The Peace of God that Surpasses Understanding
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©2000|
|The Bible says “the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). Sure, that may work for you, but you don’t know my circumstances. There’s no way I can feel any kind of peace—Or is there? Dr. Ankerberg explains how you can have God’s peace in SPITE of your circumstances.|
Experiencing the Peace of God
Did you know that there is a wonderful gift that God gives only to those who believe in His Son? It is the gift of His peace.
The Bible says, “The peace of God which surpasses all comprehension shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).
In other words, God has designed the Christian life to give Christians victory over the tyranny of their circumstances and the problems they face. Unfortunately, many true Christians do not experience this peace God wants them to have.
In this article we will talk about why that is so, and how you can experience God’s peace no matter what circumstances you are going through.
I can almost hear you say, “You don’t really know my circumstances. I can’t even sleep at night. I toss and turn, thinking about my family, my job, my finances. I can’t seem to turn my mind off. And I can’t stop worrying about the bad things that may happen tomorrow.”
I decided to make a list of the things that you would probably tell me that rob you of having peace and joy in your Christian life. See if some of these are true about you. To begin, wouldn’t you agree that the people who have faced natural disasters, including rivers overflowing their banks and going into their homes, tornadoes ripping apart buildings and homes, earthquakes shaking the houses and the very ground they are standing on, wouldn’t you agree such events could bring you to the end of yourself and cause you a lot of anxiety and fear? Maybe right now you’re worried about a natural disaster you have already experienced or you are worried about what happened to a friend and could affect you in the future. As a result, you have no peace.
Or maybe you’re worried about the fact that you may lose your job, that you won’t be able to support your family. Or worse, some of you may be depressed because you have already lost your job and now you don’t know what to do. Is it possible to have peace when you lose your job?
Some of you that are newly married or are older retired folks are living on fixed incomes, and if your finances fall just a little bit or your expenses rise even in a small way, you’re in trouble. And just knowing that possibility could happen to you, you’re not happy and you have no peace.
Other people are living in unhappy marriages. You’ve tried and tried and you just can’t seem to work things out, and your life is in turmoil.
But possibly the biggest problems that cause anxiety and throw all of us into a panic are the possibility of losing our health and the approach of death. When we lose our health, it can force us to reorder the remaining days of our lives, which we don’t want to do. We are forced into living differently than we planned we would live.
And then we worry about the ultimate problem of pain, sickness and death. We hear of stories like Christopher Reeve or Joni Eareckson Tada who became paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. And we say, “If that happened to me, I’d go crazy.”
Just a few weeks ago, I came face to face with one of these ultimate problems. I flew to a funeral in Rockford, Michigan, a city just outside of Grand Rapids. In that beautiful city, my cousin Jim Ankerberg is the pastor of a Baptist church.
A year and a half ago, Jim called me and told me his eleven year-old son Joel was starting to have headaches. Joel was tested and the doctors found he had a brain tumor. The doctors performed brain surgery, removed the tumor, then gave Joel radiation therapy. All of his hair fell out. The doctors thought they had gotten all of the brain tumor. This year Joel turned 13. He was a wrestling champ and had won 19 different tournaments. He played on the baseball team, football team and the soccer team. But this last February, just a few months ago, he woke up one morning and found he was partially paralyzed on his left side. Joel was taken to the hospital and tests showed that a second tumor had appeared. Once again the doctors performed surgery and removed the tumor. But unbelievably, they discovered that this second tumor was caused by a different kind of cancer, which was very aggressive in its growth.
I could remember thinking, Can it be possible that a little boy can have two different kinds of cancer in his brain? I made a few phone calls to doctors I knew around the country, asking them, “Tell me that this isn’t true, what is going on?” Then I can remember one particularly dark phone call in which a life-long friend of mine, a trusted Christian doctor told Jim and his wife and me the tragic news that there was no cure for this kind of cancer. He was right.
Only four months later Joel went home to Heaven. He died in his mother’s arms on Mother’s Day. Joel died on the day his big sister was going to graduate from college. She missed her graduation ceremonies in order to rush to her brother’s bedside. Joel died on the Sunday his dad presided over the biggest baby dedication the church had ever seen. Joel died an hour or two after his dad preached the morning service.
You know, folks, I don’t think it gets any worse than watching your child die. So let me ask you, If you were to trade places with my cousin Jim, his wife Marlene or Joel’s twin brother or his two sisters, would you have been able to say you experienced God’s peace during the dark days of this tragedy? At the funeral, there were many, many tears. But I remember Joel’s mom and dad saying, in spite of the pain and sorrow and losing Joel, they had experienced God’s peace.
What problems are you facing today? Can you say that you are experiencing God’s peace in the midst of your problems? If you say, “No. I haven’t got the slightest idea of what you’re talking about,” I’d like to show you where and how God says you can experience His peace. The Scripture teaches that God can lead you to a place where you are not anxious about anything you will face—a peace that will allow you to lay yourself down and really rest and sleep at night. You know, anybody can lie down, but the question is, “Can you sleep?”
The psalmist said, “I lay down and slept” (Psalms 3:5). He said he was able to do this even though he was surrounded by enemies who would like to kill him, and he was facing many difficulties and trials. He said he could sleep in spite of all of this because he trusted in the Lord. He believed the Lord was with him and looking after him.
In fact, let’s admit it: there’s probably nothing that provides such a thorough test of the reality of our Christian faith as this matter of peace. You can say that you’re a Christian, you have faith in the Lord and you read your Bible and you pray, but it’s another thing to actually experience and maintain a state of joy when you’re experiencing real problems and difficulties. So peace is a very practical test. This is not “theory” we’re talking about, but real life.
Another way of saying this is to ask, “If you’re surrounded by many difficulties, problems, and fears, what is your faith worth at this point? How are you different from the people who have no faith at all?”
By the way, your non-Christian friends are very interested in this as well. Most of the time your non-Christian friends couldn’t care less about the doctrines of the Christian faith that you hold. They’re not interested in listening to what you say. But if they see you going through tragedy or difficulties and realize that you are able to triumph over these problems, that you have real peace in their midst, then they will want to know, “How did you do that?” The reason they’ll want to know is simple. Your non-Christian friends are unhappy and frustrated. They’re uncertain and fearful because of the difficulties they face every day. If they see that you have peace and calmness, quietness, then they are apt to say, “Hey, tell me, what’s your secret? How do you have such great peace?”
On two fronts, this matter of peace is important. It’s important to us as individuals because we need to experience God’s peace personally to face our own circumstances, and second, it’s important if we’re going to be a witness for Jesus Christ in the world. The world is watching. They want to see if we have something they don’t, when the going gets tough. Well, where do we find these answers?
In the Book of Philippians chapter 4, verses 6 and 7, God’s Word tells us, “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Let’s examine these two verses step by step. First, we are told what to avoid. We are to be anxious for nothing. Other versions say, “Be careful for nothing.” Careful means “full of care; anxious harassing care; excessive care or concern.” What the apostle is teaching is that we are not to be over-anxious, nervous. We are not to brood and ponder. We’re not to think about the things that we’re facing and their outcome, over and over again. That’s the meaning of the term: “Be anxious for nothing.”
Now, just in passing, we should say this does not mean that Christians should not make ordinary provision for their lives or that we are not to use common sense. The Bible does not encourage laziness. As you remember, the Apostle Paul in writing to the church at Thessalonica said, “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thess. 3:10) Christians are to work; they’re to plan and consider in commonsense ways things that need to be done for the future. But after we have done this, we are to avoid worrying about the outcome.
But then, second, these verses tell us where the trouble is. We read, “And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension shall guard your hearts and your minds.” Did you notice, the Bible says it’s our heart and our mind that tend to produce states of anxiety and worry. In stating this, the Bible is very real and down to earth in describing our actual existence—what we experience.
And right here I’d like to share with you the thoughts of a top doctor in England, a man who even treated the Royal Family from time to time. God led this doctor later to become one of the greatest biblical expositors we’ve had in the last 50 years. His name was Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. In his book, SPIRITUAL DEPRESSION: ITS CAUSES AND CURES, he asks: Do you remember when you were sleeping quietly and all of a sudden you woke up and your mind was fastened on some horrible, worrisome thought, and your heart experienced terror and fear? In a sense, these terrible thoughts and this fear attacked you and you were out of control. No matter what you tried to do, you couldn’t get rid of those feelings, those thoughts. You would have given the whole world if you could have gone back to sleep, brushed off those thoughts, gotten rid of the fear; but in spite of your best efforts your mind would not let you go back to sleep or to brush away those fears.
In Philippians 4 the Bible is teaching that from the depths of your being flow these thoughts and fears. It is God’s peace that is to guard your heart and your mind. The word “heart” that is used in this verse not only means the seat of your emotions, it means the very central part of your personality. It’s that part of you that reacts if your mother or father is taken ill, or your child is hurt at school. Your heart, your love for that person is the cause of anxiety and worry. If you were informed that a stranger was hurt or sick, you wouldn’t be as anxious or worried as if it were your own child. So Scripture is talking about the source of your feelings, your heart.
Then, the word “mind” can be translated “thought.” Our mind can call up thoughts; it can imagine things. Our mind begins to think, “What if this or that should happen?” We tell ourselves everything is fairly well under control right now, but what if tomorrow my mother’s temperature goes up, my child’s sickness worsens, or I lose my job? Your mind goes on thinking for hours and hours and you exist in a state of agitation and your imagination is on fire. Your mind only stimulates your feelings of worry and fear in your heart. In a sense, you can say your heart and your mind control you; they master you; they tyrannize you. The Bible in these verses tells us this is something that we must avoid at all costs.
But you say, “I can’t. How can I overcome these feelings and thoughts that originate in my heart and mind? What do I have to do in order to avoid this turmoil, this lack of peace, these anxious thoughts?”
Well, I want you to notice that the Apostle Paul doesn’t tell us what common psychology tells you, that is, “Stop worrying. Pull yourself together.” He doesn’t say that because he himself knows that it’s useless to tell a person in that condition to stop worrying. It would be like telling a drunkard to stop drinking. A drunkard can’t stop drinking because he’s in the grip of his addiction to alcohol.
The Bible doesn’t say, “Don’t worry. It may never happen.” You already know it may not happen, but you also know the worst could happen. The worst happening is a real possibility and that’s our problem. That’s what we worry about. What if it does happen?
Well, the Apostle Paul tells us what to do. He says, “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The answer is, God will do something for us that we can’t do for ourselves. Let’s examine it in detail.
First the Bible says, “Present your requests to God.” But immediately you say, “I’m suffering and I’ve tried that. I’ve prayed and prayed but I’ve not found the peace that you’re talking about. There’s no use telling me to pray.”
Well, if you say that, I want you to realize, the Apostle Paul must have known that some of the Christian people in his own day would tell him the same thing, because he defines very carefully how we are to pray and to make our requests known unto God. In telling us to pray, he differentiates between prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving. Well, what does he mean by prayer? It is a general term and it means worship and adoration. When we pray, we are to begin by worshipping, adoring the Lord. If you have problems that seem overwhelming, if you are constantly worried and emotionally overburdened and somebody tells you to pray, don’t just rush to God with your petition. The Apostle Paul says that is not the way to go. Before you make your requests, before you make your petitions known to God, you are to pray, that is, to worship, adore the Lord. This word actually carries the significance of coming into the very presence of God and meeting Him face to face. For the time being forget your problems. Don’t immediately start with your problems; start with thinking about the fact that you are face to face with the God of the universe. Begin by remembering His promises to you. You are His child. You are completely forgiven because of what Christ did at the cross. You are in His presence and He wants to be with you. That is the beginning. Thank Him for who He is.
But then following prayer comes supplication. Supplication is the word that means “petitions.” To seek God by earnest prayer and bring those particular things that concern us to God. But even while we’re doing that, Paul advises us to do one more thing: “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.”
What is thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is one of the most vital of all these terms. Many Christians who are worried and anxious, who have no peace and are facing the problems of life, it’s right here that they go astray. The Bible says we are to pray “with thanksgiving.” That means that if we have a grudge against God in our hearts, we have no right to expect that the peace of God will keep our heart and our mind. If you get on your knees and you think that God is against you, you may as well get up and go out. The Bible says we must approach God with thanksgiving. There should be no doubt in our minds as we read Scripture as to the goodness of God toward us. Yes, we have our problems and troubles; we have our sins; but on our knees before God, we must ask ourselves, “What can I truly thank God for?”
Can’t you thank God for your salvation? Can’t you say, “Thank you, Lord, that you sent your Son to die on the cross for my sins”?
Yes, you’re facing a terrible problem, I know. But God has already done certain things for you. He sent His own precious Son into the world, watched Him die as your substitute and paid for all of your sins. The Bible says Jesus bore your sins in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). You can thank the Lord Jesus for rising again for your justification. It made it possible for a legal pronouncement to be made in God’s courtroom that you are eternally free from the penalty of your sins—past, present and future, that when you die, God will take you to Heaven. You belong to Him. Then, think back on the many blessings that you have received from God in the past. He got you a job; He led you to your wife or husband; He blessed you with a wonderful family; He gave you many great friends. He has given you health and strength to this point. What are the reasons that you can thank and praise God? Think of them, and thank God.
We must remind ourselves that He is our Father, that He loves us so much that He says the very hairs of our head are numbered. He cares about us. And then, only after we have done that, are we told to pour out our heart, our requests to God. So, we are to pray and we are to worship God, thinking about who He is, realizing we are in His presence. We must come into His presence knowing and believing that He loves us. Yes, we are to make our supplications, our requests, but in doing so we are also to praise Him for what He has done for us in the past and what He will do for us in the future. Worshipping and adoring Him for who He is in confident faith. We are then to make our requests known to God.
The Apostle Paul, in writing this, is not advocating a desperate cry in the dark, not some frantic appeal to God without any real thought on our part. No. First we realize and recollect that we are worshipping our blessed, glorious God. We worship first, then we make our requests known to Him. So far in this passage we’ve seen what we are not to do; we have seen what we are supposed to do; and now the Bible gives a gracious promise to those who do what the Bible says.
We read, “Let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Now, what is this peace that the Apostle Paul is taking about? First, he does not say that God’s peace consists of positively rearranging the circumstances and difficulties that you’re facing. This verse does not promise that your bad marriage, your loss of job, the fact that you have cancer will immediately be fixed. No. What the Bible is teaching here is that whatever the circumstances, whatever difficulties we are facing, we will be kept in peace in spite of these circumstances.
Another way of saying this is, the Bible is not teaching that the very thing that you fear will not take place; rather, what the Bible is teaching is that God will keep your heart and your mind in a state of peace whatever happens. It is a supernatural peace God gives that calms you, quiets you, assures you He is still in control. That is the victory Christians have: that whatever we face, we can live above the circumstances in peace, even while we are going through them.