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Monday, 23 March 2020

The peace of God

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

Jesus spends a lot of time speaking with his disciples about peace. Before he dies, in a long conversation with his friends that in John chapter 14 (check it out if you’ve got a moment), Jesus reassures them that he will not leave them alone as orphans. He is going away, yes; he is about to walk the road towards the cross, yes; but he is not about to abandon his followers. His promise is that he will give them the precious gift of his Holy Spirit who will come and make his home in their hearts, who will come and bring them peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The peace that Jesus offers is not the same as the peace of the world. At the moment, the entire internet is full of strategies for coping with this strange and frightening moment, but many of them provide only momentary distraction rather than lasting peace. A really good watch on Netflix (presumably the only business in the world that is actually going to make a profit from Coronavirus!) is a source of distraction from facing what is happening, but escapism doesn’t last. It is just a temporary measure.

And Jesus says that what he offers is not like that. It isn’t a quick fix patch up, but an altogether different kind of peace – he does not give as the world gives.

Yesterday, our family tried to use “zoom” to have a three-way family church service with some friends in the morning. We read the story of Jesus sleeping in the boat in the middle of the storm. (Luke 8:22-25) Jesus immediately curls up in the stern of the boat and falls asleep. A storm soon starts over the lake and the little boat carrying him and his friends is in danger of being swamped by the waves. Jesus’ friends run to him, shake him, shout at him and wake him up. Jesus gets up rebukes the wind and the waves and restores the lake to calm. Jesus is entirely peaceful right in the middle of the storm.

 This is, I think, what Paul means when he talks about the “peace of God which transcends all understanding.” It is unthinkable that anyone could be calm when their life is in danger. It is unthinkable that Jesus should fall asleep – and stay asleep – while the boat is being tossed by stormy waves. But he does. Jesus carries the peace of God with him. He is a non-anxious presence in a moment of extreme anxiety.

And this same peace is available to us. Paul’s strategy, again, is simple. Peace follows prayer. Peace follows the handing of our anxiety over to God, and the entrusting of him with it.

I love the image of the final part of this verse: the peace of God is not some passive, ethereal thing, a transitory feeling, but something strong and protective. The peace of God guards our hearts and minds. Like a watchman standing at the door of a fortress, the peace of God will not permit unhelpful thoughts and feelings to enter. The peace of God guards us against ourselves and our own tendency to think the worst and dwell on it.

I pray that you would know the peace of God today. I pray that God’s transcendent peace would settle on hospitals and doctors surgeries, on the homes of those who are lonely and isolated, in the hearts and minds of parents about to start home-schooling and feeling apprehensive, that our lives would confess the beauty of God’s peace. Amen.

Your voice has stilled the raging storms
The wind and waves bow down before
Your still small voice brings hope to all
Who wait on You, we'll wait for You
To lead us to the place where You'll restore our souls
And all our earthly strivings come to cease

Take from our souls the strain and stress
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Your peace
The beauty of Your peace

Bright skies will soon be overhead
We'll enter in to Heaven's rest
There'll be no death, there'll be no pain
The things of old will pass away
You'll lead us to the place where You'll restore our souls
And all our earthly strivings come to cease

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