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"He will be their peace."
Peace has been on the top of my mind recently, simply because of the lack of it.
When a friend initiated an app-based Bible study, I didn't hesitate suggesting a study topic. Anxiety. Worry. Fighting for peace. Yes, please.
As the study discussed, those emotions of anxiety and worry--if you break them down--stem from fear and lack of trust. Sure enough, if you consider, the fear we face is basically the fear of what is beyond our control: limitations, external situations, etc.
We're afraid that we can't manage everything.
We're afraid that despite our best attempts, we won't win the love and respect of others.
We're afraid of rejection, of failure, of unfulfilled dreams.
Of pain, without any hope of painkillers.
Of grief that doesn't go away.
Of losing something we can't imagine living without.
And this reflects the self-reliant, self-centered mentality that is so ingrained in us as our instinctive coping mechanism for our life here--full of tragedy just around the corner, of devastated hopes one hair's breadth away, of happiness so fragile that we can only hope hopelessly for it to last. We're terrified of losing control, of being helpless, being uncertain. We rely on our efforts to control our lives but don't dare to acknowledge that it won't, can't, be enough.
Which clearly shows us the link, as Christians, between a lack of faith (in the One who is in control, though we aren't) and a lack of peace.
It's easy to say that we need to "trust God Who is in control"--too easy to spout another vague abstract statement about His sovereignty which only gives us a greater sense of how far off we are from achieving that peace we want so desperately.
And that very naturally leads us to the age-old question: how to increase our faith? Though we pray to God about our problems they still harass and burden us with worry. We echo the heartbroken father in Mark 9:23-25; "I believe; help my unbelief!"
As someone who is struggling with this issue now--present tense!--who is very much treading water at sea, not as someone waving nochalently from the shore, high and dry--I believe we need to realize two things.
Firstly, a deeper understanding of and love for God. Before we can actually apply our abstract knowledge about His attributes, power, sovereignty, etc. We may know and believe that He is powerful, that He's in control, that He holds all things in His hands, (and there, I've almost composed a Christian hit song.) But let's be honest, those are cold comfort when you're lying awake at 2 am trying to sleep while your heart is throbbing uncomfortably, your head is swimming with worry and apprehension for tomorrow, and you wonder drearily if a good cry would help disperse the cloud of anxiety, exhaustion, and fear--but no, you got to sleep, you need your sleep, the last thing you need is to be sleep-deprived...and you lie awake miserably for another two wretched hours before falling into a restless sleep filled with bad dreams of your teeth falling out or being endlessly chased by serial killers. All right, maybe we don't all have the same experiences of being stressed.
The strongest, most absolute trust does not necessarily depend on the ability of the one trusted but rather on the relationship you have with them. I would feel more comfortable trusting my sis than a prime minister--powerful as he might be, however much I believe he's sincere about helping me. Does that make sense? Perhaps not logically, but then when were human emotions logical?
It's a good time to ask yourself what actually is your personal relationship like with this God who is in control.
How much do I actually love and know Him, aside from how much I know about Him?
Secondly, realize our anxiety and worry stem from the nature of our priorities.
It's hard to manage our anxiety and fears when we're convinced the sum total of our happiness and fulfilment depends on them.
We all know the difficult verses like 1 John 2:15; "Do not love the world or anything in the world." Turning from that verse to examine our lives is perhaps one of the most uncomfortable things any pastor could do to his congregation.
Which brings up another uncomfortable but related question: what does it mean to be spiritually minded?
We need to strive, as a long-term goal, to define our happiness less and less on how things work out on earth. Not just when dealing with worry and anxiety, but throughout our lives; the sunbathing, beach holiday times as well as the shipwreck survivor dog-paddling in the middle of the ocean. To have a long-sighted view of ultimate happiness that we're moving towards, that we can start to enjoy even now regardless of what happens to us during our time here. To let our understanding of Heaven transform the way we understand life here.
Still dog-paddling in the ocean, taking life ten seconds at a time, but knowing that behind the fog surrounding us lies the shore--however faint it may look now--a solid and dependable shore.
photo from Unsplash
(cont from part 1)
For me, one struggle I faced in learning to have a heart of peace was to not to confuse work with worship.
I knew something was wrong when I realized that my typical Sunday was not what I associated with worship.
It was an adrenaline-high blur of one thing after another--getting to church early to help with set up, making drinks during refreshments, teaching Sunday School, trying to snatch conversations in between with different people, packing up, rushing home, getting out lunch and most likely having a house full of people, more talk, more laughter, serving together. Not that this is a bad way to spend a Sunday, mind you. But what with all the things to be done, the whole day turned into a sort of Amazing Race for me, and worship was the last thing on my mind in my high-energy, giddy state as I scampered from one activity to another like a hamster on espresso.
You need restfulness to worship. Enough peace to purposefully put aside the things hanging on you, clamouring 24/7.
But to be honest, peace--not just for Christians--is far from abundant in our modern lifestyle today. It's about speed, efficiency, productivity, thrills, hype. And that is why it is even more crucial that Christians today experience and learn how to cultivate, how to hold on to peace. Having a heart of peace has become one of the greatest challenges to me once I realized how much I needed it. This equates to a state of trust in God and His person, a level of intimacy and love which enables you to transcend the ever-changing state of your environment and your feelings, and becomes a stable, steady foundation for you when everything else is going upside-down.
(I'm afraid peacefulness and restfulness is very far from coming naturally to my personality, as I tend to veer on the intense side. Don't so kanchiong can. Just relax lah, as we say in Singapore. In fact, this is something I'm struggling--more--with especially right now.)
For me, simply because there were so many needs around me, and especially in church, I unconsciously slipped into prioritizing serving above everything else, and it became the whole focus of Sunday for me. After all, I reasoned, these were all good things, things which needed to be done, things which blessed others and would bless me too, things which pleased God.
Don't let your work for God replace your worship. As much as we desire to serve Him, to do great things, our relationship with Him is the source of the strength and motivation with which we serve, and more importantly, it is the reason we serve. Without that, we might as well be trying to please our boss, our parents, our teachers, or a cause, by doing what we think might impress them. Look, Mom, I'm eating all my vegetables.
Before you give your energy and attention to the hundred and one things that are waiting for you--no matter how good or necessary or even "God-glorifying"-- take a moment to quiet yourself. To talk to Him. To open your heart, with its anxieties, doubts, insecurities, failures, and needs. Without feeling ashamed or guilty that you have all this "baggage," or that you're taking time to do this. Worship. Remember Who He is, and what He has done for you. Meditate on His attributes and how they apply to your life, right now. Confess what's burdening you, ask for His help, acknowledge that you're struggling to do it all, struggling to trust, struggling to do what's right...
Worship. Before you work.
"...But the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits."
Photo by Alexandr Bormotin on Unsplash
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.
(2 Thessalonians 3:16)
In my comfortable little first-world context, I did not understand the value of peace for the longest time.
Why the Bible often described God as the God of peace, depicted peace as a gift to be desired and sought after. Love Joy and Peace, the trio you see every December on Christmas wreaths and tacky wrapping paper.
It was only at a point in my life when I realized I repeatedly felt harassed, anxious, and inadequate. Exhausted from the endless struggle of trying to keep up while trying to do more. Wondering whether my time management was really that lousy or was it just because there simply wasn't enough time.
Hurrying through devotions and feeling a sort of vague satisfaction that I'd managed to get that done, at least. Wondering why, when I tried to quiet myself to pray, it was so hard to keep myself focused, why God seemed so distant and passive.
As I get older, I realize that how I respond to these feelings determines who I become--who I let myself become, rather. The sense of inadequacy, the anxiety, the stress, to use that all-encapsulating six-letter word that we use so generously everyday in every conversation. They don't magically fade away once you've graduated--gotten married--promoted--paid off that debt. Like the Hydra, new heads replace the ones we've cut off, leaving us with a perpetually unattainable delusion of rest "when we've finished this."
Or, to use a more relevant metaphor, our lives become a frenetic mindless chase, like the snake in the classic handphone game; endlessly pursuing an endless trail of crumbs, a new one appearing every time we hit one.
So telling ourselves that "I just need to get this done, get it off my mind; I'm too busy right now for any other strategy" isn't a good solution.
Under these conditions, the importance of having a heart of peace is especially relevant as a Christian in today's culture.
Why as a Christian?
Because peace is the product of trusting God, relying on God despite changing situations and emotions.
Having a "heart of peace" amidst the crazy, hectic rush of life indicates greater understanding of and intimacy with God.
It's become a phrase that lies close to my heart for that reason. As I think more and more about it, I realize how much my life would change if I had that heart of peace, how it would manifest itself in so many different ways...
calm and good cheer, not getting impatient or anxious or stressed or discouraged as easily, due to an applied understanding of God's timing and sovereignty, which gives more balance and perspective...
being able to discern and maintain priorities even when other things are distracting...
contentment, even as you make goals and pursue them--the type of deep-rooted, genuine contentment that is not reliant on success, not upended by troubles...
comfort and stability during difficult times, and the same balance in happy ones, since you are not dependent on the fickleness of mere emotions...
being able to not take things so personally, or be so hung up on other people's behaviour, because you do not need them to behave in a certain way in order to live your life well and be happy, and you don't have to relate to them on the grounds of those expectations...
...And the list goes on.
Peace, that "surpasses all understanding", because we have so little of that peace in our lives.
(continued in part 2)
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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