(Reprinted from the Herald Magazine)
"My last gift to you is peace. It is my own peace that I give unto you.
My gift is not a gift the world can ever give. Don’t let your heart be distressed, and don’t let it lose its courage." John 14:27 (Barclay)
Competition, mass production, low profit margin, labor tensions, downsizing, taskmasters of time, short fused personalities, distrust, lack of cash flow, rising debts, fear of the unexpected—the stress of each day continues to increase. The human ability to stretch and conform to new challenges often gives hope that things will change or that it will not always be like this—if only we hit the lottery, if only I can get that degree, if only we get this car paid for, if only we can hold out until the kids get through college, if only I could retire or under the new presidential administration things will get better.
Statistics are constantly quoted in the news leading to concerns that the hectic day outside the home does not stop when the family comes together inside. It is a greater challenge to keep families together. It is harder to keep the outside influences of the world from invading the thinking and relationships within the home; the results can be tragic and heartbreaking. Domestic violence increases. Divorce rates increase. Child abuse increases. Suicides increase.
While the Christians are in the world and affected by the same pressures and environments, they must constantly battle to avoid being of the world. The world’s solutions are not acceptable nor are they to be copied. The Christian knows that success in fighting stress is directly related to the transforming of the mind into that of Christ.
A Gift The World Can Never Give
Jesus left his disciples a unique gift— peace. It is such a simple word. It is such a cherished gift. It is a gift that has sustained his followers through years of trials and turmoil. Faced with persecutions of Rome, faced with tortures of the Dark Ages and now surrounded by the wiles of the world and the evil one [the Adversary, Satan] this special gift of our Lord has allowed the Christian to survive the hectic day. "I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one" (John 17:15 NAS). It would be so nice to be away from all stress and problems—to run away—to escape, but this is not the plan of the Father. Some Christians in the past tried to avoid the temptations and conflicts of the world by secluding themselves in monasteries or areas of isolation. Their solution avoided the world but did little to witness for Jesus. We are to be shining lights in a world of darkness. You can not do this if your lights are hidden under a bushel or in a mountain retreat away from the world.
We are not to act like everybody else. Knowing about the coming age of peace and blessing that is to cover the earth gives us a great advantage, but it also comes with great responsibility. We can turn this knowledge into a witness by letting our attitude reflect that hope in our daily lives even under the most stressful circumstances.
Avoiding the trap of reacting like the world when given similar experiences can be one of the greatest witnesses we can give—the truth in action. We should not allow ourselves to become fearful or intimidated. We should not focus on what the world may think of our actions—think of what God would think. "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 16:25). "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."
Therefore we will not fear" (Psalm 46:1, 2). The gift Jesus left his followers, passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Jesus is the Prince of Peace, he does not lead us into stressful thinking, but he helps us through such times by leaving us an example of how that peace should work in our lives even under the most hectic circumstances. He had stressful days, too. His example is a legacy to his followers. Let us follow him through one of those days —about 24 hours in the day of our Lord.
Matthew recalls how the day started: Jesus heard the news that a close friend, a cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded by Herod (Matthew 14:1-14). Jesus referred to John with the highest respect. He knew that the day would come when John would die. Knowing John’s fate, he spoke to the multitude:
"What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are found in royal palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ I say to you, among those born of women, there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he" (Luke 7:24-28 NAS).
Jesus had power to heal the sick and to read the hearts of men. He always succeeded when debating the scoffers and the Pharisees. He could be confronted by Satan personally—and stand firm and Jesus could escape the traps and elude the enemy because it was not the right time for him to be taken. But this day was different. It was one thing to take the blows and criticisms of others—to feel the stress surrounding him personally. This was part of his consecration, part of the covenant he vowed to take in fulfilling his mission as the Messiah. Jesus knew that his followers would some day suffer for their association with him, but until they were ready, he protected them. (See John 18:8.) Even when he was betrayed that night in Gethsemane, he was willing to be taken, but asked that the soldiers "let these (the disciples) go their way." So when Jesus heard of John the Baptist’s death it affected him. To see a beloved friend imprisoned and die for righteousness, and to do nothing—not lift a finger to help was a test for Jesus. Jesus learned obedience by the things he suffered and this was one of those learning days.
"Let him seek peace and pursue it" (1 Peter 3:11). The thought of revenge—of getting even— of pay-backs, is often the solution of the world. Even under the Jewish law an "eye for an eye," when applied by the community, was acceptable justice. In some religions an additional step is taken. Not only is the murderer killed but a close relative of the murderer is also killed to teach a lesson and add hardship to the family. Superior armies in occupied lands often became brutal in their efforts to impose justice. Whole communities would be murdered and the buildings leveled, crops would be burned, and cattle slaughtered in retaliation for one officer or soldier who had been killed. Jesus never sought revenge for John’s death but bowed to the will of the heavenly Father in permitting such an experience.
The actions of Jesus contrast with such examples. Jesus refrained from harming others. He refrained from seeking revenge. Could he not have called for legions of angels to help? Yet his lips never uttered such a request. We see a standard for the Christian which is totally opposed by the standard in the world. Wars have been started over the death of a relative—or less.
"Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. . . . You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:38, 39, 43-45).
How unique by today’s standards, to have the power and choose not to use it; how unique to have the right to speak out against the shedding of innocent blood and choose to be quiet. It takes strength to bend to the will of the heavenly Father. It takes strength to restrain yourself when a loved one suffers.
"Now when Jesus heard it, he withdrew from there in a boat, to a lonely place by himself" (Matthew 14:13). Jesus tried to get away from the crowds. He wanted time alone to be with his thoughts. By getting into a boat with his disciples and getting away from shore, he could get away from the crushing crowds that demanded his attention and strength. He wanted time to recoup his strength. He really did not feel like being around anyone. No doubt the thoughts of John were heavily on his mind.
". . . and when the multitude heard of this, they followed him on foot from the cities" (Matthew 14:13). But the crowds followed him anyway. There was no rest. As the boat came close to the shore on the other side of the lake it became apparent that there was no getting away. How many of us would have started to cry from the mere thought of what lay ahead! The anticipation of added stress upon a weary mind and saddened countenance did not make this a pleasant moment. How many of us would have said in our hearts that this was too much to consider in a time of grief?
"He saw a great multitude and felt compassion for them" (Matthew 14:14). Jesus looked upon the growing multitudes with compassion. Compassion is a feeling of pity that makes one want to help or show mercy. Jesus’ compassion towards others outweighed his personal needs. It is a lesson for each disciple. People want attention. Those that suffer want to know someone cares. Jesus cared and it showed. Not only did he offer them his attention, but he healed and spoke encouragement to them from the scriptures. He was the balm of Gilead in a miserable world of sickness and oppression. He listened. He reached out to the poor. He showed pity. He did not murmur or repine at what the Lord’s providence had permitted.
When we are weary and the day has been hectic, how do we react when others around us ask for attention? Do we find the tendency to respond in a curt manner? Do we tend to isolate ourselves in our rooms? Do we choose that moment to decide we should study or meditate —to avoid being with others? Who could criticize us for wanting to be more pious? It would be the perfect excuse to be alone and apart from others—even those in need. It may be good to consider our motives if such is the case. Although we are not able to miraculously feed or heal as Jesus did, we can exhibit compassion. Maybe just listening to a problem, especially from one who is sick or who is repulsive to us, would be more than anyone else is willing to do. Sometimes individuals can actually see the best course to take after just talking out the problem with someone who cares—a friend. A true friend is someone who knows all about us but will not go away, who loves us as we are and not just for what we are able to do, and whose faithfulness is absolutely dependable regardless of the ups and downs of our successes or failures.
A true friend will at least listen. A true friend who knows the right course will want to help us get back on track and thereby share the advice and encouragement learned from the Scriptures. A true friend will do this even when he may be weary and drained from his own personal experiences. He realizes the heavenly Father’s compassion.
There is an eye that never sleeps
Beneath the wing of night;
There is an ear that never shuts
When sink the beams of light.
O weary souls with cares oppressed
Trust in his loving might;
Whose eye is over all thy ways,
Through all thy weary night.
Whose ear is open to thy cry
Whose grace is full and free;
Whose comfort is forever nigh;
Whate’er thy sorrows be.
Five thousand gathered to have their sick healed. And he healed them. Each one that he healed drained a little more from his energy, but he did not quit.
Evening came and the crowds still lingered. The disciples suggested that Jesus send them away so the multitude could get food from the villages, but Jesus realized the opportunity to perform one more miracle that day and the multitude was fed from five loaves and two fishes.
What a long day! Again Jesus bent his life to the will of the heavenly Father. He put aside any thought of having a little time alone and continued to use the opportunities the Lord had provided to witness to his disciples and the people. When all were fed, Jesus sent the disciples out in the boat to the other side of the lake. He stayed behind and dispersed the crowds.
Now he had a little time to reflect upon the day, so he went up to the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening, he was there alone. He needed a moment of silence, a quiet time at the end of the day, a time to reflect upon the day and consider the experiences the heavenly Father had permitted.
"In quietness and confidence shall be your strength" (Isaiah 30:15). From Mark’s account (6:47-56) our Lord’s quiet time was cut short. The Lord’s vantage point from the mountains let him see his disciples straining at their oars. Unfortunately for them, the wind was blowing against them. They were using up what strength they had but they were not making any progress. So Jesus walked out to them, climbed into the boat, and calmed the storm. The account says the apostles were "greatly astonished." This may have been an understatement. Their Master was unusual, to say the least. In the past 24 hours he had fed five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fishes, healed the sick all day long—he now walked on water and commanded the wind to die down, but the day was not quite over. "And [the next day] when they had crossed over they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore. And when they had come out of the boat, immediately the people recognized him, And ran about the whole country and began to carry about on their pallets those who were sick, to the place they heard he was. And wherever he entered villages or cities or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places and entreating him that they might just touch the fringe of his cloak; and as many as touched it were being cured."—Mark 6:53-56 ( NAS)
There was no rest. There was little break from the events of that day. It began with the beheading of John the Baptist and our Lord’s words,
"Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while" (Mark 6:31 NAS). That day was anything but restful! There were no complaints. There was no "why me, Lord?"
"Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5). When our day is hectic, when our stress levels are pushed to the edge, when we seek rest and the Lord allows more work or responsibility to fall on our shoulders—consider Jesus.
". . . to suffer when you have behaved well, and to bear it uncomplainingly, is something which is a credit to you in the sight of God. This is the very situation to which you have been called, for Christ too suffered for you, and in so doing he left you an example, for he wanted us to follow in his steps. For he committed no sin and no one ever heard him speak a twisted word. He did not answer insult with insult. He did not answer ill treatment with threats of revenge. No! He committed himself and his cause to the Judge whose verdict is just."—1 Peter 2:20-23 (Barclay)