This is post 9 of 10 in the series “HOW TO …”
- How To Rise Above Resentment!
- How To Quit Worrying About Worry!
- How To Fly Like Eagles When You’re Surrounded By Turkeys!
- How To Look Smart When You Do Dumb Things!
- How To Do Right When Everything Goes Wrong!
- How To Turn Short-Term Losses Into Long-Term Gains!
- How To Get Out Of Death Alive!
- How To Put A Lid On Your Anger
- How To Stay Calm In The Midst Of Storm!
- How To Rekindle The Spark Of The Spirit!
How To Stay Calm In The Midst Of Storm!
The young minister had just graduated from seminary and he was to preach his first sermon in his first church. It was a good sermon and everyone enjoyed it. The people in the congregation were quite amazed, however, when the next Sunday, he got up and preached exactly the same sermon. Amazement became dismay when on the third Sunday, he preached the same sermon again. The fourth Sunday, the same thing happened and that was too much. So an old elder in the church was given the task of talking to the young man. After complimenting the young preacher on his preaching, the elder then said: “Just why is it you have been preaching the same sermon, word for word, Sunday after Sunday?” To which the young man replied: “When the congregation decides to do what I have told them to do in that sermon, then I will move on to another subject!”
That story has been on my mind this week, because for quite some time now, I have been preaching about “How To Have The Good Life In Bad Times.” Yet I have noticed that some of us are still experiencing those tough times. Some of us are still worried about a lot of things. Some of us are still tense about a lot of things. Some of us are still caught in the grip of strain and stress. So I am going to keep preaching on the same theme today in hopes that we all can begin to experience feeling the peace and the poise and the power of God in our lives.
So think with me today how to stay calm in the midst of storm. But let me be clear right here at the outset. When I use the word “calm,” I do not mean the complete absence of all stress and tension in life. A few years ago, Dr. Jay Shirley, a psychologist at the University of Oklahoma, tried to construct a stress-free environment. He took individuals and had them immersed in water at body temperature. All sensory information was cut off. They could not see or hear or smell or taste anything. Air was fed to them through a mask at precisely 70 degrees fahrenheit. They were almost in a womb-like existence. But Dr. Shirley discovered that people could not stand that existence for longer than six hours. It seems that the absence of stress became very stressful itself. So it is clear that we all have a need for a certain amount of excitement and stress and tension in our lives. The difficulty is that too many of us have too much. We need a certain amount of tension to put zing into our lives; but too much of it can be destructive.
It is important for us to come to know some marvelous words from the prophet Isaiah. Words which, in fact, were written at a time when the people of Israel were caught up in terrible stress, tension, worry, and anxiety. Isaiah makes the point in his prophecy that God is the secret to peace and poise and power in life. Not only that, he says very specifically—speaking of God—”Thou dost keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee because he trusts in Thee.” Isaiah 26:3. I want us to look at that verse together now, taking it just a phrase at a time…
First, Isaiah says: “Thou dost keep him in perfect peace…”
Isaiah is saying to us that God’s will for all of us is that we experience a measure of peace and calm at the very center of our lives. In order to understand what he means, we need to understand what the Bible means by “peace”—”perfect peace.” In the Bible “peace” means unity—to be joined together. You are familiar with the Latin word for peace, “pax.” That Latin word is the root word for our English words “pact” and “compact.” A compact is an agreement between people which joins them together.
Therefore, in the Bible, peace means being in unity with God, being in harmony with Him, being joined together with the Almighty. Peace in the Biblical sense of the word, is not cynicism, it does not mean going through life as if you were under an anesthetic, never allowing anything in life at all to bother you, and peace in the Biblical sense is not passivity. It does not mean simply lying down and letting life roll over you. Peace in the Biblical sense is certainly not the absence of trouble. There are so many people who seem to believe that peace means being completely free of all trouble and difficulty. That is not true. In the Bible, peace is not the absence of anything. Peace is the presence of God. We are able to experience peace and poise and power in our lives simply because we are at one with the Heavenly Father. We do not experience peace because the situations or the circumstances around us are easy, but rather we experience peace when our hearts are at ease with God.
Look at the example of Jesus. Jesus ran into both some very ugly people and some very ugly circumstances in the course of His life—people and circumstances which in the end led to His crucifixion. But what was the legacy He left to His disciples on the night before the cross? He said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” Here is Jesus faced with terrible difficulty—faced with the reality of His own death on the next day—and Jesus says to His disciples: “I give you my peace.” How could He say that? Of all of the difficulties and all of the ugliness that Jesus encountered in life, there was always at His center, a deep, down sense of calm and peace and it was simply because Jesus was always in harmony with His father. Jesus was always at one with God. Jesus was always, always at peace with the Father. So He says: “My peace I give to you.” Understand, please, that tension is not what happens to us in life. Tension is how we respond to what happens to us in life. Therefore, the Bible says if we are in unity with God, in harmony with Him, at one with the Heavenly Father, we can respond to the things that happen to us in a calm, poised, peaceful, and powerful way.
Augustine, one of the great heroes of the Christian Faith, lived 1600 years ago, but his experience exactly parallels our own. Early in his life, he prayed: “Lord, save me but not quite yet.” It was later on when he began to experience the wisdom that comes with maturity, that he began to sense the need in his life for some great calming, centering force at work in his everyday experience. He sought it eagerly. First of all, he tried to find it in the pursuit of philosophy, but there was no peace to be found there. Then he gave himself to a series of pagan religions, but he found no peace in them. Then he decided to try the disciplined life. He retreated out into the wilderness to live in isolation, believing that if he somehow managed to cut himself off completely from all stressful and tension-filled circumstances, that he would know peace and calm at the center of his being. It did not work. At long last, Augustine, because of the grace of God as it worked through the prayers of Augustine’s mother, found union with God in Jesus Christ. It literally reversed his life and changed him into a man of extraordinary peace and poise and power. He went on to become certainly one of the greatest Christians who has ever lived. How did Augustine describe that experience of his? He described it best in one of his prayers where he wrote: “O Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”
Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. It is when we are in unity with the Father, it is when we are joined together with the Almighty, it is when we are in harmony with God, when we are at one with Him, it is then that we experience the reality of calm, even when there are storms all about us in life. That is precisely what Isaiah meant when he wrote, “Thou dost keep him in perfect peace.”
Then Isaiah wrote: Thou dost keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee…”
Isaiah is saying here that when we focus our minds on God, when we train our thoughts upon God and the promises of God, then we are going to experience the reality of peace and poise and power in our daily lives.
Each one of us has a cerebral cortex—a brain. And that cerebral cortex is the center of our conscious minds. When information is drawn in by our five senses, that information then registers in our cerebral cortex and the cerebral cortex then, working through what is called the limbic system, makes our bodies respond in appropriate ways to the information received. For example, when we encounter tough or stressful circumstances in life, that information is received in the cortex and our cerebral cortex goes on what we might call “red alert.” Everything is on alert. It is then that the limbic system is summoned to instant action. The limbic system notifies the endocrine glands to begin pumping neurotransmitters—chemicals—into our bloodstreams. Hormone levels rise, our bodies produce more cholesterol, our blood pressure increases, our jaws stiffen, our muscles tighten, and there are times in life when we encounter circumstances where we need to make that kind of response. But surely you can understand, to live like that all the time—to be on “red alert” for extended periods of time in life is just not good for us physically. God has given us the way to control stress and tension. The whole process is triggered by our cerebral cortex—our conscious mind. That is the secret for controlling stress. If our conscious minds are so disciplined, so controlled, so focused on God, that when we encounter stressful situations, our cortex does not go into “red alert.” The limbic system is not activated. The endocrine glands do not pour all that stuff into our bloodstreams and we do not become so tense. The secret to conquering stress is to have a converted cortex. It is to so focus your mind upon God that you are able to respond with calm and peace and poise and power. How do you learn to focus the mind? I want to suggest to you that you memorize five or six promises of God from the pages of Scripture. I want you to memorize them, tuck them away in your mind, periodically pull them out, focus your mind upon them, and then hold them in readiness so that you are ready to use them when the storms come. Matthew 11: “Come unto me all you who labor and who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Isaiah 40 “They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Philippians 4: “The Lord is near. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication make your requests known to God.” Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God.” Romans 8: “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation shall ever be able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Isaiah 26: “Thou dost keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusts in Thee.” You will begin to sense a deep-down calm and peace even when the storms of life are raging all about you. That is what Isaiah means when he writes: “Thou dost keep him in perfect peace, because his mind is stayed on Thee.”
Then Isaiah says: “Thou dost keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusts in Thee.”
Trust is the relationship which develops between people who have gone through things together and who then know that they can rely upon each other always. That is the kind of trust that Isaiah is calling for here. We need to go through some things with God in our lives and then we are going to know just how trustworthy, just how reliable He really is.
I think you can see this truth so clearly revealed in the way children relate to God. I love the innocence, the genuineness, the naturalness, the complete utter trust with which children approach the Almighty. There was a wonderful book just a few years ago called Children’s Letters To God. It contained letters actually written by children and addressed to the Almighty. I pulled some samples to share with you to try to make the point. “Dear God, my Dad can never get a fire started in the grill, so could you please make a burning bush in our backyard? Love, Sherry.” Or, “Dear God, where did everybody come from? I hope you can explain it better than my father did. Ward.” Or “Dear God, did you really mean for giraffes to look like that, or was it an accident? Norman.” Or “Dear God, I didn’t think orange went very good with purple until I saw the sunset you made last Tuesday. That was cool. Sincerely, Eugene.” Aren’t those beautiful? They reflect such a deep trust in God.
Or think of the way children sometimes say things that are wrong in such a way that they deliver a message that is right. Like the little girl in New Haven, Connecticut who began the Lord’s Prayer this way: “Our Father who art in New Haven, how did you know my name?” The words were not right, but the message sure was! Then there was the little boy who mislearned the first part of Psalm 23, but when he said it, he said it all: “The Lord is my shepherd, that’s all I want.”
Do we think of God like those children do? Do we have a childish kind of faith that allows us to trust God so completely? When the storms of life come, there is nothing more calming to our souls than that kind of complete trust in the Lord.
Do you remember in Matthew 14 when the disciples were in the boat and Jesus came walking to them on the water? Peter said: “Master, bid me come to you.” And Jesus said: “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and started to walk toward Jesus. Then he took his eyes off Jesus and began to look at the waves around him. As soon as he did, he started to sink. But notice this; when he started to sink, the Bible does not say that Peter began to flail about or that he scrambled to get back to the boat. Instead, he addressed Jesus. He said: “Lord, save me.” Do you see what happened? His focus slipped. He began to look at the water. But as soon as he slipped, he focused again on Jesus and said: “Lord, save me.” And saved he was. Well, we are all going to slip in the process of focusing upon God, because we are weak and we are not as disciplined as we ought to be. But when this happens, the more we have focused our lives upon God, the more trustworthy we will find Him to be, and that will make it easier to regain our focus once more.
St. Teresa of Avila put it this way: “Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes away except God, and God alone is sufficient.” I learned that so well from a woman who is a dear friend. Her name is India Mitchell. One night, one terrible night, India and her husband, Vernon, and their children, Mark and Missy were driving home from a nearby town. As they came over the top of a hill, they encountered a drunk driver in the wrong lane. The collision was head-on. Vernon and Mark were killed. India and Missy were terribly injured. Trisha and I went to visit India in the intensive care unit. Trisha was going to stay with her—to sit at her bedside while I went to conduct the funeral for her husband and her son. Just before I left she said—understand, please, she was completely broken physically, but she was completely whole spiritually—she said to me: “Would you do me a favor? At the funeral, would you read Isaiah 26:3. That was our son Mark’s favorite verse in the Bible. His Sunday School teacher had taught it to him a few years ago. He had memorized it and he said it frequently, and he taught it to his family so that it has become now the favorite verse of us all. It is the verse I am repeating over and over to myself now—”Thou dost keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusts in Thee.” The same peace and poise and power which were hers can be yours as well. My beloved, I love you too much to ever tell you anything that is not true. Here is what is true: The way to stay calm in the midst of the storms of life is to claim as your very own:
“Thou dost keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusts in Thee.”