In the 1840s a poet named Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned a work titled, “The Rainy Day.” It’s said that he did so while recalling the death of his young wife as she suffered a miscarriage. In the first two stanzas Longfellow speaks of how dark and dreary his life had become. In the third stanza he writes, “Thy fate is the common fate of all, into each life some rain must fall.” More rain would fall into Longfellow’s life a few years later when his second wife died from wounds suffered after her dress caught fire.
There’s no question that we all face challenges from time to time. Some bring minor inconvenience. Others bring significant sadness. Still others have the potential to be catastrophic and result in depression, despair, or even death. The Bible does not gloss over the challenges of life. Instead, it teaches us how to handle them. For example, Philippians 4:4-7 reads:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
There’s a great deal packed into that short paragraph. Here are a few points:
1. We’re encouraged to rejoice in the Lord always. This includes when trials come our way. We are not to rejoice in the trials themselves, but are reminded to focus on the Lord in whom we can rejoice no matter what happens. We are able to do so because we know that God can be trusted to care for those who love him (Romans 8:28).
2. We’re reminded that the Lord is near. In fact, it’s made clear in Deuteronomy 31:6 that we can remain strong and have courage because God will never leave or forsake us. It’s encouraging to me that this Old Testament verse was quoted in the New Testament in Hebrews 13:5. Not only can we rejoice in and trust God, but we can be assured that, even in the midst of the worst storms of life, he is very close by us.
3. We’re invited to put anxiety aside as we in all situations bring our needs and concerns to God. We can be thankful because we know that he hears us, and will answer us. We may not receive the answer we want, yet knowing that God sees the beginning, middle, and end of our lives, and knows even the smallest details (Luke 12:7), we can know with certainty that God’s view of things is clearer than our own and thus the way he chooses to answer is the best.
We’re told that if we face trials, suffering, and challenges in this way we can have peace. In fact, this is spoken of as “peace that transcends, or surpasses, understanding.” What does that mean? The peace of God surpasses understanding because we can know it in the midst of the very worst storm. This makes no sense from the human perspective, and thus does not line up with human understanding.
It’s interesting that, speaking of peace, Jesus said the following in John 14:27:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
The peace we can know in God is not the same peace that can be known by the world. Mark this carefully. Worldly peace is based on the absence of conflict or challenge. In stark contrast, peace from God can be known in the midst of the worst suffering. Only those who know and love God through Jesus, and who are trusting in him for salvation, can know in their hearts the peace that passes all human understanding.
The peace of which we are speaking here is worth far more than fame, fortune, or anything else that’s highly valued on earth. It cannot be purchased, stolen, or manufactured. It can only be known by those who draw near to God in Jesus. The peace of the world is a dim, limited, and poor counterfeit in comparison to the peace we can know in Jesus. Moreover, no matter how completely one is deceived by Satan or by others into believing that true peace can be found in other ways, there will come a moment for every human when the truth is known.
At the moment of death, those who while alive confessed their sin to God and who trusted in Christ for salvation will draw near to God and will know peace beyond all comprehension. In sharp contrast, even those who’ve been deceived into thinking they can know peace outside of Jesus during their lifetime will, at that moment, know a deeper torment than we can understand on this side of eternity. Those who trust in anything or anyone other than Jesus will be forever separated from God (John 14:6, Acts 4:12, 1 Timothy 2:5-6). The good news is, that as long as we live we have the opportunity to receive forgiveness through the death of Jesus on our behalf, and can thus be assured of salvation and heaven.
There’s a profound reason that those who know and love God in Jesus can know peace in any circumstance. This is based on the fact that we win. If we are delivered from the storm and live to see another day of faith we win. And if we die in the midst of the storm and must leave life on earth, we win. Either way God will be with us. He will either remain with us as we walk this earth, or we will be with him face-to face in heaven. There can be no greater peace than to have this assurance. To the degree we trust God and take him at his word, we can know the peace that passes understanding.
You may be thinking at this point, “Yes, I trust God and am willing to face anything. I know I can be at peace as I suffer. And yet, it’s infinitely more difficult for me to see those whom I love suffer.” It seems to me that this statement represents the truest test of faith. I confess that I struggle with this as much as anyone else.
The worst suffering I’ve ever known came when someone whose among those I most dearly love one day explained that they no longer believe in God. This brought me to a place of suffering far deeper than I’ve ever known. I would rather face death myself a thousand times than to hear those words. And yet, Philippians 4:6 says that we are not to be anxious about ANYTHING, but in EVERY SITUATION we are to trust God. I had to come to a place where in the deepest part of my heart I could say to God, “You know more than I do. I can trust you even in this.” This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do, and yet it was genuine.
The deepest challenges of life will either draw us closer to God, or drive us farther away from him. I’m so thankful to God that the situation described above drew me closer. And yet, I can understand those who head the other way. The most profound lesson I’ve learned in almost sixty years of life is represented by the words of Jesus when he asked his Father if he could forgo death on the cross. This is recorded in Matthew 26:39:
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
My wife and I are facing some uncertainties right now. As we do so, we’re choosing to trust God with the supernatural faith and peace that he’s given us. We’d appreciate you praying that we would do so. What about you? In the storms of this life will you choose to place your faith in God and to know the peace that only he can provide? We pray that you would!