Peace beyond the battle

dsc_0376A little over ten years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter and battling severe nausea, I found one of those “relaxation CDs” called Mountain Streams.  The sound of rushing water was overlaid with gentle instrumentals, and I played that CD into the ground because it helped me relax and remove my focus from that which caused severe anxiety (the nausea) to that which caused peace (God’s creation).  Even today I find the sound of rushing water soothing to my soul.  I think God must have created a waterfalls and streams, ocean waves, chirping birds and other beautiful sounds because they pleased him.  They please me, too, and listening to them gives me a measure of peace.

One of the most profound moments in my spiritual walk happened when I was in high school.  Our pastor gave a sermon about peace…about truly experiencing the peace that passes all understanding…and, for a time, I really GOT it.  I wrote those words on my heart and thought about them as I walked the halls of a very  loud, clamorous high school filled to the brim with teenage energy.  They sustained me as I prepared to perform in plays, as I struggled through pre-cal, as I tried to figure out where I fit in the great, big world before me.

Now I am in the great big world, and it seems that the older I get, the scarier it becomes.  Why is this peace so elusive?  Why do I insist on taking on the worries of the world when I already know my place in the story…I already know how it will end?

I am re-reading a favorite book by Francine Rivers.  It’s book one of a three-book series called Mark of the Lion.  As the story opens, we find Hadassah, a young teenaged girl living in Jerusalem around 70 AD, caring for a dying mother. Her father is the man who Jesus raised from the dead as told in Luke 7:

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”  The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

In Rivers’ story, this man went on to become a devout follower of Christ after his life-after-death experience.  He was ridiculed and in danger in volatile Jerusalem, but he knew that was where God wanted him to share the news of Christ.  One day he did not return, and Hadassah and her family are near death with starvation.  Hadassah hates Jerusalem because it seems nobody there wants to hear about Christ.  She’d rather be serving where the news of Christ is welcomed…and one day she asked her father about her lack of faith.  Here is their exchange:

Why can I believe at home, Father, but not here?”

“Because the enemy knows where you are most vulnerable.”

Then the character goes on to recount the story of King Jehoshaphat.  He was scared to death to hear news that the armies of three nations had declared war on him.  It goes without saying that PEACE was not in his vocabulary at that moment.  He did turn to the Lord, though, to seek guidance, and he ordered his people to begin fasting.  His prayer is recorded in 2 Chronicles 20, but some of his words could be yours and mine in the battles we are facing:

We can cry out to you to save us, and you will hear us and rescue us.  O our God, won’t you stop them? We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us. We do not know what to do, but we are looking to you for help.”

Help — and peace — came in a very unlikely way.  The Bible says that God’s spirit came upon a man named Jahaziel who cried out:

“Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.  Tomorrow, march out against them. You will find them coming up through the ascent of Ziz at the end of the valley that opens into the wilderness of Jeruel. But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!”

How could they possibly win a battle against three armies without a fight?  If we look closer at the story, we’ll see that their victory happened for very specific reasons.  Let’s first see the end of the story:

Early the next morning the army of Judah went out into the wilderness of Tekoa.

The first thing they had to do was to MOVE.  They went out.  Now, if it had been me about to face three armies, I’d have been kicking and screaming.  Not Jehoshaphat!

On the way Jehoshaphat stopped and said, “Listen to me, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be able to stand firm. Believe in his prophets, and you will succeed.”

They had to BELIEVE.  The Hebrew word he used for “believe” is ‘aman.  It means much more than just believing in something…more than a child believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.  It means to stand firm.  To trust.  To be certain.  To be confirmed, established, and secure.  The connotation is of a child being securely carried in the arms of a nurse.  God, Jehoshaphat was saying, is securely holding Judah in the crook of his arm just as a nurse holds a baby.

After consulting the people, the king appointed singers to walk ahead of the army, singing to the Lord and praising him for his holy splendor. This is what they sang:

“Give thanks to the Lord;
his faithful love endures forever!”

Then they began singing and praising God — for his holy splendor.  For what he was about to do.  For who He is, and for the love he has that endures forever.  Before they were in victory, they acted AS IF they had already won the battle.  Can you picture how confident they must have been?  There is story after story in the Bible of the Lord honoring the praises and songs of his people — as we’ll see next, there is REAL power in praise.

At the very moment they began to sing and give praise, the Lord caused the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir to start fighting among themselves. The armies of Moab and Ammon turned against their allies from Mount Seir and killed every one of them. After they had destroyed the army of Seir, they began attacking each other. So when the army of Judah arrived at the lookout point in the wilderness, all they saw were dead bodies lying on the ground as far as they could see. Not a single one of the enemy had escaped.  When all the surrounding kingdoms heard that the Lord himself had fought against the enemies of Israel, the fear of God came over them. So Jehoshaphat’s kingdom was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side.

What lessons in peace can we take from the story of Jehoshaphat?  How can we find peace in the middle of a battle?  I sure would like for the Lord to give me rest “on every side,” don’t you?  Maybe it’s a financial battle.  Maybe it’s a battle with depression…or with a person who has deeply hurt us.  Maybe our battle is within ourselves.  Or maybe we’re running on empty today, all tired out from shopping, wrapping, cooking, and decorating.  Whatever it is, can we learn anything about achieving rest and peace?

Taking a page from Jehoshaphat, there ARE some things in our control that we can do to achieve rest:

  1. Bring the battle and the trouble to God in prayer and with fasting.
  2. Look for and expect an answer.
  3. March on.  Keep going forward.
  4. Believe with an ‘aman belief in God’s loving care of you.  Picture yourself as a child being cradled in his most capable hands.
  5. Praise him with everything you’ve got!
  6. Show up for the battle and watch the enemy fall away.
  7. Relish the rest…and the peace.

Like Hadassah, the enemy knows exactly when I’m most vulnerable.  He knows just when to attack and prowls around like a lion, waiting for a chance to get at me.  But it’s encouraging to realize that I DO have tools at my disposal to deal with his attacks even — especially — when I’m most vulnerable.  Jehoshaphat was extremely vulnerable to attack and actually had three declarations of war against him — but God is showing me that the battle is HIS.  It’s not mine to fight.

I’m not always going to have a relaxation CD at my fingertips or on my ipod, but I will always have the ability to follow Jehoshaphat’s example.  On a closer inspection, the verse that brought my first real sampling of peace, Philippians 4:6-8, is all about what Jehoshaphat did.  He went to God.  He had the singers sing praises with thanksgiving.  God’s peace filled their hearts as they believed God, and their hearts and minds were protected from thoughts of defeat.  They set their minds on the Lord, on all that is lovely and wonderful about him.  Then…God fought their battle for them and brought them peace.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

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