The Peace of Yahweh
and Coping with Stress
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 28 September 2002
"Shabbat Shalom!" we say to one another every Sabbath, wishing each other the tranquility and peace which is supposed to dominate this day. And when Christ comes back to the earth to inaugurate the Thousand Year Millennium on a Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) some day in the not too distant future, we will say "Shabbat Shalom!" every day of the week. Not only will Christ be our inner rest, as He is now to all those who are trusting in Him, but world peace will come on that day - a peace human beings have been longing for for thousands of years but never been able to find.
The world we live in, as we all know, is not a peaceful place. Wherever you look there is trouble. Even in nations not at war, there is a civil war being fought by and between people on the moral and ethical fronts. Even as I speak now, an unborn child is being murdered or "aborted" to use the politically correct term. Even as I speak now, a child is being sexually molested, a wife being beaten up by an evil husband, a victim being offered on the alter of Satan. Even in our local communities these things are happening all the time. There is no peace in this world system and there never will be. The best we can hope for, until Christ returns and Sukkot is finally fulfilled, is that we can have peace in our souls. For if you have that, it is possible to weather the storms without and be fruitful in all that you do.
So we await the fulfilment of the Sabbath ordinance in the Millennium-to-come, and those who do not know Christ await the fulfilment of the spiritual Sabbath within. But even Christians - who do not know the Sabbath ordinance and are ignoring it, but who should at least know the Sabbath rest within because of Christ, are also struggling for inner peace. Why is it that believer and unbeliever alike are so restless?
I remember as a young man having a dream for my life. I would have a steady job, come home every evening to a wife and two children in a small English cottage in a little English garden consisting of a well-clipped lawn and beds full of flowers. There would be a dog and probably a cat. I would, in my mental dream, sit in the garden in my deck chair reading my newspaper and then play with the children - a boy and a girl. My wife would come out with a beaming smile with her apron on from the kitchen to announce the supper was ready, and we would all gather around the table for prayer and enjoy a peaceful meal together. The children would be sweet, well mannered, orderly, and love home. We would have a family game, a family prayer on our knees on the living room floor, and then they would go off to bed. I would spend the rest of the evening with my wife. And all would be bliss.
That was my dream. And perhaps, for many, such dreams will be fulfilled in the world to come where we are promised blissful peace and happiness. Unfortunately, this world is not the world we would like it to be. It is full of evil people and it is getting more and more evil. A few weeks ago I was talking to an American lady from California and she told me that she gave birth to her son at home as she had always wanted. What was supposed to have been the happy beginning of a new life turned into a nightmare that lasted for nearly 18 years. Though she and her husband showered love and affection on their child he was violent, moody, and suffered from many problems. After many years of heartbreak they finally discovered that both of them were victims of Satanic Ritual Abuse. Both their parents had been Satanists and they never knew it. Their son, moreover, had been delivered by a midwife who was herself a Satanist and had dedicated their child to Satan, demonising him in the process. This story does have a happy ending, though. All came to Christ and their son was eventually healed. And she told me that the reason she believes Yahweh allowed this to happen was so she could be the instrument of helping many lost souls come to Christ. She has had an active ministry for many years and helped over a thousand victims. She has peace and contentment in her life because she knows she is doing what Yahweh wants of her. It probably wasn't the ministry she would have chosen for herself, but Yahweh knew best.
All of us are born to disadvantage and advantage. Nobody is born into ideal circumstances. Even those who are born into wealth and comfort are disadvantaged in ways that those who are born into poverty are not, and vice versa. Our outward circumstances vary enormously but we can choose to see and use them for good or evil. It is our choice. Even our handicaps can be turned to advantage. I am one of those people who believes no matter what our circumstances that we have the ability and help to realise our full potential as sons and daughters of Yahweh.
As a student of history, I am always interested in the ways that people live. Right now I am reading a book about life in 14th century England. If I would characterise our day and age and compare it with the past, the first thing I would say about it is that it is an extraordinarily restless society. People are not content. Not that that is a new phenomenon but it does seem to be particularly exacerbated in this age. I wonder why?
There is no doubt that the mass media plays on our restlessness and actually create it. We are fed with a barrage of images and sounds that seem calculated to increase restlessness rather than reduce it. Watch enough commercials and sooner or later you will come to believe that you need to have better breath, smoother hands, a nicer smell, a prettier look or a bigger burger.
Ron Hutchcraft tells of a crisps (potato chip) commercial which shows a boy boarding a bus with a big bag of their crunchies. As the boy keeps reaching for another crisp (chip), he claims: "Bet you can't eat just one". Hearing the irresistible crunch, the bus driver grabs "just one". Of course, he keeps munching, until finally his hat is full of those habit-forming crisps (chips). By the end of the ad, everyone on the bus is chomping and singing, "No one can eat just one."
Advertisers are experts on human motivation and all they want to create in us is the appetite for more and more. Even without commercials we are driven by such carnal appetites. And what we have been trained to believe by the secular media is that "more" is the answer to all our restlessness. The nagging "if only I had" this or that is fed to us until we are lusting for things we neither need nor really want. In time people convince themselves that the way to fulfilment and happiness is "more" - more time, more house, more money, more friends, more career, more clothes, more excitement, more comforts. As you analyse Western society you will soon see that its engine is the carnal desire for "more".
The trouble with this drive is that once we get "more" we want "more" still. More is never enough. Discontentment destroys any possibility of personal peace. It condemns people to the pressure cooker of guaranteed restlessness. Conventional wisdom tells us that "a man's reach should always exceed his grasp". A commitment to excellence, service, and personal purity should keep us reaching because we are by nature "pursuers". And that is why Yahweh calls us to pursue shalom or peace! Must modern stress results from the wrong pursuits and misplaced discontentment, and shalom is never found. People become enslaved by expectations that cannot be satisfied because they have entirely missed the principle of Shabbat Shalom.
These "drivers" come in three forms, and they keep people on edge because they keep reaching for more. The first of these is the desire for material possessions. Plato rightfully said that "poverty consists not in the decrease of one's possession but in the increase of one's greed". There's always another "thing" you don't have. And the increase in things only creates the appetite for more. Things that were once "special treats" become routine. Yesterday's luxuries have become today's necessities.
It is good to be blessed by things if we really need them and they don't distract us from the more important things in life. They become enslaving when we demand them - when we expect them. Possession expectations will keep pushing us past the fragile limits of peace whether we are lusting after a fancy sports car in America or an extra camel in Morocco.
The second "driver" is others' expectations. We often live in chronic frustration because we expect people to be what they are not. Parents do it all the time. Dad wants son to walk in his footsteps as an engineer but son wants to be a sailor. Mum wants daughter to marry this kind of man, like the one she married or maybe the one she wanted to but didn't. Our children can get caught up in a whirlwind of expectations that cripple them because the things their parents want them to be are not what Yahweh wants of them. Marriages become battlefields because our partners continually disappoint us. Weaknesses are magnified, strengths are forgotten - in fact, the exact reverse of courtship! Everyone suddenly wants a Price Charming or a Cinderella, and then get tired of them when they don't meet up to expectations.
When there are heavy expectations on us we can get very restless. By nature we want to please our parents, our spouses, our bosses. And that isn't a bad thing in and of itself. It is in the nature of love to want to please others. But this can never be done - and must never be done - if it pushes us over the edge of what we are able to naturally do so that we begin to feel inadequate or rejected. We can, if we are not very careful, end up expecting of people around us a perfection that belongs only to Yahweh. And if you are not satisfied with those around you, you are probably even less satisfied with yourself. We constantly compare ourselves to standards of parenting, partnering, or producing that are unattainable, and we can never relax because we are never good enough.
The third "driver" is performance expectations. Performance drives us to stressful schedules, sacrifices and compromises. Our worth becomes identified with our work, and no spot on the mountain is enough. Even the top is unsatisfying, as Alexander the Great discovered when he wept because there were no more worlds to conquer.
Ambition is a terrible killer because no reward, no achievement is ever enough. We punish our bodies, our families, our friends, and our sanity to reach for another level of victory. It reminds me of the Communist and Nazi doctrines of "perpetual war".
One day this unquenchable appetite for conquest can even violate the marriage covenant. There is a "need" to demonstrate that you are still attractive. The innocent flirtations are tantalising. You, your spouse, your children - and even your conquest - end up sacrificed on the ugly altar of adultery.
It is stress-driven slavery to always have something to prove. Discontentment runs like a treadmill under our feet. We are always running, pushing for more possessions, more from people, more conquest. There is no rest on the treadmill. Discontentment is the mortal enemy of shalom - a deep root of stress and restlessness.
Instead, consider the apostle Paul's equation for contentment. He writes: "Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that" (1 Tim.6:6-8, NIV).
Now please don't get the idea that I am saying we should all sit back and let the grass grow under out feet. That is not the Gospel of Yah'shua (Jesus). Although life never slows down. and we should not expect it to, we should. Now that may at first sound a bit confusing but what I mean is this: once we have removed the roots of restlessness, we have performed some spiritual surgery on the stress that comes from inside. By attacking the stress-centres in our lives, we start managing the stress that is coming at us ... and there is still plenty left. What I am saying is that there is supposed to be stress in life and that Yahweh Himself is frequently the author of it. What keeps me personally pushing on is the heavenly stress that is for me - that which blesses me - the heat that time proves, strengthens and beautifies.
Personal peace is not the elimination of stress. If we live without pressure, we become as fragile as a potter's unfired vase. Yahweh has been skilfully reshaping us on His wheel, making a "blob" into something far more valuable. But that workmanship needs fire to make it firm and strong.
How then should we pursue Yahweh's shalom? To do that we need to eliminate the stress that we cause and to control that which others cause. What's left is the stress that Yahweh Himself either causes or allows. Living in shalom resists self-induced stress but grows from God-produced stress.
If the pressure is taken off a piece of coal there will be no diamond. Removing that irritating grain of sand from an oyster's tummy means having no pearl. Protecting an apple tree from the pain of pruning knife results in little fruit. Pressure, irritation, and pain can be tools to develop people too.
It's the wrong kind of pressure that can crush, or weaken, or kill. That is where one's "gerbil-wheel" of life has created an overload. Five years ago, and even ten years ago, I was doing so much that I ended up having a physical breakdown because I was in part doing what I was not supposed to be doing. I resisted the call to the ministry and tried to have an ordinary job and the ministry and look after my family. The result was catastrophic. I feel that the load is just as great on me today as it was ten years ago but it doesn't feel nearly as heavy because I know it is what I am supposed to be doing. Yahweh may send us a load. But He will never send an overload.
Paul once again has some good counsel when he says: "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons ... No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest or righteousness and peace (shalom) for those who have been trained by it" (Heb.12:1,11, NIV).
There, then, is the answer: stress that contributes to our shalom! Hardship here is defined as training. But if we are not looking for the trainer's lesson in the problem, we get only the pain and miss the shalom. When a pursuer of shalom understands he is in training rather than in trouble, he can relax even under fire. Knowing that shalom will come from this pain doesn't make the pain any more enjoyable, but you can handle it calmly.
Many of us right now are having personal showdowns with shalom here at NCCG headquarters, and I expect elsewhere in the world too. But let me assure everyone that if we approach stress in the right way, as some of you are personally discovering for yourselves, we will get a fresh sense of hope, as we sense that we are finally regaining control over our lives. If we will just make specific commitments to Yahweh, to our spouses, to our children, and to our work - commitments based on the biblical description of a peaceful life of shalom, everything will start to unravel. What we do not need to do is go off the deep end and assume that our world is collapsing and make rash decisions that will cause even more stress and heartache to both ourselves and others.
Let us enter this autumn (fall) full of joy, expectancy and confidence as we conclude the autumnal festivals. Today is the last day of Sukkot and tomorrow is Shemini Atsereth or the Last Great Day - another Sabbath, which concludes Sukkot. For myself, I have been doing some hard re-evaluation of my life during this season and concluded that I am much too personally stressed up because I am a slave driver both of myself and of others. I have recognised the need to slow down more and to grant others the right to find their own pace also.
Some years ago a particularly bright young pupil came up to me and said: "Mr.Warren, you are a slave-driver, but I want to thank you anyway for the thorough way in which you taught and prepared me." At the time I was quite tickled but as I reflect back, I can see there were others who were possibly not so grateful because they did not have the same capacity as that Norwegian girl did. I also realise that in setting those pupils so much work to do that I in the end made it unbearable for myself. In my last days at work as a teacher I would stare at the mountain load of marking and simply could not handle it anymore. It just overwhelmed me.
So I want to end this Sukkot by apologising to those whom I have pushed more than they could manage, both those who are here today and those who are not. I can truthfully say that I never expected more of them that I did not expect of myself so I do not feel I am a hypocrite by any means. My goal for the coming winter season is not so much to lower my standards or goals but to allow all of us - myself included - to find our own pace and find that shalom which will enable us to constructively ride on the wave of Yahweh's stress whilst defusing the self-induced stresses caused by unrealistic expectations from within.
May Yahweh bless us all as we gather here once again tomorrow at the same time to celebrate Shemini Atsereth. I am going to make this a testimony assembly where people can just share what is on their hearts as we together plot the path forward for NCCG Headquarters and for the Church internationally. And may His peace be with you always. Shabbat Shalom!
Ron Hutchcraft, Surviving the Storms of Stress, RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, 2000.
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Last updated on 2 October 2002
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