Category Archives: rest

Whispers of peace

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons to bless the people of Israel with this special blessing: ‘May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. may the Lord show you his favour and give you his peace.’

(Numbers 6.22-26)

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf…then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honoured around the world. And he will be the source of peace.

(Micah 5.2-5)

Our world has been tormented and scarred by warfare and disharmony between individuals and nations ever since the beginning; we are incapable of living peaceably together. But the kind of peace which is being promised all through the bible narrative is much more than simply that absence of conflict for which we long. The Hebrew word which we translate as peace, is ‘shalom’, and it has a much richer meaning including a sense of completion; health; thriving and fulfillment. All the barriers to fullness of life will be gone, and every created being will be able to rejoice without fear or restriction in what and who God made them to be.

The story of how the people of Israel should have entered and conquered the land promised to them is for us a picture of the unfettered, fruitful living which God desires for all his children. If the people had obeyed and driven out all the nations living in the land, they would indeed have dwelt in peace, receiving all the blessing God intended for them. Instead they compromised, chose to live alongside the other nations, and in time, were led away from worship of the living God into idolatry, with its disastrous consequences of destruction and exile. It is a warning to us to be aware of those things in our lives which we know pull us away from God, and which we yet cherish. Where then will our peace go?

This side of the winding up of time, we cannot hope for complete peace, the power and consequences of sin in our broken world are too much present. But as followers of Jesus we can trace this promise of peace, of wholeness and freedom to thrive, with confidence that it  applies to us. We live between the first coming of the one who – as Micah said – is the ‘source of our peace’, and his triumphant return, when all the opposing forces will be finally swept away.

In his letter to the Roman church – which experienced appalling persecution and had little hope of ‘peace’ in the sense of being free from assault – Paul writes these incredible words:

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

(Romans 5.1-4)

We have peace, that freedom from grinding fear, because we are already regarded by God as right with him – no longer at enmity with him – all through Christ’s redeeming work on the cross. None of the the things that ultimately matter can be damaged or stolen from us – our Saviour has made us secure for ever and we will share God’s glory.

And not one of the difficulties which yet lie ahead, or which have dogged our lives for years, can undermine that peace. In fact, Paul seems to be saying that because we are safe in Christ, our very difficulties can be received as sources of blessing because God is at work through them to make us more like Christ – more like the glorious original he had in mind when he conceived us!

We need not worry, or fret that our struggles or sufferings will endanger our relationship with God because NOTHING can do that, and so we can accept each one with a peaceful heart. What a wonderful reason for celebration as we look forward to celebrating again the birth of the Prince of Peace, and praying once more with fervour for his speedy return!

And by the way…

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

(1Thessalonians 5.23&24)

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 1.3-6)

I think I have written before about how I have been blest throughout my christian life by teachers who believe that all of scripture is God-breathed and necessary to my growth in faith and godliness. I am thankful to them for their faithfulness in helping me to study unattractive texts, and learning how to hear God’s voice as I read lists in Numbers, and gloomy, violent curses in the minor prophets!

But there are bits of the bible which I find much easier to learn from than others – namely the Psalms, and the apostolic letters in the new testament (basically everything after the book of Acts, but possibly not Revelation!). The writers of the letters to the young churches were urgent and focussed in their messages, and every phrase counts. The letter to the church in Rome is perhaps the ‘meatiest’ in that it requires careful reading and thought to follow all Paul’s reasoning. Some of the others are more direct and even pithy, as the authors fire out clear instructions to the young believers about how to live godly lives, to recognise and deal with heresy, and to bear witness under severe persecution.

I love instructions, for every area of life! I am the person who is most unhappy when faced with a responsibility or task for which she can find no ‘this is how to do it right’ kind of manual, so it is perhaps understandable that these relatively short letters appeal to me so much. Of course, the fact that the instructions are so clear does not mean that they are easy to fulfill – how many of us can truthfully say that we are always ‘alert and self-controlled’, or that we always ‘live in peace with each other’? But these types of writings do help us enormously to see what christian love should look like, when lived out with God’s help, in our daily lives. They help us to put high-sounding sentiment into hard demanding action, dealing with the sometimes brutal realities of life for ourselves and other people.

In his letter to the very young church in Thessalonica, Paul has been principally concerned to encourage and strengthen them in the face of persecution, and self-doubt, and the whole tone of the writing is full of wonderful affection for the new believers whom he had to abandon so early in their growth in faith. The latter half of the final chapter however is an almost breathless list of things which Paul asks them to do. One can almost picture the apostle realising that he has only limited space or time left in which to complete his writing, and so his thought becomes concentrated on the really important things he wants to say – and how briefly he can say them!

After firing out ‘respect those who work hard among you;‘ and ‘help the weak, be patient with everyone‘, he goes on to even briefer and harder hitting phrases, ‘ be joyful always‘, ‘test everything‘ and ‘avoid every kind of evil‘. We are left almost breathless, and certainly rather daunted by the weight behind his bullet points! Who could ever hope to keep up this level of perfection in the daily battle of following Jesus in a world which rejects him, where the remnant of sin in our own selves so easily drags us off course?

And so the great apostle suddenly changes tack, the whole tone of the writing changes again, as his compassion for his audience swells up and he remembers that they – like himself – are still frail human creatures, easily discouraged and vulnerable to despair. He launches into a great prayer to God on their behalf, a prayer which puts all the burden back where it belongs, into the hands of their Creator, Redeemer, Father and Lord. It is God who is called to make them perfect – to ‘sanctify them’ and to make sure that when Jesus returns, they are still safe within his grasp.

We are called to the utmost effort in loving obedience, but it is God who is responsible for creating perfection in us – what a relief! And what joy and peace there is for us in those wonderful words, ‘The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it!’ 

Amen Lord, so let it be!

In the quiet places

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

(2 Peter 1.3&4)

In a way, it is so very simple – a walk in the park, as some might say! As believers in Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Lord, growing in knowledge of him, we receive from God the power to live godly lives, participating in the very nature of God himself. It sounds so easy, and straightforward, and gloriously complete – we receive ‘everything we need’. So why does my life not speak more clearly of God’s love and glory, why do I fall into despair, doubt, self-pity and resentment so readily? I have been a follower of Jesus for over 3 decades and was raised in a christian home, surely by now I should not be falling into these traps!

There are two things to be wary of here. The first is the temptation to fall into sin by comparing myself to others, or to some imagined standard which I ought by now to have obtained. I believe this is indeed a sin, and the work of the devil in effectively turning my attention firmly back to myself and away from Jesus. I refuse to trust my own assessment of the state of my soul, and when I find myself falling into this trap, I return to such glorious promises as Paul gave the church in Philippi , where he affirms his confidence that God “who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” The only important thing to cling to is that one day, God will be finished, and it is His business to know when that is!

The other trap is to be so preoccupied by my shortcomings and sins, that I fail to recognise the sensitivity of my spirit as a healthy sign! It is only as we grow in knowledge of the beauty and perfection of Jesus as God is revealed to us through him, that we become increasingly aware of the blight and poison of sin. So although I am saddened by my sins, yet I can also give thanks to God that I am more aware of them and more than ever dependent on his forgiveness and mercy.

In this sense, it is our knowledge of Jesus which does indeed give us all we need for life and godliness. Through understanding what he accomplished for us on the cross, we learn that sin truly has no more power over us, and we are free from its dominion. It can mar, but not destroy, and while we will strive against it as long as we dwell in these bodies, yet in Christ we are victorious over it. Our knowledge of the riches which we have in Christ, as beloved children of the God of heaven, sets us free from coveting the things of this world and this life, free to give and not count the cost, to spend our lives in loving and serving.

But what does this transforming knowledge look like in the mess and noise of daily life? There is no opportunity in the middle of a crisis, or a manic day at the office, to go and find it, no time to sit and meditate on a psalm to bring about a calm frame of mind! I believe very strongly that we must take the opportunities of the quiet times and places to build up our knowledge of and relationship with Jesus, so that our thoughts and reactions begin to mirror him instinctively. Do I make full use of the ‘means of grace’ as they are sometimes called – of the teaching of the word at my church; of bible study with friends; of prayer (alone and with others); of the sacrament of communion? Do I chose to use my free time for God, putting myself in his presence and meditating on his word? To fail to do so, is like an athlete who enrols for a marathon and then fails to do the training and wonders why she fails to complete the race.

I am certainly not saying that we can ever be sufficiently prepared so that every trial and test finds us unshakeable! But I do need to challenge myself to fully embrace my quiet places and times as opportunities to pursue deeper knowledge of Christ and sweeter fellowship with him. May our gracious God grant me the hunger and the discipline I need!