Saturday, October 3, 2015

Enjoy Unshakable Peace


Isaiah 54 is the Lord's Sonnet to Israel, but as with most Old Testament writings, there are applications for God's modern Lady, the Church, and personal applications for individual believers.


Isaiah 54:10

Though the mountains be shaken

    and the hills be removed,

yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken

    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”

    says the Lord, who has compassion on you. (NIV)

John 14:27 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 (NIV).
Covenant of Peace

When we have an accurate understanding of who God is and who we are in His eyes, peace will no longer be elusive. Peace will be our default. That’s a big statement coming from someone whose default was always fear, dread, and shame. Peace is the opposite of fear, dread, and shame. It is the opposite and so much more. God’s peace means we are complete, not fragmented. It means we are whole, not broken. It means we have health, not sickness. It provides for our welfare and our safety. It makes us sound, not damaged or insecure. God’s peace is tranquility and prosperity, not worry and poverty. God’s peace is perfect and full, not flawed or incomplete. His peace gives us real, true rest from striving. His peace brings harmony—harmony within ourselves, harmony with others, and harmony with Him. When we abide in the peace of God we are free from agitation or conflict. All of this is ours in the covenant He made with us.

What is a Covenant?

A covenant is an agreement between two parties. God’s first covenant with mankind was His promise that He would never again cover the earth with a flood to destroy all life. (Genesis 9:12-16)

Genesis 8:21
The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. (NIV)

This first covenant from God was not dependent on what we do or don’t do. This is extremely important for those of us who struggle with guilt, shame, fear, or dread. We walk on eggshells for fear we will upset God’s apple cart, or we just give up because we think our mess-ups have pushed God past His limits. We have passed the point of no return and there’s no use trying anymore. Truth is, God keeps His end of the deal even when we fail miserably at keeping ours. This is good news!

God later gave covenants of circumcision (Genesis 17) and the law, in which we were charged with doing some things and not doing some things. For centuries mankind tried to keep God’s covenant law. And failed. When the Israelites, through their failure to keep God’s laws and covenants, found themselves in exile in foreign lands, or that small group of the poorest of the poor that remained in their own land, God still kept His covenant with them.

Each time they turned their hearts back to the Lord, He gladly restored relationship with them. (Bible study enthusiasts, read Nehemiah 9, or better yet, the whole book!) Nehemiah 9:32a “Now therefore, our God, the great God, mighty and awesome, who keeps his covenant of love, do not let all this hardship seem trifling in your eyes…

This is how God dealt with His people in the days before Jesus came to the earth to redeem us. He couldn’t wait to be gracious and compassionate, not to those who did everything perfectly, but to those who turned their hearts to Him with a desire to be reconciled to Him.

Psalm 106:43-46

Many times he delivered them,

    but they were bent on rebellion

    and they wasted away in their sin.

Yet he took note of their distress

    when he heard their cry;

for their sake he remembered his covenant

    and out of his great love he relented.

He caused all who held them captive

    to show them mercy. 

By now it may seem like I am encouraging you to live a life of sin because God is going to keep forgiving you and blessing you anyway. Most definitely I believe the best life is one of humble submission to His will and His ways. When we live according to His principles we place ourselves in line with His blessings. No doubt about that. My goal is not to encourage sinful behavior or lifestyle but to encourage those who, up to this point, don’t have anything else to show for themselves. If that is you, you are not excluded! You only need to take the first step toward Him. If you are reading this book, my guess is you already have.

God’s Ultimate Covenant with Us

No one was really able to keep the law. That is why God sent Jesus to fulfill the old covenant law and establish a new covenant. Now Jesus has made a way to completely wash away all sin, and create in us a heart that is able to commune with God.

Hebrews 8:10
This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
    after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
    and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.

This new covenant was not only for the Israelites, but also for all nations. The bible refers to non-Jews as Gentiles: He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:14 NIV)

And so, God’s covenant of peace is not dependent so much on what we do, but on who He is. By now you might be thinking, “Well then, why am I so anxious all the time?” Good question. That was my question.

Hebrews 4 explains the Sabbath rest of God. That does not mean reserving a day to do no work although to do so is certainly wise. God’s Sabbath rest provided to us in Jesus is a 24-hour, 7 days a week kind of Sabbath. God set aside a certain day, calling it Today. Today, if you hear His voice don’t harden your hearts. He also says we must make an effort to enter God’s rest. We can’t work enough to please God. We can't behave good enough to please God. I mean, come on, we can’t even usually behave good enough to please ourselves! We need to accept this, cease striving, and enter His rest. 

So how do we enter that rest?
To enter that rest, we need to make a practice of living Today. We need to make a practice of taking on the yoke of Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30) and moment by moment allowing our burdens to become His burdens. Moment by moment, we trade our burdens for His rest. For those of us who have years and years and years of fretting, worrying, and stressing out, this practice will definitely feel like work at first. You may even find yourself frustrated that you aren’t able to do this very well at first.

But don’t beat yourself up. Release all criticism and self-blame. Picture yourself with the energy, passion, and enthusiasm you will have as you lighten your load and let Jesus carry it!

His peace is readily available to each one of us. We just have to let go of old habits and receive it. Picture yourself walking alongside Jesus the way two oxen yoked together walk side by side. He is pulling and you are just walking there alongside. Every time you catch yourself worrying and fretting, take a deep breath, lean into Jesus, and let that weight roll onto His shoulders. At first, you may have to do this several times a minute. But eventually, you will realize that you are not having to do it so often, that you are feeling lighter and more relaxed.

This is one way we can “make every effort to enter His rest.” We also enter His rest by setting aside a regular time to read His word, pray, and just sit quietly and listen.
Questions for Reflection or Group Discussion

In what areas of your life have you been most successful in resting in God’s peace? Salvation? Family? Work? Finances? Health? Relationships? Ministry? Something else?

In what areas have you struggled the most to enter God’s rest?

What are some thoughts that go through your mind when you notice you are worrying, fretting, or striving?

Can you find some scriptures that speak to that issue? How can you answer the voice of worry with a sound bite from God’s word?

Read and meditate on Philippians 4:4-6


Father God,

I thank you that you care for me more than many sparrows. I know you are interested in the things that matter to me. And I know that you have already given me your peace. Teach me Lord, I pray, to enter that rest and that peace that You have provided. Help me to know and understand that You are already working on my problem, even before I ask. Help me to know that in Your world, where you know the end from the beginning, the answer has already come, so I can rest and rejoice in my world while I am still waiting for the answer. As I thank you for that, let me experience the peace that passes all understanding.

Sit in a comfortable place with no distractions. Shift your body so it is well supported. Gently close your eyes and focus on your breath, breathing in slowly and deeply and allowing your muscles to relax as you exhale slowly and fully. Take a few more deep breaths as you become more relaxed and focused.

Imagine you are walking leisurely in a beautiful green meadow. The sun is shining, the air is warm, and a gentle breeze keeps the temperature just right. As you are walking along, you take in the beauty of this place. Fragrant wildflowers of every color dance among the tall, green grasses. You can hear the chirping of a grasshopper, birds singing, and the laughter of a small running brook.

As you continue along, walking slowly, you become aware that you are carrying some heavy weight. You notice that there are heavy bags hanging from both shoulders. You have a large, heavy backpack strapped to your back, and another pack strapped to your chest. There is even a package of some kind balanced on your head and others strapped to your legs. Your arms are loaded with boxes and bags.
It is getting harder and harder to put one foot in front of the other.
Notice now, a picnic table, set with all your favorite foods. There is sparkling, clear, cool water to drink. Someone is sitting there, waiting for you. ‘Come!” He says. You gladly sit down and recognize this person as your Redeemer. He invites you to unload all your burdens. As you set each one down, open it. Find out what is inside. It might be fear, anger, hatred, jealousy, guilt, addiction, wounded emotions, damaged relationships, unconfessed sin, pride, false humility, unfulfilled desires, or any number of other burdens. Talk to your Redeemer about each one of the burdens you have been carrying. Allow Him to give you wisdom and direction about what to do with it. When you are finished, you can pick these burdens up again, or leave them here. It’s your choice. You can leave some and take some. Only you know which burdens you are really ready to lay down.
When you are finished, watch as your Redeemer takes out a gift He has for you. This is a very special gift, symbolizing the important steps you’ve taken here today. Think of this gift any time you feel tempted to take up those burdens you have left with Him.
You can come back to this place as often as you need to and share your burdens with Jesus.
And now, take a couple of deep breaths, wriggle your hands and feet, let out a big, big, sigh, and when you are ready you can open your eyes.
Action Steps
Take some time to write about your experience with laying down your burdens. What were they? How did you feel about each one? Which ones were you able to lay down, and which ones did you find yourself holding onto?
Every time you find yourself carrying these burdens, imagine a scripture that will help you surrender these to God.
You might imagine your problem as a mountain, and you tell that mountain to be thrown into the sea. (Matthew 21:21)
You might imagine it as a fig tree that you curse, and watch it wither from the roots. (Matthew 21:18-20)
Or you could imagine yourself yoked to Jesus and He is pulling the load as you walk freely by his side. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Or you can choose another scripture that resonates with you.
If you can, with Jesus’ help, commit the following passages to memory.
Write and memorize Philippians 4:6.
Then, write and memorize Philippians 4:6-7.
Then, write and memorize Philippians 4:5-7.
And then, Philippians 4:4-7.
Next, write and memorize Philippians 4:8.
And then, Philippians 4:8-9.
Make a gratitude list and post it where you will see it every day.
Eat well.
This practice of surrender and gratitude is a daily practice that over time will yield the sweet fruit of peace that cannot be shaken.
Ours is a society that promotes and applauds hurry sickness, stress, and burnout. Most of us have been steeped in it for years. The only way to overcome this is through a diligent effort to enter His rest and be willing to get off the hamster wheel. We might even need to be willing to be ostracized or criticized for refusing to buy in to the lie that we are only valuable if we work too hard, don’t get enough sleep, and never relax. As Christians, we need to rest in Romans 8:1. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (NIV) We don’t have to live in guilt, fear, shame, or dread. He has given us His covenant of peace.

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