Sunday, March 4, 2018

Devotion #2 - The Path of Peace

This is a second in a series of devotions written in preparation for the "Waiting 2018" gathering next week, which many of us are planning to attend.   To read the first devotion, click here.

And the path of peace they have not known” (Romans 3:17)
We live in an anxiety-laced culture. Consider these statistics:
  • According to the World Health Organization, anxiety disorders and depression costs the global economy $1 trillion every year.
  • Anxiety disorders are said to be the most common mental illness in America, affecting 40 million adults in the U.S., or 18% of the populational.
  • People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.
  • The American Journal of Psychiatry in 2006 found that Americans lose a collective 321 million days of work because of anxiety and depression each year, costing the economy $50 billion dollars annually.
Yet the Bible teaches us that there is a way out of this “anxiety pit.” It speaks of a “peace that passes all understanding” which is the opposite of anxiety and depression. The Hebrew word “Shalom”, which is often translated “peace”, indicates an inner wholeness and sense of well-being that is promised to all those who believe and trust in God. Yet, is this a real thing or is it some pie-in-the-sky platitude that has nothing to do with the world in which we live?
I believe that it is definitely a real thing because I have experienced it, as have millions who are alive today and countless millions throughtout the last century. It is the answer to all anxiety and depression. It is the true meaning of the Sabbath-rest which was spoken of by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai. But how do we obtain this peace? Is there anything we can do to get it?
The answer is definitely “YES!” Though I believe even most Christians who are alive today have never really experienced “the peace of Christ”, it is available to all who put their trust in Christ as Lord.
Yet, how do we get this elusive peace?
First of all, we must fear God. In a searing indictment of all of humanity, Paul lays out in Romans 3:10-18 the natural state of man ending with these words:
And the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:17, 18 NKJV).
To fear God means to hold Him in reverential awe. Thayer’s Greek dictionary states that this reverential fear is “not a mere fear of His power and righteous retribution (though I would say this is definitely part of it), but a wholesome dread of displeasing Him.” Suffice it to say that when we fear God in reverential awe, understanding Him at least in part in all His majesty and desiring to please Him above all things, our fear of man (and hence our anxiety borne out of that fear) begins to evaporate.
Paul gives us another key to finding peace in his letter to the Phillipians:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6, 7)

The key to anxiety and depression that Paul gives us here is simply prayer. Yet, not just any kind of prayer, but a prayer of deep faith in God. I believe Paul here uses two Greek words which both mean “a petition to God” as a way of emphasizing the urgency involved in this kind of praying. Peter describes this urgent type of prayer this way:

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6, 7)

This type of prayer acknowledges our lack of ability to manage our lives on our own. It is a prayer of humility because it recognizes our complete inability to handle our own problems. Out of this humility we cast our cares or anxieties on Him, knowing He can handle what we cannot. What a relief there is in this kind of prayer!

Another key to resolving our anxiety is embedded in the Phillipian verse above when Paul says “with thanksgiving.” As I wrote in a post some time ago (which you can read here), I believe the greatest single ingredient in a successful prayer life is gratitude. When we cultivate thanksgiving in our hearts, striving each day to thank God for what He has done for us and is doing for us, anxiety really can’t find a foothole in our hearts! I have made it a practice for many years to start my prayer time in the morning with thanksgiving, often reviewing the events of the previous few days and acknowledging the places in those days in which I see His hand, and trusting Him for the areas that I don’t understand.

Finally, we can maintain that peace by focusing on God and the things of God throughout the day. This is what Paul is alluding to in the next two verses in Phillipians;

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things...practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:8,9)

When we focus on God and whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and of good repute throughout the day, we can maintain that sense of peace no matter what is going on around us.

There is a wonderful peace which truly “surpasses all understanding” that God grants to a heart which is truly surrendered to Him, fears Him above all else, and acknowledges His work in our life in grateful praise. This is the path of peace. And it is available to you and I today!

Devotion #3 "The Knowledge of the Holy" (A.W. Tozer)

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