This article was originally posted in the July issue of HomeLife magazine Start your subscription today!
Take your Father’s hand, and He will lead you.
I woke up frustrated and discouraged after battling worry in the middle of the night. Don’t laugh when I tell you what I was obsessing over because it seems so ridiculous in hindsight. My twin daughters were in seventh grade and hadn’t made the volleyball team. I mourned their separation from friends and feelings of rejection but was also thinking of myself. I wanted them to have an activity, be part of a team, and have something to keep them after school for a few more hours so I could get things done.
I hatched a plan to teach them tennis in the next two weeks so they could try out for that team. Against their will, I dragged them to the courts each morning, and they did make the team. (Almost everyone did.) I got what I wanted, but my objectives were not accomplished. They hated all things tennis and were doubles partners, which was a relational disaster. They joined cross-country the next year and found a sport much better suited for them.
Looking back, I can’t believe how over-focused I became on something fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of life. This worry, fear, and fixation on small problems that I blow out of proportion has been a perennial problem in my life. I wonder if you can you think of a time when you spent a lot of mental energy getting worked up about something that now seems out of proportion in hindsight. Whether our fears are overblown or completely appropriate because life has thrown us some curveballs, most of us struggle to find peace in the midst of our problems.
Shaking in a Storm
The struggle for peace isn’t a new one. Men and women throughout the biblical narrative faced scary situations that threatened their peace. During the reign of a king named Ahaz, we find that news of an invasion affected God’s people in this way: “So the hearts of the king and his people trembled with fear, like trees shaking in a storm” (Isa. 7:2). I wonder if you can relate with feeling like a tree shaking in a storm. Maybe you aren’t experiencing this type of shaking today, but you can look back on a time when it felt like the ground beneath your feet seemed unstable.
We serve a God who longs to help us in these situations. He doesn’t leave us to conjure up peace on our own but offers His presence, His Spirit, and His Word to strengthen us. The prophet, Isaiah, brought King Ahaz and the people of Judah a message that gives hope to all people during dire situations. He teaches that we can make internal choices that lead to peace when we face external forces that tempt us to worry.
King Ahaz faced threats from two countries. One of these was Judah’s own family. Israel was the Northern Kingdom made of 10 tribes that separated from Judah after Solomon’s reign. Sometimes when our pain comes from unexpected places — like family, friends, or a church or job we thought was safe — our fears can feel magnified.
You likely don’t have two armies teaming up against you, but I wonder if you could identify a current challenge coming from external forces in your life. What stressors are threatening your peace today?
Thankfully, now that my twins are in college, I’m no longer stressing over which team they made. However, I find that the problems my adult children now face often keep me up at night. Moving from authority to advisor hasn’t been an effortless transition for me. In a single week, my daughter broke up with a guy she thought she was going to marry; another child told me she didn’t want to go to college anymore; and my son texted from another state that his apartment had no heat in subzero temps due to a city-wide power outage. I couldn’t fix any of it, but my mind raced to problem solve. We all have challenges from external forces whether they’re happening directly to us or impacting us through the people we love.
Maybe your situation has nothing to do with your children, but perhaps a medical diagnosis, financial crisis, or relational conflict has left you feeling like the people of Judah — shaking in a storm. So, what do we do when we feel the impact of outside forces tossing us about in life? Isaiah provides some ancient wisdom that is perfectly applicable to our modern predicaments.
Standing Firm in Faith
The Lord told Ahaz to stop worrying. “Do not fear” is a command issued often throughout Scripture. Philippians 4:6 tells us to “be anxious for nothing.” That sounds so good, but how do we do that? Like when we can’t sleep, can’t stop recycling our thoughts and emotions, and feel like peace is a luxury we aren’t afforded in our marriages, our jobs, our finances, our health situations, and so on? Striving harder won’t work. Instead, the Lord calls us to trust Him more. In fact, one commentator summarized God’s message through the prophet Isaiah to stand firm in faith as “trust or bust!”
When I choose not to trust, I often revert to worry, excessive planning, or complaining about the problem to others. I could definitely put all those in the “bust” category! The Lord
doesn’t leave us without help in these moments. He wants to help us stand firm in our faith as He instructed Ahaz to do when facing his fears.
In the book of Isaiah, God said He longed to care for His people like gently flowing waters. He was with them and was a place of safety for them. He alone could be their pathway to peace, yet so many times they rejected Him. They didn’t trust Him to care for them and instead looked to human strength, false gods, and mediums for guidance. Isaiah taught that God’s presence could be either a sanctuary or a stumbling stone depending on whether His people chose to trust Him. He called His people to think differently than others who weren’t following Him. Isaiah said, “For this is what the LORD said to me with great power, to keep me from going the way of this people: Do not call everything a conspiracy that these people say is a conspiracy. Do not fear what they fear; do not be terrified” (Isa. 8:11-12).
In order not to live in the dread of what frightens them, they’re not to think like everyone else does! So much of my stress from external forces takes place between my two ears, in my mind.
In conversations regarding peace, Isaiah often alluded to our minds. Isaiah 26:3 records this promise of peace: “You will keep the mind that is dependent on you in perfect peace, for it is trusting in you.”
As we consider practical ways to fix our thoughts on the Lord when we find ourselves shaken by external forces, here are a few ideas to consider when we find ourselves struggling to embrace God’s peace in the midst of a storm.
• Listen to worship music and sing the words out loud if possible.
• Write a list of God’s attributes or names in a journal.
• Go for a walk or change our physical posture to redirect the body and mind.
• Take the letters of the alphabet and think of a character quality of God for each letter.
• Call or text a friend and ask for prayer.
• Memorize or read a passage of Scripture.
• Invite the Holy Spirit to awaken us to supernatural possibilities.
Pathway to Him
These practices can provide a road map when we can’t find the pathway to peace. They contain nothing special in themselves, but they point us to the One who is our peace. The prophet Isaiah spoke much about our Messiah. He even identified Him as the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6). Some have referred to the book of Isaiah as the fifth Gospel because this prophet speaks so frequently about Jesus. Isaiah was setting his mind on Christ before he even knew Christ’s name, and he encouraged anyone who would listen to do the same. Like Ahaz and the people of Judah, we must choose whether we will make internal choices to reflect on God’s character or to allow external forces to shake us.
Our pressures are real and lamentable, but they don’t have to steal our peace. We may not have a prophet who can tell us exactly what the future holds, but we can think differently than others with reasoned responses rather than knee-jerk reactions. We can decide to stop striving and trust God. When we do, we’ll find the power to obey commands like “stop worrying,” “don’t fear,” and “have faith,” even when life is scary. We can find perfect peace when we fix our thoughts on God.
Refocusing our thoughts isn’t easy, but it is possible when we lean into the Person of peace. God longs to care for us just like He desired to help the people of Judah. He calls us to a firm faith so that we too can stand firm. Whether you’re facing a challenge like kids not making a sports team or something with far greater consequences, God longs to be your defender and to give you His peace.
Melissa Spoelstra has a degree in Bible theology, is the author of several Bible studies and books, including The Names of God: His Character Revealed, Romans: Good News that Changes Everything, and more. She is a regular contributor to the Proverbs 31 First Five app and the Girlfriends in God online daily devotional. Melissa lives in Pickerington, Ohio, with her pastor husband, Sean, and their four kids: Zach, Abby, Sara, and Rachel.