The King James Bible often introduces events with the words, “It came to pass . . .” A former colleague in ministry used to apply this clause as a word of encouragement in difficult situations. “Remember,” he would say with a grin, “It came to pass . . . it didn’t come to stay!”
We pray that negative circumstances will soon pass. We look forward to relief from whatever difficulty we may be dealing with at any given time–and there always seems to be something. We anticipate that once it does pass or once we have come through it, we will finally have peace.
And, perhaps, we will.
The Psalmist, David, prays (Psalm 4:1 NIV):
“Answer me when I call to you,
my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer.”
There is no reason to expect that God will not answer such a prayer. He is, after all, the God who always delights in showing mercy (or, to use the traditional prayer book phrasing, “whose property is always to have mercy.) From experience, however, we understand that relief from distress is sometimes a long time coming.
But relief is not the only kind of peace God offers. Relief is peace that makes sense—peace that is understandable. Of course, there will be peace during a ceasefire, when the trouble is over.
But God promises another kind of peace that doesn’t make sense, that surpasses understanding. He is willing to grant us peace even when the bullets are still flying; peace, even when the distress is most severe; peace, even in the valley of the shadow of death.
This kind of peace comes to those who learn to trust.
The prophet declares (Isaiah 26:3 ESV): “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
Such peace does not come easily (else it would not surpass understanding) because trusting God and remaining steadfast on Him are not easy when the storm is blowing or when the waves are deep.
It seems that King David, himself, struggled with such trust. He writes (Psalm 30:6-7 NIV):
“When I felt secure, I said,
“I will never be shaken.”
O Lord, when you favored me,
you made my mountain stand firm;
but when you hid your face,
I was dismayed.”
Faith is easy when things are going well. When life feels secure, it seems nothing can shake us. But when life becomes uncertain, and stress becomes palpable, and God somehow seems far removed from the day-to-day, it is hard not to be dismayed, or to feel anxious.
Nevertheless, the apostle Paul writes (Philippians 4:6-7 ESV): “Do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
This is benediction peace—the very peace I pronounce over God’s people at the end of every worship service. Why is it so elusive in my own heart? Perhaps, it is because I forget the bit about thanksgiving in the verse that leads into the benediction.
Come, Lord, Jesus, guard my heart and mind with your peace . . . by filling my mouth with thankful praise whenever I am dismayed.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.