Finding Peace in the Storms

A dark line of clouds in the distance, unusual calm outside, sudden darkness and roaring winds all alert me to what I experienced so often growing up – a possible tornado approaching.  Growing up in Alabama, part of “tornado alley”, I have a strong sense of knowing when a tornado is coming. Thankfully, I know what to do. In our schools we would have tornado drills in the hallways, and at home I knew when to run to the basement for safety. We always took the warnings seriously. Because I was prepared in knowing what to do, even though my heart pounded with some fear, I had peace.

Often we experience storms in life, some small and some with tornado force winds that bring a path of destruction. If we are not prepared we will not know what to do when they come. And they will come at some point. Our minds will become confused, our hearts will be stricken with fear and we will panic if we are not prepared.

When a sudden storm came on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus’ disciples panicked in fear:

“But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water. Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”   Mark 4:37-40

When storms come into our lives, we often do all we can to survive, then we panic, like the disciples, waiting for God to respond. Perhaps, we too become frustrated at God and ask Him, “Don’t you care?” Before we get to that point, though, there are ways to prepare for the coming storms in life so we can have peace instead of fear.

  1. Know God and read His word daily. Memorize Bible verses about His character so you can remember these when you become fearful. Keep your mind focused on God daily trusting in Him.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”  Isaiah 26:3

Know that God is good:

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1

Know that God loves you and rejoices over you:

“For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3:17

Know that God is in control:

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10

  1. Make prayer to God a daily habit. Spend time talking with God and listening to Him also. Thank Him for His blessings, rejoice in His love and goodness and ask Him for your needs. Make it a habit to give him your cares and concerns.

If we haven’t been talking to God daily and rejoicing in Him at all times then we will not know His peace in difficult times. Paul wrote these words while experiencing the storm of being in prison for his faith:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice…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.”   Philippians 4:4-6

King David often prayed to God. He gave his fears to God then rested knowing God would take care of the storms in his life.

 “Answer me when I call to you, O God…Free me from my troubles. Have mercy on me and hear my prayer… The LORD will answer when I call to him…In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O LORD, will keep me safe.” Psalm 4:1,3,8

So are you prepared for storms? Are you in one now? Go to God in prayer and read His word daily. He DOES care. He hears and will answer. Ask Him to replace your fears with His peace. Jesus told his disciples these comforting words:

 “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

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Peace instead of Fear

What burdens are you carrying today? What fears?  What needs do you have?  What do we do with them? This past year, I have joined with others locally and across our nation, to pray earnestly, unceasingly, not like before, as we have been burdened and fearful for our nation- the loss of religious freedoms, the ever encroaching evil in our culture and the fight for godly values in our homes and schools. God is working mightily through our prayers on a large scale.

Now that those times of prayer for the elections have past, will we continue to pray earnestly, unceasingly? The burdens and battles are never over in this world – whether for a nation or in our lives. We continue to fight the darkness around us in our  lives and homes, our communities and churches. Paul reminded the Ephesians living in an ungodly culture:

“Hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil…take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion.” (Ephesians 6: 16, 17) 

Daily we feel the pressures and burdens living in this world. Satan tempts us to believe that God doesn’t care. He has left us. So, we decide to worry and fret, overwhelmed by carrying these burdens ourselves. But when I choose to go to God in prayer and give these cares to him, I do not go away empty handed – God gives me himself in return, his joy and his peace.

Thomas Watson, an English Puritan Preacher who lived almost 400 years ago wrote in his book, The Ten Commandments:

“Let us cast all of our burdens upon him-our fears, our needs and our sins. Christian what troubles you? You have a God to pardon your sins and to supply your needs, therefore roll your burden on him, “Cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7. Those who have a covenant union with God may be filled with contentment of spirit, for God is a rich blessing to the soul. He is a sufficient good. He who has God has enough…If God is our God let it cheer and revive us in all conditions…Let us live as those who have God as their own, and walk in holy lives, that others may see there is something of God in us.”

As I abide with God in a close relationship with him, praying daily and hourly for mine and others’ burdens, I can trust he will work things out in his good timing. Then God produces the peace and joy I need in my circumstances. My spirit is refreshed and I become refreshment to those living in darkness around me. Hopeless, they are burdened with sins and sorrows wandering around looking for someone who cares. I can lead them to our God and to His son, Jesus, who takes the burdens of those who call out to him and desire to live godly lives.

“Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not allow the godly to slip and fall.” Psalm 55:22

So there are two choices for me and you today as God’s children: 1) worry and fret until I am overwhelmed and totally stressed in my circumstances or 2) give my burdens to God through prayer and experience His peace and joy, trusting in a good and powerful God who loves me.

“Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” Psalm 50:15

Silence and Trust is Your Strength

Living in an area that offers rest in the mountains, quite often people are instead attracted to the many activities and tourism. Even though surrounded by the quiet beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, some don’t know how to enjoy the silence. They have become too accustomed to noise and busyness.

These past few months have been a time of silence and quiet from blogging and writing so that I can read God’s word, pray and renew my mind. From these times of silence, quiet trust, and prayer God renews my strength to help others and minister to their needs. Silently reading and meditating on God’s word and listening in prayer, I have the words to speak and write for others. In our American culture of busyness and noise, even in the church, this spiritual discipline is rarely honored in the Christian community.  In fact, we “glorify” being busy.  We rarely seek silence before God. Instead we seek our own ways, asking God’s “blessings” on our plans instead of first going to Him in silence, listening to His instructions and gaining His strength.

Often a recurring problem among God’s people, centuries ago, the Israelites decided not to listen to the Lord either, wanting to go their own way, as “children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord.” (Isaiah 30:9) They decided to seek someone else’s help and guidance in Egypt. They didn’t want to hear from God – they had their own plans, thank you. Yet, even in their disobedience against God to listen, He wanted them to come back and rest in Him:

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

It is our silence and trust in God that give us the strength and words to minister to others in this hurting world. We are too quick to make our plans and not stop to be silent and pray. Too many Christians, even those in ministry, are following their own ways, and the influence of others’ worldly knowledge instead of seeking God’s instructions in silence and prayer. God could say to them as He told the Israelites, “You make plans that are contrary to mine. You make alliances that are not directed by my Spirit, thus piling up your sins.” (Isaiah 30:1. NLT)

In his book, The Way of the Heart, author, Henri Nouwen talks about the importance of solitude, silence, and prayer. Nouwen says:

“A word that bears fruit is a word that emerges from the silence…from it we speak to those in need. Solitude and silence can never be separated from the call to unceasing prayer…The literal translation of the words ‘pray always’ is ‘come to rest’…It is a rest in God in the midst of a very intense struggle.”

In the quiet clinging to God in prayer, we grow in our strength. The deep roots of the tree grow in silence but its strength is shown through withstanding the power of the wind and storms.

Can we just stop for a few minutes or even an hour? And dare I say, even perhaps not attend another Christian meeting or event before we have spent silent time with God, listening to His instructions? Can we turn off the noise around us, put down the tourist guide, and get away so our strength is renewed? You never know what you might hear God say to you in His word and through prayer.

“He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries…Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left.” Isaiah 30: 19, 21, NLT

 “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him,” Psalm 62:5

 

Our Only Hope for Peace and Joy

Hope

Death and destruction seem to be everywhere recently. Chaos, darkness, and despair have brought many to experience hopelessness and fear. For centuries, our world has been shaken by violence, wars, plagues and disasters. This has been the same in every nation past and present and to every people group. It’s nothing new; it’s just new to each generation.

The recent earthquakes in Nepal, the destruction of churches and Christian homes by IS militants, and the violent riots in the U.S. have destroyed not just buildings but lives, thousands of lives. Can things get worse?  Maybe. Is there any hope? Always. In a world that seems hopeless there is an answer. There has always been an answer yet throughout history most have rejected the only true Hope that brings real peace and joy. But others continue to accept and even give up their lives for this Hope; their hope is knowing the Creator God and His eternal love.

Most recently, a group of Islamic State (IS) militants captured and beheaded 21 men in Libya who were Christians. However, one of the men, Matthew, was actually not a Christian. He was asked moments before being beheaded if he would turn to Islam. He turned down the offer. Voice of the Martyrs at persecution.com wrote about Matthew: “After reportedly witnessing the ‘immense faith’ of the Egyptian believers, he decided to become a follower of Christ. On camera, one of the terrorists asked Matthew, ‘Do you reject Christ?’ [his response] ‘Their God is my God,’ he responded, and he became one of the 21 men laying down their lives for their faith in Christ.”

Matthew’s hope, even when faced with death, was the God of the Christian believers. Their hope is eternal not earthly. King David placed his hope alone in God. He wrote:

“…for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Psalm 25:5

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.” Psalm 62:5

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 42:11

“You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas,” Psalm 65:5

For those who have come to know God’s love through Jesus Christ, they are the ones who hope in Him alone. No bank accounts, houses, possessions, accomplishments, social programs, or positions can bring the real hope for peace and joy in this world. Paul knew this hope and encouraged the believers in Jesus:

“Be joyful in hope…” (Romans 12:12),“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  (Romans 15:13)

Do you know this hope? The hope of eternal life with God through His Son, Jesus Christ? If you do, then, you have the answer for the world, to those around you who are hopeless and shaken by these recent events. Peter told the Christians who were living in desperate times of persecution for their faith to be ready at any time to share this Hope with others. Like the Egyptian men in Libya, would someone see my “immense faith” in Jesus and say, “her God is my God”? I hope so. How about you?

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3:15

Peaceful Alone Time

Central Texas Landscape
Central Texas Landscape

 

All packed up in my grey Chevette, I eagerly anticipated my arrival in the little town of Salado, Texas, one hour north of Austin. Back in my first years of campus ministry, while living in Austin, my weeks were filled with meetings, discussions with college students, speaking in sororities, late night phone calls, and social events with my roommates and coworkers. Each semester I planned a weekend retreat at the Stagecoach Inn in Salado for a time of peace and quiet, alone to think and listen. Walking around the town and sitting outside, I filled the pages in my journals and talked with God, praying and listening to Him. After two days of thinking, silence, prayer, and writing I returned home with a renewed purpose, excited for the next adventure at work and in my life.

Recently, I took a small “retreat” from writing my blog to take some time alone to think, pray and listen to God. I needed to refuel my mind. Right now, in my own world and the outside world around me, I am constantly bombarded with daily turmoil, urgent decisions, and discouraging news. There are so many needs, so much to pray for, so many lives in pain that I need to retreat and get God’s perspective. I need time to listen to the One who is in control of it all.

Not much different than now, Jesus lived in a world of national problems, cultural divides, and religious pride and persecution. Meeting the needs of the hurting, the dying, and all worldly evil made Jesus eagerly long for special times alone to think and pray. His disciples who noticed these times of retreat wrote:

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16

“Afterward he went up into the hills by himself to pray…” Matt. 14:23

Right now the world and nations are in great turmoil, evil is growing day by day, there is so much to do to bring God’s light into a dark world. But, like Jesus, we need special times to retreat, to withdraw to a quiet place to be with Him. Even King David, the leader of a great nation, recognized his need for peaceful time alone with his Lord God. He wrote these words:

“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” Psalm 23:2-3

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not…over the man who carries out evil devices!” Psalm 37:7

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10

Are you packed up, ready to withdraw to a quiet place for a peaceful alone time with Jesus even though your world is full of craziness? As we abide with Jesus daily, we also need special times of quiet to think and pray, maybe even to write what is in our hearts. Then we too can say–“He restores my soul.”

Stagecoach Inn Salado, TX courtesy of staystagecoach.com
Stagecoach Inn Salado, TX courtesy of staystagecoach.com

His Peace

The old sewing machine brings back memories. Sitting with my grandmother, I watched her move the pedal up and down with her foot, faster and faster, as she sewed pieces of fabric together. Smelling the mothball scented drawers reminds me of those times together as she taught me some shortcuts as I was learning to sew on my own. When my grandmother moved out of her home to stay in a retirement center she left the sewing machine to me. I never actually learned how to use it but I keep it in a prominent place, remembering her and her gift of sewing. She left her love for sewing with me in that sewing machine.

As Jesus was preparing to leave this world, about to die on the cross, fulfilling God’s plan to rise again and conquer sin and death, He told His followers that He would leave some things with them.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27

Peace – tranquility, stability, calm, serenity. Jesus had experienced the world we live in. A world full of fear, hatred, wars, injustice, poverty, broken lives, evil leaders, sickness, pain, suffering and abuse. But Jesus said we didn’t have to be afraid or have troubled hearts if we had Him. He would give us His Peace.

His followers remembered His peace. The disciples had been in a boat during a storm, a deadly storm. They were afraid for their lives. In panic and fear they called out to Jesus, who was asleep and at peace. “Do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38-39) Jesus called out, “Peace, be still!” The wind stopped and there was great peace and calm.

Paul, a follower of Jesus, had been beaten, left for dead, and was imprisoned. Yet, he knew His peace. While in prison he wrote to the believers in Philippi, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything…then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Jesus left us with His peace. He has the power to call out to the storms in our lives – “Peace, be still.” He gives us peace that will guard our hearts and minds as we abide and live in Him. Are you fearful, feel imprisoned, beaten down, distressed by the waves around you? Call out to the One who left us His peace. My peace I give to you.”

 

calm storm

Peace not fear

He was shivering, cold and sitting in the myrtle tree but singing the prettiest song.  All fluffy, he seemed to not have a care in the world while looking for his morning breakfast.  I saw the grey bird this morning in the extremely cold wind.  I smiled thinking about all how much God cares for that little bird. And how much more He cares for me.

Jesus told his disciples not to fear those who would want to harm them. But that they could be at peace knowing He would take care of them.  He compared them to the sparrows.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”  Luke 12:6-7

Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle of Elmira, New York knew the strength of this peace.  Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for 20 years and her husband was an incurable cripple who lived in a wheel chair.  Yet, they lived happy Christian lives bringing inspiration to others. In the summer of 1905, Civilla Martin and her husband befriended the Doolittles.  One day, Dr. Martin asked them for the secret to their bright hopefulness.  Mrs. Doolittle commented, “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.” Inspired by this comment, Civilla went home and penned the words to this famous hymn:

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Jesus sees and cares about all the sparrows yet we are worth more than them.  He knows all about us, whether we know him or not.  He knows what we are going through at this moment.  He knows how we feel, the burdens we are carrying, the difficult choices we have to make and the hard daily work of providing for ourselves or our families. He has not forgotten us.

Abiding with Jesus and knowing He cares about me brings such peace. Just like He hasn’t forgotten the sparrows – the little birds in the dead of winter. He hasn’t forgotten those who are near him. They are more precious than those little birds. He brings peace not fear.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on…Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”  Matthew 6:25-26