Peace That Passes All Understanding

I have always had an issue with depression, but for some reason, uncontrollable anxiety has never been much of problem. However, since my Neurologist has put me on a larger dosage of anti-seizure medication this Fall I have had several very severe bouts of depression. Everything is under God’s control. I am positive that God is using this for my good and for the edification of all to whom the Holy Spirit ministers as they read the exegetical studies from Sacred Scripture God gives me to give to them. In my own case, I have found that even as I am dealing with depression I never cave in to the doubt and worry associated with a lack of faith. Even when I hit the bottom my Lord is there to minister to me. In this, I rejoice! In the January 2010 issue of Tabletalk Magazine from Ligonier Ministries there are several very good articles dealing with worry and anxiety. The one I have posted below struck me because in the magazine it is accompanied by a painting of Daniel in the Lion’s Den by Briton Riviere (below). There are seven or so large lions around him, but each of them has a puzzled look on his or her face and not one of them has their mouth open. Daniel is standing with his back to them looking up at the little bit of light filtering into the chamber. His face is calm and it is so obvious that he is confidently awaiting deliverance from the Lord. I pray that God will minister to you as you read this as He did me. – Mike Ratliff

Peace That Passes All Understanding

by Ed Welch

It is one of the better known passages in Scripture:

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 ESV)

That’s certainly easy enough: prayer + thankfulness = peace. Go through the steps, get the peace. Then why doesn’t the formula work? When I am anxious I pray, but my mind keeps drifting back to the anxious circumstances, and before I know it I am trying to solve the problem. After again confessing my distractibility, I get back to praying, only to have the cycle continue. Thinking I might do better at thanksgiving, I write out a thanks list, but the list rarely dislodges my anxiety, and for good reason. No matter how long the list, there is no guarantee that I will be spared my most recent doomsday scenarios.

Now what? I just tried one of the classic passes on anxiety and it didn’t work.

A-ha, there is a clue. I was looking for a pill. I visited God-my-pharmacist and asked what to take for my anxiety. That’s not the way Scripture works. I should have noticed it when I reduced the passage to a formula. Scripture, instead, is about the triune God. It is about knowing and trusting a person, and our formulas can actually turn us away from that person and cause us to rely on a series of steps.

So go back to the passage and look for the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6).

The Lord is near

Commands such as “do not be anxious” typically come after the reason why we don’t have to be anxious. In this case, the reason was slipped into the preceding verse: “The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:5).

That changes everything. The emphasis is not on how we pray. It is on the God who has come close, who hears, and who is with us. The only thing that could separate us from His love and presence are our sins, and they have been washed away by Jesus’ blood.

Isn’t it true that the presence of another person in our frightful situations can lesson our fears? Fear doesn’t want a series of impersonal steps; it wants a person. Walk in an unknown dark place by yourself and you are afraid. Hold someone’s hand while you are in that dark place and fears ebb. If we are comforted by the presence of a mere human being, who might be less strong and brave than ourselves, how much more will we be comforted by the sworn presence of the reigning Christ?

This is the path toward peace and comfort. Meditate on Immanuel, which means “God with Us.” Remember how the Spirit of Jesus has been given to us (John 14:27). He is not limited by a physical body that confines Him to one place and one person at a time. He is with all God’s people all the time.

Immanuel will give us manna

But what will He do when He is with us? Will He give us the money we need? Will He zap the person who wants to do us harm? Will He keep the kids from all accidents? We have a pretty good idea that the answer to those questions is “not always.” We know that bad things happen to God’s people. So what difference does God’s presence mean when, although He is the Almighty God, He doesn’t always use His power in the way we would like? We feel like we are left where we started – trusting in some steps that we hope will make us feel more peace. There must be more that God says.

And there is more. First, we should understand that when God says He is present (or hears, sees, remembers), He is saying that He is doing something. He is never a passive bystander. Second, what He is doing is this: He gives us what we need when we need it (Matt. 6:19-34). In the New Testament He says that He will give us the grace we need, and that grace is part of a tradition that began with the appearance of manna for the needy Israelites. In times of trouble, God promises to give us the manna that we need.

He even spells out how this will happen (Ex. 16). There are times when we will feel like destitute wanderers in the wilderness with little hope of food and water. God will then give us manna at the time we need it. He won’t give us so much that we will have enough for tomorrow because then we would just start trusting in the manna rather than trusting Immanuel.

God makes a promise. He will give you manna – or grace – when you need it, but not before. That means you will be anxious if you forecast the future because you are making your prediction based on the manna you have left over from today, and there is none. What you don’t factor into your prediction is that you will receive fresh grace when you need it.

That should sound familiar. Think of the times you dreaded an upcoming event and it was not as bad as you anticipated. You were given manna when you needed it. Think of the times when you were surprised by something especially difficult. Though painful, you received grace to endure with faith.

We will have hardships in life, of that there is no doubt. Scripture does not offer a kingdom that spares us from pain. The King does promise, however, that He will be with us in every trial and will give us all the manna we need so that we can know Him better, trust Him, live for Him, and be increasingly transformed to look more like Jesus no matter what the wilderness of life might throw at us. In other words, He will give us the best of gifts when we need help. Manna was pointing forward to something much better (Deut. 8:2-3); it was pointing to the Bread of Life who would satisfy our hunger in such a way that we wouldn’t always feel hungry two hours later. Manna was pointing to Jesus and what we are given in His death and resurrection.

Do you notice any hope stirring? The opposite of anxiety is hope. Anxiety predicts that manna will not come. Hope predicts that God will be with us an give us something better than manna. Where does peace fit in? Peace is the companion of hope.

Humility is the path

Hope and peace don’t come without a fight. God is pleased to work hope and peace in us surely but gradually. They come as we mediate, feed on Scripture, feed on Christ, and keep calling out for manna and grace. The kingdom of God advances through weakness and dependence on the King, not through quick and bloodless victories. If you are feeling a bit weak, you are probably on the right path.

Essential to this battle with fear and anxiety is the gift of humility. It fits perfectly, doesn’t it? In our anxiety we are usually concerned about things we love. We want control. We want to take matters into our won hands to protect our future, but we are finding that it is impossible to manage all possible contingencies. We want to protect our kingdom. Find anxiety and you often find that your agenda is more important to you than God’s. You might find that you adopt your own interpretation of God’s world rather than submit to God’s clear words about His power, love, and care.

Here is how the apostle Peter makes the link between humility and anxiety:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV)

He is asking us to do just one thing – humble ourselves before the Lord. Humility is expressed by casting our anxieties on the mighty and trustworthy one.

When a child’s fears are not assuaged by a parent’s attempts at comfort, the child is essentially saying either that the monster under the bed is stronger than the parent, or the parent doesn’t really care about the child’s best interests. The child’s fear shows his or her lack of trust or confidence in the parent. Humility, in contrast, hears the voice of the parent and believes that the parent can be trusted, even when the evidence suggests that circumstances are out of control. Humility says, “I believe you more than I believe my eyes or my imagination.” Humility is submissive.

This means that mere information and knowledge will not bring peace. Even more, we must respond to what we hear with humility and trust.

Pursue peace for God’s Glory

There are steps toward peace, but they are a little different than the steps we take in following a recipe. These steps are all personal. Know the God who comes near, expect the better manna, and walk before him in humility. Don’t give up on the pursuit of peace. Peace will make you feel better, which is a good thing, but there is something greater at stake. In a world where true peace seems impossible, we want to be ambassadors who say that real peace is available to us only in the Prince of Peace. This, indeed, will bring glory to God.

Dr. Ed Welch is a faculty member at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation in Glenside, Pennsylvania. He is author of Addictions: a Banquet in the Grave and Running Scared.

From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: http://www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.

13 thoughts on “Peace That Passes All Understanding

  1. Great post Mike! I too suffer from bouts of depression and anxiety, thanks for sharing your story and this article, it’s very helpful to me. BTW thanks for all the great work you do here at CRN. Soli Deo Gloria! Many blessings on you brother.

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  2. You are very welcome Brian. Please keep me updated on your situation. I pray that God will continue to sustain you and your family and put you in the best place for you according to His perfect will.

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  3. Hi Mike,
    Will be praying for you. This was an encouraging article…thanks for sharing it. Everyone suffers from depression from time to time. We are all weak and needy. I loved this part from the article: The kingdom of God advances through weakness and dependence on the King. I thank Him that His grace is sufficient for all of us in our situations. As we dwell in His word may the holy Spirit comfort us and bear witness to us of His continual care. I am grateful we have a Great King Who wants to take care of us and will do the work it takes to make us what we are to be. What a Glorious King!
    Here’s something depressing for you…I have a 13 foot tall snow drift sitting on my back deck!

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  4. Diane, thanks for your prayers. While I do not have any drifts that tall, the East side of my house has a growing glacier there. My sidewalk and the sides of my driveway have growing glaciers there as well. It is 1 Degree above zero right now and the Wind Chill is -16. Ouch. In any case, I am ready for the predicted warmup next week. 🙂

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  5. We are snowed in out here in the country and they do not plow for at least 4 days or so after any storm. We live in one of the highest points of our county so you can imagine the drifts. When you hear on the news about drifts in roads that are 50-60 feet long and 6 feet high…well, that’s us. I am so grateful there have not been any power outages with the last 2 storms and esp. with this one and its dangerously cold temps. Please remember the fireman, police and road crews in your prayers as they contend in this dangerous weather.
    Stay warm, brother.

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  6. hello Mike! great article! I liked the part where it said “anxiety predicts manna will not come”…hope predicts God will be with us and give us soemthing more than manna. That is the essence of faith as well. Lack of faith just says manna will not come, God has forgotten about me , does not love me etc. Hope (faith) says….I know God is with me and loves and and is working things out for my good ….even though this is painful and I don’;t understand you are in control Jesus. I TRUST YOU…my faith and my hope are in you….my future and each day by day moment are in your hands….I can not trust in a job, a home , a person for they can be gone in an instant. But YOU ARE THERE….always constant, unchanging….ever loving and helping me thru my life. How HOPEFUL and PEACEFUL it is to walk with the Living God. Thank you for this meat of the word Mike! Praying for you, my brother.

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  7. Mike, This is really great. I have always been suspicious of “counseling” (as an unbeliever I had much faith in it) and “Christian counseling,” seemed particularly troubling. But I read this man’s book on depression “Depression: A Stubborn Darkness,” which gave me a different perspective on my depression – as suffering and not just as sin. It pointed me to Jesus through my suffering, not as a means to end the suffering. It has made so much difference. So much of my depression was me trying to fight my way out of it, instead of offering myself (with my depression) as a living sacrifice – with trust in Jesus to lead me through it and not necessarily out of it. I don’t know if that makes sense. Plus (and this was big for me), Mr. Welch did not weasel his gospel-centered viewpoint to say anything like – if things are really bad get on medication or go to a counselor. He did not weasel out of making Jesus Christ the ONLY the transformer of our lives, I was impressed that he trusted that my depression was not only a way to Jesus but he held out no hope that anyone, or anything, but Jesus would see me through. I highly recommend his book to anyone suffering with depression.

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  8. Thanks for sharing that Kate and I agree with what you and Mr. Welch are saying because that is how I see my depression as well. I never despair because I know in whom I have believed and I know that He is using this stuff to draw me into total dependance upon Him. He is so good to me…

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