The Promise of Peace
August 16, 2014 | Brian Bill
Robin Williams was extremely talented and yet excruciatingly troubled. It doesn’t appear that he was ever able to find God’s wonderful peace. There was no doubt a lot of pain behind all his punch lines. Our whole country has been rocked by the news of his suicide this past week.
Here are some observations.
- Humor does not equal happiness. In Ecclesiastes 2:1-2, Solomon says, “I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.’ But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, ‘It is mad,’ and of pleasure, ‘What use is it?’” Laughter is meaningless unless you know the Lord.
- Success is not the same as salvation. Our culture equates being famous with having “arrived.” Someone can appear that they have it all together on the outside, even accomplishing things that seem to make one “successful,” and yet be filled with emptiness on the inside.
- Depression is real. I wonder if Job’s words found in Job 3:25-26 reflect what some of you might be feeling: “For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, for trouble comes.”
- Substances don’t provide any substance. Alcohol and drugs promise an escape but lead to bondage. They are temporary and ineffective solutions.
- Suicide is never the answer. Some of you know the pain personally as a result of a loved one taking his or her life. USA Today reported this week that suicide rates are growing each year, particularly among adults between 45 and 64, which are up 40% from 1999 through 2011. Suicide takes more lives than car accidents, AIDS or prostate cancer. BTW, having Parkinson’s or other illnesses, does not somehow make suicide OK.
Church, we need to be a safe place for those dealing with depression, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. If you are struggling right now, please contact one of your pastors. Consider attending Celebrate Recovery. You are cared for and there is hope.
It’s been quite a week. Not only are we processing Robin William’s death, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel had this to say on Wednesday, “The world is exploding all over.” Is it possible to have peace when we have problems? Can we experience shalom in times of sorrow, suicides, sickness, stress, struggles and sadness?
We often say, “If only I could get some peace and quiet,” (my mom used to say that a lot when I was growing up) like it’s some sort of destination or something “out there,” when true peace is what happens “in here” (point to heart). Friends, peace is the not the absence of external conflict. It’s the presence of the Prince of Peace internally. Peace can be experienced in the midst of the mess you are in and can help you endure disturbing problems and even difficult people.
Our promise today is found in Isaiah 26:3. People throughout the centuries have locked into this verse because the peace that comes from God is perfect: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in You.”
We’re learning that it’s important to understand the promises of God within the passages in which they’re found. In other words, before we claim a text we must first consider the context. Isaiah is a prophet of God charged with ministering to the people of God during a very dark time in their history. As a young man he witnessed the rise of his country into an economic and military world power. But along with this prosperity there was also corruption, shallow spirituality and ritualistic religion. A new power had come on the scene in Assyria and the splendor of Isaiah’s nation was starting to fade. While politicians argued, the nation was downgraded and the people grew anxious. Kind of sounds like America today, doesn’t it?
Isaiah was a wordsmith, utilizing a versatility of expression and vocabulary. His writing has a majestic grandeur to it as he exalts the grace of God in salvation. In chapters 24-27, we see a mixture of judgment and joy, of suffering and singing. Isaiah 26:1 tells us that this section is actually a song: “In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah…” and centers on the city of Jerusalem: “…We have a strong city; God will appoint salvation for walls and bulwarks.” Isaiah is looking forward to the day when a salvation song will be sung.
We could put today’s sermon into a sentence: Problems cannot thwart God’s purposes because the peace that comes from God is perfect.
Aren’t you glad that no matter what problems you face, there is never any panic in heaven?
The first part of Isaiah 26:3 contains a powerful promise: “You will keep him in perfect peace…” The word, “keep” means, “To guard, protect or maintain.” It’s a military term meaning to protect a camp or castle. The enemy is unable to get in when God’s peace protects us. With God as our guard we have nothing to fear, do we? Psalm 85:8: “…He promises peace to his people…” Psalm 29:11: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”
The phrase, “perfect peace” is literally, “shalom, shalom” in Hebrew. The word “perfect” is not in the original. With Isaiah’s use of colorful language and vivid vocabulary, it’s striking to me that he doesn’t use an adjective to describe God’s peace but simply repeats the word. One commentator says it means, “In peace, peace.” Spurgeon said that “God does nothing by halves, but everything by doubles.” When a word is repeated in the Bible it’s done for emphasis, like an exclamation mark.
Shalom is used 237 times in the Old Testament and means completion and fulfillment and refers to entering in a state of wholeness and unity, where relationships are restored. The word was used as a greeting and as a way to say goodbye. It was also common to ask how “one’s peace is,” which would be equivalent to asking, “How are you doing?”
In my experience most people fail to find peace that lasts because they’re looking for it in the wrong place. Peace is not found in pleasant circumstances or in people or in having a lot of possessions. Peace is internal, not external and can only come from the God who is peace, peace. 2 Thessalonians 3:16: “Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way.”
As we’re learning in our Summer of Promise series, some of God’s promises are conditional, meaning that there are certain conditions that we must meet in order for them to be fulfilled. There are two such conditions in Isaiah 26:3 and another one found in verse 4.
God Keeps Us in Perfect Peace…
1. When we keep our minds mindful.
“You will keep him in perfect peace him whose mind is stayed on you…” A double dose of peace comes when we discipline our minds to stay centered on God. The word “mind” refers to mindset or a frame of mind and “stayed” means to “lay on” like you would hold on to on an animal you’re riding or “to lean on” on a strong wall for support. Most of us need to reframe our focus so that instead of getting all caught up in our problems, we lay fully on the Lord, leaning on Him with our full weight. J.N. Oswald writes: “This means that God’s superlative peace is given to those whose minds are intentionally riveted on God.”
Let’s claim God’s promises instead of focusing on our problems. I love the words to the song, “Like a River Glorious” because it comes right from this verse – “Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest; finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.”
Friends, worry is wasting today’s time to clutter up tomorrow’s opportunities with yesterday’s troubles.
Philippians 4:6 says: “Do not be anxious about anything…” This provides a helpful corrective to what might be the number one sin of Christians today – anxious worry. Someone has said that there are more people addicted to anxiety than to all other addictions combined. The construction in the original forbids the continuance of an action already habitually going on. The word “anxious” means, “That which divides, distracts the mind and which draws a troubled person in different directions.” Friends, worry is wasting today’s time to clutter up tomorrow’s opportunities with yesterday’s troubles.
Several years ago a professor at a leading American university studied the things people worry about. His research discovered that:
- 40% never happens
- 30% concerns the past
- 12% are needless worries about health
- 10% are about petty issues
- 8% are legitimate concerns
That means that 92% of our “worry time” is wasted energy. But the Bible says that we’re not to worry about the 8% either. Why is that? Because when we worry we’re really saying that God can’t take care of us, that our problems are bigger than His promises. R.H. Mounce once said, “Worry is practical atheism and an affront to God.” One pastor writes, “Worry is the warning light that God is not really first in my life at this particular moment because worry says that God is not big enough to handle my troubles.” Jill Briscoe adds, “We can worry or we can worship.”
Jesus doesn’t want us to be saturated with stress. In Luke 21:34, He warns, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life…” Worry can weigh us down, and like an anchor, anxiety can cause us to sink spiritually. Even worse, stress can strangle us. That’s the picture Jesus paints of how worry can wipe us out in Matthew 13:22: “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” If you’re sinking with stress today, follow the clear teaching of 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
Some of us are stressed out simply because we’ve been allowing our minds to focus on things that bring us down. Wrong thinking leads to wrong feelings which can lead to wrong living. Conversely, right thinking leads to right living. What we put into our minds determines what comes out in attitudes and actions. What we believe determines how we behave. J.C. Ryle once said, “Guard your thoughts, and there will be little fear about your actions.”
Warren Wiersbe offers a helpful saying: “Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.” Proverbs 23:7 puts it this way: “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.”
Some of us are neither joyful nor peaceful because we allow our thoughts to control our behavior. Did you know that the average person has between 50,000 and 70,000 separate thoughts each day? That’s between 35 and 42 per minute! Sounds like we better have a filter, right? You’ve heard of people who don’t have a filter on their mouths, just saying whatever comes to their minds.
Philippians 4:8-9 provides us with eight filters to help us keep out the bad and let in only the good: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” We are to meditate on these kinds of things, which mean we are to continuously ponder them in a detailed and logical manner. God has packed a lot of good into his world and we need to fill our minds with that which is praiseworthy. Be deliberate about what you allow yourself to think about. Just as cheese brats are necessary for our body’s health, good thoughts are necessary for spiritual health.
Problems cannot thwart God’s purposes because the peace that comes from God is perfect.
2. When we keep our wills willing. ““You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in You.”
To trust in the Lord means to rely on Him wholeheartedly. Let’s go back to Philippians 4 again to see how important it is that we lean on the Lord.
- The Peace of God protects us. Once we trust God with our trials and present our requests to Him, His peace will come flooding into our lives. Verse 7: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” This peace “surpasses all understanding” which means that it goes way beyond all that we can even ask or imagine; it excels and surpasses everything we could have hoped for. In fact, we can’t even put it into words because it is peace, peace.
- The God of Peace is present with us. We do not have to live the Christian life in our own strength because Jehovah Shalom is with us. Look at verse 9: “And the God of peace will be with you.” We’ll learn more about the Promise of God’s Presence next weekend.
In what area do you need to trust God in? Let’s keep our minds mindful and our wills willing. That leads to the third condition. God keeps us in perfect peace…
3. When we keep our lives living for the Lord.
Check out Isaiah 26:4: “Trust in the Lord forever, for in Yah, the Lord, is everlasting strength.” Trusting God is never meant to just be a one-time decision that we make at conversion. That’s the start but it must not end there. We’re to trust in the Lord forever, which means, “perpetually” or “continually.”
When I ask some believers to describe their spiritual journey I often hear them quickly proclaim they that they’re saved and have been baptized but when I ask how their relationship with God is right now, I get a blank stare. I’m grieved when I see so many believers start out with a bang in their Christian life and then end up compromising, straying from church and getting trapped in cycles of sin.
The deacon and pastoral staff teams are reading a book right called, “The Great Evangelical Recession.” It’s been a tough read because the author presents some stunning statistics that are extremely troubling. For instance, he reports that roughly two in three evangelical 20-somethings abandon their faith by age thirty (Dickerson, John. Page 30).
If you don’t walk with God, you’ll worry yourself silly
Friends, God wants us to be faithful forever. We’re to lean on Him today and every day. Our lives must keep living for the Lord. Here’s what happens when we don’t. If you don’t walk with God, you’ll worry yourself silly. If you don’t trust, you’ll tremble at all your troubles. If you unplug, you will unravel. Make a renewed commitment to live out your faith at home, to plug into a Life Group or ABF and to serve in a ministry this fall.
We can rely on the Lord because He is the covenant-keeping God. The name “Yah” found in the NKJV is a shortened form of Yahweh or Jehovah, the self-existent One. He is unlimited and unchanging. He can be trusted to keep His promises. It’s very interesting that once again Isaiah gives us a double dose of a word. It’s as if he can’t find an adjective to describe the awesomeness of the Almighty so he simply repeats himself: “The Lord, the Lord.” This is one of only two times this is done in the entire Bible. Isaiah impresses on us what he cannot express with human vocabulary.
Do you think God is too puny to handle your problems? You can rely on Him because He is our “everlasting strength.” It’s one thing to have right beliefs; it’s another to believe that God can handle your hurts and give you peace in the middle of your problems. The word “strength” actually is the word “rock.” This is where the hymn “Rock of Ages” gets its theme: “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.” God has given us a place to hide and it’s found in a personal relationship with Him.
Several years ago we had the privilege of going to Colorado and I was reminded how magnificent and mighty the mountains really are. As we walked around we saw some clefts, which are like indentations, and we saw how easy it is to hide in there. When you cling to a cleft you are protected from the elements and other dangers.
Friends, the only way to find peace, peace is to rely on the Rock of Ages, whose name is Jehovah, Jehovah!
God will keep us in peace, peace…
- When we keep our minds mindful
- When we keep our wills willing
- When we keep our lives living for the Lord
Problems cannot thwart God’s purposes because the peace that comes from God is perfect.
Peace for All?
I would be remiss to assume that everyone here is a full-fledged follower of Jesus. If you do not know Jesus yet through the new birth, perfect peace will be elusive for you. To say it another way, you will be restless until you receive Him as your Savior and Lord. Isaiah 57:19-21: “‘Peace, peace to him who is far off and to him who is near,’ says the Lord, ‘And I will heal him.’ But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’” Isaiah 59:8 adds, “The way of peace they have not known, and there is no justice in their ways; they have made themselves crooked paths; whoever takes that way shall not know peace.”
If you’re looking for peace today, according to Psalm 34:14 you’re going to have to pursue it: “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” There are at least four sources of peace to go after
- Peace is produced by the Savior. In John 14:27 Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” He expands this thought in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And Isaiah 9:6 tells us that Jesus is the “Prince of Peace.” Peace doesn’t come from going to a special place or having a certain possession; peace comes from knowing a special Person.
- Peace is produced by the Spirit. You can’t manufacture peace. You can’t fake it because it flows out of a relationship with Christ. Peace is a fruit according to Galatians 5:22: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…”
- Peace is produced by the Scriptures. If we want peace, we must fill our minds with the Word of God. Check out Psalm 119:165: “Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.”
- Peace is produced by our submission. If you’ve not surrendered fully, it’s time to do so. If you want rest, then make sure that you’ve repented. Isaiah 30:15: “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.’” Ponder this conditional promise in Leviticus 26:3-6: “If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands…I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid.”
Several years ago when we left for vacation, I pulled out of the driveway and left the garage door open! I didn’t even know it until we returned and found out that one of my pastor friends noticed the problem and called our friend who was watching our house and he closed it for us.
I had left our house wide open and something bad could have happened. What’s wide open in your life? Does worry have easy access into your home? Have you left the door of anxiety ajar?
God wants to bless us, but he often does it in surprising ways. Give Him your worries, your fears, your concerns, those things that keep you up at night. And ask Jehovah, Jehovah to give you peace, peace because the peace that comes from Him is perfect. Problems cannot thwart God’s purposes because the peace that comes from God is perfect.