Series: Seasonal Attitudes To Have All Year Long
We have been looking at seasonal attitudes to have all year long. First, there’s contentment, which is vital in a season where overspending is easy to do. Second, we looked at being thankful, especially how it can be a catalyst to our spiritual growth. Another attitude that we need to seek during the busy and hectic holidays is that of peace. Why peace? Because peace is the antidote to the holiday stress that we run into.
A woman was doing her last-minute Christmas shopping at a crowded mall. She was tired of fighting the crowds. She was tired of standing in lines. She was tired of fighting her way down long aisles looking for a gift that had sold out days before.
Her arms were full of bulky packages when an elevator door opened. It was full. The occupants of the elevator grudgingly tightened ranks to allow a small space for her and her load.
As the doors closed, she blurted out, “Whoever is responsible for this whole Christmas thing ought to be arrested, strung up, and shot!”
A few others nodded their heads or grunted in agreement.
Then, from somewhere in the back of the elevator, came a single voice that said: “Don’t worry. They already crucified him.”
(Homiletics, vol. 18 [November–December 2006] qtd. in Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, 1001 Illustrations That Connect [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2008], 372–373)
What stresses you out during the holiday season? Trying to find the perfect present? Having all sorts of family in close quarters? Events and parties to attend? For me it is the stress of seeing Christmas commercialized. I really hate how materialism has so engulfed Christmas that the real reason for the season is marginalized even in the lives of Christians.
How can we have peace that overcomes our stress? First, you need peace with God and then you need peace from God.
PEACE WITH GOD
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: (Romans 5:1)
Many unbelievers seem to think that they are at peace with God (at least those who think that there is a God). God, for them, is some sort of kind, old grandpa whose main mission is to forgive them when they make mistakes.
But look at this verse. What happens when we come to faith in Christ? We “have peace with God.” If you heard someone say, “I hear that there’s peace between Nation A and Nation B now,” what would you quite naturally assume? That there had been war between Nation A and Nation B, of course.
As much as the unbeliever would like to think of God being a kind grandpa, that’s just not the case. The unbeliever, whether conscious of it or not, is at war with God. Romans 5:10 confirms this by saying that, before salvation, we were “enemies” of God. The fact that unbelievers may not know this is irrelevant—they are like the person who doesn’t see the flashing lights of a police car in their rear-view mirror. They are in trouble even if they don’t realize it, and soon it will catch up with them.
I was saved when I was nineteen. In the years before that day, time after time, I was drawn close to God, and then I would run away. I was at war with God. I got to the point one day, when I was 14 or 15, that I wanted God not to exist so much, that I stepped outside shook my fist at the sky and told God that I wouldn’t ever believe in him, and that he should go damn himself.
The truth is if you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are in real trouble. You are like a tiny island nation picking a fight with a superpower nation. There’s no neutral ground here either. You can’t say that you and God get along just fine, on your terms, without any real belief in Jesus Christ. That is a false security and a false peace.
You are either at war with God or at peace with God through Jesus Christ.
How did you get into this war with God? You don’t remember declaring war against him, in fact, you’ve done your best to ignore him and steer clear of him. The short answer is: you were conceived, and then you were born. Romans 3:23 tells us, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Why is sin such a big deal to God? Because sin, at it’s very core, is someone saying to God, “I don’t need you. I don’t need your advice. I don’t need your love. I don’t need you telling me what to do, so GO AWAY GOD!” Whether we are conscious of it or not, that is the attitude of our heart each and every time we commit a sin. Sin is a rebellion against God. Sin is a trespass against God’s wishes. Sin is transgression of God’s desires and design for us.
We are born at war with God. We must have peace with him to live forever with him. How?
Peace with God comes “through our Lord Jesus Christ” Peace with God does not come through a philosophy, peace with God comes only through Jesus Christ. We don’t make peace with God. God makes peace with us. All we have do is place our faith in Jesus Christ, and we will be declared righteous by God…we will be justified. Then we will have a real peace with God.
How does peace with God reduce stress? Peace with God doesn’t mean that with have peace with Satan, or the world, or our flesh, or with sin. In fact, peace with God intensifies the war with Satan and sin. We might have family members, co-workers, and friends who become hostile toward us because of our faith.
But peace with God does bring us that assurance, that no matter what happens to us in this world, God is not against us. He is for us. We’re fighting with him and not against him. We, at long last, are on God’s side. Instead of being the tiny island nation taking on the mighty superpower nation, we are allied with the mighty superpower nation.
If you are in a stressful situation, you have a powerful ally that you can turn to. Perhaps he will remove the situation, perhaps he will help you through the situation. Whatever he chooses to do, you can rest assured that he is on your side—you have peace with God.
But peace with God is only the beginning of having peace in your heart during stressful times. How do we stay calm, cool, and collected during those times? For that we turn to the…
PEACE OF GOD
It’s possible to have peace with God and know it, but not have peace in a stressful situation. One aspect of the Christian life that we must understand is that living the Christian life requires action and effort on our part.
Imagine two countries at peace, in that there is no war between them, but there is also no trade or communication between them. They are at peace, but they aren’t experiencing the practical effects of peace. In the same way, the Christian is at peace with God, but without communication, he or she may not experience the practical effects of peace—this is what the Bible calls the “peace of God.” We find out what we need to do to experience that peace in places like Philippians:
Be careful for nothing;
but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known unto God. (Philippians 4:6)
The phrase, “Be careful for” (μεριμνᾶτε, VPAM2P, μεριμνάω, be anxious, care for) “nothing” means not to be anxious or “full of care” for anything. Don’t stress out.
Anxiety is a universal human condition—we all struggle with it, some more than others. Anxiety is caused by a lot of things—from job interviews to wars to passing a final exam. But do you know what one cause of anxiety lies behind all those other causes?
Jesus said in Matthew 6 (Listen for what he says is the cause of anxiety) :
27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? (Matthew 6:27–30)
Little faith. Not that you lost your salvation, but that you have little of the daily practical faith you need to not worry about things like getting to the Christmas program on time, or buying the “perfect” gift, or dealing with a family member that irritates you.
Anxiety comes from not leaning hard enough on our heavenly Father. How do we lean on him? What is the prescription for the problem of anxiety and stress?
The prescription is “in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” We can bring everything to God with prayer and supplication (petition).
Prayer “prayer” (προσευχῇ, NDSF, προσευχή) is a more general word for prayer. The prefix “προσ” means before or close to —it gives the idea of worship or devotion. The word “prayer” here has the sense of more of a worshipping type of prayer as opposed to an asking type of prayer.
The next word, “supplication” (δεήσει, NDSF, δέησις, pray, beg, request, petition) is a word that is often translated as “prayer,” but it is a different Greek word. Supplication is humbly asking God for things that you need. Another word for supplication is petition. It is a humble request, not a demand.
Finally, our prayers of devotion and adoration and our supplications for specific needs are both to be wrapped up in an attitude of gratitude. Pray “with thanksgiving.” Is your heart thankful as you ask God for your needs?
We often rush into the presence of God with our requests, recite our grocery list and rush off to the next thing to do. These words tell us to slow down, worship and adore God, come to him in humility. Spend time with him. One of my Christian heroes, A.W. Tozer, teaches me to do this by his example:
Most of his prolonged prayer time—with his Bible and hymnals as his only companions—took place in his church office on the back side of the second floor. He would carefully hang up his suit trousers and don his sweater and raggedy old “prayer pants” and sit for a while on his ancient office couch. After a time his spirit would drift into another realm. In time, he would abandon the couch, get on his knees, and eventually lie facedown on the floor, singing praises to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
No one presumed to interrupt these times of intimacy between A. W. Tozer and the Lover of his soul. But occasionally one of the men closest to him would climb the steps to his office and chance to see him on the couch or floor—totally oblivious to the world. (Lyle Dorsett, A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A. W. Tozer [Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2008].)
This is the kind of prayer we’re talking about. Not a grocery list that we rattle off to God and say, “I hope you can deliver by this afternoon.” We need to come humbly before God, worship and adore him, thank him for everything and present our requests to him.
We worship and adore thee, bowing down before thee,
songs of praises singing, hallelujahs ringing.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Amen.
That’s the attitude we must have when we pray. It’s even the posture that we should have. Get out of your easy chair, and get on your knees. Read the Word of God. Sing a little. Then pray out of what you just read and sang. When we pray with worship and humility, we receive what God promises. What’s his promise?
And the peace of God,
which passeth all understanding,
shall keep your hearts and minds
through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)
The “peace of God, which passeth all understanding” is a peace that is able to keep us from anxiety and stress in the midst of trying situations. Notice that there is no promise of not having trying situations—only a promise of peace in them. Jesus said:
33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Notice what he promises: peace and tribulation. Jesus doesn’t say that the peace he gives will deliver us from tribulation. It will be a peace in the midst of tribulation. It will be the calmness that Jesus had when everyone in the boat was panicked because of the storm.
Faith in Jesus changes our perspective on the events that occur to us. Yes, we will still grieve and hurt when loss comes or persecution hits. But in the midst of that we can have the inner peace because we know Jesus—we know that he has overcome the world.
Every event that happens to you is designed or allowed by God for your benefit (Romans 8:28). Therefore we can have an earthly peace because we know that everything will work for our good somehow. We may not know how, but that is why Paul says that this is the peace “which passeth all understanding.”
The peace of God will “keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” The word for “keep” (φρουρήσει, VFAI3S, φρουρέω, detain, confine, guard) means to keep something guarded or confined (2 Corinthians 11:32). How does peace guard our hearts and minds?
The heart and mind is what the Bible calls the control center of our lives. When the peace of God guards our heart and mind, that means that stress and anxiety will not be allowed to dictate how we respond to situations.
There’s a Pixar animated movie called, Inside Out, that demonstrates how various forces inside us control us. In the movie, every person has five basic emotions that run the control center of the person’s mind: there’s Joy, Disgust, Sadness, Anger, and Fear. The emotions are depicted as little people who live inside our heads. At various times throughout the movie, each emotion has the opportunity to control the person (a little girl named Riley is the main character). They control Riley by using a control panel in her mind. So, if Anger is in control, the Riley is shouting angrily at her parents. If Sadness is in control, Riley is depressed. If Joy is in control, then she is happy and so forth.
In one scene, when Riley is just a toddler, her father is trying to feed her broccoli for the first time. All Riley’s emotions are watching from the control panel as the father moves a spoonful of broccoli toward’s Riley’s mouth. Fear asks, “Is it safe?” and then Disgust steps up to the control panel and says, “Okay, caution, there is a dangerous smell—what is that?” Then Disgust says, “That’s not brightly colored or shaped like a dinosaur—hold on guys.” Then she realizes that it’s broccoli and pulls a lever on the control panel. In response, Riley shouts “Yuck!” and knocks the bowl of broccoli off from her high chair.
Riley’s father responds by saying, “If you don’t eat your dinner, you’re not going to get any dessert.” That comment gets the attention of the Anger emotion inside Riley, “Did he just say we couldn’t have dessert?” Anger gets up and moves to Riley’s control panel, “So that’s how you want to play it, old man? No dessert? We’ll eat our dinner right after you eat this!” With that, Anger blows his stack and pulls two levers and Riley goes into a classic toddler temper tantrum.
The way I visualize the peace of God keeping our hearts and minds is that it dominates the control panel of our minds. Stress or Anger can’t control us when peace is at the control panel.
God’s peace is not automatic. There are conditions. Having peace with God requires having faith in Jesus Christ to save you. Having the peace of God requires faith to run to God with your problems and anxiety and stress. In Isaiah we read:
3 Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on thee: Because he trusteth in thee. (Isaiah 26:3)
Why was Daniel so calm in the lion’s den? Why did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego calmly submit to being thrown in the blazing furnace? Because their minds were stayed on God. Because they trusted God.
Can we honestly say that our trials are any worse then theirs? The apostle Paul faced many stresses in his life as a Christian. People tried to kill him; they stoned him with stones; they threw him in dark, damp dungeons. Eventually, they did cut off his head. What did he say about his personal trials?
8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; 10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:8–10)
Paul’s trials were bad, no doubt, but his faith in God kept him from sinking into despair.
Are you stressed?
First, recognize that the ultimate cause for your stress or anxiety is sin. You are a sinner and you are in rebellion against God. You might be able to relax on occasion, but until you have a real peace with God, your sin will only build and build and cause more and more stress in your life. Ultimately, you will find yourself in Hell where, I can guarantee you, the level of stress you experience will be off the charts. If you have not experienced peace with God by faith in Jesus Christ, you need to start there.
Second, peace with God does not mean the end of bad things happening in your life. God uses those bad things for your benefit, because he is your ally now. But we still have to depend on him in order to experience the peace of God in our lives. Depending on God starts with prayer—honest and humble prayer. We present our requests to God with an attitude of gratitude for both the good and bad happening in our lives. God then gives us a peace that passes understanding that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
What if you do pray and you are still stressed? Then you need to keep praying persistently. Someone once said, “You need to pray until you pray.” Don’t assume that reciting your grocery list of prayers to God is praying. Praying happens after that—pray until you pray.