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Peace: Perfect Peace

 Isaiah 26:3-4

Do you have perfect peace?

If I were to ask, "Do you believe in God?" you would probably say, "Why yes, of course." And if I were to ask, "Do you know God?" you might respond, "Yes, and I wish I knew Him better." But if I were to ask, "Do you have a deep, consistent, abiding sense of peace?" I suspect that you would reply, "No, I don't."
It's interesting that in the Old Testament, the meanings for the words peace and salvation are nearly synonymous. Yet many of us who claim that we are saved do not experience consistent peace. We don't need W. H. Auden to tell us that we live in the Age of Anxiety. It's all around us. The difficulty with most of us is that there's a great discrepancy between what we believe and how we feel and think. We may be sure that we're going to live forever, but we sometimes have a hard time getting through life with a daily sense of God's peace.
A Peace Inventory
I want to be very personal in asking you a few questions. Please try to respond as honestly as you can. Here are four possible responses to the questions: never, seldom, frequently, consistently.
Do you have peace of mind? Is your mind controlled by the Spirit of God? Or is your mind filled with a jumble of unforgiven memories, unresolved plans, and frustrating disappointments? Right at this moment can you say that your mind is at peace? Never? Seldom? Frequently? Consistently?
Are your feelings at peace? Feelings do matter. How we feel affects how we live and how we relate to others. Do you feel at peace right now? Are you free from smouldering anger, nagging fears, frustration, and envy? Never? Seldom? Frequently? Consistently?
Do you have a sense of peace about your desires? Are you clear about God's will for your life? Do you trust in His daily guidance? Are you certain about your goals? Are you free from conflict between what you want and what you sense God wants? Never? Seldom? Frequently? Consistently?
Since your relationships with people have so much to do with how you experience peace, do you let others rob you of inner peace? Are you at peace with others? Never? Seldom? Frequently? Consistently?
And what about circumstances? Do you allow circumstances to disrupt your ability to be at peace? Do you remain calm in the face of trouble? Never? Seldom? Frequently? Consistently?
Finally, is your body at peace? Are you strained by stress, agitation, nervousness? Or are you free from tension, churning stomach, tight muscles, high blood pressure? Do you have a sense of calmness in your body? Never? Seldom? Frequently? Consistently?
The Wholeness of True Peace
Note that this peace inventory includes the whole being -- mind, emotions, will, body, relationships, and circumstances. That's because true peace is wholeness -- mental health, emotional stability, volitional integration, and physical well-being. When this quality of peace reigns in you, it cannot be debilitated by people or circumstances.
True peace cannot be broken by life's storms. Untainted by care, untouched by the highest surges of sorrow, unstained by unforgiven sin, true peace is indefatigable and actually grows deeper with the challenges and trials of life.
Do you have this kind of pervasive peace? Do I?
Why Don't We Have Perfect Peace?
I came to grips with this question one summer during a solitary retreat. As I reviewed the preceding inventory, I realized that I would have to respond either seldom or frequently to most of the questions. And I asked myself, "Why can't I answer consistently! Why is it that I don't know more of the peace of God if, indeed, I believe in God? I've been a Christian for more than 50 years. Why are there some days when peace eludes me?"
So many of us share a longing for lasting peace, but we are unsure of the litmus test of salvation: abiding inner-peace that endures difficult people and disturbing circumstances.
How to Have Consistent Peace
My mind drifts back over the years. I picture the people gathered in my beloved congregations. I search in memory's cherished album of faces, slipping through the pages in search of anyone I can remember who experienced consistent peace.
Then a disturbing thought hits me. Why are there so few people I can recall who exude peace regardless of problems or perplexities? Why don't I know more of them now? Why is it true peace seems to be such a rare trait in people who believe in God?
A few faces come to me. They are young and old, rich and poor, highly educated and self-taught, men and women. Yet they all have this one thing in common: They are unruffled, imperturbable, unflappable, unhurried. They all have perfect peace.
Strangely enough, many of these people have suffered difficult circumstances, endured physical pain, and have routinely coped with troublesome people. And yet, each of them manifests a profound, palpable sense of peace. I have felt it when I've been with them. They are centered, at ease with themselves, and in love with the Lord. Their serenity startles me, their reliance on a silent inner strength inspires me, and their resiliency in tense times always encourages me.
What are the qualities that allow these people to experience the kind of peace that is unassailable by the surging storms of life?
How would you like to experience that kind of consistent peace? A peace that lasts in the midst of conflict? A peace that holds together when your world falls apart?
The Source
There is only one source of that kind of consistent peace -- God. Throughout the Bible, language is stretched to distinguish God's true peace from temporary, transitory peace. Jesus carefully distinguished His peace from the world's peace. Paul talked about a peace that surpasses all understanding. Peter offered "multiplied peace" to early Christians in his epistle. In each case it is the same: an effort to set divine peace off and above, as something different -- something that men and women cannot produce on their own. The Bible is clear: we can't make peace, but we can receive it.
God's peace is superlative -- excellent, the greatest, matchless, peerless, supreme, unparalleled, unrivaled, unsurpassed. It is so important that we understand the superlative nature of God's peace as we begin our study of authentic peace. The peace of God is His unrivaled authority. He is the Creator, Sustainer, and gracious Redeemer of the universe. He is omniscient, knowing all from the beginning to the end; He is omnipotent, all-powerful, dependent on nothing and no one else; He is omnipresent, everywhere and yet present to those who allow Him into their lives.
There is unity of purpose in the peace of God: the oneness shared by the persons of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no discord or disagreement between them, only mutual glorification. And there's no panic in heaven. This is what we mean when we talk about the peace of God. For us, it means accepting the complete control of the One who is in control. There is no real peace without a firm conviction of the sovereignty of God!
Isaiah's Three Secrets
How do we fill our lives with this superlative peace, this magnificent peace of God, the peace He shares with the Son and the Holy Spirit, this peace of heaven?
The twenty-sixth chapter of Isaiah is a strategic place to begin to find the answer. It was written as a song for the people of Israel to sing both in repentance and in return to the Lord. Its implications and application for us at the beginning of the twenty-first century are unmistakable. The people of Judah, and especially of Jerusalem, had abandoned the way of faith in God for dependence on foreign powers such as Aram, for collective strength in each other, and for self-reliance. The result was neither political nor personal peace. They did not realize that security cannot be found in associative strength or sturdy self-reliance. It was not until they understood this that they could return to the Lord -- the only source of peace in time of turmoil -- and sing of His majesty and might, glory and goodness, providence and power.
A Mind Stayed on God
The third and fourth verses of Isaiah's song command attention not just because they are familiar but because they give us secrets to lasting peace. "You will keep Him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because He trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for in God, the Lord, is everlasting strength."
The English words of Isaiah 26:3 have been a cherished promise for God's people through the centuries. "You will keep Him in perfect peace." At first we are tempted to get at the meaning of the quality of peace God offers by defining the word perfect. We say that perfect peace is "complete peace, peace that is found in tranquil surroundings and with agreeable people." But this only touches the outskirts of what Isaiah meant.
The word perfect is not in the Hebrew text. Rather the word for peace, shalom, is repeated twice: shalom, shalom, like "holy, holy." This is what Alec Motyer calls a "super-superlative."
"This is unlike other 'super superlatives' in the Bible," according to my friend Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. "In this instance, the second use of the word shalom is not so much for emphasis as it is for definition and interpretation. For example, we might say, 'John is a fine man, fine in the sense that he is good to his children.' This can be proven by the fact that in the Hebrew text there is a vertical line in between the two words of shalom to show precisely this idea: shalom/shalom."
This idiom of duplication distinguishes pseudo peace from God's peace: total peace encompassing all dimensions of the mind, emotion, will, and body as well as relationships, sense of righteousness, and perception of justice for living.
The first step to this kind of peace, according to Isaiah, is to stay our minds on God. "You will keep him in shalom, shalom whose mind is stayed on You."
The Hebrew word for mind used here is yeser. It means "the constitution or tendency of the mind," what we might call a "frame of mind" or a "mindset" -- a total way of looking at things. Another way of putting it would be the "focus of our attention" or "what we have on our minds most of the time." Yeser corresponds closely to the Greek word phroneite as used in Philippians 2:5: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." Accurately translated, it means: "Let this be your attitude."
As J.N. Oswald points out in his commentary on Isaiah, yeser means "mind," from the root idea "to form." It is to reflect on Oswald's footnote: "As a noun, yeser frequently refers to that which is formed, often thoughts, purposes, or intentions. As reflected in the present translation, the Hebrew seems to place 'the steadfast mind' in an emphatic position in an independent clause at the beginning of the sentence." Practically, this means that God's superlative peace is given to those whose minds are intentionally riveted on God. Paternus said to His son, "Bear God on your mind constantly. See Him everywhere for there is no place where He is not."
We must keep our minds stayed on God. The Hebrew word for "stayed" is samuk. The wonderful thing is that samuk is a passive participle. It's something God does. He stays our minds on Him. As we start the day, we need only say, "Lord, I belong to You. I've been called out of this world to glorify You, to experience Your love and forgiveness, and to know peace in spite of what's going on around me. Lord, I ask You for what You are more ready to give than I am willing to receive. Stay me, Lord. Stay me on Yourself. Interrupt me. Stop me. Permeate my thoughts. Call me back to You. Keep me stayed on You."
And He'll do it. If your mind wanders off, then it wanders off to a place that God wants you to deal with. Don't worry about a wandering mind. Just follow the wandering, and you'll end up some place where God wants you to deal with an issue, a relationship, a concern, a problem. Too many people complain, "I begin to pray, and my mind wanders off." I say, "Wonderful! Let it wander and then bring God with you, and if you bring Him into your wandering, you'll soon find out the thing that's keeping you from Him."
What a great assurance! You can go to work tomorrow morning knowing that God is not going to let you get Him off your mind. He's not going to let you, because you belong to Him.
And what about the rest of the day? Do you have to become a victim of people and circumstances? Definitely not! The one confidence nothing and no one can take from you is your ability to pray without ceasing. The shams of life may rage around you, but inside there will be calm because you can pray your way through it all. You can pray in the midst of uncertainties, conflict, turmoil, and adversity. Prayer will stay your mind on God and fill your thoughts with His peace. You can pray before, during, and after challenging conversations with people. You can claim peace when you are in the most alarming, disquieting situations.
You also need to allow the Spirit to stay your mind on the Father in the good things. Peace and praise go together. There's a renewed, fresh gift of peace in gratitude. Think about God's signature in the beauty of the natural world, the way God works out solutions to your needs, the wondrous gift of people He uses to help you, and the open doors of opportunity He sets before you. What a wonderful way to live!
Jesus knew this secret. He challenged His disciples -- and He challenges us -- to seek first the Kingdom of God. I like the way the New English Version of the Bible translates this verse, Matthew 6:33, "Set your mind on God's Kingdom -- before everything else!"
The Kingdom of God is His sovereignty in action, His reign and rule over everything. So, setting your mind on the Kingdom is the same thing as staying your mind on the rule of God. There is no peace apart from seeking to know and to do God's will. His guidance is not some mysterious set of sealed orders. We can discover far more of God's will from His commandments and from Jesus' life than most people readily acknowledge. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are also given specific direction. I'm convinced that the Spirit does speak to our hearts; we are given "words of knowledge" about situations and people, and we can hear them if we listen attentively. A mind stayed on God -- set on the Kingdom -- is a mind with spiritual eyes to see and perceptive ears to hear.
A Heart Filled with Trust
This leads us to Isaiah's second secret for receiving the shalom, shalom, superlative peace of God. First, a mind stayed on God. And second, a heart filled with trust. The parallelism, "because he trusts in You," literally translates "because in You, trust is reposed." Faith, throughout the scripture, is a gift of the Spirit. It is not produced by us; it is received as an endowment from God. It is astounding to think about God's power to engender faith. God is so desirous of imparting His peace to us that He brings forth in us what He wants from us. He produces the stayed mind and the trust so that we don't miss out on His superlative peace!
The people of Judah trusted in human leaders and not in the Lord. They lost the Lord's peace as a result. Note the confession in Isaiah 26:12-14: "Lord, You will establish peace for us, for You have also done all our works in us. O Lord our God, masters besides You have had dominion over us; but by You only we make mention of Your name. They are dead, they will not live; they are deceased, they will not rise."
Experiencing the peace which comes from personal knowledge of God's sovereignty requires putting trust in Him, not in leaders, friends, mates, or parents. We must trust God and love people and never turn that around. Of course, if we are to love God, we must put our ultimate trust in Him only. Peace is broken when we depend on people to provide what only God can provide. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6). People were never meant to be our sources of security. When we demand that they meet our needs, we make them diminutive gods; we take our stayed eyes off the Lord God and disconnect ourselves from the consistent flow of His peace.
Peace results from a disciplined life of prayer which manifests intimate fellowship with God and the assurance of adequate resources from Him. Trusting in the sovereign God means leaving the results to Him, knowing our calling is not to be successful but to be faithful. And, guess what? Real success in life means living without the worry, fretting, or care that comes from trying to control everything ourselves.
Dependence on the Rock of Ages
Now we are ready for Isaiah's third secret. Look at verse four: "Trust in the Lord forever, for in God, the Lord, is everlasting strength." The Hebrew meaning of trust here is "to lean on Him." Have you been leaning on God? I've learned to lean on Him more lately than I've ever leaned on Him in my life, and you know what? He's reliable. He'll hold you, and He'll pick you up when you stumble. When you're weak, He'll make you strong. He stays your mind on Him so that you can take those very things that would rob you of peace and say, "Lord, please help me." And He will when you lean on Him.
Then Isaiah goes on, "For He is an everlasting strength." What he really means is: He is the Rock of Ages. It is from this reference that Augustus Toplady in 1776 wrote what has become one of the most famous and cherished hymns in Christian history, "Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee."
Keeping the flow of Isaiah's thought before us, perfect peace is the gift of God to those who allow Him to stay their minds on Him, who receive the gift of trust in Him, and who depend on Him as the Rock, Foundation, and Fortress of their lives.
Our Rock's dependable, saving actions provide the fortress -- like protection which we all need during menacing times. In the Old Testament, "rock" is a broad symbol for divine strength -- hence our English translation: "everlasting strength."
The Prince of Peace
It's not surprising that Isaiah's thought should move from peace through trust to the foundation of that trust in God's strength and salvation. In the scriptures, trust and faith do not exist in a vacuum. Faith is the result of the saving acts of God in the past, present, and future. Salvation is not an occasional intervention by God but an attribute of God. He is the "saving God." Isaiah looked back on the saving acts of God in his people's history, but also he looked forward with steady eyes for the coming of the Messiah, the Prince of Peace. "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His, government and peace there will be no end ..." (Isaiah 9:6-7).
We have come full circle to the inseparable relationship between salvation and peace. The superlative peace God offers us comes from the Prince of Peace. Christ came in human flesh to reveal how this perfect peace can be lived in complete trust of the Father. Talk about an example of a mind stayed on the Father! In Christ, we see complete trust, the absolute surrender of will, the unswerving obedience that is the essence of true peace. He went to the cross to atone for our sins and reconcile us to God. Faith in His atoning death brings us forgiveness and new birth. Life begins all over again. We become new creatures. As our reigning Lord, He becomes the Peace of God with us. He has the authority to baptize and fill us daily with the Holy Spirit. Everything necessary to provide us with perfect peace has been done. Peace comes to us as the magnificent gift of the Trinity: the Father's sovereign act of sending His Son and reconciling us through His shed blood, the risen Christ, Lord of our lives, and the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of peace indwelling in us. Staying our minds on the Triune God gives us superlative peace indeed!
Why Do We Still Lack Peace?
Knowing all this why do we still lack peace? The answer is quite simple. We focus our attention on things, people, possessions, success, and, most of all, on ourselves. Peace of mind is lost; emotional turmoil sets in; a battle of wills with the sovereign Lord is engaged; and our bodies receive the brunt of the stress that hits us with full force.
In the midst of the turmoil and the frustration, if we turn our eyes to the cross, we will see the manifestation of God's love for us that we might know the transfer of the peace of heaven to our hearts. And when we accept the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and the cross, His Spirit comes to live in us, and we know a peace that passes understanding -- a peace that doesn't stop.
Again and again, Perfect Peace Himself comes to us and says, "Had enough? Tired and weary? Ready for shalom, shalom? Let Me give you the power to stay your mind on the Father; allow Me to give you trust; accept My strength. I'm the solid rock on which you can stand. Rest in Me! And now receive a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit of peace."
Shalom, shalom to you!
Taken from Perfect Peace copyright 2001 by Lloyd J. Ogilvie, published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR 97402. Used by permission.

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