Peace from a Heart Sunk Deep

Huntington Beach Pier shutterstock_259186475
Huntington Beach Pier, California

We will never experience peace if we depend on outward circumstances. There’s always something going on in the world around us to stir anxiety: political turmoil, gun violence against students, international conflicts, terrorist threats, economic disruptions like sky-rocketing gases prices, and the everyday problems and tensions in our lives and relationships.

Yet Jesus said, “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 NIV).

How do we experience that peace? It’s helped me to realize peace is a product of our heart-attachment. If my heart is attached to worldly comfort and calm, peace will elude me. If my heart is grounded in the love and gracious character of our Triune (Trinitarian) God, however, peace will endure like a firm foundation in the midst of life’s craziness.

Think of the difference between a boat on the ocean and a pier coming off the shore. A boat on the water is fun, no doubt! But it is extremely vulnerable to the ocean conditions. Calm water is one thing, but seven-to-ten foot swells of waves and strong currents are quite another.

In contrast, a pier is a fixed structure not nearly as vulnerable to oceanic conditions. I live near a number of piers on the Pacific Ocean and one of my favorites is Huntington Beach Pier. It measures 1,850 feet in length and is one of the longest piers on the West Coast.  (The longest is Oceanside Pier at 1,942 feet). The pier is 100 feet above sea level. It was built with concrete and reinforced steel, coated with epoxy, to protect it from the corrosive effect of the damp salt air. Huntington Pier was engineered to withstand 31-foot waves or a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Its stability comes from the fact that 1/3 the length of each piling is driven into the earth, with 2/3’s above the surface. The key to stability is to be “sunk deep.”

A boat or a pier: how would you describe your experience of peace (or lack thereof) right now?

Peace is our “birthright” our “inheritance” in Christ. Just before his crucifixion, Jesus twice bestowed peace on his disciples. One is the John 14:27 verse quoted above. The other is 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” (NIV).

I recently developed a working definition of peace. I invite you to consider this and develop one that works for you.

Doug’s Working Definition of Peace: Peace is a multi-faceted fruit of the Spirit that includes reconciliation with God, healthy relationships with others and serenity within ourselves. Peace’s restfulness and calm arise from our confidence in God’s care for us, positively influencing our attitude and our efforts in our relationships.

Peace is a result of our heart-attachment. It will elude us if we’re floating on the waves of life without a firm anchor in faith. Let’s go back to the pier: its stability comes from the fact that 1/3 the length of each piling is driven into the earth. So what helps you drive “deep pilings” into the shores of faith? I hope you’ll journal on this question. Let me suggest two things:

The first is remembering that peace is the “natural condition” of those who believe in Jesus. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2 NIV). Be still and embrace this promise until you experience it.

We also “sink deeply” through our intentional experiences of both worship with God’s people and personal time daily with the Lord. Knowing and glorifying God anchors in his love.

 

Hurricane Downgrade

Hurricane Charley
Hurricane Charley near peak intensity shortly before landfall in Florida on August 13, 2004

Hurricanes are serious business. When I initially drafted this post in August 2017, Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Gulf Coast of Texas. The storm made landfall on Friday August 24 with 130 mph winds — the first Category 4 storm to hit the United States since Charley in 2004. It reminded me that my wife’s parents, Wayne and Marian, experienced Hurricane Charley on Friday August 13, 2004. They lived in Punta Gorda (a town near Port Charlotte on the west coast of Florida) where wind speeds reached 140+ miles per hour. They lived on the second story of a three-story condo complex where the roof was severely damaged. Damage to the state of Florida from Charley was over $13 billion. The devastation to Wayne and Marian’s condo and surrounding area was so significant that they left Florida and moved in with us in Kansas City, where we were living at the time. They never moved back to Florida.

So I know hurricanes are serious business. But not all hurricanes make landfall; not all cause the damage initially predicted. In August 2016, Sarah and I were on the Big Island of Hawaii when we got emergency bulletins that we were in for the possible historic event of two concurrent hurricanes, Madeline and Lester, bearing down on our island nearly simultaneously. It could be a real disaster. A number of individuals and families on the island cancelled their plans and flew back to the mainland rather than chance the consequences and dangers of the hurricanes. We decided to stay.

The day the hurricanes were scheduled to make landfall, we woke up in Kailua Kona, on the west coast of Hawaii, to the typical morning of sunny skies and no evidence of rain. Hilo, as usual, got the worst of the rain, but Madeline had been downgrade to a tropical storm. Then we learned that Lester was also on the downgrade ramp. From category 4 hurricanes, both were downgraded to tropical storms. Still fairly serious, but not devastating. We were grateful for the mercy and enjoyed the rest of our vacation.

Whenever I hear of hurricanes now, I reflect on the hurricane level of anxiety I often experience as I anticipate problems. True, some problems do have incredibly destructive results. I’ve been through my own Category 4 or Category 5 times, to be sure. But over the years I have learned that by the time they actually have to be dealt with, most problems are often downgraded in intensity. Many of my problems have, mercifully, been much less stormy than their initial potential.

You likely expected me to quote this fundamental advice from Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (NIV).

That is priceless counsel. But keep reading Philippians 4:8-9 because there we read some of the best advice for preparing our hearts to stay calm as we anticipate whatever is coming our way.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (NIV).

Spiritually speaking, storms and even hurricane-level events will come. What do we do? Prepare. Watch. Hope. And live in the moment, without fear. You’ll be ready to endure the tough one if it comes. And keep track of the downgrades to remind yourself to lower your worry-reactivity.

 

How can I know God cares?

Bedford Baptist Church
First Baptist Church of Bedford, Massachusetts

I think most of us have a hard time believing God really cares, really loves us, and is really watching what goes on in our lives. Then you have one of those experiences that makes it clear.

During my first two years of seminary I served as an intern at First Baptist Church in Bedford, Massachusetts. Of the many special people there, Paul and Elsa had become dear friends. They were a couple in their early sixties who knew and shared the joy of the Lord. Paul was a school teacher and Elsa was a nurse who worked in order to provide the financial means necessary to care for their developmentally-disabled grown daughter.

On my last day there Paul and Elsa arrived early, before the evening service. They asked to speak to Sarah and me privately. They shared how much they had enjoyed our two years with their congregation. They handed us a card but said, “Now before you open it, we need to tell a story.”

“Elsa and I have been praying for you two daily for the past few weeks,” began Paul. “One morning the Lord impressed on my heart that we were to give you something special. I was a bit surprised by what he seemed to want, but I prayed about it and decided to talk it over with Elsa.”

“What Paul didn’t know,” chimed in Elsa, with a sparkle in her eyes, “was that the Lord was saying the same thing to me.”

When they discussed it together they were pleasantly surprised to find that God had put the same idea on the their hearts at the same time!

“God wants you to have this! So go ahead and open the card!”

I opened it, and out fell a check.

“We had each written down the amount the Lord told us on a piece of paper, traded papers and opened them at the same time— and it was the same amount.”

It was a check for $500! From this dear couple who had little “extra” to share.

“We felt the Lord wanted you to have this as you start your family.”

I was speechless. Sarah and I both were moved to tears. How could Paul and Elsa have known that we had been praying about starting our family? The gift of money itself was amazing, but their sense of the purpose for the money showed God’s care in a way I had never seen it before. The Lord moved through others to supply a need we hadn’t shared with another soul. (I told this story in my book Questions God Asks, Questions Satan Asks, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1988, p. 234-235.)

I have never been able to share that story without tears welling up in my eyes. God is so good. Worry denies or distracts us from the evidence that God takes care of us every single day– even if we don’t notice it.

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT).

The Lord used Paul and Elsa to convince us, as we stood poised on the brink of ministry, that he literally knows our needs before we even ask him. Bless the Lord– and bless his people who listen and are part of his provision.

“For we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV)

Now some of you may not have a dramatic story like this to share. Or it could be that you may have forgotten that time (or those times) God truly showed his grace and mercy. We walk by faith, not by sight—but always watch to see God’s hand at work. When God works, write it down in your journal—and go back to it often to fuel your faith and gratitude.