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Perfect Storm...Perfect Peace

PART ONE: PERFECT STORM

In case you haven't noticed, it's kind of rough out there. Depending on what state you are in--and I mean that in an emotional sense as well as a geographic one--at this very moment you could be in a state of total shock, confusion and dismay over these three events that occurred in America within a span of just 48 hours:

  • the devastation left by Hurricane Ike in the Southwest;
  • the bankruptcy of Lehman Bros. in the Northeast, leading to an immediate layoff of 25,000 workers and the near-meltdown of the U.S. economy; or
  • the horrific train collision in Southern California that left 25 dead and hundreds injured.

And that's just the front-page news. Buried in the back sections of your local newspaper or favorite Internet news site are reports of smoldering international crises taking place this very moment in the Ukraine, Bolivia, Israel, Afghanistan, and, of course, Las Vegas, where O.J. Simpson is going on trial. And let's not forget about the continuing housing crisis and the still historically high price of gasoline.

It's like we're in the middle of a perfect storm, where negative economic, political, and natural forces are converging with alarming force and intensity, seeking to drown anyone in its path. Things are so bleak right now that even an optimistic person like me is wondering if things are ever going to get better. And even if the economy does turn around, and we get a break (for a while) from hurricanes and accidents, and there's some kind of temporary peace in the Middle East, who's to say that more bad stuff isn't on the way? All the uncertainty leaves you kind of helpless.

In fact, "learned helplessness" is a term experts are giving the psychological and emotional state many people are currently in. It comes when seemingly unrelated, unpredictable and inescapable events rain down without warning and seemingly without interruption. Just when you've survived one crisis, another one hits you in the face. You're like a boxer on the ropes trying to fend off the unrelenting punches of a more powerful opponent.

The bad thing about learned helplessness is that it can lead to prolonged hopelessness, and that's not a good thing. Every once in a while, we need to see light at the end of the tunnel. Otherwise we lose our bearings and eventually the hope that there will ever be a light.

PART TWO: PERFECT PEACE

Being in a tough spot is nothing new for the human race. History is littered with calamaties, some of which make our current troubles look rather tame by comparison. So the age-old question is not, "How do we avoid them?" but "How do we deal with them?" Aside fro addressing the physical and material needs (rebuilding homes, binding wounds, finding jobs, those sorts of things), how do we deal with the emotional and, dare I say, spiritual needs of people who are in a state of helplessness?

You might consider it a classic copout to refer to those passages of Scripture that offer God's comfort. One of the least effective techniques to offer someone in deep crisis is to start quoting Bible verses. But in times like these, I can't help but go to Scripture, and in particluar the life of Jesus, for some kind of reassurance. Where else am I going to go for answers? Obama? McCain? Dr. Phil? The Universe? (A friend of mine faced with a big decision actually said he is letting the Universe decide.) Call me idealistic, but somehow I don't think these sources are going to give me what I'm looking for.

Instead of trusting fallible human beings to bring hope to life's toughest problems, or resorting to a campfire chorus of "Que Sera, Sera," I don't think it's a bad idea to check with God's book. After all, if there is a God, and he's given us some solid advice in a very accessible way, maybe we should pay attention.

So I decided to check in with Jesus, picking a time in his life when things weren't going so well. It didn't take long to zero in on that moment on the eve of his arrest and triall and eventual crucifixion, when he was giving his followers some specific advice on how to handle the troubled times they were about to endure. Here's what Jesus told them:

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27).

Empty words? An impractical promise? Not on your life. These are the words that connect the most helpless among us to the only one who promises help and gives us hope, if not in this lifetime, most certainly in the next.

Of all the belief systems out there--Buddhism, Hinduism, Atheism, take your pick--only the belief system rooted in Jesus is realistic about the fact that in this life, we will have trouble. But despite the very real troubles that the enonomy, the weather, and especially our fellow human beings throw at us, we don't need to be troubled in our hearts. We can have peace, not peace as the world gives, but the peace that Jesus gives.

 

 

 

 

Comments

On the same night he said (John 16:33 NETfree N.T.) "I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage - I have conquered the world."
He predicted (promised?) that we would have trouble (pressure--like a great stone placed on our chest, so heavy we have trouble breathing) in this world, but we have peace, because he has conquered the world.
doc

Hi Doc,

Thanks for adding this insight. I think based on His foreknowledge and because of His love for us, he warned us so that we wouldn't be shocked. It would seem that we didn't believe him by the way we react to trials. At least this is true for me at times. Then I remember that I have the power of the living God in me and I come back to my senses.

God bless you!

Doc, I love how you fleshed out the definition of "trouble." As a physician, you more than others know that the feeling of a great weight on one's chest is symptomatic of stress and pressure that unchecked can be catastrophic. How wonderful that Jesus acknowledges this, and then offers real hope.

Hi Stan,

A timely message for sure. I love the passage you quoted. It has so many implications and promises when we take the time to dig deep.

The peace the world gives is temporary and conditional--it changes as quickly as the weather in Oregon.

But the peace that God gives is full, complete, abundant, and unconditional. It is peace in the midst of the storm as you stated. But I think it is more than that.

I think of Yaweh Shalom--the Lord is peace. Since His name is peace, when He says, "My peace I give to you", what He is saying is, I have given Myself to you.(What blessing He has poured out to the world, so sad that many let it spill to the ground instead of into their hearts.)

When we receive Christ, we have peace living inside of us and this is perfection. The problem is, as Christians sometimes we cut this peace off because we are looking outside instead of inside. (The English word peace doesn't adquately describe the full meaning of the Shalom of God.) I have a feeling this grieves His Spirit...another subject all together...

Anyway, I could go on and on... Thanks for a timely message. Again, you send me off into a tangent, but that's a good thing. :-)

May the God of peace open the eyes, ears, and hearts of those who are blinded by the empty promises of the world!

Blessings to you,
t

Wonderful words, Teresa! I like how you expanded the application those marvelous words of Jesus. Thanks for adding a deep dimension to the post!

Stan,

Thanks for the reminder and fresh perspective on all the turmoil in the news. Being in NYC, walking straight through many of the people directly affected by the Lehman fiasco, you can imagine that I'm feeling it (empathetically) with them. Alissa and I were talking about this stuff this morning at IAM. It's good to be reminded, as you have done here, not to be surprised when this stuff goes down.

I don't mean to be a pessimist (I'm actually quite an optimist), but from what I read, it's going to get worse before it gets better.

But, oh... when it gets better...!!!

Christy

PS, FYI, that picture of the bridge and trees is beautiful. I made it my new wallpaper. It has a calming effect :-)

Overheard at my mothers retirement home while waiting in line for lunch: "I've been cursed with a cheerful disposition. I'm not an optimist, mind you, just cheerful!"

Don't you love it?!

This post made me think about the tendency of humans to hoard goods and circle the wagons when tough times come and how our faith gives us an alternative. In the midst of such tragedy and uncertainty, I think we have an opportunity as Christian people to buck that tendency and be a living example of generosity to others even when our own comfort and security might be in question. Of course, this is not easy. It requires deep faith. The kind of faith that is not penetrated by headlines and situations. The kind that remembers that God is real and that He keeps his promises.

I like to use my personal response to crisis (physically, emotionally, relationally) as a barometer of the depth of my trust in God and faith that He has my back. When I find myself worrying I try to view that fear as a signal to slow down and turn my undivided attention to my pursuit of Jesus through prayer, scripture, solitude, communing with nature, creating art or music. This equips me to be more focused on helping others than I am on my own plight. Not easy, but I take comfort in having such a beautiful target to shoot for....

Very nicely said, Joan! God needs us to help bring comfort and relief to those in distress. We are His hands and feet. We are the ones He has commissioned to give that cold cup of water to thirsty people.

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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.