Each month, Good Shepherd’s Vestry meetings begin with a devotion offered by a Vestry member, and, for the past year, we have been including these devotions in the Sheepskin. This month’s Vestry devotion (presented at the November meeting) is from Carl Algermissen. Carl is a corporate attorney and is currently finishing the second year of his three year term on the Good Shepherd Vestry.
Chapter 4, Verses 6-9 from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians says:
“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. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
When I think about all the happy people I know and ask myself what they have in common, I believe it comes down to this: they have a sense of peace. Happy people are at peace with themselves and with others. They are not living angry, hostile or bitter lives.
When Jesus laid down His life, He took on all our sin making us right with God. He offered us a new life, an abundant life, a life of peace with God, and a life transformed by the power of love and grace. He offered us free will to find peace through God. In effect, Jesus came so that that we might have life – and have life abundantly.
It’s likely that we’ve all known people who never seem happy, no matter what. For whatever reason, something inside of them is keeping them from finding peace and happiness. That’s a rough way to live. When I was little, my family was in Chile and one of my oldest memories is of spending time with José, a kind old man who helped my great-aunt tend to her small farm – he was a hard laborer, callouses as thick as leather, no job was too small for him. And no matter what he was doing, from climbing to the tops of trees to prune limbs to cleaning out pig stys, what always struck me about him was his kind, constant, peaceful smile. I thought, “I want to be like him – content with whatever I have, whatever I’m doing, wherever I am.”
Finding contentment can be elusive. Of course it’s true that money can’t buy happiness – or contentment – because inner peace is not dependent on outer things. Accepting where we are and what we’re going through right now, looking for the lessons to learn, and finding peace – that is the path God offers us through His Grace. We really are blessed when we are content with just who we are—no more, no less. That’s the moment we find ourselves the proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
Closely related to all of this is the notion of freeing ourselves from worry. The selection that I read from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians presents us with the clear belief that we are free from anxiety when we find peace with God, peace with others, and peace with ourselves.
And still there are occasional nights when I find myself lying in bed awake, staring at the ceiling, or at the glow of a digital clock that mocks me with insulting numbers that I should not be awake to see. No sleep. Body still, but mind racing. Anxiety building. Random thoughts running through my mind; thoughts like:
- I forgot to call so-and-so today. He wanted to talk and probably needed me ... I wish I had remembered to do that. … OR …
- What if I don't make the deadline on this project I’ve been working on for months? … OR …
- I should have exercised today. … OR …
- When this person said [whatever they said], did they realize they hurt my feelings with that comment? … OR …
- I had 100 things on my to-do list today. I barely got 1 of them done. … OR …
- What was that sound? … OR …
- Did I remember to feed the cats today?
Sometimes it seems like the darkness is just waiting for us to be alone so it can begin the battle for our minds.
Peace can be experienced through God’s presence in our lives even in difficult circumstances. But it seems that worry can often be the chief robber of peace in our lives. It can prevent us from lying down and sleeping in peace at night. It can keep us on edge during the day. Our Prince of Peace emphasized the immense capacity of God the Father to love and care for his people individually before they let the worries of this life overtake them. He stressed the important role of the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Father, in supporting God’s people.
Matthew, Chapter 6, Verse 34, says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” It’s true that each day has enough trouble of its own and, as followers of Christ, we must be prepared to deal with these troubles. It is easy give in to the stress of worry but, as Jesus vividly illustrated to His disciples, through Faith we can find peace and remain in control. True peace comes from God and is wholly different from the peace offered by the world.
Unfortunately, some degree of worrying is part of our human nature. When sin entered the world, emotions like worry did too. Our fallen human nature always clarifies what being separated from God looks like. And it often looks like fear.
But as God's beloved children, we are called to Faith, not fear. Faith says, "God is in charge of my life; I will trust Him, even when circumstances might suggest He's not there; I believe God loves me and knows what is best for me." Faith always crowds out fear.
So when we replace worry with the truth of God's love, then panic turns to gratitude, and gratitude turns to peace. (And it turns out that, at night, peace turns to sleep!)
What things are most pressing in your life and weighing on your mind right now? Whatever those are, put God's blessings there instead.
Heavenly Father, thank You for watching over us, night and day. Forgive us for the times we have worried. Help us to be devoted to You and Your love, not just to our circumstances. At night, we want to rest in You; and in our waking hours, we want our eyes to be open to your Grace. Amen.