My daughter was playing tennis with friends. I watched as she and another player volleyed. Each was paired with a teammate who had rarely played before. In addition to missing balls, these beginners would make the usual mistakes, hitting at the wrong angle or with too much or too little force. Like many sports, tennis is all about controlling the ball, a skill that increases with practice.
The Christian life is like that sometimes. Many of us come to Christ unpracticed in the virtues that characterize the Lord we love. Then God calls us into the game, asking us to abide by the rules he put into play when he created the universe. At first our attempts to be like Jesus may feel awkward and difficult. Perhaps we’ve developed habits like cursing or feeling sorry for ourselves or telling half-truths or gossiping or giving in to feelings of rage and anger. Sometimes we stumble. But if we pick ourselves up and keep going, God’s Spirit will work in us to unwind these problem behaviors and give us the grace to change. The more we practice the virtues, the more virtuous our lives may become.
As with the beginners in my daughter’s foursome, it can help to be friends with those who are more experienced than we are. Mature Christians can become our mentors, encouraging and showing us what a life of virtue looks like. Ultimately, becoming more like Christ means enjoying more of the shalom he offers—healing, wholeness, and the blessing of good relationships. All are part of the peace he promises.
How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden
faults. Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me.
If you’re looking for peace, you might want to think twice about buying a
rental property. I purchased a lovely (or so I thought) piece of real estate
a few years ago. I was certain it would be a good investment. But there was
one problem—my beautifully decorated, upscale condo smelled. The odor
would come and go, and it was hard to pin down exactly where the smell was
coming from. I hired plumbers to check out P-traps and toilet seals, furnace
repair technicians to look for dead animals or improperly installed equipment.
At one point, I was certain I had fixed the problem only to discover
that the smell had returned full force. No amount of household deodorizer
could cover it.
Everything visible had been checked. So the problem, I reasoned, must
be lurking behind walls or beneath the floor. My youngest daughter suggested
with a hint of a smile that perhaps a bad fairy was hiding somewhere,
cutting wind. Hmmm . . . I hadn’t thought of that.
Finally a plumber sent smoke bombs through the pipes and, lo and
behold, smoke started billowing from the walls of the closet in the utility
room. When the closet was ripped out, the plumber found the culprit—a
pipe that had been improperly installed. Amazingly, it had escaped the notice
of the builder and the city inspectors who signed off on the new construction.
For four years it lay hidden behind the walls, spreading a noxious smell
through the vents.
What’s the point of this smelly story? Simply that hidden problems can
steal our peace. When we allow sin and weakness to lurk in our hearts, they
will sooner or later make their presence known. It’s far better to deal with
them openly and honestly. Otherwise, the Lord may need to lob a few smoke
bombs our way in order to reveal the source of the problem so we can finally
face it with his grace.
Father, you see through to the heart of every person. I ask you to reveal any
hidden sins or weaknesses in my life. Help me to face these honestly and with
hope, confident that you will stand by me and help me to change.
Recently a reader contacted me to tell me how one of my books had encouraged her. After reading her note, I was the one who felt encouraged. Despite suffering severe economic hardship, she seemed buoyed by the way God kept speaking to her. She cited Psalm 91:14: “The Lord says, ‘I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.’” Then she went on to cite Psalm 3:3: “You, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.” Holding on to this one passage from the Bible, she said, had done more to keep her anxiety at bay than the most powerful antidepressant.
For two years her husband has been without work. Her own income has also been drastically depleted as a result of the recession. Together, they have been barely scraping by. Despite their struggles, she says she is excited to see what God has in store for them not after their trials but through their trials.
Her words buoyed me because I happened to be in a funk, anxious about what was happening in the life of someone I love. She reminded me that God has made a promise we can count on. He will indeed rescue us. He will be a shield around us to protect us from the enemy.
No matter how hard life gets, keep resisting the devil, who will try to bring you down by whispering faithless, fearful words into your ears. Stop listening to him, but keep listening to the Lord, whose Word holds true no matter what or who is pulling you down.
I love the scene in the movie Young Frankenstein in which the young Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, played by Gene Wilder, is about to enter a room where the monster he has created is held. Here’s how the scene unfolds:
Dr. Frankenstein: Love is the only thing that can save this poor creature, and I am going to convince him that he is loved even at the cost of my own life. No matter what you hear in there, no matter how cruelly I beg you, no matter how terribly I may scream, do not open this door or you will undo everything I have worked for. Do you understand? Do not open this door.
Inga: Yes, Doctor. . . .
[Dr. Frankenstein goes into the room with the monster. The monster wakes up.]
Dr. Frankenstein: Let me out of here. . . . What’s the matter with you people? I was joking! Don’t you know a joke when you hear one?(1)
Why include this crazy scene in a book about peace? Think of it like this: each of us has made decisions that we believe are blessed and directed by God. The choice to follow Jesus no matter what. The decision to become involved in a particular ministry. Often we make these decisions in the midst of experiencing God in an almost tangible way. But then we come down from the mountain to live out daily life. For some of us, the choices we make may eventually lead us into monstrous troubles. What then? Do we rush for the door, determined to get out no matter what? Or do we take our problems to the throne of grace, trusting that God will lead us? Today, let’s gather up every trouble or care that has come as a result of doing what we said we would do and bring each of them straight to God, laying them at his feet and asking for his help.
(1) Young Frankenstein, screenplay by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks (20th Century Fox, 1974).