The New Testament is full of baffling promises like this one. I grew up in church, so I’ve heard this kind of verse quoted nearly all my life in Sunday school, of course, but also at funerals and inside greeting cards. And this is definitely a greeting card verse! But what does it mean?!
Paul is especially reliable to assert some profound promise of God with far reaching implications. Another favorite Paul-ism would be Romans 8:17. That’s the one about us being joint heirs with Christ. Yeah. Joint heirs with the SON of GOD. Put that in your pipe and smoke it! For the rest of your life! Because that’s how big a deal that statement is!
Back in college, I actually lead a discipleship group in which we attempted to study the book of Romans. Though I’d been a Christian since childhood, I would have had more luck teaching brain surgery than explaining Paul’s writings to my peers. It was a humbling experience, and I literally swore off reading any of Paul’s letters for years.
I finally got back around to the latter part of the New Testament in my late twenties. By then, I’d had more of life and faith and actually understood some of what he was saying. But let’s be honest, do we as Christians really understand what it means for the joy of the Lord to be our strength? I am certain that some of you do, but the rest of us are smiling and nodding and whispering an “amen” to something we agree with in theory but know nothing about.
What I’m trying to say is that I am all about a tangible understanding of these kinds of truths, because I can only smile and nod for so long. The trick is that one would only need this peace that surpasses all understanding when turmoil threatens. And I can think of a couple of instances when this supernatural peace has quieted my spirit as danger and disappointment tried to take me.
I was driving from Raleigh, North Carolina to southeast Georgia with a friend to a mutual friend’s wedding. We had just gotten out of the city, not yet to I-95, at rush hour in stop-and-go traffic, when I was hit from behind and pushed into the car in front of me. Glass shattered and the air-bag deployed, but even before I understood what had happened, I felt a calm, a peace that belied the situation. I knew I was in God’s hand. One day I’ll have to tell the story of what became of that car and that trip, but now is not the time. Oh, and we were both uninjured. Point, Ford.
The second story is a bit more personal. I dated a man a couple of years ago for only about a month, but things escalated quickly. He and I both thought, this is it! But just as quickly, he backed away. I remember the night when we had the talk. I had his birthday gift wrapped and sitting in the backseat of my car ready to give him later that week. When he told me he wanted to end the relationship, I remember distinctly feeling an explicable peace. I was deeply disappointed, and I did cry later, but I knew even in that moment, which could have been an emotional explosion, that this was part of The Plan, and he had done the right thing. Point, dude.
I should point out that in both of these examples when God had my emotional back, I didn’t really have time to pray about what just happened before I reacted. Fortunately, God and I had already been through the supplication part of the conversation. He knew what was going on with me and effectively guarded my heart and mind, just like he said he would. 10 million points, God.
Your Turn: What Biblical truth do you have a tangible understanding of because of a hard situation you had to walk through? What is a promise of God from the New Testament that you don’t really understand yet (hint, read Romans)? Have you asked Him to show you what it means?