (Luke 12:27). Similarly, by seeing ‘roos lounging around (they are nocturnal) Vicki is inspired by how laid back and carefree they are. It helps her gain perspective in a frantic world, reminding her to rest in God. And yes, such reminders promote peace. Photos (if interested).

Here’s the third example: The Beach.

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Now for the purpose in sharing these examples: It is true that we tend to dwell too much on things that drag us down spiritually, but we also tend to let too much slip from our consciousness. The Lord’s mercies, his lovingkindnesses and compassions, are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23) but how many of them do we use up every day without even bothering to notice them? How many precious gifts does our Lord shower upon us, with him barely hearing a peep from us, unless they are withheld, and then we suddenly get vocal – only not with belated gratitude for past blessings but with complaints? Yes, the Lord is incredibly faithful, but taking things for granted sucks joy out of life, shriveling everything to a dull blandness.

Can’t we at least pray that our eyes be opened to a little more of God’s daily blessings, or do we take perverse delight in griping and feeling hard done by? How much of all the honor, love and gratitude our Lord so overwhelmingly deserves from us are we denying him? And, incidentally, how miserable do we make ourselves by fostering such ignorance, and a miserly, mean-spirited attitude?

Do we imagine we are being cool or mature by being little moved by the extravagance of God’s kindness and generosity to us who only deserve hell? Could being cool mean we would have to raise the temperature a little even to be lukewarm? Could such ‘maturity’ mean we are almost spiritually dead?

For most of us, that’s harsher than we deserve. Nevertheless, we rob ourselves, and God, by drifting through life on autopilot.

It’s our choice whether we approach everyday life like a kid on Christmas morning, or have a ‘ho hum,’ ‘been there, done that,’ ‘another day, another dollar’ attitude. We cannot miss how frequently Scripture urges us to be thankful, and rejoice, and delight in God. It’s just too important for our caring Lord not to emphasize it. If we look more carefully, we will also find references to stirring ourselves up and to value and enjoy other aspects of life.

Here’s an example I take so seriously that I have based an entire webpage for married couples on it:

    Proverbs 5:18-19  . . . Rejoice in the wife of your youth. . . . let her breasts satisfy you at all times. Be captivated always with her love.

1 Timothy 4:3 speaks of food “which God created to be received with thanksgiving.” Every good thing is a personal love-gift from God. There is a degree to which to treasure and enjoy the gift, is to delight and honor the giver, and to take it for granted is to dishonor him.

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    John 5:19  . . . Most certainly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father doing. For whatever things he does, these the Son also does likewise.

He walks on water, turns water into wine, reads everyone’s mind, heals incurable diseases, raises the dead, resists every single temptation. Perfect in every way, it is no overstatement to say that he is spiritually infinitely greater than anyone who has ever walked on this planet. And he can of himself do nothing? If that applied to him, how much more must it apply to me!

So for forty-five years I’ve clung to that Scripture as if my life depended on it. (It’s actually more important than that; my eternity could teeter on it.) Surprisingly, however, it was not until recently that it registered with me just how often Jesus said similar things. For example:

    John 8:28  . . . I do nothing of myself, but as my Father taught me, I say these things.

    John 8:50, 54 But I don’t seek my own glory. There is one who seeks and judges. . . . If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say that he is our God.

    John 6:38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.

These are the words of the eternal Son of God, through whom all of creation was made and is sustained (Scriptures). No one could tell him, “You were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:20). Our flawless Lord had never been a slave to sin and destruction. Unlike us, no one had ever, as it were, gone to the slave market and rescued him from a horrific fate by buying him at a stupendous price and becoming his new slave owner. But let this impact you: such is his love and adoration for the Father that he chose to act like God’s slave anyhow. And this was not just restricted to his time on earth:

    1 Corinthians 15:28 When all things have been subjected to him, then the Son will also himself be subjected to him [God] who subjected all things to him, that God may be all in all.

He is the one who urges us to deny ourselves and follow his example.

Continued: Part 4

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