Thursday, December 7, 2006

"As a believer..."

In the Midst of It All, Peace?
Rev. Ken Burdick
Excerpted from a sermon delivered on December 2, 2006

Snowflakes falling gently from the sky, a candle glowing bright, “Fear not!” and, “on earth, peace!” That’s how we like to think of Christmas, but how we actually experience the holidays is as something a lot more hectic, stressful and exhausting.

Those who find peace “in the midst of it all” are those who had it before the holidays even began. And it’s not that their lives are any less busy, stressful or problem-free than anyone else’s. It’s that they have found an inner peace with which to face all that life throws at them. I thought this might be a good time to think about such “inner” peace - not just peace for the holidays, but peace for your life.

As a believer I know I can have inner peace in my life (no matter what is going on around me), because:

I. Jesus promised it to those who are “in Him.”
Consider what the Lord told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" [John 14:27]. This was in the context of a long talk when He told them, “I will be with you only a little longer” [John 13:33]. He was about to die on the cross, be raised from the dead, and ascend into heaven, leaving his disciples behind. Being left on their own was anything but what they wished to hear. But Jesus was leaving something with them - peace - “my peace,” He calls it. To say something like, “peace be with you,” was a common way of greeting or saying farewell to someone at that time. But, says Jesus, “I do not give to you as the world gives.” In other words, He is not just being polite and conventional, nor is He simply wishing them the best. He’s promising a real peace - based on which, He can say to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” This is a kind of peace that only Jesus can give.

In John 16:32-33, at the end of this talk, Jesus speaks of peace, again -
"A time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. 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."
So the peace Jesus offers is not freedom from troubles. He tells them plainly, “In this world you will have trouble.” In John 16:1 He had even said to them, “a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” But yet, with such a threat facing them, Jesus still promises peace.

Can you and I have that same kind of peace, today? Yes, but we must understand some things about it:
  • First, it’s not for everyone, but only for those who are “in Jesus”; that is, for those who belong to Jesus because they have put saving faith in him. The peace does not come from following self-help plans, but from Jesus himself, who promised “in me you may have peace.”
  • Second, it’s an inner, not an outer, peace. It’s not peace in terms of an end to our worldly problems. It’s an inner peace that counter-balances anxieties, threats and troubles in the life we live in an unpeaceful world. The formula is: “In this world, trouble - in me, peace.”
  • Third, it’s a means of refusing to be overcome by problems, not for disposing of them. Some have taken Jesus’ words “I have overcome the world” to imply that believers can overcome their problems by calling on supernatural power to make them go away. But that is precisely what Jesus himself did not do when He overcame the world. He did so by enduring the cross, not making it go away. In fact, when they came to arrest him, He told his disciples, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" [Matthew 26:53-54] No, Jesus is not promising power to make our troubles go away. He’s promising peace in the midst of them, and on the basis that He himself has overcome the evil powers of this world that lie behind it’s troubles and hostility toward his followers.
  • Fourth, this inner peace is apparently the work of the Holy Spirit within the believer. Jesus promises his peace in the context of his promise to send the Spirit [John 14:16-18, 25-26; John 16:7-15].
As a believer I know I can have inner peace in my life (no matter what is going on around me), because Jesus promised it to those who are in him.
II. God and his Son will always be with me.
The statement from God, “I will be with you” is the classic statement of reassurance and help to God’s people found in both Testaments. He doesn’t say, “I’ll fix things,“ but something greater. “I’ll go with you.” “Do not be afraid,” He tells Isaac, “for I am with you.” [Gen. 26:24]

The closeness and constant fellowship we have with God is another solid foundation for inner peace in the life of the believer. And what’s true of the Father is also true of his Son, who left us the promise in Matthew 28:20, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." This promise is also reflected in the extended talk Jesus has with his disciples in John. He says they will see him again (meaning, after his resurrection), then adds, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” [John 14:20]. This is describing a closeness and intimacy the believer has with the Father and the Son. Jesus repeats the idea in John 15:4, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”

David spoke of God’s closeness in Psalm 139:
O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in - behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you… How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you. [Psalm 139:1-12, 17-18]
As a believer I know I can have inner peace in my life (no matter what is going on around me), because God and his Son will always be with me.

III. I am loved and greatly valued by God.
Again, this is one of the underlying themes in Jesus’ talk with his disciples, reported in John. In John 16:27, He tells them, “The Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” This would be important for the disciples to know in the midst of the coming persecutions. Does God care about me? That’s a question we might still have today when things in our lives are rough. I don’t need outer peace to have inner peace, but I must know that I matter to God - and that’s what Jesus reassures his followers. He says more directly, in Matthew 10:29-30,
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
As a believer no matter what happens, I can have inner peace because I know how much I matter to my God.

IV. There’s nothing I can’t safely rest in God’s hands through prayer.
Prayer comes up in the John chapters in the context of completing our mission as believers by bringing glory to God [John. 14:13], and bearing spiritual fruit [John. 15:16-17]. Through prayer, we can be confident of God’s help in our efforts to live for Christ, which gives us inner peace even in the face of the world’s hostility and persecution. The New Testament later expands the scope of this confidence and inner peace, speaking of prayer as a means for finding peace “in everything,” not just the issues we face in living for Christ. Paul writes
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 4:6-7]
Here I am invited, as a believer, to rest every cause of anxiety in God’s hands, expressing my thanks for the answer He will give, even before I know what it is. This is a prayer of faith, trusting in the goodness and power and love of God to see me through whatever is troubling me, rather than coming to God with everything all worked out (according to my own understanding) and just asking Him to rubber-stamp it, and make it all happen. But inner peace does not come from attempts to manipulate God. It comes from resting in God, trusting in God, calling on God, and then finding a peace that “transcends all understanding.” Such peace guards the hearts and minds of those “in Christ Jesus.” It’s in a peaceful and quiet inner place that God’s peace is found - whatever the circumstances, whatever the season of the year. David’s call for Israel to hope in God expresses it well:
My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore. [Psalm 131]
Let us put our hope in the Lord, and let us know His peace!

Rev. Ken Burdick is the pastor of the Seattle Area Seventh Day Baptist Church.
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