How to Choose Peace Over Worry

Psalm 23 is a passage of well-known Scripture that is filled with God’s promises to us as the children of God – or as the Psalmist describes us - sheep. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who tenderly and fiercely meets every need of each sheep under His care. Psalm 23 is like a Vidalia onion. Each time I read this Psalm, I find a new layer of truth, peace, and comfort. Yet another guarantee from God jumped out at me this week – as if it had just been written just for me. Amazing!

Although I have read this Psalm many times, I was stopped in my tracks by the phrase, “He anoints my head with oil.” I have always assumed that this phrase was simply a figurative language for God keeping the Psalmist healthy. But I discovered a new parallel at the heart of these words.

Sheep are notorious for getting their head caught in briars and can even die trying to free themselves from the deadly thorns. Within the briars is an even more deadly enemy - tiny horrific flies that lay eggs in the nostrils of the sheep, causing them great pain. I know! Gross! Those eggs turn into worms and drive the sheep crazy to the point that they beat their head against a rock. The worms can even drive the sheep to death. The ears and eyes of the sheep are also vulnerable to these ominous insects. Since the shepherd’s job is to take care of his flock, he has to find a solution that will keep his sheep healthy and get rid of the flies.

What is the solution? The shepherd anoints the whole head of each sheep with oil. Then there is peace. The oil becomes a hedge of protection against the evil that tries to destroy the sheep. Wow! What an amazing truth! A truth with which we can all identify. Do you have times of mental anguish? Do you often have worrisome thoughts that repeatedly invade your mind? Do you beat your head against a proverbial wall trying to stop them?

The next time those thoughts of fear invade your mind, ask God to anoint your head with oil. His supply is infinite. The oil the Father uses to anoint our minds will protect our thought life. Then, as our thoughts fall in line with God’s standard for the mind, we can choose to fix our heart, mind, and soul on Him and His presence at work in us. Then there is peace.

God is just waiting – ready and willing to anoint our head with oil to the point that our life is saturated with His blessings. We then can celebrate His goodness and His faithfulness.

I grew up in a small country church that sang beautiful hymns every Sunday. One of my favorite hymns written by Thomas Dorsey was and still is “Peace in the Valley.” Take the time to read and meditate on the beautiful lyrics of this hymn:

I am tired and weary, but I must toil on

Till the Lord come to call me away

Where the morning is bright, and the Lamb is the light

And the night is fair as the day

There’ll be peace in the valley for me someday

There’ll be peace in the valley for me

I pray no more sorrow and sadness, or trouble will be

There’ll be peace in the valley for me

Have you noticed that fear and worry always seem to hide in the darkness? Life is hard. You may be in so much pain that just putting one foot in front of the other seems like an impossible task. You think God has forgotten your name and will not show up for you. Your soul longs for peace.

You could not be more wrong! God is very aware of your situation, and He knows what you are going through. But the overriding question of your heart may be, “Can I really trust God?” I’m sure the apostle Paul must have asked that same question at some point in his life.

Paul had once been the tormentor and executioner of Christians. In today’s world, Paul could be described as a terrorist. Paul had power, wealth, and a position of authority. But then he met Jesus Christ, and everything changed. Paul gave it all up to follow Christ. He exchanged his old life for a new life in Christ. As it turned out, some might consider that trade a bad one. Paul was tortured, and he lost everything he had because he was a faithful follower of Christ. Because Paul was simply a man, I’m sure there had to be a moment or two when he wondered if it was worth it all. But then we read his words in Philippians: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:11b-12, NIV).

There is always a price tag dangling from obedience, and Paul willing paid the price – with joy! Paul chose to believe God was watching over him and monitoring his circumstances. When Paul began to look for the handprints of God in his life, peace settled into his heart and soul, and he experienced total contentment. Did Paul have the right to be angry with God? I think so. But I am a frail human who wants her situation to make sense and be something that can be explained in human terms. The painful circumstances in my life don’t always lead me to praise God. But Paul set a different example for me to follow, where choices play a vital role.

I can choose my inner attitude. Don’t miss this powerful truth! My inner attitude does not have to be dictated by my outward circumstances. So, Paul chose his attitude and learned to employ a new perspective when considering the various situations where he found himself. And those situations were - as my Mama used to say - humdingers!

Paul wrote a letter to the church at Philippi – the book of Philippians – from prison, awaiting his trial and facing possible execution. Paul was old, alone, and had endured great physical stress. Paul had been beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and ridiculed because he chose to follow Jesus Christ. He had lost his health, and his sight was almost gone. So, you would not expect Paul to write a book with the underlying theme of joy. Right? If I wrote a book under these circumstances, it would more likely be along the theme of “Are you kidding me, Lord?” But Paul says that “learned” to be contented. An interesting thought, isn’t it? That contentment is not an emotion or a certain set of circumstances. In this verse, the word “learned” seems to imply that Paul had been educated by his circumstances – good or bad – or, as Paul said, in plenty or in want.

Here is a truth that will rock your world. We can choose to let our circumstances teach us the true meaning of contentment. We can then experience peace because every circumstance passes through the hands of God – with His permission. The word "content" means contained. Let’s peel back a layer or two of this truth. Paul had taught his heart and mind to rely on his inner resources, the assets that took up residence in his heart. Paul did not allow outer circumstances to dictate his actions, his attitude, or his mind. Instead, he fixed all of those things on God. The result? Peace.

I don’t have to wonder if I am an accident. God loves me and created me in response to His plan. God’s plan for my life came first. That is why I can rest in Him. I am His idea.

“I am at rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:1-2).

But I am – shaken. Some days I am faithful, and some days I am unfaithful. Some days I honor God, and some days I dishonor Him. And the beauty of either situation is that nothing, absolutely nothing affects or changes His love for me. Knowing that truth brings me peace. I can almost feel His oil covering my head, protecting me from the tormenting whispers of the enemy who wants me to believe I have to earn God’s love and favor.

Nope! It is a gift—God’s gift to us. I know many people who would give up everything they have to experience a moment of peace. It can only be found in a personal relationship with God. Seriously! It cannot be found anywhere else or in anyone else. Not even a little bit. I know each day is saturated with worries—the “what ifs” can create a mental torment that will drive us to make wrong choices. But we need to stop and remember that our God is the author of peace. So then, why do we struggle with fear and anxiety?

When we lived in South Florida, we soon learned what it meant to prepare for a hurricane. Andrew was the first hurricane we faced. It was a doozy! After Andrew passed through our neighborhood, we went outside to see what was damaged. We had several large, beautiful Banyan trees in our front yard - but they had been toppled and were lying on the ground. I could not believe it! The Banyan trees were giant, with thick trunks and stout limbs growing high and strong. The hurricane had uprooted them, and I immediately why. The roots of Banyan trees run far and wide, just under the surface of the ground. They do not grow down into the earth to gain strength and the power to withstand high winds. They are easily uprooted. Many of us are like those Banyan trees. We have a relationship with Jesus Christ, but our roots are shallow and not firmly rooted in Jesus Christ. As a result, we are missing all God has for us, the abundant riches that are rightfully ours as children of the King. When the storm hits, we are easily toppled.

Our focus is wrong. We are searching for peace in all the wrong places. We need to be searching for the vast riches of God’s Word and practicing His presence in our lives. Instead, we fill each day with things we deem essential. Paul says we need a different approach.

Colossians 3:15a (NIV) “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”

Paul tells us to “let the peace of Christ rule” in our hearts. The word “rule” is an athletic term meaning “to preside at the games and distribute the prizes.” When the Greek games were played, they had judges. The judges decided who was qualified and who wasn’t qualified to participate in the games. In our world today, we would think of them as umpires. We need to station umpires at the entrances of our hearts and mind to determine what is worthy to enter and what is not. Why?

Romans 8:16-17, (NLT) “For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.”

We are children of the King. There is no place in our lives for unworthy thoughts. When we surrender everything to Jesus Christ, we become heirs with Christ. And when we remember who we are and whose we are, there will be peace.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/olegbreslavtsev

Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, Fit for Life, and 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life, Joy for the Journey, and Life Is So Daily. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.

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