As you come into the Christian life, it is tempting to think that your struggles are over and your life will always be peaceful. You know: smooth sailing. After all, isn't that what the song I’ve Got Peace Like a River implies?
If you live close to a river, as I do, that song most likely brings a different image to your mind.
Stretching for 310 miles with an average width of 2 miles, the St. John's River, in Jacksonville, Florida, is one of the world's "laziest" rivers. The slow flow of the St. John's makes it difficult for pollutants to be flushed from the waters, which has become a serious problem for the river ecosystem. In addition, the St. John's River is north–flowing, which is unusual among U.S. rivers. Although I have seen this river so calm that it mirrors everything around it, I have also seen it so choppy that the white caps warn boat owners to stay safely anchored.
After living the better portion of my life as a Christian, I think this image of the St. John's River captures the ups and downs of life pretty well. There will be sweet days when the waters are so calm that you can see the reflection of everything beautiful around you. Then there will be days when the "pollutants" of life cause you to feel stagnant and stinky, threatening your own personal ecosystem. In addition, as a Christian you will always be flowing the opposite way — against the "normal" culture. And then there will be "white cap" and "choppy days" that always come with the storms of life.
I have prayed with countless people who want me to pray for them to have peace, and I know what they are asking for. They are saying "I want Jesus to take my problems away, and I want him to bring me serenity, calm and quiet." Although we all yearn for this type of life, and certainly we will have our moments, I believe it is unrealistic to think that we can live the way Jesus called us to live, and always reside in this kind of tranquility. He certainly didn't!
Remember the story of when Jesus calmed the storm? As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, "Let's cross to the other side of the lake." So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind. But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water. Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, "Teacher, don't you care that we're going to drown?" When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Silence! Be still!" Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
— Mark 4:35–40 (NLT)
There is a lot to be learned from this passage.
The first thing is that storms generally come out of nowhere. You start your day thinking that it will go one way, when suddenly everything changes. Sometimes it will be small agitations, while other times the storm can be fierce.
The second thing is that some of the storms that come our way will be "correcting" storms that cause a change in course, while others will be "perfecting" storms. In this case, Jesus used the opportunity to perfect the faith of his disciples.
The third thing is that, like the disciples, it's easy to panic and think that we are going to drown. If we will only learn to surrender ourselves completely to the Lord and trust him perfectly, earthly annoyances and sorrows will have no power to disturb us.
In another passage from Mark (chapter 6), Jesus' disciples were once again in a boat when another terrifying storm came up. This time Jesus was not already with them, but when he saw that they were in trouble he walked on water to get to them. And when he climbed in the boat the storm immediately calmed.
This is exciting! Because what this tells me is that true peace is not the subtraction of problems — but rather the addition of power to handle the problems. Or to put it in practical terms — as we encounter the turbulent waters of the river we won't be alone, because Jesus has promised to always be there with us. Either he is already in the boat, or he will do whatever is necessary to get to us, and then climb in with us.
So, as we live on the unpredictable river of life, it's hard to know what the waters will look like from day to day. But one thing is for sure — with Jesus, we know we can trust the boat!Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. — Philippians 4:7 (NLT)
Written by Linda Strickland, Christian Healing Ministries