Thursday, September 30, 2010

Peace is only a Piece

     The past couple of days/weeks have been filled with trials, due to circumstances that I won't go into or dwell on. Needless to say, it has left me exhausted physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I haven't really blogged much because either I didn't feel inspired or didn't want to write anything that didn't have a happy, care-free tone to it. Which I realize now goes completely against what I said when starting this blog: that I didn't want it to become a part of any kind of "beauty contest." It's important to remember that it is okay to not be okay, and it is more than okay to be transparent about it. I was reading the Word of God for some comfort and strength when I came across this verse:

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid."
- John 14:27

     It got me to thinking: what is peace? What does it mean to receive peace from God? Surely it doesn't mean peace in the sense of the absence of war or conflict, because Christ said he did not come to bring that type of peace in Matthew 10:34. In fact, He says he came to "bring a sword" and to "set a man against his father." We know that Christ does not prevent us from having battles; He equips us and prepares us for them. So the word "peace" in this context should (and does) shout out at us as an important term. He does, after all, refer to it as the gift He is leaving us; something the world cannot give us.
     To find this answer I looked at the Hebrew word Christ uses when He refers to the peace He is leaving us. It turned out to be shalom. So I looked up shalom in Strong's Concordance, and these are the definitions it gave: completeness, wholeness, health, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.....and peace. The Hebrew root of shalom is shalam, meaning to be safe or complete. 
     Isn't that amazing, wonderful, and beautiful? Christ's gift to us is completeness, wholeness, welfare, etc. He says in this verse that the world cannot give us these things. When we try to use things on Earth to make us whole or complete or safe, we are let down, broken, and disappointed 100% of the time. Which is where I (and just about everyone) find myself: broken. Why? Because I've allowed myself to depend on things of this world for happiness and completeness - finances, friends, academics, family, relationships, etc. Most of these are established by God and are definitely good and are meant to enrich our lives, but are not meant to make us whole or complete. When any of the things of this world that we turn into strongholds (or a combination of them) start to hit a rough spot (and they most certainly will), it can be completely devastating and stressful. Even if they are all going smoothly, they will never be enough. There will always be an emptiness and dissatisfaction within us. We will always want more. There is only one love that can satisfy us and make us complete, whole, and right with God: Christ. If we allow Christ to be our stronghold and trust Him as the mighty rock that He is, He will never ever disappoint us. His love endures forever.
     The things in this world that we depend on can do many things for us, and may even give us feelings of peace and happiness. Friendships and relationships are beautiful, God-given gifts in our lives and can help us ease our burdens and grow. But what in this world, when faced with the attacks of Satan, stands a chance? What in this world can keep us safe from his spiritual warfare? 
     There is only one name that can make Satan quiver and flee: Christ. If we rebuke Satan in Christ's name, he will flee 100% of the time. We will be protected and safe. The peace that God gives us is not the elimination of trials, conflict, or trouble, it is the guarantee that when those times come we will come out of them remaining complete, whole, and in the safety of God's righteous and loving arms. This is confirmed and reassured to us later by Christ when He says to His disciples:

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
- John 16:33

     Again, we see Christ referring to achieving peace in Him. Completeness in Him, wholeness in Him, perfection in Him, well-being in Him, protection in Him, and safety in Him. Shalom in Him, and Him alone. Peace may be the best translation of what Jesus is saying, but it is truly only a piece of His gift to us. It is okay to be going through troubles, and it is okay to not be okay. Christ foretold of all of the troubles we are going through, and desperately wants to be the peace that we live in through it all. He knows that the world cannot complete us and lead us to the life we were meant to have. He loves us so much and wants to guide us to the path of righteousness. He does all this yes, for the glory of God and so that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14:13), but also for our own good and so that we may have life. Jesus states (again, in the gospel of John): "I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)"
     We have all heard the expression "live life to the fullest." And especially in times of trouble, that's what we wish we could do. Christ came to fulfill that in our lives. He came so that we could live life to the fullest! We can only achieve that through Him. We need His peace, His completion of our lives, His wholeness in our beings, and His protection. So if you find yourself in that low place, broken and discouraged, take heart! Christ has overcome this world and all the troubles in it. He has brought you His peace so that you may have life to the fullest extent. He is so good.

in His grip,

Monday, September 6, 2010

No Such Thing

     For those that do not know, I am graduating in December (God willing), and to be quite honest, it is kinda scary.  Nothing is certain as far as having a job or a plan or what exactly I am going to do. All I know is that I want to get married and I want to answer a calling from God to go into medicine and use it for His glory. That is really all I know. Part of me is unsettled and uncomfortable because I don't know exactly what I'm going to be doing in January (or even the next January).
     What I've discovered, though, over the past few weeks is that it is okay to be uncomfortable and unsettled and not know for sure what is going to happen next. In fact, it's better to not know and to trust God fully with your life and your future. Otherwise, you risk becoming so confident that you are doing what you are meant to do that you may not feel like you even need God to guide you or come through for you or provide for you. I know this seems perhaps a little reckless and irresponsible, but bare with me.
     I was listening to "No Such Thing" by John Mayer yesterday and it really hit home. Not only that, but I feel like the song really touches on some of the pressures that are placed on us by society and those who believe to have our best interest in mind. Now I may be way off from what this song is really trying to get at, but this is just what it spoke to me. It begins with this:

"'Welcome to the real world', she said to me
Take a seat
Take your life
Plot it out in black and white"

     Now isn't this what we are told by everyone growing up? Plan out your life, start thinking about what you want to do, start preparing for this and that. Now, I'm not saying we should grow up without a care in the world and not be responsible for our actions and what is coming at us. But hasn't it gone a little too far? I remember when I was in growing up in school and the teachers would say "Now I know this seems strict, but we're just trying to prepare you for the 5th grade, when things are going to be different."
     And then I got to the 5th grade, and the teachers would say "We're just trying to prepare you for middle school. You think this is hard? Middle school is a whole different ballgame." And the middle school teachers would tell us they were trying to prepare us for high school; the high school teachers would be preparing us for college and college professors try to prepare us for "the real world."
     Maybe you did not experience this, and I'm sorry if I falsely assumed that. But are we not pressured starting our freshman year of high school to know everything about what we want to do with our lives? The college we want to go to, the career we want to pursue, etc.? We live in a fast-paced society that treats the education system like an assembly line, where the end of someone's education represents a finished product completely ready to occupy their predestined niche in society and work right away and have a nice, comfortable salary and life. And if not, we've been conditioned to believe that something went wrong. That it's not normal. That the person made some sort of mistake.
     This, I believe, is an obstacle in the face of every individual born in this generation. I also firmly believe that it is a stumbling block in our spiritual lives and in the Kingdom of God itself. The truth is, we don't have to have everything mapped out. We don't have to jump on a track and stay on it for life. We don't have to decide what we want to do for the rest of our lives and who we want to be and where we want to live. We don't have to and we can't.
     Only God can. And he will. God will call you to be someone. He may do it in the form of a loud, resounding wake up call or in the form of a quiet whisper. He may call you by giving you gifts and passions, leading you to use them for His glory. Our Lord is creative and good, and will call you in whichever way He feels necessary. His calling might completely go against everything the world around you is saying. While the world around you is telling you to aim for a job that will pay really well and give you comfort and security, He may (and probably will) call you to a career that doesn't pay as well but better suites your passions and gifts, in order to better further His Kingdom. While the world is screaming at you to save your money and build your savings to achieve financial security, God may (and probably will) call you to live a humble life, giving the money you don't need to the needy and only taking your daily bread (Proverbs 30:8,9).
     While the world screams at you to plan things out and "secure" your future, God begs with you to live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). He wants you to trust Him and fall into His arms and not turn the blessings He has given you (money, family, a job, a house, etc.) into your treasures and your strongholds. He longs to get you to trust Him and praise Him as a Holy God that will never ever leave you empty handed. A God who takes care of the birds, and therefor will take care of you with even greater consideration (Matthew 6:26). A God who will work all things for the good of those who love Him and put faith in Him (Romans 8:28). A God who loves you more than the world and will never let go of you. Another verse in the song goes like this:

"They love to tell you
Stay inside the lines
But something's better
On the other side"

     The world draws lines for us to stay in, but they only lead to more stress and hardly ever produce any fruit. All along, God is on the sidelines calling you to come to Him. To the other side. To something way, way better than the world can ever provide or offer you. He will take care of you and use you to bring glory to Him and establish His Kingdom on Earth.
     I guess what I'm trying to say is that we need to stop worrying about how we're going to make it in the future and just love God with all our hearts and place full trust in Him that He will provide a way for us to succeed in life and in His Kingdom. This semester, I've seen this come true. I wasn't sure I would even be able to return to Shorter University, due to financial strains. But God provided a way through a grant. Doors have been opened for jobs, volunteering opportunities, etc. I am confident that God is watching over me and sending his angels to hold me up each and every day (Psalm 91). After studying the book of James, I have tried to commit to praying with faith. It isn't always easy, but God always comes through in some shape or form. He is continuously freeing me from anxiety and outside pressures, and He is just as present for you as He is for me. He loves you and He has everything under His perfect control.

in His grip,
Zack Akvan