In the Chicago Fire of 1871, an American Businessman by the name of Horatio Spafford watched as his entire business—all of his papers and documents and office—literally went up in flames. Then, not even two years later, his wife Anna and their four daughters were headed to England by ship, when they collided with another ship in the middle of the Atlantic.
All four daughters drowned.
Anna was found unconscious but somehow alive, floating off the coast of England. When she came to, she wired a telegram to her husband with nothing but these two words: “Saved alone.”
Horatio was devastated. He got on the first ship he could to go join his grieving wife, and while on the way, supposedly as he passed the very place where his daughters died, he penned these words. Words to a hymn. Perhaps you’ve heard it before.
“When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say: it is well, it is well with my soul.”
How, in the midst of such a storm, could he find such peace?
Turn with me to Philippians 4:4-9. Once again, that’s Philippians, chapter 4, starting with v4.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
This passage names for us a number of positive qualities and actions here. It describes a person who rejoices, who is reasonable, someone who is thankful and spends time thinking about things that are true, honorable, pure, commendable, and so forth.
And notice, sandwiched in the middle—v6—is a negative, the only negative: “do not be anxious…about anything.” Do not be anxious.
Anxiety will rob you of your joy, it will make you unreasonable and irrational, it’ll sap you of your grateful heart and can make you into a bitter person who only thinks about the worst. Anxiety, worry, fear…these things keep you from thinking positively, and leave you lying awake at night plagued by thoughts of: “What if… what if… what if…” This is the essence of anxiety.
So it’s no wonder Paul connects and contrasts the two within these few verses, because an anxious heart finds it difficult to rejoice, to be reasonable, to express gratitude or to think positively at all.
But above all else, what anxiety keeps us from, is peace.
Peace, as Paul writes here in v7, is “of God,” it’s “beyond our understanding,” it “guards our hearts” and our “minds,” which leads to: joy, moderation, gratitude, and positivity.
And the word Paul uses for “guard” in the original Greek is a very specific word. It means “to garrison, to protect by a military guard, to prevent any form of hostile invasion.”
The peace of man must be guarded, but the peace of God guards us (as we heard in the unbelievable story of the hymn writer). We go to all lengths to find and guard our own peace, but once you’ve found God’s peace, Paul says, it guards you.
A caged lion doesn’t need to be protected; let it out of its cage and it will protect itself and you. That’s real peace. Peace doesn’t need to be guarded, real peace guards you. So we have to ask ourselves: do we have real peace or have we settled for a fake?
Can this unfathomable peace of God be obtained? And if so, how?
Before we look at how to cultivate peace, we need to consider what keeps us from it. There are two options Paul gives us here: either we can have the peace of God (meaning, it’s peace that originates from Him), or anxiety as we take on the stress of life and try to manage it in our own power.
I’ll say that again. Two options: either we can receive the God’s peace, or we’re left desperately trying to find our own peace as we anxiously attempt to manage the stresses of this life on our own.
I’d like us to spend a considerable amount of time working through three ways we try to find peace in our own power, then we’ll look at how the Bible says real peace is found. So if it’s a help to you, here are two hooks—two phrases—to hang everything on that we’ll be talking about today: 1) Counterfeit Peace and 2) Cultivate Peace.
First, we’ll look at the ways we counterfeit peace, then we’ll consider how God tells us to cultivate peace. Join me in a word of prayer as we ask for God’s help in this time.
Lord, we invite you here to speak to us. We can’t effect change in our own lives, we need your Spirit to transform us—this is His fruit that you desire and are willing to grow in our lives, so I pray your Spirit would open our hearts to seek you, to find you, and to be redeemed and refined to identically match the likeness of your Son Jesus, in whose name we now pray, Amen.
I. Counterfeit Peace
My first laptop was a PC, which means I became very accustomed to hitting three keys in succession on a regular basis. Any guess what those three keys might be?
Control. Alt. Delete.
When there were too many programs running and it forced my computer to a halt, “Ctrl+Alt+Del” and I’d start all over again.
Sometimes we treat our lives like PCs. What we want is peace, and we try to find it by hitting “Control. Alt. Delete” as if life’s a computer that’s overloaded and about to crash… “Control, Alt, Delete!”—“maybe life will work like it’s supposed to now!”
These three keys represent 3 distinct strategies we use at times to try and find peace, but they don’t actually work. They each result in a counterfeit peace. We’ll take a look at each one.
Some of us try to find peace by attempting to CONTROL the chaos around us.
What we want is peace, and what we settle for is control…and you know it’s control because anxiety is killing you.
Maybe you’re experiencing the physical effects of it. If you ever have trouble sleeping because your mind is always racing, or you’ve developed high blood pressure as a result of trying to maintain your high level of stress, it’s likely you’ve been trying to control things as a means of overcoming your anxiety.
Anxiety can drive you to get a lot of things done, but it’ll never get you peace (which is, ironically, the very thing you’re after).
This is why Paul says in Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything…”
The Greek word he uses here for anxiety is a word that literally means “to be in pieces.” It’s to have your mind divided. There’s a great little play on this word in the story about Mary and Martha from Luke 10 that illustrates this so well. Luke 10:38-42.
Mary and Martha are two sisters who invite Jesus over for dinner. Mary’s sitting at his feet, listening to him while he’s with them, but Martha’s running all around the house, trying to get things done. v40 tells us she was “anxious (same word)—distracted and divided in pieces—with much serving.”
My son Wesley just turned one on Friday. I was feeding him his bottle Wednesday morning, just a couple days away from his birthday, and I was overwhelmed with how quickly time flies.
As I was thinking about my love for my son, the reality of what all needed to get done that morning set in. “Uh oh, got to empty the dishwasher, then I’ve got to wash the bottles, and…oh, there’s a couple morning meetings on the agenda so I’ll have to leave early to start my sermon prep, because if I don’t, then everything will get backed up, and…”—I wanted to spend time with my son, but there was just so much to do.
Martha’s saying “I can’t spend time with Jesus because there’s still so much to do,” and her mind’s in pieces about it. “Can’t take a break till it’s all over!”
There’s just too much to do. Have you ever felt that? Have you gotten anxious over it? Are you in pieces over what all needs to get done?
Anxiety stems from a heart that tries to control everything. And when you try to control everything, your attention becomes divided among all these different areas—there’s no focus. Life becomes reactive instead of proactive.
Like trying to spin dozens and dozens of plates, keeping them all up in the air—“oh, now this one needs my attention, and this one, uh oh, can’t forget my homework, ugh the dishes! Oh no! I forgot about my marriage, now it’s spiraling, and my relationship with Jesus, oh and then there’s that friendship and that project, and…”
If you can’t stop for a second to catch a breath, or if you feel horrible amounts of guilt and shame when you do finally collapse out of sheer exhaustion, chances are you’ve been trying to control everything to quell your anxiety and find peace.
Then what often eventually happens is you begin to realize it’s too big of a job—there’s so much to do—so you end up trying to control others to get the job done too.
End of v40 is indicative of this—Martha goes to Jesus and I’ll paraphrase it: she says, “Hey Jesus, Mary’s got work to do but she’s too busy having her quiet time.”
People who try to find peace through control, often end up becoming controlling of
others as well. And it’s because they feel so out of control. The world is chaotic, I must control it to fix it and find peace.
In your desire to control anxiety, has anxiety begun to control you?
Jesus replies to her in v41: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things [there’s that word again], 42 but one thing [one thing, he says] is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion.”
Some of us try to find peace by attempting to CONTROL the chaos around us, because we feel out of control about the chaos inside us.
Jesus is saying, “Martha, your mind is divided over so many things…but Mary has found the one thing she needs. Mary is single-minded. Mary has one thing she is looking at. You have one HUNDRED things, and I’m one of them. That’s nice, Martha, I’m not offended. But you’ll be anxious until I become the ONE thing for you.”
Who do you relate to? Are you single-minded like Mary, or is your mind scattered into a million pieces like Martha?
As it’s been so famously said, “Anxiety doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it robs today of its strength.” (Corrie Ten Boom)
Anxiety can drive you to get a lot of things done, but it’ll never get you the peace you’re looking for.
So that’s Control. Next… Alt.
Some of us try to find peace by distracting ourselves from what we need to do by ALTernating it with what we want to do instead.
Proverbs 12:25 says “Anxiety weighs down the heart.” And it does. So to lighten the heart, some of us try to distract ourselves from the heaviness of what needs to get done by doing the things we want to do instead.
“I need to write this paper… or I could watch a dozen Jimmy Fallen lip-sync battles…”
If you try to find peace through distraction, or avoid the things that might lead to pain or intense work so you can have a good time, I’m telling you, you won’t find peace that way either! Denying the presence of anxiety doesn’t actually deal with anxiety.
Anxiety will catch up to you…it knows when it’s being fooled.
Listen to these words from Proverbs 6:6-11
6 Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
7 It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
8 yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.
9 How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
When will you get up from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
11 and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man.
As a recovering procrastinator myself, let me tell you—and some of you really need to hear this—as much as you try to avoid them, deadlines still have this funny way of arriving on time.
The ALT key doesn’t work. Deadlines still come. At least when you try to CONTROL anxiety, it drives you to get things done. ALT just distracts you from what you need to do. Control tries to fix the universe, ALT runs to an alternate universe, and that won’t work to help you find peace either.
So whether it’s video games or netflix, the news or the endless world of wikipedia, are you attempting to bypass your anxiety by running into an ALTernate world?
You can’t fool anxiety. If you’re trying to CONTROL reality or running to an ALTernate reality, neither strategy will really help you find peace.
And then, there’s this third thing we try to do, too… Delete.
Some of us try to find peace by DELETE-ing our own desires and wishes in order to maintain a facade of peace in our relationships. “Nothing bothers me. I’m not phased by this. I’ll just pretend nothing’s wrong. Delete. Delete. Delete.”
Sometimes we delete and suppress our own dreams in order to create peace with others, because we’re afraid of the conflict that would stem if we brought up what we really wanted. You want something, but you know they don’t, so you remain quiet about it…but all the while, you’re stewing and brooding about it.
You have a dream to be a performer, but you know your family doesn’t support that decision, so you never mention it anymore but the dream still has a deep place in your heart and what ends up building there instead is an even deeper resentment.
You may be dating someone who’s consistently overlooking you—maybe their behavior is even borderline neglect—but you don’t dare bring up anything for fear they might leave you entirely.
You may be a naturally patient individual which is why you’ve been able to wait it out for so long, but the thing about having a long-fuse is: it’s still attached to something explosive.
“Ctrl, Alt, Del” …three ways we try to counterfeit peace in our own power, but none of them really do what they promise.
So how do we cultivate the real peace of God?
II. Cultivate Peace
The great Thomas Merton (poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion who was ordained as a priest and pioneered dialogues with major eastern spiritual figures such as the Dalai Lama) once said this…
“We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.”
Peace with others, peace with ourselves, and peace with God.
Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Meaning: do everything in your power to be at peace with others.
And in Matthew 5:9, Jesus adds to this when he says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. That’s scary verse, if I’m honest. I’m a much better peace breaker—and even a better peace-faker—than I am a peacemaker. But Jesus says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
“We want peace in our lives, but we often have war in our hearts” (Adam Breckenridge), especially against those who hurt us. Some of us here, some of you in this room right now, are not at peace with others. There’s conflict. There’s disunity. And whether the issue is petty or serious, something has broken the peace between you and someone else.
It may be a spouse or a former friend, an ex or a co-worker or neighbor or parent or in-laws, fill in the blank. But whoever it’s with, I’m telling you, this kind of division is the work of the devil, not of the Spirit of God.
Okay, so practically: how do we become a peace-maker in our relationships with others? Two statements from Jesus and a quote.
Matthew 5:23-24 says “23 If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
You could literally be at church, about to take communion, about to tithe, about to preach or lead worship or do kids church, and if God brings to your mind the face of someone that YOU have offended, you are required to leave and reconcile first, then come back and finish what you came here to do.
Then Matthew 18:15 says…15 “If someone sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” [then it continues to lay out the rest of Christ’s reconciliation protocol]
Now the quotation. Tim Keller writes:
“Matthew 5 tells us we should approach someone if we know they have something against us. Matthew 18 says we should approach someone if we have something against them. In short, if any relationship has cooled off or has weakened in any way, it is always your move. It doesn’t matter ‘who started it:’ God always holds you responsible to reach out to repair a tattered relationship.”
Whether you’re the offend-ed or the offend-er, God says, “It’s your move.” It’s your responsibility to go to them and begin the process of reconciliation.
Who do you need to make peace with, today?
But maybe it’s possible you’re unable to make peace with others, because you are not at peace yourself. You’ve been using Ctrl+Alt+Del for so long but all it’s done is crash your life. Is it possible to obtain the peace Phil 4:7 describes: a peace beyond our comprehension, that doesn’t need to be guarded, but one that guards you?
Back up to v6, which says “Do not be anxious…but” …what? “…but in everything by prayer, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. If you want the peace of God, you have to do three things 1) Pray to God, 2) Give Thanks to God, and 3) Make
your requests known to God.
If you want three P’s to Peace, here they are: Prayers, Praises, and Petitions.
1. Pray. Take the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer Jesus gave us himself. Begin with that. Let that prayer orient your will around God’s will. If you want to break the pattern of control in your life, begin by Praying the Lord’s Prayer, found in Matt. 6, every day and night.
2. Next, learn to praise God—to give thanks. This will take practice, which, interestingly enough, is what Paul says in v9. He says “practice these things,”—we’re not naturally thankful. Also, we need to learn to be mindful. “Think about such things,” Paul says in v8. What things? Things that are true, honorable, right, pure,” and so on. Meditate on the beauty of a sunrise, the miracle of birth, the smell of flowers blooming, and budding friendships that bring value into your life. Think about the honor of having a job that pays the bills if you have one, rather than the stress it brings at times. When you practice praise by focusing on the positive things around you and thank God for them when the storms of life aren’t there, you’ll learn to spot the good things in the midst of trouble as well.
3. Lastly, petitions. Prayer is submission; Praise is expression; Petitions are supplications. You’re not boycotting God to get stuff. You’re asking him to supply your needs, because you trust him. You love him. And you know he loves you and wants to hear your voice.
When you trust God’s control through prayer, you relinquish the need to Ctrl.
When you learn to praise God for what brings, you break the urge to Alt.
When you make your petitions known to God, you’ll stop Del-eting yourself.
But, before you can have the peace of God, you must first have peace with God.
The New Testament talks about two kinds of peace. The Peace of God and Peace with God, and before you can find the peace of God, you must first find peace with God.
Romans 5:10 describes that at one time, we were “enemies with God”—that’s where we all start. That’s our former identity and that’s the identity of anyone who is still at war with God. We were enemies with God…But have you ever noticed, there are two kinds of enemies: those against you and those you are against. Sometimes there’s overlap, but not in this case. God is the latter. He isn’t against us. He’s never been against us. He’s for us, but we were against him.
Col. 1:21 describes this so well, where it says… “21 At one time, we were alienated from God and were enemies in. our. minds [did you see that? we were enemies with God: in. our. own. minds]
Like when you thought your friend or boss or spouse or whomever was upset with you, but they actually weren’t, there was just some sort of misunderstanding. Colossians 1 tells us we were enemies with God in our own minds.
We were against him, but he was never against us. That’s why v22 continues and says, “But now he has reconciled us. by. Christ…”
Romans 5:8 echoes this, “God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners [while we were STILL sinners!], Christ. died. for. us.”
We pitted ourselves against God, but God proves he is for us by sending Jesus.
I read the story once of a cat that was thrown into a raging river. Somehow it
managed to stay afloat through a storm by latching onto a rock, holding on for dear life. After the storm passed, some kids were playing outside and they heard a cat meowing in the distance—they saw this poor cat on a little rock, frightened as the water raged past her.
They waded through the river to go get it, but the frightened cat thought they were against her—she thought they were coming to throw her in—so she bit and clawed at the kids, not knowing they were coming to save her.
We were once enemies with God in our minds—clawing and biting at him…thinking He came to get back at us, not realizing he came to get us back. Jesus comes to us, like the kids seeing that frightened cat, and He picks us up and he takes all the bites and scratches on himself because he loves us and is for us, not against us.
Jesus took on the sin and death that we deserved so that in him, we could find new life, so that as Isaiah 53 says, “By his wounds, we are healed.” Have you accepted his offer for peace…or are you still waging war against the one who says, “It doesn’t matter who started it, I’ll make it My move.”
When you embrace peace with God, you’ll begin to experience the peace of God in your life and extend this peace to others as well.
If anyone experienced the peace of God in his life, it was our boy Horatio, who wrote that amazing hymn even after finding out about his four daughters drowning. How could he say “it is well with my soul” no matter what came his way? Because of this reality…
I want you to notice it in Philippians 4. It’s so easily missed. Before Paul talks about the antidote to anxiety and God’s peace—before ANY of that—look at this little phrase Paul includes at the end of v5. He says: “The Lord is at hand” (meaning: Jesus is coming again”) and THEN he continues: “Do not be anxious… the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds.”
That’s why Horatio Stafford could close the hymn with this verse:
“And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trumpets shall sound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.”
Jesus is coming again. Do you know him? If you do, then the thought of him will bring you peace amid the storm, because you know the one who calmed the storm is coming again for you.
Now as we approach our time of communion together, 1 Corinthians 11 tells us this: that as we take the bread representing the body of Christ and dip it into the cup representing his blood shed for us, we proclaim the Lord’s death until. he. comes, because: he is coming again. Let that truth wash over you now and bring you peace.
Use this time to confess where you have tried to Ctrl+Alt+Del to find peace. Use this time to ask the Lord who you need to reconcile with. I’ll be by the doors if you would like someone to talk with as you work through these things.
Embrace peace with God, experience the peace of God, and extend this peace to others as well.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
For Yours is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.