Overcoming Anxiety with Peace

Peace isn't found in changing your circumstances; it's found in changing your focus from your circumstances to a person.

Scripture References & Transcript

Isaiah 9:6

Isaiah 57:19

Ezekiel 37:26

Luke 2:14

Acts 10:36

Isaiah 26:3

John 14:27

Matthew 11:29

Luke 21:14

One of my pet peeves is oatmeal raisin cookies. And the reason is ’cause I think the chocolate chip cookie is the most perfect cookie in the history of the world. The cookie contest is over. Chocolate chip cookies have have won. And so when I’m at a luncheon and you see at the end somebody had the good sense to order up chocolate chip cookies to reward you for the salad, the other stuff you had to eat, I get this huge adrenaline spike. And then when I get to the end and realize those aren’t chocolate chips, they’re raisins, the adrenaline just crashes. And I just feel teased and taunted. Now I’ve met some people who actually prefer oatmeal raisin cookies. And while I respect them, they’ll never be my friends. I’ll shake their hand after church. I’m not gonna invite ’em to my house.

I mean, a man has to uphold his standards and, and it’s my belief that the chocolate chip cookie gets it just right. That makes it so frustrating when people try to improve on something that’s already perfect. In the nineties, the thought was that chocolate chips aren’t healthy enough. And so they came up with something called carab chips. You gotta be older. Anybody remember that chalky bland list stuff? Of course, you know, my wife would try. I said, no, just, just know the chocolate chip perfectly performs its function. We don’t need another option. And you might try to throw in quinoa or chickpea flour or monk fruit or stevia fine, but in the end, just because it’s round and it has chips, if it’s a car chip cookie, it’s an impostor and it belongs in hell. All right? That’s what they’re passing out there. <Laugh>.

Ingredients matter. And what is true for the most perfect cookie in the world, world is also true for, I believe one of the most fulfilling spiritual experiences. I’m talking about personal peace, personal peace. It is glorious. Personal peace is wonderful. It feels supernatural if you’ve ever known it. And I believe it really is one of the best things about being a Christian. Now, the Old Testament word for peace, it’s a familiar word. A lot of you have heard it is called shalom. Shalom. It covers wellbeing in the widest sense of the world. It’s free from mental disturbance. You’re free from anxiety, you’re free from fear. Somebody’s asked me, well, is it a feeling? Well, yes, but it’s as Boston saying in the seventies, it’s more than a feeling. It’s this calm, a supernatural calm that everything will be okay. Even if the world is swirling around you in chaos, you’re still settled and you’re still at rest.

I think everybody would want this. If they’ve ever had it, they would never want to lose it. So we know it’s valuable, but people think it’s the wrong ingredients that lead up to it. And so they try to create peace in their life, but they’re ultimately creating a carab chip cookie instead of a chocolate chip cookie. And so this morning I want to talk to you about how you can experience this real supernatural piece. Now, a quick caveat, not really just for this sermon, frankly, for the whole series, if you just haven’t been around, we’re in a series called breathing underwater, dealing with a lot of mental health issues. And I recognize that anxiety that we’re talking about today can be a diagnosed psychological condition. So I’m not suggesting that anybody listen to this sermon and throw away any medicine that any doctor has given you.

If you heard Kurt last week, and if you didn’t, I implore you to go back and listen to it. On our app, he ends with this powerful image of a bunch of tangled chords. He says, how do you get ’em untangled? One knot at a time? So we’re looking at the spiritual dynamics toward experiencing peace. But for you, some of you, that might just be one knot and you need to look at other areas in your life to deal with it. But what were we gonna do when we look at the spiritual reality is get rid first of the counterfeit ingredients for peace. ’cause Too many people in the world think this is what leads to peace. It’s a whole list to have peace. They believe, they think they need first, a pain free life. When they get over pain, then they’ll feel peace, a problem, free life.

Everything’s going just as you want it. No interruptions. Nobody’s getting in your way. If you wanna be married, a spouse who loves you and always treats you well, children who appreciate you and all of them are following God. Parents who are proud of you, a vocation or a financial portfolio that makes others respect you. Nobody’s making you feel guilty or keeping you from your pleasure. That would cause a lot of anxiety and stress and nobody’s hating on you or even opposing you. And the thinking is, if I can make all of these things happen, I’m gonna keep working and climbing. I’m gonna make all of these things happen. Then finally, all have peace. I just wanna say good luck with that. In my research for this, I came across a study that said only about 15% of our problems will ever actually be solved. And so you’ll never have peace if you think these are the real ingredients for peace.

In fact, I’m gonna make the case that it’s our demand for these things, our pursuit of these things that’s actually keeping us from experiencing the peace that God wants us to know. Because the peace I’m talking about is the peace that’s free from circumstances. I have some dear friends in Southern California named Rebecca and Steve California closed down hard over covid. And when they were going into a grocery store, they saw a a, a woman. They knew they’d gone through her line many times. She’s just unusually cheerful. She seemed to embody peace, she had great joy. And she’s checking through their groceries. And so Steve asked her, Ruby, how, how are things going? She goes, okay, considering I said, well, considering what she said. Well, my son is in the hospital with the coronavirus and he’s on a ventilator. He has an autoimmune disease that are complicating things.

And so doctors are pretty worried about him. And of course I can’t visit him. I just have to sit and and pray for him. So then yesterday I went to the doctor and I found out I have cancer. And she, she’s still just running the groceries through. And they’re like, what? And then he says, well, Ruby, we’ll be sure to pray for you and your son. And here’s what she said. Thank you. I believe God has a purpose for all of this. And he has everything under control. You too, have a blessed day. And that belief that God has everything under control led her to a place of peace when most people would be freaking out. You know how close people came to dying when they were on a ventilator with C O V I D? She might be dying if she had cancer, depending on what kind and where the things that would destroy most peace.

And people, somehow she was demonstrating this calm. So that rather than saying, you gotta pray for me, you gotta pray for me. She’s saying to them, I’m blessing you. You two have a blessed day. Stephen re, Rebecca, were in awe seeing a calm and a peace like this. And so Rebecca came back to the store hoping to get an update from Ruby. And then was kind of concerned ’cause a couple weeks went by and knowing the diagnosis, she was concerned that maybe something was really wrong. But finally she goes there and there’s Ruby checking out the groceries. So Rebecca makes sure she gets in her line, Ruby, how? How are things going? She goes, oh, pretty good. My, my son got out of the hospital, he’s still in rehab, but he’s on his way to recovery. The doctors have a pretty good plan for my cancer treatment. So I feel pretty good about that. And she pulled aside her employee vest and she had a T-shirt under there with a statement from the chosen series. If you’ve seen the chosen series on the life of Jesus and his disciples, you’ll recognize this phrase. It says, get use to different. It’s when Peter came up to Jesus and talked about something and Jesus said, Peter, get use to different, he said, this is my motto in life. I’m getting use to different.

Are you just besieged by fears and anxiety? Are you just kinda waiting for the other shoe to drop? Maybe even things are going okay, but you think it’s not gonna last very long. Or you’re overcome because you don’t know how already known trials are gonna come out and you’re just unsettled and anxious. Are you ready to get use to different? Do you believe that it doesn’t have to be that way? And Rebecca left and she was just overcome by the fact that what set Ruby apart is in the midst of what would cause most people to be so uneasy. She was a model of peace. She was a perfect picture of peace. And back to that, maybe I’m eating that substitute a spiritual sub. Maybe I’m settling for a Carab chip cookie. I want the real thing. I want peace like that. And Ruby is really what God wants to create in this world throughout scripture.

It’s been his plan to demonstrate to a world in chaos and anxious world, people who have this supernatural calm. We talk a lot as a church about salvation. Most people can’t see salvation. They think of as something that will happen in the future. But you can see peace. And so when peace becomes real in your heart, we become living testimonies to the presence of Jesus in our life. And it’s what God said would happen from the very start. You go back to the Old Testament, a major prophet named Isaiah. And here’s a promise God made the Messiah when he comes, who will change everything. What’s he gonna be known by he’ll be called the prince of peace. And the peace would continue says in Isaiah 57 19, peace. Peace to those far and near says the Lord God has a plan. I wanna send peace. That’s what I’m here to do.

Not salvation, but peace. And there’s an amazing promise through the prophet Ezekiel. And God says this, I will make a covenant of peace again. I’m struck. How does God describe his covenant? It’s a covenant of peace with them and it will be an everlasting covenant. Blows me away. If you’ve experienced peace for an hour, you’ll know how good it’s, you’re gonna want to cultivate it. If you’ve had a year free from anxiety and you know God’s peace, you know it’s priceless. You would give all you have for it. God says it’s an everlasting covenant of peace. There will never be a day when you have to let anxiety rule you. There will never be a day when fears have to direct your life. There will never be a moment when you have to freak out and really worry. This is an everlasting covenant of peace.

That’s what God promises throughout the entire Old Testament. He’s talking to a world. And let’s admit the Old Testament world. It was brutal. It was heartbreaking, it was scary. And God says to his people, hang on, I’ve got a plan. And the plan is peace is coming and God’s true to his word. When Jesus comes, peace comes. In fact, when Jesus’s birth is announced, how do the angels proclaim it? We look in the book of Luke, they’re saying to the shepherd, glory shepherd’s, glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace to men on whom his favor rest. Jesus is bringing peace to the world. And that’s what the disciples preach. They would mention salvation, but peace was central to how they described God’s work. We can read in Acts chapter 10, you know the message God sent for the people of Israel announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Jesus brings peace first by helping us have peace with God through his death and resurrection. We have forgiveness of sins. So instead of God’s wrath, we have God’s favor. That’s the first step of peace. And then he allows us to have peace with each other. And then he allows us to have peace within ourselves. We can forgive ourselves. We can let go of our shame. The coming of Jesus isn’t just the coming of salvation, it’s the coming of peace, which is why in 19 of 21 of the New Testament letters, they begin or end with the blessing of peace. The New Testament thought of the gospel. They thought of peace. They thought of Jesus. He is our peace. He brings peace. So if it’s so essential to what they taught, if it’s how God wants to represent himself to the world through us, who experiences peace?

What are the real ingredients for peace? What is the biblical recipe? If we want to cook up this piece, I want to talk about three things. First, I think the central part of it, you could call this the flower of peace, is a passionate, trusting relationship with God. Isaiah 26, 3 says, you’ll keep in perfect peace, not an imitation piece, not a little bit of peace. You can find perfect peace and your mind will be steadfast because he trusts in you. We will be in perfect peace when we trust in God, which means peace isn’t found in changing your circumstances. That’s the fake recipe. It’s found in changing your focus from circumstances to a person. That’s where we find peace. Imagine if you’re in the middle of a tornado. Some of you might’ve been a month ago. I don’t mean to re-traumatize you, but if you can imagine this without being re-traumatized, take a step back. Just even close your eyes to picture it. Trees are coming up around you. You hear the wind, things are going crazy. You hear things cracking apart. Maybe you see lightning splitting the sky. You hear the thunder. It is just chaos. And you’re standing out there alone. There’s no shelter. You can feel the wind. Is it gonna lift you up? You just don’t know. Just kind of feel that for a second.

Now, imagine Jesus walking into the picture and you’ll picture him differently maybe than I do. Some of you imagine Jesus coming up to you straightforward and taking your cheeks in his palms. I got you. I’m okay. Just look at me. Some of you might imagine crawling up into his lap. Just cover me. Jesus, just old me. Kinda like to think of a 10 foot tall. Jesus who comes up behind me, wraps his strong arms around me. I feel his chest against my back, Gary, I’m not gonna let go. I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. I got you. And now the storm doesn’t matter. In fact, the wilder the storm gets. You know what I’m gonna do? If Jesus has got his arms around me, I’m gonna open my eyes. I’m gonna wanna see the show. This is sick. But wow, I know I’m okay.

I wanna see what’s happening. It’s like a theme park ride. And that’s where a man or a woman finds their peace, not in the circumstances. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. What matters is who is holding you. We have to unlearn the natural bent to define our wellbeing by what’s happening to us. That’s where most people try to find their peace. Instead, we learn to define it by who is walking with us. Peace is relational. And the most exciting thing about it is that it has everything to do with God. Nothing to do with anyone else. It doesn’t matter who our enemies are. It doesn’t matter what our circumstances are. God is with us. His arms don’t get tired. He’s not gonna leave us. He’s promised to be there. So regardless of the feelings of others, the animosity of others, or the chaos of our situation, we can know peace.

‘Cause Peace is found in Jesus. Jesus said this to his disciples, peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I do not give you as the world gives. Jesus doesn’t taunt you with oatmeal raisin cookies. At the end of the buffet. He gives you the real thing. I’m giving you a special kind of peace. And because of that, do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. I can’t stress it too much. Christian peace isn’t a problem. Free life. It’s a passionate life of relationship, has nothing to do with circumstances. Everything to do with where we’ve placed our focus. The second two ingredients of peace, I would call these the the butter of peace is humility and surrender. Jesus said to his followers, take my yoke upon you and learn from me.

I am gentle and humble in heart. And you will find rest for your souls. You’ll find peace. So it’s a process where we have to learn. We look at Jesus, we see who he is, and he displayed peace like no one else. We look at those qualities, we learn from him. Well, if I have those qualities, then I can find rest for my soul. I can find that kind of peace. Yeah, and just think about it. People who lack humility have no peace because they’ve gotta be recognized or they’ve gotta make it happen or they’ve gotta fix it. They put themselves in charge. They judge everybody. Everybody disappoints ’em. They have no peace. And people who have no surrender are pushing back against everything. I’m not gonna let this happen. I gotta fix this. I’ve gotta change that. And if they’re not careful, they may find themselves pushing back against God.

But Jesus personifies humility. He personifies, surrender. Think of the night that he was betrayed. He knew it wasn’t just gonna be bad. He was gonna be horrendous. He was gonna take the weight of the world’s sin on his shoulders. And he asked his father, look, if you can take this cup from me, I’d, I’d really appreciate it. But then his surrender, but not my will, yours be done. And so in the midst of tremendous opposition, Jesus still had peace. He followed that way. And I’ve gotta be honest, the times that I’ve experienced some of the most peace ever is when I’ve felt humble and surrendered and can’t do anything about it. That’s when I experience peace. Think back a number of years ago, I was running the grandma’s marathon in Duluth, Minnesota. It’s a flat course I’d flown in there. My dream was to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

I trained six months now. I had to pay to get out there. I had to pay to fly plane to stay in a hotel. I had high hopes, but my training times were right there. I thought I can do this. But I woke up that day and I, my heart sank because the heat and humidity index was off the chart. And so they had, I don’t know if every marathon does this, but they, they chose to, they were flying black balloons throughout the course to remind you of the heat and humidity index saying if you have health conditions, you really shouldn’t run. If you don’t, you should slow way down because it’s not healthy to go and exert yourself too much when you have a weather index like this. I had paid to fly in. I’d trained for six months. I didn’t care about any stupid black balloons.

I took off. I’d been training from Washington State. I didn’t know how to handle the heat or the humidity. I thought I was hydrating enough, not even close. And by mile 13, it was like somebody had pulled a plug and I was, I was gone. And it was mind over matter, pushing myself to the finish line. Boston was far, far away. I mean, it was the slowest marathon I’d done up to date. I I could barely finish, but it was mind over matter, just pushing myself. And I must have looked pretty bad. ’cause As soon as I got to the finish line, an official said to another one, get him into the medical tent. I wasn’t gonna argue. I didn’t have any strength to argue. And they took me over to a a table and there was a doctor and a nurse. He says, we’ve gotta beg him that meant a saline solution. And they couldn’t find a, a vein to stick it in because I was so dehydrated. He said to her, put, elevate his feet so that his head is down below. We’ve gotta get a vein. And then a little bit went, I, and I heard him say, oh no.

Now normally if you’re in a medical tent and you’ve already pushed yourself past any notion of strength and whatnot, and you got a doctor and a nurse working on you, and they say, oh no, you kind of think it’s time to panic. But because I was so depleted in every part of my beat, I was physically depleted. I couldn’t have gotten off that table if I wanted to. I was emotionally depleted. I was so disappointed. I had worked so hard to make this happen. And it was blown up and gone. I didn’t have any medical knowledge to offer. And I’ll never forget just laying back saying, all right, Gary, he and she will figure it out. If not your toasts, if they do, you’ll walk out of the tent. But it, I can’t even explain the calm and the peace when I was surrendered and humble, I was forced into it. But it was just an amazing feeling.

I don’t know what your Oh no. Is this morning. Most of you are facing them. Maybe it’s a call that you’ll get this week from the doctor. I’m so sorry. The test came back. It’s, it’s cancer. And immediately, oh no, what does this mean? And you’re thinking not just about you, but your family and the costs and what it does to your work. Maybe your oh no will be the police or a principal calling. Do you have any idea what we caught your son or daughter doing? Oh no. What does this mean for them? What does this mean for us? What does that mean for their future? Where you get all dolled up? ’cause You think this is the evening your boyfriend is gonna propose to you and he breaks up. What does this mean? Never. I thought I was gonna marry him and now he doesn’t even wanna be with me. And the elderly parent falls. Your company is downsizing when your spouse has already lost their job. The coach says, your gut, the school of your dream sends you a very thin envelope saying, sorry, no place for you here. And by the way, please don’t ever apply again. You’ll never be a student at this school.

Or the doctor says, okay, we’ve done the studies. Yeah, your child is disabled and there’s no cure. This will be a lifelong battle for them. And your initial response, I tried so hard to make this relationship work. I tried so hard to be healthy. I’ve exhausted myself trying to provide for my family. And then you get to that place where, oh no. It’s like, okay, God, I, I give it up to you. I found peace because I trusted earthly doctors. Well, they’re gonna get it or they’re not. We find peace when we trust the great physician. God, I can’t make this happen. I’m surrendering to you. I’m trusting in you. I’m giving it up to you to let this work. Somebody asked me after the first service, well, what was your, oh no <laugh>. I never found out <laugh>. It took two bags of saline solution before I could walk outta there, but I walked out.

I’m okay. I didn’t need to know. And isn’t that true? A lot of times of our problems, the the biggest oh nos, we might not even know what’s behind them. What mattered wasn’t what I understood. What mattered for peace was trusting the doctor who knew what was going wrong and was able to figure it out. The third ingredient for peace is a word coined in the late sixth seventh century by John c Clack is called Dispassion. He wrote an Eastern Orthodox classic called the latter of divine ascent. And it’s a confusing word, but I’ll explain it. It doesn’t mean a passionless existence. It’s not stoicism. Instead it’s redirecting earthly passions into heavenly longings. It sounds like a philosophical word, but in an essence it is a place of tremendous freedom from the disappointments of the world. It’s when you can get to that place where you can say, even if it’s not okay, I’m okay because my hope is set in heaven.

I don’t need everything on earth to go exactly right, just like I want it to before I feel like I’m all right. So this passion means you intentionally cognitively with your mind. You unshackle yourself from having to have things on earth be okay for you to feel okay. If I don’t need you to like me or agree with me to feel good about myself, your personal attacks against me won’t steal my peace. I don’t need to have an Instagram house to be happy in my home. I don’t need to know how this crisis will end. God, just tell me to know that God is gonna be with me. And it’s okay for some of you. I wish I could do a whole sermon on this. The biggest stealer of your peace is this. I don’t need to be a better me to be okay with me.

You haven’t learned to rest in the forgiveness offered by Jesus. The affirmation of the Father given us through Jesus, you, I just gotta be better. I’ll get through this addiction. I’ll get through this habit. I’ll get through this character weakness, and then I’ll have peace and come say, no, your peace is in Jesus, not in making yourself better. I don’t need to make everything in my life go right to feel like I’m all right. And the benefit of this is if you don’t need everything to go right in your life to have peace, you won’t lose your peace when everything goes wrong. Because there will be times in your life when it seems like everything is going wrong in buckets. Twos and threes and fours and fives. Henry Drummond, another classic writer, this from the late 19th century, said this, as you look back upon the past years of your life, is it not true that it’s unhappiness has chiefly come from the succession of personal slights, humiliations and almost trivial disappointments, which life has brought you wounded, vanity, disappointed, hopes, unsatisfied, selfishness.

These are the old, vulgar, universal sources of man’s unrest. Things that happen to us affect what we feel within us. And dispassion means it doesn’t have to be that way, but to get to there, you have to value peace more than you value the things of the world. That’s what dispassion means. Not fixing my world, but fixing my focus. Looking to an entirely different world. People who lack peace have the counterfeit piece, the car chip cookie piece say, when I have this and this and this and fix this and this and this, then all have peace. People who have the chocolate chip cookie pieces know when I know Jesus, I know peace and I know Jesus, I can have peace. Now, whatever you add to Jesus takes you away from dispassion. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? We want peace. And some we like the idea of peace, but we wanna add onto it.

We want peace and everybody to be good with us. We want peace. And relative financial security, we want peace. And a carefree day, can’t God just make it go right? We want peace and a bright, happy, shiny family. But it’s when those things go wrong that we lose our peace. And demanding to have peace and those things is like saying I, I wanna have a healthy body weight and I want to eat cake and ice cream after every meal. I wanna have healthy blood sugar, but I’m gonna drink six sodas a day. I wanna have a healthy heart, but I’m gonna live a sedentary lifestyle. You can’t have both. At one point, you have to decide where does my spiritual health come from? Otherwise, you’re gonna find yourself pulled apart. I have to have a great week. Last week I was with my son up in catching can on a fishing trip.

And twice a day when we would go out, you have one foot on the dock and you’ve got one foot on the boat, and you’ve gotta make a decision as the boat is inching away. If you’re trying to, I don’t know if I wanna be on the boat. I don’t know if I wanna leave the dock. It keeps going further, and I can’t go much further than this. I’ve never been very limber and my legs aren’t that long. But eventually I’m gonna have to decide, am I gonna stay on the dock? I’m gonna try to pull peace from this world and make everything all right, or am I gonna jump on the boat, the chaos of the sea, say, God, I’m gonna trust in you, but I can’t do both. And it might be the circumstances that you’re facing right now, is God saying you need to choose Where are you gonna find your peace?

If you keep trying to make your world feel perfect, you’re gonna end up with a carb chip, quinoa, flour, stevia flavored cookie. It’s not the real thing. Look at how Jesus did this. Can anybody doubt that Jesus had peace? He personifies peace. But look at his life. Did he have money? No. Did he have a lot of enemies? Yeah. And they were blood thirsty. Do you have people who were plotting to kill him? Yes. And he even talked about it. He knew they wanted him dead. Did he have a close friend betray him? Yep. Did his closest friends stay true in his moment of greatest trial?

Not even one. So let’s see, no money, lots of enemies, Fairweather friends, a joke of a trial, torture and death. Yet Jesus had peace. He did because he personified these three ingredients that will give you peace, a passionate, trusting relationship with God. If you don’t know that you’re right with God, you can’t know true spiritual peace, humility, and surrender. Letting God take us where he wants us to go. Dispassion, unhitching ourself from making the world perfect or trying to make the world perfect so that we think we’re settled. We get to the point where even if it’s not okay, I’m okay. Yesterday morning, I was sitting on my deck. I was reading through Luke 21, and I struck by Jesus with his disciples. He’s honest. He says, I’m I’m, I’m gonna tell you what’s gonna go down. When I go, you’re gonna be heartbroken that I’m gone.

And then you’re gonna be hunted and persecuted. Some of you’re gonna be jailed and some of you will be killed. Talk about an, oh no, he’s honest. This is what’s gonna go on. But then he says to them, Luke 2114, and this is what I wanna leave you with. Make up your mind not to worry beforehand. Whatever your oh no is, you can say, it’s not worth sacrificing my peace, even if it’s not okay, I’m okay. In fact, say it to each other. Turn to the person on your left. Hey, even if it’s not okay, I’m okay. We normally pray. I wanna just pronounce a blessing. If you’ll bow your head, receive this from the Lord is from numbers Chapter six, verses 22 through 24. The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.