“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because He trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for in YAH, the Lord is everlasting strength” (Isaiah 26:3-4).
If I were to ask, “Do you believe in God?” you would probably say, “Why yes, of course.” And if I were to ask, “Do you know God?” you might respond, “Yes, and I wish I knew God better.” But if I were to ask, “Do you have a deep, consistent, abiding sense of peace?” I suspect that you would reply, “No, I don’t.”
It’s interesting that in the Old Testament, the meanings for the words peace and salvation are nearly synonymous. Yet, many of us who claim that we are saved do not experience consistent peace. We don’t need W. H. Auden to tell us that we live in the Age of Anxiety. It’s all around us. The difficulty with most of us is that there’s a great discrepancy between what we believe and how we feel and think. We may be sure that we’re going to live forever, but we sometimes have a hard time getting through life with a daily sense of God’s peace.
A Peace Inventory
I want to be very personal in asking you a few questions. Please try to respond as honestly as you can. Here are four possible responses to the questions: never, seldom, frequently, consistently.
Do you have peace of mind? Is your mind controlled by the Spirit of God? Or is your mind filled with a jumble of unforgiven memories, unresolved plans and frustrating disappointments? Right at this moment can you say that your mind is at peace? Never? Seldom? Frequently? Consistently?
Are your feelings at peace? You know that feelings do matter. How we feel affects how we live and how we relate to others. Do you feel at peace right now? Are you free from smouldering anger, nagging fears, frustration and envy? Never? Seldom? Frequently? Consistently?
Do you have a sense of peace about your desires? Are you clear about God’s will for your life? Do you trust in God’s daily guidance? Are you certain about your goals? Are you free from conflict between what you want and what you sense God wants? Never? Seldom? Frequently? Consistently?
Since your relationships with people have so much to do with how you experience peace, do you let others rob you of inner peace? Are you at peace with others? Never? Seldom? Frequently? Consistently?
And what about circumstances? Do you allow circumstances to disrupt your ability to be at peace? Do you remain calm in the face of trouble? Never? Seldom? Frequently? Consistently?
Finally, is your body at peace? Are you strained by stress, agitation, nervousness? Or are you free from tension, churning stomach, tight muscles, high blood pressure? Do you have a sense of calmness in your body? Never? Seldom? Frequently? Consistently?
The Wholeness of True Peace
Note that this peace inventory includes the whole being–mind, emotions, will, body, relationships and circumstances. That’s because true peace is wholeness–mental health, emotional stability, volitional integration and physical well-being. When this quality of peace reigns in you, it cannot be debilitated by people or circumstances.
True peace cannot be broken by life’s storms. Untainted by care, untouched by the highest surges of sorrow, unstained by unforgiven sin, true peace is indefatigable and actually grows deeper with the challenges and trials of life.
Do you have this kind of pervasive peace? Do I?
Why Don’t We Have Perfect Peace?
So many of us share a longing for lasting peace, but we are unsure of the litmus test of salvation: abiding inner-peace that endures difficult people and disturbing circumstances.
My mind drifts back over the years. I picture the people gathered in my beloved congregations. I search in memory’s cherished album of faces, slipping through the pages in search of anyone I can remember who experienced consistent peace. Then a disturbing thought hits me. Why are there so few people I can recall who exude peace regardless of problems or perplexities? Why don’t I know more of them now? Why is it that true peace seems to be such a rare trait in people who believe in God?
A few faces come to me. They are young and old, rich and poor, highly educated and self-taught, men and women. Yet, they all have this one thing in common: They are unruffled, imperturbable, unflappable, unhurried. They all have perfect peace.
Strangely enough, many of these people have suffered difficult circumstances, endured physical pain and have routinely coped with troublesome people. Yet, each of them manifests a profound, palpable sense of peace. I have felt it when I’ve been with them. They are centered, at ease with themselves and in love with the Lord. Their serenity startles me, their reliance on a silent inner strength inspires me, and their resiliency in tense times always encourages me. What qualities allow these people to experience the kind of peace that is unassailable by the surging storms of life? How would you like to experience that kind of consistent peace? A peace that lasts in the midst of conflict? A peace that holds together when your world falls apart?
There is only one source of that kind of consistent peace–God. Throughout the Bible, language is stretched to distinguish God’s true peace from temporary, transitory peace. Jesus carefully distinguished his peace from the world’s peace. Paul talked about a peace that surpasses all understanding. Peter offered “multiplied peace” to early Christians in his epistle. In each case it is the same: an effort to set divine peace off and above, as something different–something that men and women cannot produce on their own. The Bible is clear: we can’t make peace, but we can receive it.
God’s peace is superlative–excellent, the greatest, matchless, peerless, supreme, unparalleled, unrivaled, unsurpassed. It is so important that we understand the superlative nature of God’s peace as we begin our study of authentic peace. The peace of God is God’s unrivaled authority. God is the Creator, Sustainer and gracious Redeemer of the universe. God is omniscient, knowing all from the beginning to the end; God is omnipotent, all-powerful, dependent on nothing and no one else; God is omnipresent, everywhere and yet present to those who allow God into their lives.
There is unity of purpose in the peace of God: the oneness shared by the persons of the Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is no discord or disagreement between them, only mutual glorification. And there’s no panic in heaven. This is what we mean when we talk about the peace of God. For us, it means accepting the complete control of the One who is in control. There is no real peace without a firm conviction of the sovereignty of God!
Biblical Thought on Peace
The Scriptures designated by the lectionary for today’s service provide a wonderful progression of biblical thought on our theme of peace. Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17:5—10 remind us that the blessed person is like a tree planted by the “rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season.” Peace is a fruit of the Spirit that flows in us when we claim Jesus’ promise that within us shall flow rivers of water, the artesian flow of the Holy Spirit’s peace. And from Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, we are assured that when we hunger for God we shall be filled. In the lesson from 1 Corinthians, we have received the assurance that we belong to the triumphant fellowship of the resurrection. Because Christ lives, we live also–now and forever. Hearing that passage has made this Easter in February. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men [and women] the most pitiable” (1 Cor. 15:19). We have lasting peace, therefore, because we know the source of our strength, the satisfaction of our deepest hunger and the status of our eternal life. That’s shalom, shalom, indeed.
Allen White put it this way, “From the soul that feels his need of God, nothing is withheld. To that soul is given unrestricted access to the one in whom all fullness dwells.” My friend Wintley Phipps interprets that as, “Your passport to God’s heart is your need.”
All this leads to an understanding of the basic text of my message for today. The twenty-sixth chapter of Isaiah is a strategic place to begin to find the answer. It was written as a song for the people of Israel to sing both in repentance and in return to the Lord. Its implications and application for us at the beginning of the twenty-first century are unmistakable. The people of Judah, and especially of Jerusalem, had abandoned the way of faith in God for dependence on foreign powers such as Aram, for collective strength in each other, and for self-reliance. The result was neither political nor personal peace. They did not realize that security cannot be found in associative strength or sturdy self-reliance. It was not until they understood this that they could return to the Lord–the only source of peace in time of turmoil–and sing of God’s majesty and might, glory and goodness, providence and power.
A Mind Stayed on God
The third and fourth verses of Isaiah’s song command attention not just because they are familiar but because they give us secrets to lasting peace. “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for in YAH, the Lord is everlasting strength.” The English words of verse three have been a cherished promise for God’s people through the centuries. “You will keep him in perfect peace.” At first we are tempted to get at the meaning of the quality of peace God offers by defining the word perfect. We say that perfect peace is “complete peace, peace that is found in tranquil surroundings and with agreeable people.” But this only touches the outskirts of what Isaiah meant.
The word perfect is not in the Hebrew text. Rather the word for peace, shalom, is repeated twice: shalom, shalom, like “holy, holy.” This is what Alec Motyer calls a “super-superlative.” “This is unlike other ‘super superlatives’ in the Bible,” according to my friend Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. “In this instance, the second use of the word shalom is not so much for emphasis as it is for definition and interpretation. For example, we might say, ‘John is a fine man, fine in the sense that he is good to his children.’ This can be proven by the fact that in the Hebrew text there is a vertical line in between the two words of shalom to show precisely this idea: shalom/shalom.”
This idiom of duplication distinguishes pseudo peace from God’s peace: total peace encompassing all dimensions of the mind, emotion, will and body as well as relationships, sense of righteousness and perception of justice for living. The first step to this kind of peace, according to Isaiah, is to stay our minds on God. “You will keep him in shalom, shalom whose mind is stayed on You.” The Hebrew word for mind used here is y_ser. It means “the constitution or tendency of the mind,” what we might call a “frame of mind” or a “mind-set”–a total way of looking at things. Another way of putting it would be the “focus of our attention” or “what we have on our minds most of the time.” Y_ser corresponds closely to the Greek word phroneite as used in Philippians 2:5: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Accurately translated, it means: “Let this be your attitude.”
As J.N. Oswald points out in his commentary on Isaiah, y_ser means “mind,” from the root idea “to form.” It is interesting to reflect on Oswald’s footnote: “As a noun, y_ser frequently refers to that which is formed, often thoughts, purposes or intentions. As reflected in the present translation, the Hebrew seems to place “the steadfast mind” in an emphatic position in an independent clause at the beginning of the sentence. Practically, this means that God’s superlative peace is given to those whose minds are intentionally riveted on God. Paternus said to his son, “Bear God on your mind constantly. See Him everywhere for there is no place where He is not.”
We must keep our minds stayed on God. The Hebrew word for stayed is samûk. The wonderful thing is that samûk is a passive participle. It’s something God does. God stays our minds on God. As we start the day, we need only say, “Lord, I belong to you. I’ve been called out of this world to glorify you, to experience your love and forgiveness and to know peace in spite of what’s going on around me. Now Lord, I ask You for what You are more ready to give than I am willing to receive. Stay me, Lord. Stay me on Yourself. Interrupt me. Stop me. Permeate my thoughts. Call me back to You. Keep me stayed on You.”
God will do it. If your mind wanders off, then it wanders off to a place that God wants you to deal with. Don’t worry about a wandering mind. Just follow the wandering, and you’ll end up some place where God wants you to deal with an issue, a relationship, a concern, a problem. Too many people complain, “I begin to pray, and my mind wanders off.” I say, “Wonderful! Let it wander and then bring God with you, and if you bring God into your wandering, you’ll soon find out the thing that’s keeping you from God.”
What a great assurance! You can go to work tomorrow morning knowing that God is not going to let you get God off your mind. God’s not going to let you, because you belong to God. And what about the rest of the day? Do you have to become a victim of people and circumstances? Definitely not! The one confidence nothing and no one can take from you is your ability to pray without ceasing. The shams of life may rage around you, but inside there will be calm because you can pray your way through it all. You can pray in the midst of uncertainties, conflict, turmoil and adversity. Prayer will stay your mind on God and fill your thoughts with God’s peace. You can pray before, during and after challenging conversations with people. You can claim peace when you are in the most alarming, disquieting situations.
You also need to allow the Spirit to stay your mind on the Father in the good things. Peace and praise go together. There’s a renewed, fresh gift of peace in gratitude. Think about God’s signature in the beauty of the natural world, the way God works out solutions to your needs, the wondrous gift of people God uses to help you, and the open doors of opportunity God sets before you. What a wonderful way to live!
Jesus knew this secret. He challenged his disciples–and he challenges us–to seek first the Kingdom of God. I like the way the New English Version of the Bible translates this verse, Matthew 6:33, “Set your mind on God’s Kingdom–before everything else!”
The Kingdom of God is God’s sovereignty in action, God’s reign and rule over everything. So, setting your mind on the Kingdom is the same thing as staying your mind on the rule of God. There is no peace apart from seeking to know and to do God’s will. God’s guidance is not some mysterious set of sealed orders. We can discover far more of God’s will from God’s commandments and from Jesus’ life than most people readily acknowledg