Sadly, I can understand all too well the negative impact stress can have in your life. I was intrigued to hear what our pastor had to say about the opposite of stress: PEACE. Now that is something I would love to have, in abundance!
Pastor Michael described how peace comes as a result of humility. His primary text was Luke 14:7-11, where Jesus tells a story about choosing the best seat at the party only to be humiliated later when the host asks you to sit someplace else because someone more important or worthy is supposed to sit in that seat of honor. How embarrassing! And kind of stressful. How much better would it be, Jesus suggested, to sit at the lowest place and be pleasantly surprised if the host invites you to a better place, honoring you among his guests. Yes, much more pleasant indeed!
Yet, in this world of go-getters with a first-come-first-serve and survival of the fittest mentality, how are we supposed to practically do what Jesus proposed? Won't we get run over and left in the dust? Do we just get up, brush the dirt out of our hair, and wipe the footprints off our backs, only to get trampled underfoot again minutes later?
Perhaps, we're only meant to pretend to be humble, playing along with Jesus' little mind game. If the first will be last and the last will be first, then we'll just get at the back of the line, smiling to ourselves and waiting for someone to shout out, "Gottcha, everybody turn around! The end of the line is really the front!"
Somehow, I don't think that is what Jesus meant. I tend to believe He really, truly meant for us to be humble. In fact, Pastor Michael had us turn in our Bibles to Matthew 11, when Jesus invites those of us who are stressed out, "weary and carrying heavy burdens," to come to Him so He can give them rest. Jesus then goes on to say, "Take my yoke upon you," which most of us have heard before -- Jesus wants to help us, to work with us, to guide and direct us, to have us be in step with Him so that we don't have to do everything on our own and deal with all the stress that would come with that overwhelming responsibility. That is all nice and good, but Pastor Michael focused more on the next part as Jesus continues,
Another translation put it this way, "You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You!"
That idea made me think of Hebrews 12:2 when the author urges us to "fix our eyes on Jesus and run with endurance the race He has set before us."
Paul had the same mindset when he wrote in Philippians 3, "I focus on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us."
Speaking of Paul... in seemingly every letter he wrote to his fellow believers, he not only challenged them to pursue God wholeheartedly, but he also prayed they would experience the peace of God. Makes me wonder if following after God, earnestly seeking Him with every fiber of your being, and enjoying supernatural peace that comes from God alone go hand in hand?
Well, Paul himself certainly ran hard after God. I would do well to learn from him. Apparently, Paul agrees because he wrote to the Philippians, "Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me -- everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you." So, if Paul spent his life striving to know God and make Him known and experienced God's peace as a result, then wouldn't the same be true for me as I follow his example?
Makes sense. As we spend more time with God, we get to know Him -- and His character -- better. And if He is a God of peace, as Jesus Himself said, then we would come to know His peace more and more as well. Peter was on the same page as Paul and wrote in one of his letters, "May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of our God and Jesus our Lord."
Building on that, as we learn more about God and Who He is, our knowledge should lead us to have a deeper and fuller trust in Him. A true, meaningful, personal relationship with God doesn't affect just our heads. It can't. It inevitably moves those 18 inches from our brain to our heart and then proceeds to fills our hearts, and finally flows out of us into every area of our lives, impacting all that we do and say. That must be what Paul meant when he prayed for the Romans, "I pray that God, the source of all hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust Him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit."
As I try to piece this all together, I am realizing more and more that my longing for peace can only be fulfilled as a I spend more time with my Jesus and allow Him to work in me to transform me and develop my character to reflect His own. With that, I will close with my life verses from Psalm 62, as they seem quite applicable once again to where I am at in life and what God is teaching me.