Yesterday I got to preach in a church for the first time since I retired. My dad arranged for me to preach at Lexington Church of the Cross. I was a little nervous but I didn’t have any problem coming up with a sermon and the congregation seemed very receptive. Tom said it went better the second time because I was more relaxed. The sermon topic was the second candle in the Advent wreath: peace.
We live in troubled times and in our lives we have struggles, disappointments, and plenty of anxiety. Over and over Jesus promises us a peace that often seems elusive for us. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33. So how can we learn to have the peace that Jesus can give us in our hearts?
I have three suggestions for finding peace. First, take small steps to change the things that make you anxious. If you are worried about a job, a relationship, government decisions – what can you do to change the situation? If the problem seems huge and overwhelming, can you break it down to bite-sized chunks? Can you find a starting place from which, step by step, you can make a difference?
Second, learn to accept that there are some things you have absolutely no control over. Other people are a prime example of this. You cannot control what other people do, the decisions they make, or the things they say. You cannot run your adult child’s life. You cannot make your parents less embarrassing. Some things we have to just let go.
Of course, I’m not the first person to make these two suggestions. The Serenity Prayer by Rinehold Niebuhr is well known and often quoted. “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
One more thing we can do to work on peace in our lives is to give our troubles to Jesus. This is the most important thing and the hardest to do. I give my troubles to Jesus hundreds of times a day. Of course, I also snatch them back again just about as often. So I like to do a visualized prayer to help me give the troubles to Jesus and leave them with him.
I imagine I am in my prayer chair and I have a sturdy box on my lap. I put all my troubles, my anxiety, anything that is bothering me, in the box. Then I put the lid on the box and lock it. In my visualized prayer I imagine Jesus coming to me and I hand him the closed and locked box. I watch him carry it away. The image is so powerful for me that, whenever I am tempted to seize the problem to worry it some more, I remember him carrying it away. When I try to take it back, Jesus asks me if I trust him. Of course I trust him! I know how much he loves me and how he only wants the best for me. Remembering his love and care helps me to leave my anxiety in the box and let Jesus keep it.
“Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
Do not be afraid. Do not be anxious. Jesus holds our lives in his hands and we are precious to him. Let him keep you in perfect peace.