Fruitful Living: Live in Peace!
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Philippians 4:4-7 ~ Sunday, June 30, 2019
Noted physician and author, Lewis Thomas, once wrote: “Man has always been a specifically anxious creature with an almost untapped capacity for worry; it is a gift that distinguishes him from other forms of life” (Quoted in How Your Church Family Works, by Peter L. Steinke, p. 13). Though this quality sets us apart from other life forms, this observation is more a critique than a compliment. What is it about human beings that makes us prone to worry and stress? Consider these 8 traits that seem to be characteristic of those prone to stress from an article in a Christian publication: 1) Plans day unrealistically; 2) First to arrive, last to leave; 3)Always in a hurry; 4) Makes no plan for relaxation; 5) Feels guilty about doing anything other than work; 6) Sees unforeseen problem as a setback or disaster; 7) Is always thinking about several other things when working; 8) Feels need to be recognized and overextends because of this. (Leadership, vol 1, #3, p. 99).
No wonder there’s so much stress in the world today! After all, isn’t this just the way life is in our modern world? It might be…but does it have to be? God doesn’t think so. Especially as we’re considering the quality of peace as a fruit of his Spirit’s presence in our lives. When you feel stress coming on, remember what the Holy Spirit urges of you through the words of the text this morning: Live in Peace! Live in peace because 1) the Lord takes away your fears. Live in peace because 2) The Lord guards your life.
Have you ever felt stressed out as you’re trying to de-stress your life? The concerns of daily life have wound you tighter than a drum – you feel as if you’re going to snap – and so you tell yourself, “unwind and settle down.” But you end up feeling more tension because despite telling yourself to be at peace you just can’t seem to settle down. You become even more stressed out over the fact that you’re stressed out.
Listen to where St. Paul directs your focus: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:4-6). Paul is doing more than simply saying: don’t be anxious. He’s giving you a way out from this stress.
The key is to: rejoice. Why? Because God is watching over us and God is listening to us and God will answer us! We have a Savior God who loves us. And the love of Jesus alleviates our fears. Fear is a primary driver of stress. Where do our fears come from? Maybe you’re afraid about losing control over your life. Perhaps you worry about what might go wrong. Maybe what keeps you up at night is the unknown, all the bad things that could happen to you that you’re not even aware could happen. Our fears are fed by our limitations. We have limited strength, limited knowledge, limited awareness. If it was just you against the world, you would have every reason to be completely stressed out all the time.
But it’s not just you and your limitations against the world! You have an unlimited God. Because that’s your reality Paul can confidently say to you and me: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Some time ago, Arlene had abdominal surgery for a blocked intestine. She nearly died because her intestines became gangrenous. Her recovery from the surgery was long and difficult. The doctors notified Arlene that the surgery had resulted in intestinal scar tissue. She might have another blockage and need further surgery. That wasn’t what Arlene wanted to hear.
After Arlene finally recovered from the surgery, her first outing was to church. Friends welcomed her back and let her know she had been missed. However, three separate people told her they had had the same surgery – more than once! These attempts to comfort Arlene were unsuccessful, as she began to be afraid. She became convinced she would have to have another operation. Each time the abdominal pain recurred, Arlene panicked. During the three months immediately following the initial surgery, Arlene experienced several intestinal infections. As a result, she made several trips to the emergency room and even spent a week in the hospital on one occasion. Her fears increased.
Four months after her surgery Arlene flew across the country to give a seminar about godly goal-setting. All went well until she was at the airport for her return flight. The familiar pain came back. It was worse than ever before. Arlene forced herself to take slow, deep breaths. She prayed, “God, help me get home. Don’t make me have to go through another operation. Please, God.”
As the plane was loaded for the six-hour flight back to her home, Arlene’s pain increased. She wasn’t sure she could bear it. But with a gentle message of caring, God saw that Arlene was seated in the only row on the whole plane that had two other empty seats. This allowed Arlene to lie down, clutch a pillow to her stomach, and attempt to ease her pain.
For the first two hours of the flight, Arlene fought the pain. Her body tensed with anxiety and fear, making the pain worse. Arlene rebelled against the surety that she would be back in the hospital that very evening. She cried tears of self pity. The pain was increasing. Arlene felt angry that God wasn’t answering her prayer for relief. But she resigned herself to the possibility she would need surgery.
Arlene took a piece of paper and wrote a note to the flight attendant explaining the pain she was experiencing. She wrote down her husband’s name and her medical insurance card number, and said that if she couldn’t communicate her needs when they arrived that her husband would be there and would know what to do. Arlene folded the note and slipped it into the seat pocket in front of her so the flight attendant would find it, if necessary. Then Arlene lay back, closed her eyes, and prayed once more for help.
As Arlene prayed, she realized that God had seen her through the first operation and the long recovery. She acknowledged that God would give her the strength to survive a second one if necessary. She didn’t have to be afraid. She took a deep breath and decided to let go of her fear.
Suddenly Arlene felt a sense of peace cover her entire body and sink into her very soul. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was with her. She experienced the reassurance that no matter what happened, God would walk the journey with her. Arlene relaxed enough to sleep for the remainder of the journey. As she slept, her pain subsided and she was able to go home and recuperate without medical intervention. The fear she had lived with for the last four months was gone! (Listen to the Heart, Story Meditations on the Fruit of the Spirit, pp. 41-43).
Finding freedom from fear and the stress it induces is the fruit of a heart-to-heart relationship with God. As you focus on him and his words can you sense your stress melting away? Paul anticipates that impact, identifying what happens as we see ourselves in the hands of our mighty God and loving Savior: “And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). That’s the result. God gives peace as a free gift. Through the perfect life and innocent death of his Son, God had made peace with the world. That’s what the gospel tells us. This peace is so comprehensive, so complete, it exceeds our ability to completely wrap our minds around it.
So rather than try to explain it, allow me to share a story that illustrates it: Two artists were challenged to paint a scene that described peace. One filled the canvas with a quiet mountain stream, surrounded by aspens, and set in front of two of Colorado’s snow-capped peaks. Their summits stretched skyward into a multihued sunset. The scene’s peaceful hush could be felt if not heard.
The other artist captured a broad roaring waterfall, foaming with white water and spewing a cloud of foggy water particles. In the center of the falls was a tiny tuft of ground where a gnarled but hearty tree lifted its leafed branches. Nestled among the branches was a bird’s nest in which a mother bird patiently sat atop her eggs. Ready-to-pounce danger stalked all around her. The thunder of the falls threatened to overwhelm her. Yet there in the muscled arms of that well-rooted tree, she and her soon-to-hatch chicks were safe. She was at peace.
The peace the Spirit gives us through our Savior Jesus isn’t about taking away every trouble or trial in life. The Spirit’s peace doesn’t promise we’ll never have frustrations or pain. But the Holy Spirit does commit himself to defend us in danger, to help us in hurt, to protect us in pain.
Jesus is the reason we know he will keep that promise. The night before he died, our Savior assured his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). Then he secured that peace for us as he allowed himself to be captured by his enemies, tortured, crucified, and killed. When he met his disciples on Easter evening, he reminded them of the peace they now had. “Peace be with you” (John 20:19) were the first words from his mouth.
He calms the fears of his people. Reassuring us that He truly is for us, for he has taken away the greatest source of fear in our lives, the fear our sins cause. Through the cross of Jesus God brings us to see that he loves us, that he forgives us, that he really is working all things out for us and our spiritual and eternal good. Because Jesus has given us the peace of sins forgiven and adoption as God’s children, what real harm can come to us? God loves us too much not to take care of us. We can rest in the nest of his hands, in the arms of the mighty oak he is, and not be troubled in the least by the noise and nuisance that flow around us. In Jesus we have peace. Amen.