After the most progressive and destructive century in history, it's become a cliché to say that we are living in extraordinary times. Despite the modern miracles that technology has provided, we are living through times of great stress—personally, nationally and even globally.
How do we cope with our anxiety about the conditions around us, about personal problems, about the society our children will inherit? Most of us worry but don't know what to do. How do we keep a sense of perspective?
There is a way to manage the turbulence that confronts us. There are answers that are effective and encouraging, particularly when we face circumstances that have the potential to paralyze us emotionally: the unexpected loss of a job, the death of a loved one, a failed or failing marriage, feelings of betrayal, health problems. Troubles like these can produce prolonged distress. For the individual caught up in such distress, coping is arduous and painful.
Without oversimplifying or minimizing such traumas, we can be assured that there is a way to find peace of mind—a quiet, calm mental state that is not subject to constant anxiety when pressures build. Many look to self-help to provide the solutions. Although the techniques and devices promoted in popular books and tapes on the subject of managing stress and finding peace may provide a measure of relief, none addresses the fundamental deficiency of the human spirit. To solve our deepest problems we must do better than reprogram our subconscious or learn the latest relaxation techniques.
Seeing the Invisible
The answers that bring lasting solutions are spiritual in nature and derive from the principles involved in exercising godly faith. But before we can exercise faith in God, we need to know that He exists and is personally interested in us. As individuals, we need to think of Him as our Father. So the first step to having the peace of mind we yearn for is to establish that God cares for us in all circumstances and that He has a plan for our lives, both now and in the future.
But how can we know that God even exists?
If the apostle Paul were alive today, he might well answer the question as he did in one of his letters more than 1,900 years ago: “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20, New International Version). According to Paul, we are without excuse if we don't recognize God's divine nature and His eternal power in the natural world.
From rugged panoramas to rain forests, the earth fills us with awe. Its seemingly infinite variety is amazing to contemplate and even more difficult to explain in anything but flights of theory and imagination. Whales communicate by underwater sound, but how did they learn? Migrating birds fly thousands of miles and unerringly arrive at the same location year after year. How did they develop such precise guidance systems?
The simple belief that God’s existence is evident from what we see in nature has all but disappeared in a world that so boldly proclaims humanity’s accomplishments.
The apostle Paul said that “the living God . . . made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them.” The simple belief that God's existence is evident from what we see in nature has all but disappeared in a world that so boldly proclaims humanity's accomplishments. Yet that childlike trust is the starting point for a right relationship with our Father.
But even if we know that He exists, how can we be sure He cares?
If the creation can teach us something of His existence, perhaps it can teach us something about His concern for us as well.
Tried by Fire
In the shade of the giant sequoias of California, there's a special kind of beauty. These magnificent trees have a tranquility and a majesty that belong to nature alone. They capture our attention, not only for their size, but also for their longevity. Some have stood for centuries and bear witness to all the disorder of the past 2,000 years or so.
For example, the General Grant tree is 267 feet (81 meters) tall and 107 feet (33 meters) around the base. Many years ago, a fire scarred the General Grant, leaving an A-shaped gash in its trunk, but the tree survived and continues to grow.
Nearby is an even more startling example of growth despite the adversity of fire. The inside lower half of that tree has been almost completely burned out, yet the top continues to thrive.
Fashioned with loving care, these monuments to God's power testify to the fact that we can, when “fire” strikes us, do more than survive: we can continue to grow.
That understanding begins with the simple belief that our Father has made us with the same care and attention that He gave to the rest of His creation. What is more, He cares for us above everything else He created. Jesus explained this fundamental truth, as recorded in Matthew 6: “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? . . . So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin. . . . Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (verses 25–30).
Paul also spoke of our Father's concern for us. He said that God “allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16–17). In other words, He supplies our needs.
These passages speak to a relationship between the Creator and His creation that is both simple and profound. It is based on a quality of trust that we don't hear much about in our sophisticated high-tech world. Yet that simple trust is the basis of a faith that assures us God will use His power to intervene for our well-being.
“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
God's intervention requires that we have our priorities in the correct order. “Do not worry,” Jesus instructed, “saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans [or non-Christians] run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:31–34, NIV).
Since there is enough to be concerned about on a daily basis, our Father does not want us to be overanxious about our future needs. What we need today, He will provide in answer to prayer, based on belief. He does expect, however, that we will plan for the future, set goals, and then commit those things to Him in prayer.
Prayer is an important component of godly faith—a vital step in the search for peace of mind. But when we pray, we can expect an answer only when we pray in faith.
The apostle James said: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, without doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5–8).
The book of Hebrews completes the thought when it says that without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Tranquility through answered prayer depends on wholehearted belief in God's capacity and willingness to answer.
Another key to gaining peace of mind is to learn what God requires of us and then to act upon that knowledge. This means coming to know God's revealed way of life—discovering how He would live if He were a human being. Jesus Christ's life on this earth is both the representation and the revelation of how our Father would live as a human and how He wants us to live. The source of that revelation, the Bible, teaches us what we need to know to come into sync with God's plan for us.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophet Micah provides the answer to the immediate question of what God requires. He wrote, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). These are direct instructions for those who seek a genuine relationship with God.
Can I Help You?
As Micah pointed out, God's blessings and protection are available to those who demonstrate justice, selflessness and humility toward their fellow human beings. And although we see very few examples of that kind of high moral conduct, occasionally there are those who act selflessly to right a wrong or extend a kindness to lift others up.
In late February and early March of this year, heavy rains inundated portions of Zimbabwe, the Republic of South Africa and Mozambique. In the impoverished country of Mozambique alone, an estimated one million people were displaced when the Limpopo River flooded its banks.
South African rescue teams worked tirelessly, often at peril to their own lives, to save those who could be saved. One of the most dramatic efforts reported was the rescue of Sofia and Rositha Pedro—a mother and her newborn daughter. The young woman was one of about a dozen people who had sought refuge in a tree three days earlier when the rising floodwaters forced them from their homes. The rescue occurred about an hour after Rositha was born in that tree, but first a medic from the South African Defense Force had to be brought back from the base camp and winched into the tree by helicopter to cut the umbilical cord.
Other nations also provided support in the rescue efforts, and many, including Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the United States, are providing support for ongoing relief efforts.
There are a number of remarkable aspects to this story in the light of Micah's instructive words. First is the humility that enables people to forget national boundaries, racial differences and perhaps personal or national prejudices to assist others in their time of need. Second is the tenderheartedness that allows people to give of themselves for those who have no foreseeable ability to return the kindness. Third is the respect for the value of another's life, even at the risk of losing one's own. Such an approach is the beginning of understanding where we fit in God's plan for His creation.
In order to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before our Creator, we have to be willing to give of ourselves for others. In that frame of mind—one in which we see others as being equal in importance to or of greater importance than ourselves—we are freed from anger, malice and a desire for vengeance. And we have the beginning of a proper perspective on ourselves.
“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Imagine what a different world it would be if the principles addressed by Paul in the first few verses of Philippians 2 were applied consistently and, in particular, in any area that might involve ethnic violence and bigotry. Paul wrote: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (verses 3–4).
Applying such principles isn't easy. But God will help us here as well if we want it and ask for it. It is possible to express the love of God toward our fellow human beings. It is possible to act justly toward one another. And it is also possible to walk humbly with our God, not just with respect to our fellow humans but with respect to Him as well.
Knowing Our Place
Three thousand years ago, King David of Israel addressed our position with respect to that of our Creator. He said: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You [care for] him?” (Psalm 8:3–4).
Looking at the night sky unassisted by the powerful telescopes we use today, David was humbled by the magnificence of what he saw. Our increased ability to see should produce increased humility and help us to appropriately fix our position within God's creation. If we do, we will not take ourselves too seriously, as Job has testified.
In the midst of a titanic personal struggle with loss and despair, Job spoke about God without real understanding. God's response was to question Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the [measuring] line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4–7).
Lacking answers, Job admitted his insignificance before God. “I know that You can do everything,” he said, “and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. . . . I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. . . . I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2–6).
Despite the fact that humility is the way ahead, and despite its therapeutic benefits for us all, true humility is not something we humans experience very often.
Job had located his place in the order of things. His sense of his own insignificance before God gave him a framework for his life—as a recognition of our own insignificance before God can for us. Despite the fact that humility is the way ahead, and despite its therapeutic benefits for us all, true humility is not something we humans experience very often.
However, when we do, we can come to the kind of peace of mind the apostle Paul had when he wrote: “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11–13). Paul's humility enabled him to express genuine confidence in God's control over creation, including human life, no matter the circumstances.
A Change of Heart
If we know that God exists and that He cares for us, and we know what He requires of us but fail to act upon it, peace of mind will elude us. Without a proper relationship with Him, the void in the human spirit, which is responsible for so much anxiety and distress, goes unfilled. A proper relationship with God requires that our way of life conform to His. When it does not, the Bible says we are in a state of sin. And our sins act as a barrier between God and us.
Isaiah 59:1–2 tells us that “the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities [or your lawlessness] have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (NIV). Our sins—that is to say, living in a way that is contrary to God's teaching—cause Him to turn away from us.
So what is the answer to this dilemma? Is there a way back into God's favor? This same book of Isaiah gives the answer in chapter 1, where it says: “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool’” (verse 18).
God asks us to analyze our lives in the light of His law. That kind of reasoning should produce deep sorrow in us, because we come to see ourselves and our actions from His perspective. More than mere regret, Godly sorrow should produce a complete change on our part so that we begin to live in harmony with His teaching and instruction.
When we do decide to change, God is able to give of Himself for us and act on our behalf. The Bible calls this process repentance, and it is necessary if we are to avail ourselves of the forgiveness made available through Jesus Christ. Repentance and forgiveness are at the beginning of the road to peace of mind. The prophet Isaiah wrote that God “will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on [God], because he trusts in [Him]” (Isaiah 26:3).
Learning to trust God implicitly for everything is one of life's great lessons, and it can take a lifetime to accomplish. The guidelines we follow are embodied in the Ten Commandments as amplified by Jesus Christ's teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6 and 7). This is an outline, not of religion, but of a way of life. More than a once-a-week philosophical pacifier, it shows us how we should do business, how to treat our spouses and raise our children, and how to treat coworkers, employers, employees and neighbors. It shows us how to deal with everything that life throws at us, including the inevitable traumas.
If we believe that God cares deeply for us, and that He is willing to use His vast power to intervene on our behalf when He sees a willingness in us to conform our lives to His on the basis of that belief, we can have a peace of mind that defies ordinary human explanation and transcends all human understanding—because it is of God.
The apostle Paul wrote about this: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7, NIV).
This is your path to a quiet spirit, to a mind free of troublesome worry.