Peace That Surpasses All Understanding

Sean McMahon

Community Baptist Church of Gay Head (Aquinnah)

October 11, 2020

Sermon, “Peace That Surpasses All Understanding”

Philippians 4:4-8 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be apparent to all. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things.

    I want us to take a moment to count our blessings. I want us to contemplate the things that we are grateful for. Only the things we are grateful for. Things, situations people. And I want us to offer to God a feeling of rejoicing, and thank God for them.

    Now, let’s contemplate the things which we are not so grateful for. The thorns in our sides, the troubles we’ve had in our lives. Things, situations, people. And let’s again find it within ourselves to rejoice, and to thank God. 

    What did we find? (We ended up counting our blessings anyway.)

    Often in life, when we consider the good and the bad, we can take the bad in stride because of the good. We can rejoice in spite of the bad because of the good. And that makes perfect sense! That’s called counting our blessings. And it’s something everyone should do that’ll really make life so much more full, when we focus our attention on the blessings. And I think that’s what Paul means when he says, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely” etc, think on these things”. We should focus our thoughts on contemplating, and understanding, all that is positive and beautiful in our lives. 

    But Paul tells us to go beyond that. He says, “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And he says this will come as a result of prayer. So Paul is giving us some really clear spiritual instruction here, he’s saying: think positive, and pray, and God will respond with a peace that surpasses all understanding.

    I think we all just experienced how thinking positive will yield positivity, and that’s a blessing to us. And I think we also just experienced how even thinking about negative things, when we lift them up to God in prayer with a spirit of rejoicing and thanksgiving, will yield more positive thoughts. More blessings to count. 

    I think that’s so amazing, and so revealing about the way God works in us. Because even if we think about negative things in a spirit of love for God, we are given in return some sort of peace that we can wrap our head around, in the form of positives that compliment the negatives. 

That’s a sort of peace we can understand. And that’s amazing.

    But how much more amazing must be a peace “which surpasses all understanding”

    Have you ever had a situation in your life where you made it through to the light at the end of a dark tunnel? Maybe once upon a time, you felt like you were out of options, and you didn’t know which way to go because it didn’t look like there was any way to go — but now, you can look back, and think of how far you’ve come? Many of us look back at those uncertain times and think, “Lord, thank you! Where would I be now if I hadn’t gone through that?” 

God reached in and put us somewhere we never expected, and blessed us. But he had to bring us through that dark night of the soul. He had to shepherd us through the valley of the shadow of death before he made us to lie down in the green pastures beside the still waters of peace.

    We all go through these kinds of struggles in life. Maybe you have a financial problem, or a work relationship isn’t working, or your marriage is at a crossroads, or you’re struggling with an addiction, or fighting against an illness, or you’re just being pulled in all sorts of different directions in life. That’s OK — when you offer that up to God in prayer, lighting a little fire of rejoicing and thanksgiving inside, not only will you call to mind all those blessings which you can understand, but God will fill your life with blessings that you can’t understand. 

We get that peace we understand when we think positive for ourselves — but we get that peace we don’t understand, when we surrender to God and say, “God, you know my needs, thy will be done, I don’t care how and I don’t need to know how — I don’t understand, and I don’t need to understand — I trust you completely, and I rejoice, and I give You thanks!”

    Jesus tells us that our faith can move mountains. He says, if we have needs, fear not, because God is our loving Father, and He wants to give us His whole Kingdom — if He intends to set us up as royals and saints in His Heavenly Kingdom, how much more do you think He intends to take care of our basic day-to-day needs? He wants us to be healthy, to be strong, to be in a place of security and abundance, which are our worldly needs — but to the end that we are free, with holy peace of mind. “It is for freedom that Christ set us free” — what is freedom but to know the truth, which sets us free? 

    The truth is, “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen!

    (Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough, to keep me from getting to you!”)

    When we feel powerless, it’s because we feel like we can’t change our situation. We can’t transform it. In those times, we can pray the Serenity Prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” That’s a great prayer of surrender. It’s a change in thinking: if I can’t transform the situation, I will transcend it.

    Now, I’d never advise against that prayer, because it is a very good one, tried and true. But I want to tell you: it’s not your only option. I’ll give you two reasons.

  1. First, in the Serenity prayer, we pray for the wisdom to know the difference between what we can and can’t change. And truly that is wisdom, to know! What separates the child from the grownup is our knowing, our awareness of the limitations of our own power. But where our power ends, God’s power begins. That’s where the next level of prayer begins. Similarly, there is great wisdom in that old proverb “To thine own self be true” — that is, be true to your own heart, soul, and mind, know your strengths and know your weaknesses. Count your blessings and be honest with yourself about your struggles. But when it comes to living a truly blessed life, this proverb is incomplete without the holy commandment “and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.To thine own self be true, indeed, but no man is an island. You are not alone! The God of Heaven is with you. Not everything is in your hands — but everything is in God’s hands. And this brings me to the second reason we don’t have to stop at “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change” —
  1. We don’t need to accept the things we cannot change. We don’t need to transcend the things we can’t change when we have faith that God will transform our lives. Now, serenity to accept the things you cannot change, that is certainly a type of peace, but it is still based on understanding. But if you pray as Jesus says, with the faith of a mustard seed, that that big ole mountain is going to move, it’s going to move. Now, does that make any sense? Of course it doesn’t. It’s a miracle beyond comprehension. Just a tiny bit of faith can move a mighty mountain. If you receive it, that is peace that suprasses all understanding. You don’t have to know how God is going to transform the situation — you just know He will.  You don’t have to know when God is going to give you that breakthrough you’ve been praying for you just know He’s going give you the breakthrough. Even if 99.9999% of your brain is telling you, “Dude, that’s ludicrous” — you only have to listen to that still, small voice of the Spirit within you saying, “Dude, that’s God.

    This is the kind of hope that gives Christians what my uncle once jokingly called “that wide-eyed smiling Christian” look. When I first became a believer, I was playing a concert and my new pastor and some church friends came to the event, and my uncle came to see me play too. While I was talking with my church friends after the show, my uncle walked over, and I was about to introduce him to everyone when he said, “You must be Sean’s church friends.” After the gig, I texted my Uncle and asked him how he knew they were my church friends. He said, “I knew they were Christians as soon as they walked in, they had that wide-eyed smiling Christian look.” 

    My uncle was making light of something that a lot of people notice about Christians: we all seem kind of nuts. 

We should seem nuts! We have a living hope, and darn right we should have that wide-eyed smiling Christian look! Life isn’t perfect — but that’s OK. We know that “all things work together for good / to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” The Bible tells us that God’s purpose for us is to “rejoice at all times, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in every circumstance”. We have our challenges, but there’s no exceptions, God’s purpose for us doesn’t change in the face of adversity — the Bible tells us “no trial has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tested beyond what you can bear. But when you are tested, he will also make a way out so that you can endure it.”

    He will make a way. Jesus himself is our way on the walk of faith. He is the way, the truth, and the life! Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame. You just keep on doing you — rejoicing, praying, giving thanksgiving. Rain or shine. Smiling when everyone is scowling, praying when everyone is panicking, being thankful and gracious even when the chips are down. Stay positive in the face of negativity, even when there’s people telling you that being negative is a virtue, because it’s “realistic”. Be brave in the face of fear, even when there’s people telling you to be afraid, because it’s “safe”. 

You might end up being the only one like you in a group, like the boy in the story who was the only one to point out that the emperor was naked. Everyone else knew, but they were afraid to point it out because it meant offending the emperor who was so dumb he was swindled into buying invisible clothes! They wanted to keep their heads, they didn’t want to offend anybody. They were afraid, but the boy was brave. He didn’t cave to the negativity of fear, but kept a positive outlook that gave him courage. 

Of course people will think we’re nuts! Sometimes, rejoicing, praying, and being thankful in this world comes with its own challenges. But don’t let it get to you: inside of us we have the Spirit of the one who said, “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” 

    Today’s Bible reading tells us to think positive, yes, but that doesn’t mean we have to pretend that the negative stuff isn’t there to think about. But should we ever get caught up in the muck and mire of negative thinking, remember that it is the will of God for us that we give thanks at all times. More than that, that we rejoice! Sure, we can think positive, count our blessings, but more than that, we can rejoice that we have a mighty and loving God who will hear our petitions when we say, “God, I can’t transform it, but I can’t transcend it either — I need You to transform my life.”

 If we’re anxious, if we’re worrying, then we’re missing the point of God’s purpose for us. Who among us by worrying can add one single hour to our lifetimes? Don’t worry, be happy! Say these words: The Lord is my Shepherd – I shall not want. The Lord is my light and my salvation — of whom shall I be afraid? 

Let’s keep it light, and let’s be gentle. Some days might seem all doom and gloom, but that’s when we remember, we can be the new day. We have in us the Spirit of Jesus, the light of the world, the bright morning star rising in our hearts. We are the messengers and ministers of God’s new dawn, his new life, his resurrection power. We are champions and overcomers. And we need not do it alone. We’re here to stir each other up and feel spiritual power catch fire within us. Our faith in Jesus gives us a river of living water, welling up in our bellies — what an image — and that water of life will water our lives when we’re dry like a desert, and more than that — God says, your cup is going to overflow. 

We are God’s children in Christ. He died for our sins indeed, and we died with Him, but he was raised so that we might also rise with him. Everyone who approaches the throne of God through faith in Jesus will be accepted. Your prayer is not just going to be heard, your prayer is going to be answered! Though we are beggars and though we are sinners, when we come before the throne of God we are not empty-handed, we have the sacrifice of the Lamb of God imputed to our account. Your sins have been washed away by the righteous blood of Jesus, so there’s no bad blood between you and the Holy God Most High, your everloving Papa. When you pray, you have that assurance, you have that utmost confidence, and no one can take it away from you.

Jesus said, “I am the door.” When the door we knock on is the Son of God, the Father is not going to turn us away when we’re in need. It might seem like your time is never going to come, when the release you’re praying finally comes — whether it be release from some trial, or the release of some special blessing on your life. But don’t ask, “Lord, when will it finally be my time?” God’s not on our time. We’re on His time. That’s why we say, “Thy will be done”. Instead, when you pray, say, “Lord, since it is Thy will that I rejoice at all times; that I pray without ceasing; that I give thanks in every circumstance, that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” and with that same feeling, and in that same spirit, you ask your Daddy for what you need. 

You don’t know what His time is gonna look like. You don’t need to know — you don’t need to understand. Just trust, and keep on rejoicing, and praying, and giving thanks. 

And don’t worry when my dear old uncle makes fun of you — and I hope he does, because when you have all that, that is the peace that surpasses all understanding. 

    May the Peace of the Lord be with you all. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s