The prayer is as old as the Christian Church, and one of its most ancient hymns as well. From the catacombs of first-century Rome to the high-rise apartments of twenty-first century urban life, believers have been imploring the Lord of peace to quiet the “noise without” and the “noise within” through the gift of heavenly peace.
We crave a sense of inner calm as we wrestle with the pressures of daily life: getting—and keeping—a job in difficult economic times; relationships that change and age, sometimes painfully; the feeling that we are “behind” in almost everything—in time, in work completed, in things done for the Lord. One hundred million times a day—or more—believers ask for the peace they do not have.
We pray for peace, hoping that this gift will somehow bring order and quiet to our lives. But the Bible reminds us that the peace of Jesus does not simply settle over our lives like the spring rain that refreshes the land. Peace is one of the greatest spiritual gifts, but as one of my friends likes to say, it is a “spatial” gift as well: it takes up room; it moves things aside; it displaces what was already there. The peace of Jesus does not simply cover up and mask the anxiety and conflict it comes to resolve. It moves them aside; it pushes them away, out of our lives. And it requires that we choose to make the necessary room by setting some things aside and embracing others.
I can increase my peace by doing certain things and avoiding others. If I turn down the media—the newspapers, radio, television, cell phones—I discover a blessed space in my life in which the peace of Christ may rule. If I silence my tongue when I am tempted to respond in anger or pride, the peace of Christ has new room in which to dwell. If I choose, by God’s grace, to mend broken relationships, I spend so much less time worrying about past pain and injury that I am suddenly freed to know God’s joy—and peace—in great abundance.
Next time you find yourself praying for peace in your life, allow the Holy Spirit to remind you of the space you can make in which this wonderful gift of Jesus can find a lasting home.
“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13, NRSV).
The apostle Paul once reminded believers that he had no shortage of categories of which he might have boasted: male, a Benjamite, a Pharisee, etc. But Paul nonetheless famously defined the fellowship of Christ as a place where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:28). The new community created by the death and resurrection of Jesus would not—and must not—resemble the social and political structures of a sinful world. Christ’s body—His church—is not just an improvement on what has come before, but a genuinely new creation.
Through the act of giving spiritual gifts to His church Jesus sought to reorganize our understanding of “life together.” New categories—evangelist, pastor, teacher, healer, hospitable person—will take the place of definitions built on privilege, power, race, or nationality.
Why then, dear friends, do we still boast of that which Scripture tells us is our shame? We urge advantages for “our kind,” we bide our time till one “of ours” assumes a higher office. We rally to our nations’ flags. We speak of voting blocs, as though the Spirit might direct all Americans or Zambians to make the same decisions.
Now is a day to stand up for the maturity that Jesus prayed for in His people. When next you hear the talk of status built on language, culture, race, or country, be the witness for Christ’s new community where you live and worship. Speak much of “gifts” instead of “rights,” of ways to serve instead of rank. Call on your peers to do the same.
As we grow up in all things unto Him who is the Head of this body, we will learn again that “Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God’s ideal for His children” (Education, p. 18). That great unnumbered throng gathered at the Father’s throne will include just those who have allowed the Lord’s good gifts to transcend all other human categories.
For each of us who treasures the Word of God, there is almost certainly one text that captures all or most of what it means to live a life of faith. We write it on the walls and doorposts of our lives; we want to be reminded of its truth and power in moments of distraction and dismay.
I learned mine from my father well before I knew where to find it in the Bible. On Sabbath afternoons as our family gathered in the park for sundown worship, I would notice a faraway gleam in his eye as he read the words that moved him: “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).
The words he read with sweet solemnity spoke first of Jesus, who gladly suffered the worst indignities because of “the joy set before Him”—the knowledge that through His patient endurance He would yet win many back to the Father’s love. But the words also spoke of my father’s own guiding vision for his life, and of the way I would learn to see the shape of my own life: we do all that we do as believers “for the joy that is set before us.”
I find myself thinking of those foundational words so often in these turbulent times. All that God’s remnant people are blessed to do in the name of ministry; all that we are called to endure for the sake of that Name above all names; all of our obedience to the Great Commission; all of our wrestling with the evil and sorrow and pain in this world—all of it is possible just because there is a great and everlasting joy set before us. As Jesus once sat down at the right hand of the Father, so in just a little while “He that shall come will come,” and we will share forever in the untarnished joy of His presence.
When you are tempted to grow weary in well-doing, remember that joy. When sin and violence and hatred seem to threaten all you hold dear, do not forget that joy. When you need a better reason to keep on living the life of faith, cling to the joy that Jesus promises to all who patiently wait for His second coming.
The church is filling with believers—two, three at a time—as we wait the worship hour. A hum of energy and joy fills the building as the pianist plays favorite hymns. Eyes closed, the past week mercifully forgotten, we murmur words of assurance and togetherness:“What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms.” We gladly accept the embrace of the body of Christ.
I watch as worshippers notice each other, smiles wide, eyes lit with gladness. I see hands reaching out for other hands, arms about shoulders, the occasional hug. I hear the whispered, reverent laughter of old friends rediscovered, of children cherished. Encouragement is in the air.
Mere obedience could never be the cause of all of this. Obligation alone could never bring about this edifying result. The apostle’s counsel was not, as some remember it, “Do not forget to come to church,” as though the benefit of public worship lay chiefly in maintaining a religious habit. What the author of Hebrews actually wrote was: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24, 25).
The writer knew from deep personal experience that worshipping with fellow believers is one of the greatest tonics for body and spirit. He knew that in the embrace of Christ’s body many sorrows evaporate and a hundred pains seem easier to bear.
The reason we ought to worship regularly with others is simply that Christ reveals Himself more fully among the two or three than He ever can to the one, no matter how devout. We understand His Word more fully when we hear it in the mouth of a believer. We better grasp the healing He intends us to share with the world when we allow the handshake or the hug of another Christian to comfort us in wordless ways.
Seventy years ago, a German pastor living in a land then ruled by terror wrote these memorable words: “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” As the clouds of violence and war descended, he found his solace in the Christ he found in fellow believers, in the miracle of openheartedness from those whose greater loyalty was to the gospel of peace.
As our world slides toward greater pain and brokenness, we, too, will find our higher joys to be the ones we share among other men and women of faith.
This Sabbath, as you worship, stir up some love and good works. Offer some encouragement. Build up the body of Christ.
“Believe nothing of what you hear, and only half of what you see.”
The cautionary folk wisdom powerfully reminds us of just how much deception there is in our world. We listen to the daily news, assuming we are being told “the facts,” only to discover that the facts have sometimes been rearranged to promote a political agenda. We hold our hearts in check, not certain we should believe even promising reports for fear that we might again be disappointed. We learn to discount many things as gossip, unworthy of our time and trust. We do not want to be naïve.
But then we hear the Scriptures calling us to a kind of trust within our community of faith that at first seems hard to do: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Tim. 5:17). The “double honor” Paul invites us to bestow on those who minister the Word to us begins with paying special attention to them as they work within their God-appointed role of opening the Scriptures. They may know little or nothing about the tasks on which we spend our lives—farming, manufacturing, fishing, or editing—and on those topics they have no special authority. But our faith reminds us that if they are opening God’s Word with integrity and humble hearts, their words to us—from the pulpit, in the classroom, in the Bible study—may be trusted like few other sources of information in our world.
So I listen to my pastor’s sermon in a manner different from how I listen to the news, or a political leader, or even to a scholar. I pray each Sabbath for the grace to set aside the distrust I have learned in a deceptive world, and instead to listen with a kind of openheartedness that will allow his words about the Word to settle deeply in my life, where they may call me to repentance and renewal. The double honor I should show is known in listening closely, expectantly, for what God may say to me through the ministry of a dedicated servant.
Pray for the ones who handle God’s Word on your behalf—for their surrender to the truth they preach, and for their effectiveness in bringing it home to you.
She stood in the bank queue, leaning heavily on one crutch. Clasped in her free hand was a white envelope around which her fingers curled repeatedly.
A payroll check, I mused to myself as I reviewed the reasons a middle-aged woman might wait for a bank teller on a quiet afternoon. Maybe she’s here to cash her paycheck so she can pay the rent or buy her weekly groceries.
But at the counter she spoke in a voice too loud: “I need a counter check,” she informed the teller. She turned slightly to see if I had heard her announcement, her eyes alight with mystery.
“I’m here to get a counter check so I can go and buy my daughter’s wedding dress,” she said as though she was speaking to a hundred people instead of only the teller and me. She pulled well-wrinkled bills out of the curled envelope. “I’ve saved $200 to buy my daughter her wedding dress.”
She glanced around the empty bank, clearly wishing for a bigger audience for this moment she had spent weeks imagining and working toward. One more quick glance my direction identified me as the designated hearer of this tiny moment of human drama.
Her business done at the window, she stepped toward the door, a little straighter in her stride, her crutch not quite so necessary.
I smiled at the teller as he waited on me, searching his face to see if he had also been a witness to this fleeting bit of joy and pride. But no, he seemed wrapped in the numbness of his counting tasks—hearing everything, but actually hearing little.
Was this the reason for my day? I wondered as I drove slowly home. Was this the chief thing God intended me to accomplish on this day—to be a witness to the joy of just one human being? And on how many other days has this perhaps also been God’s plan for me—to attend to the quiet joys and hidden sorrows of those unheard and unesteemed?
For all our righteous focus on proclamation and presentation, let’s also come to cherish the days when we are audience and listeners instead of speakers only. The ear we tune to hear a neighbor’s joy or pain will often be more useful than either our tongues or hands can ever be. This day, this week, this month, be an audience of one, and so fulfill the law of One who always listens when we speak.
I pause each month before writing these words to think of some of the places where they may be read.
In Mumbai, India, a weary young adult opens his laptop after a 12-hour workday and scans theAdventist World Web site, eager for faith and a sense of connection to millions of brothers and sisters he cannot see.
In São Paulo, Brazil, a retired homemaker repeats the ritual of her Friday evening rhythm: a comfortable chair, a CD of favorite hymns, the cat beside her on the couch, a copy of this magazine bent to favorite sections.
Somewhere north of Calgary, Canada, an Adventist schoolteacher opens up these pages with an eye toward what will tie her small community of elementary students to a movement that circles the globe. She looks for what her students need: geography, Bible study, history, faith.
In a village three hours drive from Nairobi, Kenya, the ninth reader of these words inherits a copy much smudged and marked from all the handling. Even beneath the fingerprints and stains, words still live, still move, still bind the scattered flock together.
More than 1.5 million copies of this magazine are distributed every month in six print languages (English, Korean, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Bahasa/Indonesian). Tens of thousands of persons—who knows for sure how many?—access the magazine in five of those languages on the Web or in four more Web-only translations (Chinese, Russian, German, and this month—Vietnamese).
Now in its 160th year, Seventh-day Adventist publishing has reached a unprecedented milestone for a journal of a worldwide faith. Nearly two thirds of all the 17 million Adventists in the world are within reach of the news, inspiration, biblical teaching, and hope provided by Adventist World.Not since the 1870s, when the membership of the infant Seventh-day Adventist Church was not much different from the subscription rolls of the Review and Herald magazine (now the Adventist Review) that helped to coalesce the movement, has there been such an opportunity for the worldwide family of Seventh-day Adventists to meet in common study, devotion, and focus on the second coming of Jesus.
You, dear friend, are a vital part of that great connected family of readers and believers for whom this journal exists. And for you, just now, I lift up my voice to thank the Lord for the message and the magazine that bind us together.
The sermon was over. The appeal song had been sung. I had offered words of benediction, concluding a series on the healing power of Jesus.
Just then, a pastor stepped to the microphone.
“We’re going to do something a little crazy here tonight,” he said with obvious apprehension. The congregation stood stock-still, uncertain what to do.
“Exactly four years ago,” he continued, “just after performing a piano duet in this building, one of our pastors’ wives had a terrible car accident on the way home from camp meeting. The accident left her with permanent injuries to her arms and legs. But tonight, four years later, she is back at the piano with the same colleague, playing with one hand as her testimony to God’s healing power.”
Stunned, the hundreds found their seats as the first notes of the unexpected duet began to cautiously emerge from the sounding board. I watched lips all across the hall forming the worship words:
“Above all powers, above all kings;
Above all nature and all created things …”
Almost as if we were witnessing four years of healing compressed into a moment, we felt the music surge and flower, growing in confidence as fingers found familiar patterns. Chord stacked on chord, just three hands playing, the music swelling on the hopes of many in the hall who had been praying that such a grace might someday happen.
The pastor who had made the introduction was now weeping. Dozens swept away the tears with hands and handkerchiefs, while others—men and women—let them fall in quiet amazement.
“Crucified, laid behind a stone;
You lived to die, rejected and alone;
Like a rose trampled on the ground,
You took the fall and thought of me,
The applause was instantaneous and insistent. Hundreds rose, not to honor the musicians, but to celebrate a healing still in progress and a story we will never be able to forget.
God’s people are justly hungry for such moments, for they are evidence that Adventism, at its core, is about changed lives and healed spirits, not only changed ideas. Let’s covenant to tell—and sing—the stories of Christ’s healing when we gather in His name. Worship, at its heart, is our weekly celebration of the love that finds and heals us. And it’s our anticipation of the day when Jesus will make all things beautifully new.
One of the most radiant prophecies about Jesus was announced by the “gospel prophet,” Isaiah. Among the many glorious attributes of the promised Messiah, Isaiah confidently asserts that “the government will be upon His shoulder.” If any part of this burst of light in Isaiah 9 can be called especially good news, this is it: “The government will be upon His shoulder” (verse 6).
On the doorstep of 2011, we cannot forget that we have witnessed the rise and fall of more governments than any generation in history. We have seen prime ministers, presidents, and opposition leaders gunned down or turned from office. We have felt the surge of “people’s revolutions” as masses of disappointed citizens thronged the streets to topple unresponsive regimes. We have seen dictators climb to power on the bleeding backs of their own people, and we’ve watched them plummet just as rapidly when their cup of iniquity was full—when God in heaven heard the cries of all His hurting ones and restored a little justice. We’ve discovered that the human art of governance is all too frequently corrupted by a sinful lust for power, or wealth, or public adulation.
In democratic nations, we troop to the polls every few years in hopes of lifting the darkness a little by the power of our ballots. But too often we discover that though we have elected men and women of goodwill, they are powerless to bring the light and hope we crave.
Surely, we need this Child of whom Isaiah wrote, this One who takes the government of the entire universe on His shoulders with more ease than one of our children picks up a stalk of grass.
The prophet’s assertion reminds us that we need not fear the future when we remember that the earth is still the Lord’s, when we remember that this Child born “to us” is also the King of the universe. Each time I stand in some crowded hall to listen to Handel’s magnificent “Hallelujah Chorus,” one prophecy about Jesus brings tears to my eyes, no matter how many times I hear it. With every atom of my being, I join millions of believers around the globe in praying for that day, coming soon, when “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).
The pink-gray cloudbank in the east is brightening as I drive my car into the nearly empty General Conference parking lot. A handful of church employees have also arrived early at the church’s world headquarters, perhaps, like me, to find some moments of quiet before the corridors fill with people and the committee rooms crowd with business. As I sit in my car for an extra long minute, waiting for the day to dawn, the words of the old hymn float up:
The morning light is breaking, the darkness disappears;
The sons of earth are waking, to penitential tears …
There is everywhere in this place just now a sense of new things dawning, a heightened sense that God may use the coming months to powerfully renew His remnant church—in this place and in a hundred thousand other places. Conversations in our hallways always lean this direction, as though one and the same Spirit is moving through the hearts of dozens, even hundreds, of individuals. Committee meetings begin, not only with the customary invocation of God’s presence, but with extended times of praying with and for each other. Agendas are being rearranged—not because they lacked either clarity or strategic merit in their earlier versions, but to align the work we do with the growing awareness that God has in mind the renewing of His church.
We do well to be attentive, both in prayer and in the necessary policies. It is always Jesus’ intention that His people live revived lives, that we tune our hearts to the Spirit’s frequencies, that we experience uncommon love, uncommon joy, and uncommon power in our work and witness. When believers anywhere pray for revival and reformation among us, we are not asking Him to do something He is at all reluctant to do. No, this is what He always wants: increased prayerfulness; deeper sympathies for those He urges us to call “brother” and “sister”; longer listening; shorter speaking.
Our life together—in families, in congregations large and small, in classrooms and dormitories, in church administrative offices—is on the verge of something greater in the months ahead than we have yet known or experienced. And the sky that is brightening in the morning of revival will soon—very soon—be darkened by just one cloud—a small one, about the size of a man’s hand, on which the Son of Man returns to claim His own.