A few years ago, I discovered a way to get rid of anxiety. Now, I just need to learn the difference between anxiety and the normal stress associated with facing and overcoming challenges. I had always heard in church sermons, songs, and in conversations with other believers, that we can learn to how to have peace despite circumstances. The peace of God in Christ Jesus, that surpasses understanding, guards my heart and thoughts, they said. It sounded like church-speak to me, especially because I could plainly see that they experienced anxiety.
The scripture referenced above is penned by the apostle, Paul, in a letter to a group of believers in Philippi. He tells them not to be anxious:
Martha (interrupting Jesus): Lord, why don’t You care that my sister is leaving me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to get over here and help me.
Jesus: Oh Martha, Martha, you are so anxious and concerned about a million details, but really, only one thing matters. Mary has chosen that one thing, and I won’t take it away from her.
Martha feels “divided” or “distracted.” Why? Because her first century female role demands that she serve as hostess to the guest of honor and his disciples. She probably wants to sit and listen to Jesus, but she is ”drawn in opposite directions.” Mary, Martha’s sister, quietly dismisses the traditional limitations. The peace of God in Christ guards her “desire-decisions” that establish who she really is. Mary uses her mind to make a “personal verdict,” and the peace of God in Christ guards Mary’s decision.
Paul, imprisoned, has no control over his circumstances, yet the peace of God in Christ guards his heart and mind. Mary’s decision demonstrates that she has some degree of control over her circumstances. Unfortunately, Mary’s sister (and likely many others) disapproves of her decision, yet the peace of God in Christ guards Mary’s heart and thoughts. So whether we have control of our circumstances or not, the peace of God in Christ guards our hearts and thoughts.
If this is true, then why are so many believers full of anxiety?
Let’s look at what Paul writes again:
For nothing be anxious, but in everything by prayer, and by supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God; and the peace of God, that is surpassing all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Do you have a thankful heart?
Have you prayed, earnestly and humbly asking God to change your circumstance?
Did God change your circumstance?
There are two possibilities: Yes, He changed your circumstance, or no, He did not change your circumstance. If the answer is yes, well, good for you. But you may want to keep reading, for future reference. If the answer is no, then you need to evaluate the circumstance.
Are you in a circumstance over which you have no control, like Paul? Or are you just stuck with an uncomfortable decision to make?
Notice that Paul begins by saying, “For nothing be anxious…” In other words, don’t be drawn in opposite directions. This implies that you have at least two options, maybe more. If you truly face a situation upon which your heart (your capacity for volitional desire or choice) and thoughts (the outcome of your mental effort) can have no impact, then God WILL guard both your heart and thoughts with peace that passes understanding, that is, peace that transcends your need to understand.
However, if you are faced with a circumstance upon which your heart (your capacity for volitional desire or choice) and thoughts (the outcome of your mental effort) can, in fact, have an impact, then God may not necessarily guard both your heart and thoughts with peace that passes understanding. Think about it. Why should God give you peace that transcends your need to understand, if God actually wants you to use your heart and thoughts to gain understanding about His peace? What if God wants you to make a decision and take action to alter your circumstance?
I began this blog by writing that I discovered how to get rid of anxiety. If the peace of God in Christ Jesus is not guarding my heart and thoughts, it is not because God has failed me. It is because I am either suppressing my capacity to choose or making decisions that are guided by something other than what matters most. For the past six months or so, I have experienced quite a bit of anxiety. I thanked God for the blessings in my life, earnestly and humbly made my request known (in this case, to have peace in my circumstance), yet the peace of God, that is surpassing all understanding, did NOT guard my heart and my thoughts in Christ Jesus. Consequently, I took this as a gentle nudge from God that He wanted me to reevaluate who I really am and what I should be doing, to make a decision and take action to alter my circumstance. It was a scary decision. I may yet have to face a few Martha-minded people. So be it.
Now, the peace of God, that is surpassing all understanding, guards my heart and my thoughts in Christ Jesus. Imagine that. Don’t get me wrong, I simply traded one difficult situation for another, yet I have peace, because I know the problems I have now are the problems God has purposed for me during this season of my life.
A rather lengthy P.S.
One loose end to this experience still puzzled me, though. Earlier this week, I googled scriptures for “voice of God,” hoping to gain some understanding about why God would not just give me plain direction (speak clearly) in the first place, six months ago. Why would He purpose (or permit) me to go off on a bunny trail? Here’s what I found:
Despite the fact that I looked up a number of scriptures with the voice of God, I could not figure out why bat kol (or bath/qol) literally means “daughter of a voice,” plus I still didn’t have an answer to my question. I decided to shelve the study unless God gave me reason to do otherwise. I would like to have answers to all my questions (right now), but I’m okay with waiting on answers to peripheral questions.
Yesterday, I read the book, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie R. King. To my surprise and delight, chapter sixteen is entitled, “The Daughter of the Voice.” The book is about Sherlock Holmes, semi-retired detective and bee-keeper, and his young apprentice, Mary Russell. The story is told from Mary Russell’s perspective. Here is an excerpt:
…this was a message, and like Homes and his brother both, I could find no key to unlock it.
However, the mind has an amazing ability to continue worrying away at a problem all on its own, so that when the “Eureka!” comes it is as mysterious as if it were God speaking. The words given voice inside the mind are not always clear, however; they can be gentle and elliptical, what the prophets called the bat qol, the daughter of the voice of God, she who speaks in whispers and half-seen images. Holmes had cultivated the ability to still the noise of the mind, by smoking his pipe or playing nontunes on the violin. He once compared this mental state with the sort of passive seeing that enables the eye, in a dim light or at a great distance, to grasp details with greater clarity by focussing slightly to one side of the object of interest. When active, strained vision only obscures and frustrates, looking away often permits the eye to see and interpret the shapes of what it sees. Thus does inattention allow the mind to register the still, small whisper of the daughter of the voice.
I naturally took this as my cue from God unshelve bat kol. After more research, the words bat kol became more significant to me. Bat kol can mean: the indirect voice of God, reverberation, voice heard behind the back, a small voice. To the hearer, the bat kol quiets, comforts, reassures, comments on issues of right and wrong, calms, etc.
After some consideration, two ideas resonate with me – hearing the voice of God behind my back (as if I am hearing from God after the fact) as well as a reverberation (a persistence of sound after an original sound is produced). By seeing from a distance, by hearing after the fact, I may actually have a clearer perspective than if God had thundered from the heavens exactly when I had expected Him to.