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Peace or Anxiety – You Choose!

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7‬ ‭NIV‬‬

When the apostle Paul wrote these familiar words, he was nearing the end of his two years of house arrest in Rome, which ended with his death as a martyr.  Based on a vision in which the Lord stood near Paul and told him he must testify in Rome (Acts‬ ‭23:11‬), Paul’s life took a drastic turn. When he testified in Jerusalem before King Agrippa, Paul appealed to Caesar and was escorted to Rome under armed guard. The apostle Paul spent the final two years of his life chained‬ to a Roman guard, but they were not wasted years. During that time, he wrote the books of the New Testament that we now know as Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, in addition to proclaiming the kingdom of God and boldly teaching all who came to see him about the Lord Jesus Christ.

As I did a study of the book of Acts earlier this year, reading the stories of Paul, Peter and the other apostles, their surrender to the revealed will of God, regardless of the personal cost involved, was something that stood out to me.  These leaders of the early church had a clear understanding of the subject of surrender, and they lived it out in their daily lives.

But Paul and the other apostles were also fallible humans, just like we are. We tend to put these men up on a pedestal, but I can’t help but wonder if before the apostle Paul wrote these words that teach us how to overcome anxiety he lived them out. The circumstances he faced certainly could have caused anxiety. I suspect Paul learned through personal experience how to replace anxious thoughts with the peace of God. And then he put what he had applied in his own life in writing, leaving us clear instructions on how we overcome anxiety.

When I saw Philippians 4:6-7 was one of the three focus Scriptures for this first week of our I Give Up: The Secret Joy of a Surrendered Life Bible study, my first reaction was to wonder what these verses have to do with surrender. But as I’ve faced some circumstances that have caused some fear and anxiety about what lies ahead, I’m beginning to look at Philippians 4:6 through a different lens. The words “in every situation” stand out to me. I don’t know what your “every situation” might include, but mine right now feels a little scary.

Since all the options for treating the recent changes in my left knee have led to dead ends, I don’t know what lies ahead. Yes, I know I need to pray, but I’m having a little trouble with the specific requests since at this point I can’t see God’s plan. I’ve been taking time daily to express thankfulness to the Lord, but I can’t honestly say I’m walking in the peace of God. So how do we get to that place when we know something is wrong but we are powerless to change it? When we see no way out of our situation and don’t know what God is doing?

Laura Story tells of struggling with this when she was expecting their youngest son. After several normal ultrasounds, one wasn’t. Something was wrong, and she experienced anxiety about what was ahead. She says, “Now I knew something would be wrong, and I was powerless to change it. What needed to change most was me.”

She and Martin went to talk with their good friend and pastor, Bill. His advice was that this was a time they needed to wait on the Lord.

Laura agreed that she needed to wait on God, but immediately asked, “What steps do I need to take to do that?”

Bill’s answer was simple. “Wait is wait. There are no steps. You just surrender. And then you sit tight.”

When we face a situation that we are powerless to control and God hasn’t given us understanding of what lies ahead, anxiety may be our reaction. So what do we do in this situation? I’ll share how I usually handle this type of anxiety.

  • Surrender is the first step. Turn the reins over to God. He knows the end from the beginning, and He has the power to bring good out of even those situations that have our emotions in turmoil. Our first prayer is a prayer of surrender
  • Be still and remember He is God. He is still in control. Remember your situation isn’t too big for Him to handle.
  • Immerse yourself in God’s Word – read it, write it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it.
  • Then wait. Wait on God and keep waiting until He reveals a step you need to take or your situation changes. Don’t jump ahead of Him, but when He speaks be quick to obey.
  • Finally, give thanks that He is God and in control of your circumstances. Thank Him for the things He is teaching you though this situation, for the work He is doing in your life as you wait on Him.

Situations that we are powerless to control are NOT beyond God’s control. Surrender to His plan, draw close to Him, and wait expectantly for Him to work. Your circumstances may not change overnight, but you will begin to change.

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The Futility of Worry

For many years before we lost our 34 year old special-needs son David last November, I battled worry about the time the Lord would take him home to heaven. Early in his life, we had been told David probably would not live into his teens, so once he passed this milestone my anxiety just kept growing. Each time he was hospitalized, especially when he had pneumonia, I was filled with anxiety that this might be the time. And when he was well, other worries consumed my thoughts, often keeping me awake at night.

When this event I had dreaded for years actually came, one of the things that stood out to me above everything else was the peace I experienced, truly a peace that passed all understanding. As my husband and I sat at David’s bedside, releasing him to the Lord, while we were sorrowful we also were at peace. This was so obvious that the nurses in charge of our son’s care in those final hours commented to my husband that the atmosphere in David’s room was totally different from what they usually see when a family member passes away. 

What was the difference in my imaginations and in the actual event? In simple terms, God promises grace in our time of need. But when the “need” is simply in our minds, no grace is promised.

This week’s Teach Me Tuesday post focused on the importance of living in the “right now,” especially during times when it seems like someone has pushed the “pause” button in our lives. Warren Wiersbe said of the danger of not living in the present moment, “Most Christians are being crucified on a cross between two thieves: Yesterday’s regret and tomorrow’s worries.” Yesterday’s regrets cripple us because they leave us in the past, which we can do nothing to change. But living with anxiety or worry is equally damaging to our ability to live today in the way God intends.

Worry is a result of turning our attention on the future. It is the result of anticipating negative future events that may never happen. Even if the things we are worrying about actually will happen sometime in the future, worrying about them will do nothing to change that.  Worry about tomorrow accomplishes nothing, and it keeps us from living today to the fullest.  It does nothing to improve tomorrow, but it empties us of the strength to live the way God is calling us to today. 

Elisabeth Elliot said, “Worry is the antithesis of trust. You simply cannot do both. They are mutually exclusive.” Worry is rooted in thinking God is not big enough to take care of us. It is an indication we are putting trust in our limited resources and understanding instead of in the God who loved us enough to send His Son to the Cross so that we could be forgiven and restored to relationship with Him.

On this Thankful Thursday, let’s renew our commitment to live in the present, walking through life one day at a time as Jesus says we should do. When we’re tempted to give place to anxious thoughts, let’s remember the instruction God has given in this area. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 4:6-7 NLT)

Let’s also thank God for His invitation to bring the burdens on our hearts to His throne of grace. In our pain He offers help. He just wants us to learn to handle our times of need in the way His Word teaches us. “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT)

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The Grace of God

One of the devotions I use regularly during my personal quiet time chose 1 Corinthians 15:10 as the key verse for Monday’s devotional. (All verses in ESV unless otherwise noted.)

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

I always look up the verse in my Bible to see the context in which it was used, and with this verse I sensed it was time for some more in-depth study. This passage begins with a reminder of the gospel message in a nutshell. Written by the apostle Paul, in verses 3 – 5 he says:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

‭‭Then next four verses tell of the appearances of the resurrected Christ to His apostles, ending with Paul’s own visitation on the road to Damascus. In verse 9, he identifies himself as “the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle“, because of being a persecutor of the church prior to his conversion. And then Paul speaks of the grace of God in verse 10.

After studying a verse in context, one of my favorite online resources for gaining a clearer understanding of a verse or passage of Scripture is the website preceptaustin.org, which often has a detailed commentary and other resources to help me see the verse in light of the whole of Scripture. I decided to check that out today, and found some help getting a clearer understanding of what Paul was trying to communicate in this verse.

First, this resource gives the verse being studied in a variety of translations. As I read through the list, one version stood out to me for it’s clarity, one I seldom use in my personal study. In the Barclay translation, this verse reads:

“It is by the grace of God that I am what I am, and his grace to me has not proved ineffective, but I have toiled more exceedingly than all of them, but it was not I who achieved anything but God’s grace working with me.”

The commentator on this passage, who is a retired physician, points out that grace is used “in triplicate” in this verse. He compares 1 Corinthians 15:10 to a prescription from God, written in triplicate, for “spiritual health” in both our personal lives and in our ministry to others.

By the grace of God that I am what I am

Most of us have a basic understanding of the meaning of grace. The Greek word for grace, “charis,” means undeserved favor given to us. There are two main kinds of grace taught in the New Testament, saving grace. This is the kind of grace spoken of in Ephesians 2:8-9.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

‭‭Paul definitely acknowledged this kind of grace in his life, but this isn’t the kind of grace he is focusing on in this verse. The second type of grace has been called sanctifying grace. This is the daily grace God extends to us as Christians that empowers us to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Sanctifying grace is the ongoing work of the indwelling Holy Spirit that enables us to grow spiritually, so that we become better representatives of the Lord to those around us. It is the process described in Romans 8:29, and it will continue until the day we see Jesus face to face.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

His grace toward me was not in vain

The proud Saul of Acts 7 who was rejoicing over Stephen’s stoning and who “was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” in Acts 8:3 is gone. And more than his name was changed. He had been changed on the inside. And God’s grace was responsible for the change, first in bringing Saul to saving grace and then in changing him into Paul through His sanctifying grace, a key instrument of God in spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth and author of much of the New Testament. The message for us here: The grace of God in our lives is effective in accomplishing His purposes in and through us.

His grace in our work and ministry.

The third mention of grace in this verse is the one that caught my attention. Paul worked diligently at the tasks God had called him to do. But the changed Paul took no credit for what he had accomplished. Instead, he acknowledged anything achieved in and through his life was the result of God’s grace. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8,

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

‭‭‭Paul further explains this in Philippians 2:12-13,

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

‭‭Yes, we have a part in living the successful Christian life. Our part is choosing to walk in obedience. But total obedience isn’t something we can accomplish in our own strength. If so, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to send the Holy Spirit to empower us to live the life He calls us to live.

  • Grace is what brings us to Christ.
  • Grace is what helps us grow more like Jesus.
  • Grace is what empowers us to do the work of the Kingdom that God has prepared beforehand for us to do.

The Holy Spirit is the member of the Godhead who offers us saving grace and sanctifying grace, and He is also our source of empowering grace for the work God has called us to do.

Are you in need of God’s grace today? I sure am. If you don’t already know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, if you haven’t put your faith in Him for forgiveness of sin, don’t put this life-changing decision off another day. You need God’s saving grace and the Holy Spirit you will receive the moment you surrender your life to Jesus.

If you already have become a Christian, did you know that sanctification is a work of grace, accomplished as we cooperate with the indwelling Holy Spirit? Or are you trying to change your “problem areas” in your own strength? Paul described the results of doing this is Romans 7:14-15, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” We have a part in the process – renewing our minds in God’s Word, choosing to lay down our will and walk in obedience – but the needed power to walk out His will comes from the Holy Spirit within all believers. The Holy Spirit will bring both conviction concerning areas that need to change and the power to make those changes.

Are you struggling with seeing what purpose God has for this season of your life? Is there something you believe God is calling you to do but don’t have any idea how to get started? In this area too, God’s grace is the answer. The indwelling power of the Holy Spirit is given to make us God’s witnesses in the neighborhood and city where we live, the surrounding area, and even to the ends of the earth if that’s a part of God’s calling on your life.

Gratefulness and Peace Always

In last week’s Thankful Thursday post we looked at how the joy of the Lord and thankfulness are related (https://wordpress.com/post/hopeandlight.blog/4208).

This week we’ll be studying a verse from Colossians that links gratitude and peace.

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” Colossians‬ ‭3:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Or as the same verse says in the Amplified Bible:

“Let the peace of Christ [the inner calm of one who walks daily with Him] be the controlling factor in your hearts [deciding and settling questions thatul arise]. To this peace indeed you were called as members in one body [of believers]. And be thankful [to God always].”

‭I especially like the Amplified version of this verse, because it defines “the peace of Christ” as an inner calm that comes to those who daily walk with the Lord. This is the kind of peace God has made available for us as followers of Jesus Christ, and this walk is the key to being thankful to God at all times.

God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness, a group I work with, it currently doing a study written by Jodie Barrett and Donna Fender of Faithfully Following Ministries and entitled Verse By Verse, Growing Closer to God. One of this week’s lessons was on the importance of having an on-fire relationship with God.

A relationship with the Lord that is not vibrant and alive does not provide the peace or thankfulness we desire. Just walking through the motions of picking up our Bible once a day, reading a few verses, and then putting it down and not applying what we read to our daily lives is of little benefit. But an on-fire walk with our Savior, where we abide with Him and stay attached to the Vine for nourishment and strength to do what He asks of us is the type of relationship that brings peace and gratitude.

The peace of Christ is not only the peace we experience when there is no conflict. It includes a sense of wholeness and well-being, completeness and totality, even in the midst of overwhelming trials. Ultimately, the peace of Christ in its essence is the very presence of Christ. It’s the peace that accepts the truth no circumstance is too big that it is beyond God’s control.

And with this inner peace that is born in relationship with God and grows as we walk close to Him through whatever circumstances that touch our lives, comes an attitude of gratitude. I saw this in my own life last November, when in the midst of a situation I had dreaded for years, the loss of our medically fragile son David, God gave supernatural peace.

That peace produced a gratefulness for the Lord in my heart, even in the midst of the deep sorrow and grieving in releasing our son to God’s plan. While the peace was a gift of God’s grace as I spent time in His presence daily, the gratitude began with a choice to be thankful in the midst of the pain. But with that choice, gratitude became a natural fruit of the inner peace.

Do you want to experience both peace and an attitude of gratitude that isn’t shaken regardless of the circumstances that touch your life? If so, the key is to make sure nothing blocks your view of God. Sin does that in our lives, so if the Holy Spirit convicts you of a sin that needs to be confessed and dealt with, don’t ignore it.

As Paul David Tripp said, “Our sin is what separates us from God, but it’s our self righteousness that keeps us from running to Him for the grace He willingly gives to all who come.” Humble yourself and confess any sin God shows you, receive His forgiveness and grace. And you will be set free to walk in God’s peace and with a grateful heart.

Amazing Peace

Yesterday was the six-month anniversary of the day our precious son David graduated to his heavenly home.

The one thing that I dreaded above all others has been a lesson to me that with God peace is possible in even the most heartbreaking situations. If I had to choose one thing to characterize this difficult season of loss, it would definitely be God’s peace. Yes, I’ve grieved the loss of our son, and having him no longer in our lives has resulted in major changes for our family. But beyond all of that, this has been a season of experiencing God’s peace.

Today, Father, I want to thank You for the supernatural and unexplainable peace You have given me during this time I’ve dreaded from the time David was diagnosed with massive infantile spasms at three months of age and we entered the world of being parents of a special-needs child with a limited life expectancy.

I recall all the hospital visits when it didn’t appear David would survive to see another day. When we battled one life-threatening health issue after another, and You brought us through by Your grace. For over thirty-four years, David’s well-being was our primary focus. You provided for his needs miraculously time after time.

We saw David enter his teenage years, which the doctors most acquainted with his extensive medical needs didn’t expect. Then he was approaching age twenty-one and we faced a legal battle so big we couldn’t see a way out, but You made a way. He lived through his twenties and into his thirties, and You never once failed to meet his needs. I’m amazed as I look back on Your goodness in our lives over the past thirty-four plus years.

Yes, Father, we still miss our special son. But this has been a huge lesson in the truth that no matter what You ask us to walk through, Your grace is sufficient. Thank You, Father, that even now I can with confidence confess the promise You gave me when David was admitted to the hospital for testing because his pediatrician was concerned that something was wrong. Yes, the pediatrician was right, but Your Word has sustained me from that day until now.

“Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed…” Psalm 25:3a NASB

Peace In Tough Situations

My devotional reading this morning in Breaking Free Day By Day, by Beth Moore, began with the following question.

“Have you had a time when you were surrendered to Christ in the midst of real difficulty and you found His peace beyond understanding?”

This immediately brought to mind the day in November 2018 when I was in a small room in the emergency center of St. Luke’s Hospital in the Houston Medical Center. We had already been told that our son David was in critical condition, and while the medical staff was doing their best to stabilize him, his private duty nurse and supported home living aide and I were taken to a nearby room to wait. As I sat in that room, it became a sanctuary of God’s presence. The Lord clearly spoke to me that He was ready to take our son to heaven to be with Him. The words brought no fear, no fight, simply a deep willingness to surrender our precious son to the Lord.

For years, as we battled through one life-threatening situation after another in David’s life, I had dreaded the time when God would take him home. Even in recent years, fear of David’s death had been my biggest source of anxiety. Yet as we faced the time of surrendering our special-needs son to the Lord, there was no fear, no dread.

Concerning situations such as this one, Beth Moore said:

“When we are in crisis and finally give up trying to discover all the answers to the whys in our lives, His unexpected peace washes over us like a summer rain… Peace comes only in situations that are completely surrendered to the sovereign authority of Christ.”

Elisabeth Elliot said in the deepest valleys we walk through, we gain the deepest insights about our God. This deep valley has taught me much about God’s peace. The Greek word translated peace, as used in Philippians 4:7, refers to the sense of rest and contentment that comes from living in harmony with God, accomplished through the gospel.

As I read this brief devotional this morning, my eyes were opened to truth of why God spoke to me that day in the hospital. God was not asking my permission to take David home, I already knew that. In reality, He was inviting me to walk through this very painful situation in His peace. Through surrender to His clearly revealed will, I’ve walked through one of the most painful seasons in my life with a deep sense of peace. Yes, we miss our son. Yes, we have grieved his loss. But if I had to find one phrase to characterize these last four months it would be supernatural peace, that peace spoken of in Philippians 4:7 that makes no sense in the natural, that surpasses our human understanding and is a gift from God.

The Benefits of Choosing an Attitude of Gratitude

In recent weeks, my life has been enriched by a Bible study and video series by Tony Evans that our iConnect Bible study class at church has been going through. So when I noticed the following quote on gratefulness by Tony Evans it caught my attention.

“God says to give thanks in everything. That doesn’t mean you need to give thanks FOR everything. You don’t need to give thanks FOR that bad day. Or FOR that bad relationship. Or being passed over at work. Financial hardship. Whatever it is – you are not to give thanks FOR the difficulties, but rather IN the difficulties. That is a very important distinction, and one I think we often miss. Giving thanks IN everything shows a heart of faith that God is bigger than the difficulties and that He can use them, if you approach Him with the right heart and spirit, for your good and His glory.”

Giving thanks in difficulties is an expression of our faith in a good God. It is a practical discipline that teaches us to see our tough circumstances from God’s perspective.

The last several months of my life have been filled with circumstances I would never have chosen. Financial difficulties, needed home repairs that in the natural are an unsurmountable obstacle, a hospitalization with our special needs son David and then his sudden death two weeks ago have made this one of the most challenging seasons of my life.

And yet as I look back on what God has done in my life during this period, I’m amazed. I’ve experienced peace that surpasses all understanding in the loss of our son, a dreaded event which had previously been my biggest source of anxiety. I’ve grown in my knowledge of God more than during any other recent season of life. And as I’ve gotten to know the Lord more intimately, I’ve fallen freshly in love with Him.

Are you facing a situation that you never would have chosen? Realize there is a reason God allowed the details of what you’re going through to touch your life. Recognize He is at work through your circumstances to bring you to a new depth of relationship with Him, to a new level of spiritual maturity as suffering works to conform you to the image of Jesus Christ.

Today, decide to look for the good in your life. Spend time with the Lord, asking Him to help you see your circumstances as He sees them. Focus on the little blessings you see in the midst of the pain – and if you’re like me, I suspect you’ll find they aren’t so little.

Take time today – and every day – to choose an attitude of gratitude to God. And before long, I suspect you’ll find your entire attitude toward life will begin to change. That’s definitely what’s happened in my life – in spite of the fact that the trials our family has been walking through have no end in sight.