Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, and do not fear for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.”Isaiah 35:4
Peace Through Strength
A simple three-word statement can mean so many different things to so many different people. I was in high school and then college when President Ronald Reagan served his two terms as President of the United States. During this same period of time my political ideals began to mature and form. I was squarely aligned with conservative political principles and beliefs. I was what was known as a “Reagan Youth.”
Peace through strength was a common plank in the foundation of conservative beliefs. The political and strategic approach in those days was to build up superior defenses, troop numbers and weapons capabilities that created a deterrent for any foreign enemy considering a challenge. This led to the arms race and the escalation of tensions between the two most powerful and wealthy super-powers of the day. Our strength was determined by holding a tight grip on the sure demise of the enemy.
Those were the days of the Cold War. The U.S., under Reagan’s strong conservative stance was clearly and ideologically opposed to the Red Communist Russia– the “evil empire”. Mikhail Gorbachev was the leader of the Soviet party and the target of Reagan’s famous words while standing at the Berlin Wall – “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” President Reagan, understanding the opportunity at hand, called into focus his years of theatrical training and vocation, captured the world’s attention and started what would begin the eventual decline and crumbling of the Russian empire and it’s stranglehold on the Eastern bloc.
But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.2 Thessalonians 3:3
While many of my political beliefs, alignments and passions are similar today as they were 35 years ago, my perspectives have changed. Peace through strength has a different meaning to me now.
Peace doesn’t hold the same overarching meaning of “World Peace” and lack of foreign wars. Peace has become more personal and internal. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom and includes the notions of completeness, wholeness, fulfillment, harmony and well-being.
That type of peace is not of my making but is delivered from the strength of God’s powerful promises and proven acts of salvation.
My peace through strength today comes from the foundational strength I know from promises that have already been delivered in my life from Jesus. My peace occurs because I know that regardless of what happened yesterday, what occurred today and what unknowns will occur tomorrow I am forgiven, protected and preserved for all time. My grip is not focused on keeping others who oppose me away. My hands are both firmly attached to the vine who guides, leads and sustains me.
Life is like a stormy sea That tosses to and fro, But God’s Word will ever be A ballast for my soul; By its truth I’ll be held fast Till I reach heaven’s shore Where I will be home at last And sail life’s sea no more!
How often do you feel like a sailing ship being tossed to and fro? Or a tiny dinghy out on a stormy lake? I certainly felt that way more times than I can count. My “peace-filled” days were the ones I could count on a couple hands. But Jesus is the Prince of Peace! It’s so fascinating to study the days of Jesus and His interactions with the leaders of the Jewish faith. We have the benefit of thousands of years of scholarly study to correctly interpret Jesus’ words. We also have the truth of the resurrection to back up Jesus’ position with God.
But think of those leaders who knew the prophesy in Isaiah 9:6 which states: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” They certainly weren’t anxiously waiting for this Nazarene. A child born to a lowly woman. Someone not officially holding a title of Prince or even Rabbi. And yet there he stood.
“Shalom – peace – is a precious word to the Jewish people. It means more than just the absence of war or distress. Shalom means wholeness, completeness, health, security, even prosperity in the best sense. When you are enjoying God’s peace, there is joy and contentment,” says Warren Wiersbe on his commentary of John 14:25-31. The Pharisees, and other lay people, were looking for someone to just give them the absence of war and the gift of prosperity. They were missing out on the eternal peace that God gifts us through both war and prosperity. When I think of God’s peace the eye of a hurricane always comes to mind. This eye is an area of mostly calm weather inside a terrifying hurricane.
According to the website, A Catholic Gentleman, which promotes faith in men, “over 40 million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder of some kind, and there are no doubt countless others that live with severe anxiety but are undiagnosed. “ But how do we obtain this elusive peace? The Catholic Gentleman gives some great insight:
First, it means living in the present moment. A great deal of anxiety comes from worrying about the past or the future, neither of which can be changed. Even though we know it is useless, we often expend untold emotional energy worrying.
Second, it means accepting the circumstances of life without impatient resistance, realizing that everything is either positively willed or at least allowed by God.
Finally, it means trust in the goodness of God. Many of us are afraid to completely abandon ourselves to the will of God because we are afraid of what it might mean.
These three pieces of advice are so clear and helpful. But they are not easy. I once told a good friend that some days just working on staying in the present moment took every ounce of energy I had. There are no quick fixes to this amazing gift God wants for us. Unlike grace and salvation which, once we accept Jesus as the son of God who removes our stains, is given fully and freely to us, the gift of peace can seem more like trying to open a clamshell style package. You think it looks simple and you try poking your fingernail between the two pieces of plastic. When that doesn’t work you look for a helpful tab somewhere the manufacturer must have added in order to tear that puppy open. But alas, none exists. Then you start trying to use brute strength or maybe your teeth. You feel a bit silly. I mean it’s you against a piece of plastic! You finally give in and get out a knife or scissors. And even that may lead to a bloody finger. When all is said and done you have in front of you a mangled piece of plastic and the object of your desire, freed from the bonds of the clamshell. You look at your freed item and somehow it feels more valuable from the work you just put in. And you exclaim, “finally!”
I love the teachings of Joyce Meyer primarily because this taming of our minds is her primary teaching focus when it comes to following God’s Word. One of her devotional days says,
This is based on 2 Cor 10:5: “We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey God.” When we keep our mind in the present and decide what goes on up in our thick skull we are miles ahead toward achieving that gift of peace.
I know a lot people who spend most of their time on the wall of the hurricane instead of the eye. They’re the “Chicken Littles” and the “Debbie Downers” and the “Joy Suckers.” I’m familiar with all of them as I perfected each of them at one time or another. Until I accepted Jesus. I surrendered to trusting the goodness of God. When I am facing tough situations I FIRST turn to God to pump a little extra peace into me. For a long time, I assumed that long-time Christians all had this peace. One friend I spoke to at the beginning of the COVID 19 scare, who has been a Christian much longer than I, was distraught. He said he just couldn’t see God at work anywhere. I told him he sounded like the ship being tossed to and fro. And that without trust in God he wouldn’t find peace. He stopped talking. He realized he had stepped out of God’s eye and into the storm.
I read this story as part of a sermon by Max Lucado on “Peace that defies pain.”
“I have everything I need for joy!” Robert Reed said. “Amazing!” I thought.
His hands are twisted and his feet are useless. He can’t bathe himself. He can’t feed himself. He can’t brush his teeth, comb his hair, or put on his underwear. His shirts are held together by strips of Velcro®. His speech drags like a worn-out audio cassette.
Robert has cerebral palsy.
The disease keeps him from driving a car, riding a bike, and going for a walk. But it didn’t keep him from graduating from high school or attending Abilene Christian University, from which he graduated with a degree in Latin. Having cerebral palsy didn’t keep him from teaching at a St. Louis junior college or from venturing overseas on five mission trips.
And Robert’s disease didn’t prevent him from becoming a missionary in Portugal. He moved to Lisbon, alone, in 1972. There he rented a hotel room and began studying Portuguese. He found a restaurant owner who would feed him after the rush hour and a tutor who would instruct him in the language.
Then he stationed himself daily in a park, where he distributed brochures about Christ. Within six years he led seventy people to the Lord, one of whom became his wife, Rosa.
I heard Robert speak recently. I watched other men carry him in his wheelchair onto the platform. I watched them lay a Bible in his lap. I watched his stiff fingers force open the pages. And I watched people in the audience wipe away tears of admiration from their faces. Robert could have asked for sympathy or pity, but he did just the opposite. He held his bent hand up in the air and boasted, “I have everything I need for joy.”
His shirts are held together by Velcro®, but his life is held together by joy.”
I praise God, the Prince of Peace, the Giver of Joy, the Giver of Shaloha, as many on the beautifully peaceful island of Kauai like to say. I thank Him for helping me be steadfast in surrendering to Him so that I might live each moment in the eye rather than the walls of the storm.