Peace in the Dark Places
Peace in the Dark Places
‘Men don’t come much tougher than daredevil climber and adventurer, Bear Grylls,’ writes The Sun newspaper. A former member of the UK Special Forces, his TV adventure series Man vs. Wild has reached an estimated 1.2 billion viewers in over 180 countries.
Not being remotely adventurous or daring myself, as I read his autobiography, Mud, Sweat and Tears, I was spellbound, gripped and horrified by his sheer physical and mental endurance. He has survived the SAS, a broken back from a parachute jump, climbing Mount Everest, the French Foreign Legion and a variety of other extraordinary challenges.
One of the things I appreciated about reading Bear’s autobiography was his refreshing openness about his struggles, both inward and outward. With admirable vulnerability, he reveals his anxieties, fear of heights and sense of weakness. Through it all his strong Christian faith shines through. He writes, ‘Faith in Christ has been the great empowering presence in my life, helping me walk strong when so often I feel so weak.’
In the midst of life’s difficulties and extraordinary challenges, Christ is the empowering presence who brings us peace.
‘Perfect peace’ (Isaiah 26:3) makes me think of a beautiful, calm summer’s day, sitting by a deserted lake with not a care in the world and no temptations, no problems and no difficulties to cope with. ‘Perfect peace’ in such circumstances would not be at all surprising or extraordinary. Yet as we read the Bible, it is clear that this promise of ‘perfect peace’ is not dependent on circumstances. God’s peace comes to you even in the dark places – in the midst of your most difficult struggles and challenges.
The temptations that the people of God faced in the past are, in some ways, no different from those that we face today. ‘They rebelled against the Spirit of God’ (v.33), ‘they mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. They worshipped their idols which became a snare to them’ (vv.35–36).
You are called to be ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’. This is such a difficult tension. As you mingle with those who do not share your faith or lifestyle, the temptation is to adopt their customs and worship their idols. The idols of the twenty-first century include money, sex, power and celebrity. Their influence on us can be quite subtle.
We should be able to enjoy all the good gifts that God has given us, without ever becoming obsessed with anything, or worshipping anything other than the living God.
The second-century Letter to Diognetus described the Christian’s lifestyle in the following way:
‘They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land… It is true that they are “in the flesh”, but they do not live “according to the flesh”.
‘They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require… They are poor, and yet they make many rich… Christians dwell in the world, but are not of the world.’
Lord, help me not to worship the idols of the culture, or take on the customs of those I spend time with outside the church. Help me to resist these temptations and experience your ‘perfect peace’.
Trials2 Corinthians 11:16-33
Paul’s opponents have fallen into the very trap warned against in Psalm 106. They have adopted the customs of the world around them and worshipped its idols. They are ‘boasting in the way the world does’ (v.18). They have boasted of their achievements, they have wallowed in a culture of fame, success and showy rhetoric.
Their boasting forces Paul into a different kind of boasting. They, like the world, were boasting about their strengths. Paul says that if he must boast he ‘will boast of the things that show [his] weakness’ (v.30).
He lists some of the things that he has been through. It is not the usual list of things about which most people would boast. Rather they are, almost entirely, a list of things of which most people would be ashamed even to mention, let alone celebrate.
They include often being in prison, being flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, stoned with rocks once, shipwrecked, exposed to many dangers, hungry and thirsty, cold and naked (vv.23–27). The list culminates with what might appear to be a rather shameful escape from an arrest (vv.32–33).
In addition to all this, Paul lists his hard work (v.23), his travels (v.26) – ‘I have laboured and toiled and often gone without sleep’ (v.27) – the daily pressure of his concern (anxiety) for all the churches (v.28) and the pain he experiences when Christians are led into sin (v.29). He had plenty of anxiety, stress and challenges in his life.
Yet in spite of all this, Paul often spoke about the peace of God that he experienced and prayed for others to experience. God’s ‘perfect peace’ does not mean that there are no trials to face. What is extraordinary about his peace is that it is promised in spite of the trials. I cannot begin to imagine how it is possible to experience perfect peace in prison, being flogged, shipwrecked, constantly in danger, and much more besides. Yet this is what the apostle Paul seems to have experienced.
He 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, [that is ‘perfect peace’], which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:6–7).
As E.H. Bickersteth wrote, ‘Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin? The Blood of Jesus whispers peace within.’
Lord, help us in our trials, criticism, bereavement, temptations, sicknesses and concern for all the churches. Even in the dark places, help me to live in such a way as to know your ‘perfect peace’.
Isaiah writes, ‘You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast [‘whose mind is stayed on You’, AMP] because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal’ (26:3–4). This is the secret of perfect peace. It comes from trust in the Lord, in spite of the trials and temptations: ‘We trusted in him, and he saved us’ (25:9).
When we think too much about tomorrow – the problems, challenges and responsibilities we are going to face – we can easily become worried and anxious. Yet, in all the trials and temptations of life, God promises to keep you in perfect peace if you turn your thoughts to God and keep your mind ‘stayed’ on him, trusting in him.
In today’s reading, Isaiah seems to be foreseeing the end of the world. There is going to be a devastating judgment (chapter 24). Yet it will also be a day of triumph (chapter 25).
He foresees a heavenly banquet: ‘On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines’ (25:6), ‘he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth’ (v.8).
Isaiah appears to get a glimpse of the new heaven and the new earth spoken of in the book of Revelation when God ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Revelation 21:4).
The prophet goes on to say, ‘Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy’ (Isaiah 26:19). Arguably, this is the first clear reference in the Bible to individual bodily resurrection. It points to the bodily resurrection of Jesus, who is ‘the firstborn from among the dead’ (Colossians 1:18).
Jesus has conquered death and thereby defeated the fear of death and with it every other fear and anxiety. Because of Jesus, your future is totally secure. You do not need to be worried or anxious about death or anything else. Trust him with your future, turn your thoughts towards him and begin to experience his constant and perfect peace.
Lord, ‘my soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you… you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us… your name alone do we honour’ (Isaiah 26:9,12–13).
Lord, I commit to you all the possible causes of anxiety at the moment… and I put my trust in you.
‘You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.’
There is so much that I could worry about. I am going to make a list of the first things that come to mind, and then give them over to God and try to bask in that ‘perfect peace’.
Verse of the Day
‘You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you’ (Isaiah 26:3).
Bear Grylls, Mud, Sweat and Tears, (Channel 4, 2012).
E.H. Bickersteth, ‘Peace, Perfect Peace’, (1875)
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979,1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)