Readings: Psalm 139:1-12; 23-4; Phil 4:4-8; John 14:15-27
Once of my favourite movies is “Keeping the Faith” – where a rabbi and a priest fall in love with the same girl. The rabbi is fired for doing different and unusual things in his attempt to modernize. This scene is his farewell sermon:
I often think about that sermon.
How much of yourself do you share with your congregation? It’s a great challenge if you are a minister.
After all, preaching is about the Word of God – and should always lead people to Jesus, and not to the preacher.
That’s one of the reasons why Presbyterian ministers wore black – it was meant to not draw attention to themselves. I think these days if you wore black all the time people might think you’re an alien who was supposed to land in Wellington. After all they wear black there. A lot.
Sometimes I’m probably a bit too transparent. But today I don’t have a choice.
If we’re talking about anxiety and peace – they are very personal things.
Anxiety by definition is individual first. Human beings get anxious. We worry. And we don’t have peace of mind in a personal sense.
Peace on the other hand could be looked at from a broader worldwide point of view – peace between nations, tribes, families, gangs and so on.
God’s SHALOM is a social and personal idea – we area meant to find peace together. We make peace with each other. We pray for peace between nations and rightly so. And we seek and have internal peace.
Did you notice the rabbi’s first word in his sermon? SHALOM. Peace.
They didn’t respond. I’m not sure if they were supposed to, like churches passing the peace. It reminds me of the minister who was trying to get his laptop working at the beginning of the service and forgot that his radio mike was on. He muttered to himself “there’s something wrong with this mouse” – to which the congregation replied without thinking: “and also with you!”
Peace can be contrasted with anxiety therefore.Let’s look at anxiety first. The verse I want us to look at from the readings today is this one: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (Psalm 139:23)
It’s found a famous song by J Edwin Orr written to the well known Maori tune after a mission at Ngaruawahia in 1936 – Search me oh God – when young Maori girls sang farewell to him. We know it as “now is the hour”
E moea iho nei
E haere ana
Koe ki pämamao
Ka hoki mai anö
Ki i te tau
E tangi atu nei
(On a moonlit night
I see in a dream
You going away
To a distant land
But return again
To your loved one,
I love the Hebrew language. It’s so rich.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
“Anxious thoughts” is one word in Hebrew. Some translations just say: “test me and know my thoughts”. Thoughts here is not just a little bit of thinking about something.
The mind is a mine field isn’t it. Our thought life. Worry worry. Sleepless nights thinking thinking thinking.
Rene Descartes in his “Discourse on method” introduced us to that famous line:
COGITO ERGO SUM – I think, therefor I am – a philosophical statement which led him ultimately to postulate a view of humanity or human beings.
I think it was the Moody Blues in the song “In the beginning – lovely to see you” who used the line and added some doubt to it: “I think am, therefore I am… I think.”. It’s a creation image with a crescendo – and then these thoughts:
I think, I think I am, therefore I am, I think.
The song includes the words about people who: Face piles – And piles – Of trials – With smiles.
“Anxious thoughts” could also translated be as “cogitations” from that same Latin word Cogito.
Cogitate means: think deeply about something; meditate or reflect. Synonyms include: think (about), contemplate, consider, give thought to, give consideration to, mull over, meditate (on), muse (on), ponder (on/over), reflect (on), deliberate (about/on), ruminate (about/on/over), dwell on, brood (on/over), agonize (over), worry (about), chew over, puzzle (over), speculate about, weigh up, revolve, turn over in one’s mind
Ruminate, dwell on, brood over, chew over – is only one small step to grinding your teeth and being restless and anxious. Mr. worry pot.
The new translation of Psalm 139:23 in Afrikaans captures it beautifully:
“… ondersoek my, sien tog my onrus raak.” – examine me, see my unease.
Onrus – unrest – back in the day, meant political upheaval with violence. Really disturbing things.
Like the rabbi in that Yom Kippur sermon, its hard for me to know where to start when it comes to sharing my life with people in the area of anxiety and stress. I’ve suffered from some post-traumatic stress symptoms including anxiety attacks. Panic attacks. They still lurk when I hear an ambulance siren.
Many times these verses have applied to me: Psa 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Psa 139:24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Sometimes my anxious thoughts are linked to some offensive way in me. I am sometimes feeling off because I need to sort myself out. The problem can be with me.
But many times serious anxiety is beyond our control due to outside circumstances and events that are traumatic or challenging.
I can’t tell you the whole story in my journey today. But I can testify to the peace of God that passes all understanding. It’s as real as the chair you’re sitting on.
Paul in our second reading in Phil 4:7 speaks of this “peace of God, which transcends all understanding”, which will “guard (y)our hearts and (y)our minds in Christ Jesus”
It’s worth memorizing this verse 7 – seven is a perfect number – you may remember it as it rhymes with heaven. What leads us to this “seven – heaven” state of peace?
Why verse 6 of course: Php 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Don’t be anxious about “anything”.
Easier said than done of course. Post-traumatic stress disorder is an automatic response from the brain designed to protect you from danger.
What I had to do was to pray through the anxiety and after some years it eased – together with the transformation of my thinking to realize after some years that it could have been much worse.
So when someone close to me experienced real anxiety this this week I said the same thing that the counsellor said at the time – which I didn’t receive easily. It was too early. The counsellor said this to me – you’re going to be okay and nobody died.
I don’t agonize over a lot of things any more. No more serious cogitating.
Paul tells us not be anxious about stuff and events – anything. Writing from jail (he wasn’t a prison chaplain but an inmate) he says: Php 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
“with thanksgiving” means that thanksgiving is a foundational attitude in prayer.
Some people battle to pray out loud initially. You can. Say thank you for something and you will have the foundation for other prayers – petitions and requests.
Yes, there are times for silence.
But when we pray together we need to really pray.
Prayer and petition. “gebed en smeking” again using the Afrikaans; “prayer and supplication”. There is as begging almost, a pleading, and a passion that seems to be involved.
It’s captured in some of the Psalms. These two are good ones from David and the sons of Korah:
Psalm 61:1 Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. Psa 61:2 From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psa 61:3 For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. Psa 61:4 I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. Psa 84:1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!
Psa 84:2 My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (Psa 84:3 Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God. Psa 84:4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.)
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
You can see the parallels with passages that talk about thirst.
This is a longing for his presence. We shared last week about living water welling up from within the depths of our being – that he is with us and in us.
Listen again to verses 16 and 17 of our final reading in John 14: Joh 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever— Joh 14:17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
The gospel reading goes on to say that the peace is linked again to the presence of God through His Holy Spirit:
Joh 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Joh 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
We need to focus and listen and not be distracted as we pray and plead, bringing our prayers and petitions to our Father. He is here.
At Presbytery we had some workshops yesterday. I went to one about expecting more from God.…
The teaching was brilliant. It was really a series of bible passages reminding us of his presence with stories about God being in situations and really working in people’s lives in power – that’s when the peace he offers becomes tangible.
The neat thing is that the presenter spoke last year at the New Wine retreat I went to in August up at Coatesville. As she shared yesterday, you could sense something happening in the room – as people’s faith began to increase. At the end she asked people individually what they were expecting from God. It was good to hear. And inspiring.
You have to know this peace to be effective in any kind of ministry.
You can’t give what you don’t have really effectively.
I believe he wants you to have his peace today
Jesus’ peace is not as the world gives.
- Not total tranquility, or the absence of troubles or challenges… – but peace in the storms
- Not a perfect life or complete healing (though some are fully healed)… but courage to face what comes our way (I’m happy to talk to you on another occasion about my health – for now be at peace about it as I am doing very well.)
- Not an exemption from thinking through issues – remember “I think, therefore I am” – but at least peace of heart AND MIND. Remember the heaven in verse seven of Phil 4: Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
- Not a life where everything is for free or without cost. Have a look at this sign: “I pay, therefore I am…” The notice said: PLEASE PAY YOUR PARKING FEE BEFORE EXISTING. Jesus’ peace involves knowing he provides as well.
- Not a life dominated by trauma and anxiety – post traumatic recovery is possible. He really can heal us from damaging experiences.
In conclusion remember Jesus words about anxiety in Matthew:
Mat 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (NIV)
Or in another good translation: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (ESV)