The Place of Peace

Have you ever tried to live up to a name? What about the name Christian? How are we as the church doing at representing, or more accurately, re-presenting Jesus to the world around us? Do we live differently in the areas of morality, kindness, gentleness? Do our lives release peace when there is confusion or trouble around us? If not they can, in fact that is how we are called to live. Paul described us as living epistles, living letters for others to read.

2  You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 2 Corinthians 3:2 (NKJV)

So, if we are called to be a living letters for others to read, it makes sense to be well written! How do we do that? One way is recognizing that keeping our hearts focused on Jesus produces better fruit, a better letter for others to read. In fact Isaiah described a major benefit that Paul later reinforced.

3  You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. 4  Trust in the LORD forever, For in YAH, the LORD, is everlasting strength. Isaiah 26:3-4 (NKJV)

8  Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things. 9  The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9 (NKJV)

Isaiah said we could have perfect peace if our minds were stayed on Yahweh. Sounds like a great deal but how does it work in practice? It is interesting that mindfulness is receiving a lot of press these days ranging from the fields of social work and psychology to the medical field. All touting the benefits of mindfulness. Coming from Buddhism is it an acceptable practice for Christians, or do we have something better? I don’t doubt both the psychological and physical benefits of mindful meditation. Yet, do we have something we are not accessing?

In recent years the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition was celebrated in the United States. All of the details are not important. Part of what is important is that their task was to map out territory that the US Government had purchased from France. I heard Ray Hughes speak on this in a sermon and he made a very interesting point and application. The task of Lewis and Clark was to go and discover what had already been purchased. In a similar manner he suggested we as the church needed to discover what Jesus has already purchased.

What is of interest to me is that I think we have either by default or design given up things Jesus purchased for us, the reality of His tangible presence with and within is one of those things. A few years ago I taught a university course of MacEwan that looked at different world religions. I inherited the course text from the previous instructor. What I found interesting was that while the text covered both eastern and western religions it described both Judaism and Christianity as western religions. While they may have become that in practice, in origin they are both Middle Eastern and rooted in a culture very different than ours. So my question, in the process of becoming ‘western’ did we lose things Jesus purchased?

To answer my question let us look at what Isaiah taught, bearing in mind he taught this during the Old Testament period when the Holy Spirit was not in people and they were not born again as is available under the new covenant. So, let’s dig into what Isaiah had to say.

3  You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. 4  Trust in the LORD forever, For in YAH, the LORD, is everlasting strength. Isaiah 26:3-4 (NKJV)

This verse highlights three things.

  • Perfect peace
  • This peace comes from a mind stayed/fixed on Yahweh
  • It comes because it is an expression of trust or faith in Yahweh

This verse does not tell us that we can have peace because everything is calm around us. In fact Isaiah’s point to the nation of Israel was that they, and by extension we, could have this perfect peace in the midst of Yahweh’s judgments on the nation. So what does the word ‘mind’ refer to in this context? The Hebrew word below refers to the literal or figurative forming of something.

(yatsar); a form; figurative conception (i.e. purpose) :- frame, thing framed, imagination, mind, work. Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary.

The meanings connected to this study are below.

The remaining uses of the word describe the way a thought is formed in the mind, often translated “imagination,” “device” or “purpose.” Genesis 6:5 describes the moral pollution of the world before the flood by saying that “every intent of the thoughts of [the human] heart was only evil continually.” Compare the similar phrasing in Gen. 8:21. Moses used the same word to describe the tendency of the Israelites to develop yearnings for other gods (Deut. 31:21). In a more positive note, David exhorted his son Solomon to serve God with his whole heart, because the Lord understands every inner intention of the mind (1 Chr. 28:9). David later prayed that God would preserve the integrity of Israel’s inner thoughts (1 Chr. 29:18).

The final use of the word is a description of the trusting state of mind, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee” (Isa. 26:3).

Complete Biblical Library Hebrew-English Dictionary – The Complete Biblical Library Hebrew-English Dictionary – Heth-Yodh.

So the reference is really to our ability to form something in our mind. Of interest to me is that while I don’t often look at commentaries, I did when researching this passage. The commentary below made the same connection between Isaiah and Paul, both writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Only those who have trusted Jesus Christ will enter into the city, and because they believe, they have peace (Rom. 5:1). The Hebrew word for “peace” (shalom) means much more than a cessation of war. It includes blessings such as wholeness, health, quietness of soul, preservation, and completeness. “What is your peace?” is the way Jews often greet one another, and Isaiah’s reply would be, “My peace is from the Lord, for I trust wholly in him!” Paul’s counsel in Philippians 4:6-9 is based on Isaiah 26:3.

Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – Old Testament – The Bible Exposition Commentary – The Prophets.

Another commentary had this to say.

26:3 We can never avoid strife in the world around us, but when we fix our thoughts on God, we can know perfect peace even in turmoil. As we focus our mind on God and his Word, we become steady and stable. Supported by God’s unchanging love and mighty power, we are not shaken by the surrounding chaos (see Philippians 4:7). Do you want peace? Keep your thoughts on God and your trust in him.

Life Application Study Bible.

So we know that peace, shalom, refers to the presence of something and we can form the intention to focus on Yahweh to abide in this peace. The phrase ‘perfect peace’ in Isaiah is really ‘shalom, shalom.’ The Hebrew way of emphasis.

If we look at both the Old and New Testaments they are filled with stories and images. As we read and reflect pictures come to mind. Jesus used stories to fill His hearers’ minds with images they could relate to. In exhorting us to keep our minds fixed on Yahweh Isaiah extolled His attributes since there was no ‘image’ of Him. So one way of keeping our minds stayed on Yahweh is to reflect on His attributes throughout the day. For us in the New Testament period we can train our minds to become conscious of Jesus presence with and within us and use a tool such as the images in 23 Psalm to reflect on His character and attributes.

So back to what we lost and mindfulness. The practice as I understand it is developing a habit of being more ‘in the moment’ and more passively becoming aware of what is happening around us in a somewhat non-attached way to events and outcomes. Buddhism after all teaches that attachment to things is the problem and that the physical world is an illusion we need to free ourselves from. A biblical focus is the exact opposite. We are to be active rather than passive and deeply engaged in and caring about this life as it serves as the training ground to step from time into eternity. That being said I believe we can be actively ‘mindful’ in way that allows us to live at peace in the midst of turmoil. I believe the value of mindfulness comes not from becoming detached but from becoming reflective. I think the slower pace and lack of constant ‘hurry’ in the culture of the New and Old Testaments lent itself more to this and I think we have largely lost this as the church. In our culture we seem to no longer know how to discipline and train our minds to be at rest, in peace.

My own experience is that when in addition to spending daily time in the scriptures and prayer I also find committed moments and develop a general practice of keeping my mind stayed on Jesus I am more conscious of His presence and His presence is more evident in me. I am at peace. Practically this means intentionally slowing down and seeking to use my mind to pay attention to my spirit and His ever present presence in me, continually drawing my inner attention back to Him. This affects me both psychologically and physically. I think it is a practice we can all pursue and benefit from. Even as I pause when writing this and focus on Jesus presence I have a physical and emotional reaction to Him with me, why would I not pursue more of His presence!

I think many of our songs express this desire. For example,

Open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see You, I want to see You .

Or the lines from an old Vineyard song,

You are here and I behold Your beauty, Your glory fills this place. Calm my heart to hear You, cause my eyes to see You. Your presence here is the answer, to the longing of my heart.

Learning to live in His presence now is the answer to the longing of our hearts and He is here now.

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