I have been working on this devotion about peace for eight days, since January 1st. I have been occupied with it in my mind, in my heart, and prayer. However, the only peace I could find in actually producing a written article was to wait—to wait until pain medication wore off enough to focus, or to wait for just the right time. It’s been hard to be peaceful while I am experiencing physical pain during rehab. It’s also hard to find peace when I have friends who are suffering—a close friend and her family who are grieving the loss of two family members, a friend in Africa undergoing major surgery, another friend who is under observation for a brain condition, and children of friends who are in the painful stages of rehab from surgery. In Elizabeth Turnage’s soon to be published book, “The Waiting Room,” she writes about the emotional pain we experience when we await news about our loved ones. “It is not unusual to have wild swings of emotion from extreme anger and frustration to amazing kindness to strangers while enduring the waiting room for a loved one. You may not even recognize yourself.” (1) Peace is difficult to grasp at times.
The Bible’s conception of peace is shalom, which I embrace as the highest form of peace from Christ. “In the Hebrew ‘peace’ is the word shalom. Like ‘salvation’ to which it is closely linked, shalom is a large, embracing word for the good that comes to one God favors. It has to do with personal well-being in all respects. On the spiritual level, it embraces “peace with God” through the work of Jesus Christ. On the material level, it can mean prosperity. On the personal level, it has to do with a tranquil state of mind that comes from placing one’s entire hope in God’s Word. Alexander Maclaren speaks of it as encompassing “a restful heart… a submitted will… an obedient life … [and] freedom from temptations.”(2)
When I think of the definitions of words I often compare them to a piece of artwork that has positive (filled) and negative (empty) spaces—both are necessary to a painting or drawing. I appreciate that three out of four of Maclaren’s characteristics of shalom are positive and only one is expressed as a negative (freedom from temptations). This year, I will work through the truth about God’s promised shalom for us in Jesus Christ. The positive aspects of peace that we will explore will include security, restfulness, protection, being close to God, fearing the Lord, submitting to God’s will and commands, forgiveness, reconciliation, faith in God’s promises and providence, contentment, justice, joy, and uplifting Christian fellowship. But there is that first “negative” we will explore—God’s command to “not be afraid” or “do not fear,” which frequently appear in Scripture.
During my month of post-operative pain, I have realized that physical and emotional pain can make us fearful and confused even when it is expected. Knowing that God uses pain for our character development and dependence on Him helps us to focus on Him rather than on the means of our sanctification. Not all of our suffering is spiritual, but all of our pain is useful if we remember God’s admonitions to trust Him. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4) “Sheep are timorous creatures, and so are Christ’s people; but when he the shepherd is [with] them, to sympathize with them under all their afflictions, to revive and comfort them with the cordials of his love and promises of his grace, to bear them up and support them with his mighty arm of power, to teach and instruct them by every providence, and sanctify all unto them; their fears are driven away, and they pass through the dark valley, the deep waters, and fiery trials, with courage and cheerfulness… the shepherd with his rod, staff, or crook, directs the sheep where to go, pushes forward those that are behind, and fetches back those that go astray; as well as drives away dogs, wolves, bears… that would make a prey of the flock, and of such use is the word of God, attended with the power of Christ and his Spirit; it points out the path of faith, truth, and holiness, the saints should walk in.” (3)
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
As we walk through life, gaining experience and practice of looking to God for help when we are afraid, our repository of God’s faithful assistance and providence give us ammunition against the threat of fear, with its confusion and anxiety. Jesus’s apostles were in the process of learning about Christ’s peace that overcame even the forces of nature when “…in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’” (Matthew 14:25-27)
Where are you in your learning to trust God with your fears? Does it take days or weeks of nervous fretting before you will see the peace that God gives and take to heart his command to not fear? What kind of fears ensnare you? Are you afraid of losing your popularity or position in your company or ministry? Are you afraid of growing old, ill, and miserable? Do you fear losing your children to questionable cultural standards and philosophies? Are you worried that you aren’t “good enough” in some area or skill to begin a new vocation or ministry? Will you embrace God’s shalom for you, to rest in Him who created you and called you out to faith in Christ, for His glory? Is Jesus speaking to you, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid?”
(1) Turnage, Elizabeth, “The Waiting Room,” pre-publication copy, Ó2019 by Elizabeth Reynolds Turnage.
(2) Boice, James Montgomery, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 119:165, 1998 by Baker Books. (Maclaren, Alexander, “Expositions of Holy Scripture,” 329–35.)
(3) John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Psalm 23:4, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-23.html
January 9, 2019