In December 2016 I began a journal based on a word study of “peace” in the Bible, to help with my transition to retirement from mission work. Whenever I moved from one country to another in Africa or went on missionary leave, I would begin a Bible study to carry me through the entire time. So, if I would be on furlough for six weeks, I started a Bible study a week or two before, that would last for at least nine or ten weeks until I finished my journey or move. Of all the methods I developed for moving or changing jobs, this one has helped me the most. So, in 2016, as a means to encourage my peacefulness as I transitioned to retirement from full-time work of forty-four years, I began to study biblical peace. That study has led me to desire true “shalom,” godly well-being, which is only possible through submission to Jesus Christ, continually.
Surely, it’s not a coincidence that I have remembered this as I begin a new women’s Bible study with the residents of my retirement community next week. My “brain memory” is like muscle memory, seeking God’s peace to begin something new. The hymn I have chosen for the first meeting also reminds me of the peace we have when we submit to the Lord to begin a new kind of ministry, vocation, or service for him, “I Need Thee Every Hour.” But it’s not just when things are unknown to us, or when we are stretched that we need God’s peace. It’s every hour of every day. “I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord; No tender voice like Thine can peace afford…I need Thee every hour, stay Thou nearby; Temptations lose their power when Thou are night.” I wonder what would happen if we would sing this hymn whenever we are tempted to procrastinate or shrink back from something we are asked to do in our vocation, ministry, or for our families, out of fear of the unknown. We are inclined to stay comfortable, protect our “me time” and do what is convenient or pleasing. For most of us, that kicks in before we even pray about doing something new or unexpected. But when we are united in Christ, nothing brings us more peace than his commands and the reminders of his presence with us.
We must deal with our sin and our reluctance to seek the Lord’s will before we can experience his peace. In Psalm 32, titled “Blessed are the Forgiven,” David’s prayer to the Lord recounts his confession in the beginning, including this admission: “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” (v. 2) Here is a warning for me about deceiving myself when I think I am obeying God’s will but am finding creative ways to avoid the most important thing he wants me to do. David also describes the opportunity we have to approach God in prayer, finding our refuge in him. So the progression seems to be that, having confessed my sin to the Lord, and rejecting that which is deceitful or false, I ask God for his protection and comfort because I know him to be gracious and merciful. This is often how my prayers go—confession, thanksgiving for God’s grace, then supplication. At this point, in verses 8 and 9, the speaker changes to the Lord, who says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.” God has a plan for each of our lives. He wants us to seek his counsel and instruction, rather than stubbornly seek our own advice or opinions. Even after confessing our sins, we only fool ourselves and lose out on peace when we think we know what to do without seeking God’s help. Our mule-like obstinacy shows up when we hurriedly and without thought disagree with our supervisors or authorities, are quick to argue with our grown children, rush out to purchase something fun and distracting, turn to food for comfort, or complain about the way our leaders rule, without praying for them. We know how we avoid the Lord’s guidance by looking back with hindsight on those days or nights when we filled our time with “other stuff” or diversions. But the way to peace is found by confronting our errors and listening carefully to God’s Word, with the help of his Spirit.
“Verse 8 [of Psalm 32]…is written as if God is speaking directly to the restored individual, promising to ‘instruct,’ ‘teach,’ ‘counsel,’ and ‘watch over’ him…the true meaning seems to be that God will continually watch over us. The idea is of one who is offering direction to another so he can follow a certain path and reach a certain place. This one promises as well to keep an eye on him as he travels so he will not get lost and go wrong. I am glad God promises to do that for us. For great as forgiveness is, the one who has sinned and been forgiven does not want to repeat the sin or again fall into error but rather wants to go on walking in the right way and so please our heavenly Father. How are we to do that unless God continues to keep his eye on us? If we ignore that care and refuse that counsel, we will be like brute beasts that have no understanding (v. 9). If we persist in our folly, we will be like the wicked who experience many woes (v. 10). But if we listen to God, obey him, and so walk in his right way, we will be able to rejoice in God. And we will be able to teach others also, which is what David has been doing in the psalm.” (1)
At another time (probably), David sought to bring the ark of God to Jerusalem with thirty thousand men, after he and his arm routed the Philistines (2 Samuel 5:22-6:4). David and his men were enthusiastic to retrieve the ark, the most holy possession in history at that time, symbolizing the presence of God, carrying the carved stones with the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s staff, and the mercy seat. Having the ark in Jerusalem meant having God with them. But they either forgot how the Kohathites were to carry the ark or chose to use their own method of transport. God had warned his people specifically against touching the holy ark, “When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die.” (Numbers 4:15) Many casual readers of Scripture are offended when they read that the Lord struck down Uzzah, who tried to stead the ark and keep it from falling. Consider, though, that they violated God’s command in their enthusiasm. How many times do we get great ideas for ministry or “helping” others that go wrong, only to realize later that we were “doing our own thing” without God’s guidance or help? Now, there are some delightful things the Lord calls us to do and living the Christian life includes many regular activities, including church attendance for worship and service, Bible studies with our families, Sunday School classes, providing for our families, prayer, etc. But we might want to consider how we go about doing those things—what is in our hearts and minds; what is our motivation and attitude? David stepped back for three months after Uzzah’s death, afraid to do anything with the ark at that time. Then “it was told to David” that Obed-edom household had been greatly blessed (2 Samuel 6:11-12) John Gill writes, “[David] being animated and encouraged by the blessing of God on the house of Obed-edom, because of it, and thereby freed from those slavish fears he was before possessed of, and filled with hopes of being blessed also on account of it; if not with temporal blessings, he needed not, yet with spiritual ones.” (2)
The peace I experience with God after writing my blog post, calling a friend who is down, meeting someone for our encouragement, fulfilling my volunteer service commitment, or serving at a worship service is spiritual and calming. Changing my plans because someone has a need that is greater than my need for predictability is pleasantly satisfying. I have found that when I have an attitude of quiet submission to the Lord, he often changes either my plans or my perspective on them, to have a long-range outlook. Eternity is the ultimate peaceful place, so when I am focused on forever, my peace increases. God is offering us shalom if we will follow him. “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalms 32:11)
(1) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 32, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 2 Samuel 6:12, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/2samuel-6.html
April 25, 2019