Experiencing the Peace of God
Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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.”
John 14:26-27: “But the Advocate, 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. 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.”
Throughout our walk with the Lord, our prayer life and intimacy with Him naturally go through different phases, or seasons. Some examples of various seasons through which we walk with God include:
– Seasons of healing – For example, after intense periods of ministry, or in times of grief or recovery. In these times, we are often immersed in such deep intimacy, it seems we can almost feel God’s hands holding and comforting us.
– Seasons of discipline – As our intimacy with our Father grows, He leads us into seasons marked with discipline and conviction. From the perspective of Jesus’ metaphor of the tree and its fruit from Luke 6, which we considered in the last chapter, these seasons of discipline can be understood as seasons of pruning. In these periods, the Holy Spirit brings to light areas of weakness and sin in our lives, of which He is ready for us to be made free through sanctification.
The writer of Hebrews describes these seasons in 12:4-13, reminding us, “the Lord disciplines the one He loves… No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Naturally, this “pruning” process will be uncomfortable, even painful for us to experience. As we submit to the Father’s work in these times of discipline, however, we will ultimately find new freedom to grow with new life and abundance, in accordance with His will for our lives.
– Seasons of “front-line” ministry or service – As we submit our lives more to prayer and intimacy with God, we will find the circumstances into which we are called to serve to be darker and heavier, more and more beyond our own capacity of strength and wisdom. We will be more aware of the raging storms around us, and also of the reality that if we take our eyes off of the Lord, we will be overcome by them.
Each of these seasons is marked by various degrees and shades of emotional outpouring. The human responses of anger, grief, elation, laughter, tears, loneliness and exhaustion all surface at different points throughout the journey of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Regardless of the circumstances or emotional experience of any season, however, the scriptures clearly specify one unchanging indicator of our submission to the work and will of God, and that is peace of God, which unfailingly guards our hearts and our minds (Philippians 4:7). In fact, the peace we have in our Father often seems unreasonable in the midst of our circumstances and emotions.
As we draw closer to God in prayer and sanctification, we also begin to recognize those moments when we sense a removal of His peace from our lives. This may be an indication that we have made a mis-step, or have become distracted, and taken our eyes off our Him. Sometimes we might experience some discontentment due to an injury or offense we have taken, for which we need to forgive. At other times, our spirits may feel troubled simply as an indication of our growing discernment of areas of darkness in different places or persons around us.
In all cases, when we sense certain areas in our lives are void of the peace of our Father God, we respond by going directly to Him. We can begin by simply talking to Him, praying for example:
“Father, I am struggling, and I do not feel Your peace with me right now. Your Word says that everyone who calls on Your name will be saved. (Romans 10:13). I come to You now and ask You to help me in this time…”
Entering into Battle
As we briefly mentioned earlier in this study, certain seasons of our prayer life will necessarily require our willingness to engage in battle. The Old Testament of the bible is filled with examples of the Father leading His children into battle, for the sake of their own salvation, as well as for revelation of His glory and His kingdom on earth.
One example is found Deuteronomy 1, where we have the account of God’s sending the Israelites in to take possession of the land He had promised them. The Israelites knew of God’s promise. But they were also aware that the fulfillment of this promise meant that they would have to face the Amorites in battle.
In Deuteronomy 1:29-30, we see God encouraging the Israelites about the coming battle, saying to them, “Do not be terrified, do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you will fight for you, as He did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes.”
But the Israelites did not trust God, and they were unwilling to engage in battle with the Amorites. Instead of entering in and taking possession of the promised land from their Heavenly Father, they wandered the desert for 40 more years.
As our intimacy with our Heavenly Father deepens, we also are called into seasons of battle. We must begin by remembering against whom we are called to battle.
In Ephesians 6:10-12, Paul writes, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
What do these battles to look like in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ?
1 – Entering into battle for our personal salvation:
In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul gives us a bit more description of what it means to “battle” for our personal salvation, writing, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
What does this mean, to “work out (our) salvation with fear and trembling”?
Let’s go back to the well-known words we find in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
“whoever believes in Him…” It is vital for us to recognize the crucial difference between the idea of “believing in” someone as opposed to the idea of simply believing that someone exists. It is not enough for us to believe that God exists (even the demons believe that! James 2:19). Salvation comes as we begin to “believe in”, or to put our faith in Jesus Christ.
Let’s look again at the example of the desperate father in Mark 9:17-29, who came to Jesus seeking healing for his son. His son suffered from possession by an evil spirit, and the evil spirit was trying to kill his son, often throwing him into seizures, even trying to drown or burn him. As the father was speaking to Jesus, his son was thrown into a seizure. Then the father pleaded with Jesus in verse 22, saying “if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
We see Jesus’ response to the father, when He asks, “‘If you can’? ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!'”
The question of salvation lies here: Do we truly believe in Jesus Christ alone? Are we so certain of the truth of Him that we have put all of our faith and all of our hope in Him?
Or are there still areas where we aren’t sure, where we’re still afraid to step out? Are there places where a shadow of doubt still lingers, where we’re only willing to say, “Lord Jesus, if You can…?”
Let us step into these battles for our salvation, crying out to Jesus Christ with the desperate father in Mark 9, “Lord, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
2 – Entering into battle for personal sanctification:
As we discussed in week 4, sanctification is the process by which our hearts are naturally transformed as our faith and intimacy with Jesus Christ deepens. It is necessary to understand sanctification as a process, in which the old, deceptive ways of thinking and perception begin to break in our lives. By God’s grace, these old places in our hearts are replaced with the unfailing truth of His Holy word.
It is important to recognize that the process of sanctification in our lives will inevitably include seasons of battle.
In Romans 7:22-23, Paul discusses his own battles through sanctification, writing, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.”
In Genesis 32:22-32, we have an example of these types of battles, with the account of the night Jacob wrestled with God. On the evening of this confrontation, Jacob was preparing for the next day, when he would face his brother, Esau. Now, Jacob had greatly offended Esau years earlier, and so at the time of this account, he believed that Esau was coming to kill him:
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’
But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’
The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’
‘Jacob,’ he answered.
Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’
Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’
But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there.
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’
The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
This passage is not the simplest for us to understand. But, it gives a good illustration of the battles between our own depraved, carnal nature and the will of our Heavenly Father – battles which naturally occur in a life submitted to prayer and sanctification in Christ Jesus. A few points to note here:
1 – Jacob did not spend this night working out his own plan or strategy on the best way to protect or defend himself and his family from Esau’s coming attack. In this moment of fear and uncertainty, Jacob chose to spend his night alone with God.
2 – Jacob did not flee from God, but submitted to the battle. In fact, He clung to God until the victory came, saying to the “man”, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
3 – Through this battle, Jacob received his true identity. The man said to Jacob, “You will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
4 – Jacob walked away with the victory of blessing. But he also walked away with a permanent limp. This battle left him blessed with a deeper revelation of himself and God, but it also left him humbled with a greater realization of his own weakness and dependency on God.
3 – Entering into battle on behalf of others/Intercessory Prayer:
Remember again Paul’s description of the Holy Spirit interceding for us in Romans 8:26: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
As prayer ministers for others, we must recognize the significance and intensity of the calling into which we are entering. Through intercessory prayer, we walk beside others for a time and place through the spiritual battles they are experiencing in their own lives.
When we enter by the blood of Jesus Christ into the holy throne room of the Father in prayer for others or for ourselves, we must be prepared for the battles that will naturally ensue. These battles humble us. They open our eyes so we are more aware of our own weaknesses, and the reality that without surrender to the blood of Jesus Christ, and complete dependence on God to fight for us, we will be overcome.
Through these battles we are called to press into the confidence and faith we have in God. We may walk away with a limp, but we will walk away with new freedom and assurance of the unfailing love of our Father God.
Psalm 27:14 “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”
Romans 8:34 “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
Perhaps one of the most difficult disciplines in the life of prayer is learning to wait on the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s will for ourselves and for the people for whom we are praying. Whatever the burden we are lifting in prayer, we recognize that we are stepping up alongside the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ Himself, Who are already interceding in the presence of the Father.
A deepening prayer life naturally involves a denial of our own understanding and wisdom in the situations in our lives, and often requires much time and patience. We must learn not to be anxious or to rush in our times of prayer, but instead to trust God, to wait contently on the Holy Spirit, and to let Him lead us.
A few things to keep in mind as we are waiting and listening for the leading of the Holy Spirit in prayer:
1. The work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is towards the fulfillment of the Word of God. The guidance of the Holy Spirit will never contradict the Word of God. In fact, often we may sense the Holy Spirit leading us to pray a specific passage of scripture over a person or situation.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Matthew 5:17-18
2. God’s Word is always rooted in love – so will be the prayers of the Holy Spirit to the Father on behalf of His children.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
3. God’s Word never condemns. As we enter into prayer, we begin by asking the Holy Spirit to reveal if there is within us any root of bitterness or condemnation, which is preventing us from discerning His heart of compassion and love for someone else, or even for ourselves.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5
In present-day society, even within parts of the Church today, the concept of humility has become so foreign and twisted, we often forget the vital role it naturally plays in our deepening communion with our Father in prayer.
Paul discusses the idea of humility in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10: “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
The sin of pride is one of the most insidious and deadly of all sins, because we often do not recognize it in our own lives, unless the Holy Spirit in His conviction and grace reveals it to us. Pride is not unlike a cancer that quietly grows until it consumes us, taking away our hope and our life.
Humility saves us from the deadly snare of pride. We should not be afraid of the humility that God brings into our lives – whether through our own weaknesses, or through insults, or hardships, or persecution, or difficulties. While painful at first, it is vital that we submit to the Holy Spirit in prayer, and ask Him to humble us, so that we will not be enslaved by our own pride, which leads to death.
“If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:7-8
The work to which we are called in ministry is both intensely fulfilling and overwhelmingly exhausting. It is difficult to describe the depth of the exhaustion that comes after a periods of time spent in ministry or battling in prayer, whether for ourselves, or on behalf of others.
The scriptures do warn us against falling into a schedule of sabbath rest that is simply founded in legalism and our own human mechanisms for coping or escaping our daily stresses and trials.
However, we are commanded to humble ourselves, and to recognize that in our own strength and wisdom we have nothing to offer the world around us. It is only through our intimacy with and total dependence on our Heavenly Father that we are enabled to serve at all.
If we consistently and pridefully refuse to submit to the command we find in the scriptures to get alone with our Father, and to seek our rest and renewal in Him, we will burn out. In fact, a powerful indication of the maturing of our relationship with God is a growing humility to discern when it is time for us to back off of the “front-lines” of ministry, and to get away with Him.
The Psalmist provides a rich image of the sabbath we find in God, in the 23rd Psalm, verses 1-3:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
Week 6 Meditation
This week, try to set aside half of a day to “get away” with God, even if this means taking some time away from regularly scheduled work and responsibilities. For example, consider taking a day trip away to a quiet place, or just arranging a time in your home when you can be alone for several hours.
As you are preparing for your time with God, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the types of tools you might need to have with you, which will help you to maintain a focus on His presence. Some examples include a notebook or sketch pad, music, an instrument, or a blanket or exercise mat for sitting.
Hebrews 12:1-11 – Specifically: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us… Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Some questions to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you:
– Are there some battles, which you sense you are being called to face for the sake of your own freedom, which you are avoiding? What are some of the reasons that you are afraid to enter into these battles? Remember the word of God from Deuteronomy 1:29-30: “Do not be terrified, do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you will fight for you, as He did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes.” Ask God to reveal the truth of this to you – His promise to fight for you.
– Identity – As a result of Jacob’s refusal to give up in this struggle, he was given a new name – not the name by which the world knew him, but the name given to him by God. What are some of the names you carry which the world has given you? Are you willing to allow God to show you who He says you are, who He created you to be, even if it scares you?
– Submission – Jacob overcame in the battle, but walked away with a limp. The process of sanctification, whereby the authority of the sinful nature in our lives is broken, will likely be painful – or at least uncomfortable – and will leave us feeling broken and humbled in many ways. Are you resisting the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in your life because of uncertainty about how it will leave you? Are there aspects of your identity, which you are afraid to give up to Him?