“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.”
Before we answer the question is peace possible- the question “is peace real” must be addressed.
Answered prayers have a way of ushering in peace. Joy filled me in ways I cannot even begin to explain when I recognized that God reached down and touched my circumstance. Joy has a way of filling us up so we see the beauty in the moment and the hope for tomorrow. But what happens when the moment is gone?
I had a conversation with a dear friend once who brought me to a place of contemplation when they asked, “How can peace be real when we are surrounded in chaos?” A great question- one that I will let the Lord answer.
In 1 Kings 19 we meet a prophet named Elijah. Elijah too had just witnessed a mighty move as God sent fire from heaven in answer to his prayer. In response to God’s move, his life was threatened and verse 3 tells us that Elijah was afraid. I don’t know about you, but I have had mountain-top moments when the Holy Spirit moves in, through, or even for me and in the moment I can feel his power and his strength; but then afterward, the enemy sneaks in the back door and tempts me to question everything. I wonder if Elijah could relate? “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (1Kings 19:4b). Elijah was weary and afraid- he wanted no more; but God knew Elijah’s heart, he knew he was weary and so he had a plan.
Friend, have you been in this place? You’ve faced your affliction and trusted God but then you get weary anyway until- “I’m done!” is all you can say. Yes, I’ve been there too. The overwhelming emotion that arises when things are out of my control is just too much. But watch what happens next.
“All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water” (1 Kings 19:5b). Allow me the latitude to analogize for a moment- you’re down in your cups telling the Almighty that you can't go on even another step and what does he do? He serves you a frothy hot mocha with a blueberry muffin as he says, “You’ve got this.”
The angel’s gift strengthens our friend for a moment until we see Elijah holed up in a cave after traveling forty days. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” The Lord asks him in verse 9. To which Elijah replies, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1 Kings 19:10). Hmm, was our friend Elijah allowing his feelings to lead as he faced the old spirits of fear and rejection? And if I may share in a moment of introspection- how easy is it for me to do the same?
The Lord tells Elijah to go out and stand on the mountain in his presence. “Then a powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire” (1 Kings 19:12a). Here it comes- chaos. But do you see what I see? God was not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire. So where was he? The end of verse 12 gives us a clue: “And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”
Wow, I don’t know about you dear Friend, but this story is convicting me! It is in moments when the challenge heats up, the fire rages and the flames overwhelm that I am crying out to God- where are you? I don’t realize that in my acceptance of fear, worry and rejection I BECOME part of the chaos. In fact, I am allowing my feelings to lead me into the chaos. So that’s all I can see- all I can hear. But what if instead, God wants us to look up and listen for his gentle whisper? What if he wants us to see that he never left? What if his peace is found here?
If truth be told, listening has not always been my forte and neither is being still. The responsibility that I have struggled with from the age of six has haunted me. Fear of rejection has pushed me to commit to more than I can manage. I’ve found it much too easy to accept chaos as the norm; but God calls us to something bigger- he calls us to transcend the chaos and look to him. And when we look to him, he gives us the tools we need to both listen and be still.
So is peace real? Jesus gave us a promise, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). What things did Jesus tell his disciples? That a time was coming when they would be scattered. Yes, chaos was coming, but in this teaching the disciples would learn a beautiful truth- that peace is a Person. Jesus, the prince of Peace has overcome this world (chaos and all) and therefore, regardless of the affliction we face, we can have peace in him.
So how is peace possible today? When facing the fire- we look up. We stand firm on the promises of God without allowing our feelings to lead us. Just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo did in the blazing furnace- they focused on their peace, Jesus, and walked out of the furnace un-singed. We must do the same.
What does this look like practically? There is a prayer in Psalms 139 that answers this question much better than I: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalms 139:23-24). This prayer lays out four steps that help us to find peace:
Search me and know my heart: Here we are surrendering our heart to God. He already knows our heart, but we are giving him permission to search out every dark corner and crevice and shine light in the dark places that lead us away from him.
Test me and know my anxious thoughts: We all have anxious thoughts. Remember, the spirit of fear loves to brand our mind with them. But we are not bound to them. When the Lord allows us to see the anxious thoughts we are harboring- he is offering us a lifeline of hope to give these thoughts to him and allow him to heal the places they have seared.
See if there is any offensive way in me: Consider this a fresh moment for surrender. This one is hard. Just as we all have anxious thoughts, we also have offenses such as un-forgiveness, bitterness and sin that we have harbored. Truly anything that draws us away from the Father allows for a wall to be erected that chaos loves to scale. When we allow God to shine light on these walls, we in turn repent (turn back to him) and allow him to tear them down so can enjoy the full access we have in him.
Lead me in the way everlasting: This is my favorite! Remember how I shared the declaration of victory that we make when we surrender to God? Our victory and therefore our peace is possible as God leads. In this declaration we move from a feeling-led life into a Jesus-led life. He has declared victory on our behalf- and when we follow him we receive all of the promises of God- including peace. So yes, peace is not only possible, it is ours forever!
Elijah transcended his own understanding when he allowed the Lord to shine light on his fear. And in return God brought him from the valley to the mountaintop as he showed him his glory! He will do the same for us when we surrender and allow him to lead us into his peace. But don’t be surprised if first, he makes you wait.
Father, thank you for mountaintop experiences such as this. Thank you for drawing us to yourself and not only showing us your peace but filling us to overflowing. I pray for the person reading this book that you will help them to look up and out of their challenge, to follow you and to find your perfect peace. Lead them, Lord, into your way everlasting.
In Jesus’ Name