"“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”" - John 16:33 (MEV)
Many people struggle constantly with worry and anxiety. I sympathise with them. It feels terrible to be suspended in a state of uncertainty, and weighed down with a despairing heart and clouded mind. Day and night, you get that sinking feeling. I understand how it feels because I had been there before. It is unnerving to wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the impossibility of the situation and sweating over the possibility that you might have hit a dead end.
In the Old Testament, God has promised peace like a river (Isaiah 48:18). In the New Testament, Jesus offers to give peace – a different kind of peace unlike that which is offered by the world – to sooth the troubled souls and those afflicted with fear (John 14:27).
Despite the sure promises of God, most Christians have found that peace remains elusive. We pray and seek the Lord earnestly for it but still many sincere believers never come close to experiencing that peace like a river. Serenity and tranquillity seem to be found only in paintings and idyllic holiday destinations.
Didn’t Jesus also say that “in this world you will have tribulation?” So, is Jesus contradicting Himself? Obviously not! The problem is our understanding of peace is somewhat flawed, misplaced. We think of peace to mean the absence of trouble and conflict. We wrongly assume that peace means to be free from problems and heartaches.
Notice that Jesus made the statement – “in this world you will have trouble” – while telling His disciples that in Him they would have peace. That conversation was set in the context of Jesus’ last words to His disciples before his arrest and crucifixion. He told them that the world hated Him and therefore His disciples should expect to be hated by the world too. They should also expect persecution. But at the same time, Jesus assured them of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit would lead them and guide them.
And do not miss the most important statement that Jesus made: “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Despite the chaos that you witness around the world, Jesus is firmly in control because He has overcome the world. He had defeated Satan and death two thousand years ago on the Cross of Calvary.
So, what does that tell us when terrible things happen to us and we are beset with seemingly insurmountable problems? God has allowed these things to happen. Nothing can happen to us without God’s knowledge and permission. Consider Jesus’ encouragement to His disciples when He sent them out to preach the gospel and heal the sick. He told them that God knew the exact number of hair in their heads and He knew every sparrow that fell to the ground (Matthew 10:29-31).
What am I saying? We, Christians, must learn to trust God, who is sovereign over all things. Everything, both good and bad, happens for a purpose. We must trust that all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). And we are those who are called according to His purpose. In trusting, we rest in Him and we put our hope in Him.
Until we truly believe that God is sovereign over all things, we will always fall short of stepping into the river of peace. We will enjoy peace only when our circumstances are pleasant and we are happy. But as soon as uncertainty creeps in or adversity hits, our peace evaporates into the thin air.
The experience of true peace does not depend on our circumstances. Instead, it finds its basis in our trust in God and His sovereignty. The prophet, Isaiah, said it well: You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock (Isaiah 26:3-4)
Trust is the reason that Paul could rejoice while he was in prison (Philippians 4:4). He shared this valuable lesson that he had learnt with the Philippians. He said: “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). Paul would give thanks to God whether God would answer his prayer or not. Paul’s secret to experiencing the peace of God regardless of his circumstances lies in his trust in the sovereignty of God.
Pastors Les & Adeline Chua