How to Find Inner Peace Through Scripture
The widest river in the world is not the Mississippi, Amazon, or Nile. The widest river on earth is a body of water called If Only.
Throngs of people stand on its banks and cast longing eyes over the waters. They long to cross but can’t seem to find the ferry. They are convinced the If Only River separates them from the good life.
If only I were thinner, I’d have the good life.
If only I were richer, I’d have the good life.
If only the kids would come. If only the kids were gone. If only I could leave home, move home, get married, get divorced.
If only my skin were clear of pimples, my calendar free of people, my profession immune to layoffs, then I would have the good life.
The If Only River.
Are you standing on its shore? Does it seem that the good life is always one if only away? One purchase away? One promotion away? One election, transition, or romance away?
If so, then we’ve traced your anxiety back to one of its sources. You’re in a hurry to cross the river and worried that you never will. Consequently, you work long hours, borrow more money, take on new projects, and pile on more responsibilities.Stress. Debt. Short nights. Long days. All part of the ticket cost to the land of the good life, right?
Not exactly, opined the Apostle Paul. The good life begins, not when circumstances change, but when our attitude toward them does. Look again at his antidote for anxiety. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6).
Paul embedded two essential words into the verse that deserve special attention: with thanksgiving. Sprinkled among the phrases of: “Help me…”, “Please give me…”, “Won’t you show me…?” are two wonderful words, Thank you.
Gratitude is a mindful awareness of the benefits of life. It is the greatest of virtues. Studies have linked the emotion with a variety of positive effects. Grateful people tend to be more empathetic and forgiving of others. People who keep a gratitude journal are more likely to have a positive outlook on life. Grateful individuals demonstrate less envy, materialism and self-comparison. Thankfulness improves self-esteem, enhances relationships, quality of sleep, and longevity. If it came in pill form, gratitude would be deemed the miracle cure. It’s no wonder, then, that, God’s anxiety therapy includes a large, delightful dollop of gratitude.
Gratitude leads us off the river bank of “if only” and escorts us into the fertile valley of “already.” The anxious heart says, “Lord, if only I had this, that, or the other, I’d be ok.” The grateful heart says, “Oh, look! You’ve already given me this, that, and the other. Thank you, God.”
My friend Jerry has taught me the value of gratitude. He is seventy-eight years old and regularly shoots his age on the golf course. (If I ever do the same, I’ll need to live to be a 100.) His dear wife, Ginger, battles Parkinson’s disease. What should have been a wonderful season of retirement has been marred by multiple hospital stays, medication, and struggle. There are many days that she cannot keep her balance. Jerry has to be at her side. Yet he never complains. He always has a smile and a joke. And he relentlessly beats me in golf. I asked Jerry his secret. He said, “Every morning Ginger and I sit together and sing a hymn. I ask her what she wants to sing. She always says, ‘Count Your Many Blessings.’ So we sing it. And we count our blessings.”
Take a moment and follow Jerry’s example. Look at your blessings.
Do you see any friends? Family? Do you see any grace from God? Love of God? Do you see any gifts? Abilities or talents? Skills?
As you look at your blessings, take note of what happens. Anxiety grabs his bags and slips out the back door. Worry refuses to share the heart with gratitude. One heartfelt “thank you” will suck the oxygen out of worry’s world. So say it often. Focus more on what you do have and less on what you don’t. The Apostle Paul modeled this outlook.
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who gives me strength. (Phil. 4:11-13)
The circumstances of Paul’s life in jail were miserable. Under constant surveillance. No reason to hope for release. Yet, with shackles dangling from his wrist, the Apostle announced, “I have learned the secret of being content whatever the circumstances.”
Paul’s use of the term secret is curious. He doesn’t say, “I have learned the principle.” Or, “I have learned the concept.” Instead, “I have learned the secret of being content”. A secret, by definition, is a bit of knowledge not commonly known. It is as if the Apostle beckons us to lean forward to hear his whisper, “Can I share a secret about happiness?”
I have learned the secret of being satisfied with the things I have…I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I have plenty. (Phil. 4:11-12)
Does your happiness depend on what you drive? Wear? Deposit? Spray on? If so, you have entered the rat race called materialism. You cannot win it! There will always be a newer car to buy or a nicer dress to purchase. And, since the race is unwinnable, you are setting yourself up for anxiety. Define yourself by stuff, and you’ll feel good when you have a lot and you’ll feel bad when you don’t.
The cycle is predictable. You assume, If I get a car, I’ll be happy. You get the car, but the car wears out. You look for joy elsewhere. If I get married, I’ll be happy. So you get married, but your spouse cannot deliver. If we can have a baby …. If I get the new job …. If I can retire … In each case, joy comes, then diminishes. By the time you reach old age, you have ridden a roller coaster of hope and disappointment. Life has repeatedly let you down and you are suspicious that it will let you down again.
Contingent contentment turns us into wounded, worried people.
Paul advances a healthier strategy. He learned to be content with what he had. Which is remarkable since he had so little. He had a jail cell instead of a house. He had four walls instead of the mission field. He had chains instead of jewelry, a guard instead of a wife. How could he be content?
Simple. He focused on a different list. He had eternal life. He had the love of God. He had forgiveness of sins. He had the surety of salvation. He had Christ and Christ was enough. What he had in Christ was far greater than what he didn’t have in life.
Here is an interesting detail about his letter to the Philippians. Within its 104 verses, Paul mentioned Jesus fifty-one times. At an average of every other verse, Paul was talking about Christ. “To me, the only important thing about living is Christ, and dying would be profit for me” (Phil. 1:21).
His only aim was to know Jesus. Riches did not attract him. Applause did not matter to him. The grave did not intimidate him. All he wanted was more of Christ. As a result, he was content. In Jesus, Paul found all the satisfaction his heart desired.
You and I can learn the same. Christ-based contentment turns us into strong people. Since no one can take our Christ, no one can take our joy.
Can death take our joy? No, Jesus is greater than death.
Can failure take our joy? No, Jesus is greater than our sin.
Can betrayal take our joy? No, Jesus will never leave us.
Can sickness take our joy? No, God has promised, whether on this side of the grave or the other, to heal us.
Can disappointment take our joy? No, because though our plans may not work out, we know God’s plan will.
Death, failure, betrayal, sickness, disappointment. They cannot take our joy, because they cannot take our Jesus.
Please underline this sentence: What you have in Christ is greater than anything you don’t have in life. You have a God who is crazy about you, the forces of heaven to monitor and protect you. You have the living presence of Jesus within you. In Christ, you have everything.
He can give you a happiness that can never be taken, a grace that will never expire, and a wisdom that will never be equaled. He is a fountain of living hope that will never be exhausted.
Years ago I lived on a houseboat that was docked on the Miami River in Miami, Florida. The level of the river would rise and fall with the tide. It rocked back and forth with the river traffic. But though the level changed and the boat rocked, it never drifted. Why? Because the boat was securely anchored.
What about you?
Anchor your heart to the character of God. Your boat will rock. Moods will come and go. Situations will fluctuate and change. But will you be left adrift on the Atlantic of despair? No, for you have found a contentment that endures the storm.
No more “if only”. It is the petri dish in which anxiety thrives. Replace your “if only” with “already.” Look what you already have. Treat each anxious thought with a grateful one and prepare yourself for a new day of joy.
Taken from Anxious for “Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World” by Max Lucado. Copyright © 2017 by Max Lucado. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://anxiousfornothingbook.com or www.MaxLucado.com
This book excerpt was featured in the Nov. 18th edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.