‘Men don’t come much tougher than daredevil climber and adventurer, Bear Grylls,’ writes the Sun newspaper. A former member of the UK Special Forces, his TV adventure series Man vs. Wild has reached an estimated 1.2 billion viewers in over 180 countries.
Not being remotely adventurous or daring myself, as I read his autobiography, Mud, Sweat and Tears, I was spellbound, gripped and horrified by his sheer physical and mental endurance. He has survived the SAS, a broken back from a parachute jump, climbing Mount Everest, the French Foreign Legion and a variety of other extraordinary challenges.
One of the things I appreciated about reading Bear’s autobiography was his refreshing openness about his struggles, both inward and outward. With admirable vulnerability, he reveals his anxieties, fear of heights and sense of weakness. Through it all his strong Christian faith shines through. He writes, ‘Faith in Christ has been the great empowering presence in my life, helping me walk strong when so often I feel so weak.’
In the midst of life’s difficulties and extraordinary challenges, Christ is the empowering presence who brings us peace.
‘Perfect peace’ (Isaiah 26:3) makes me think of a beautiful, calm summer’s day, sitting by a deserted lake with not a care in the world and no temptations, no problems and no difficulties to cope with. ‘Perfect peace’ in such circumstances would not be at all surprising or extraordinary. Yet as we read the Bible, it is clear that this promise of ‘perfect peace’ is not dependent on circumstances. God’s peace comes to you even in the dark places – in the midst of your most difficult struggles and challenges.
32 By the waters of Meribah they angered the Lord,
and trouble came to Moses because of them;
33 for they rebelled against the Spirit of God,
and rash words came from Moses’ lips.
34 They did not destroy the peoples
as the Lord had commanded them,
35 but they mingled with the nations
and adopted their customs.
36 They worshiped their idols,
which became a snare to them.
37 They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to false gods.
38 They shed innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was desecrated by their blood.
39 They defiled themselves by what they did;
by their deeds they prostituted themselves.
The temptations that the people of God faced in the past are, in some ways, no different from those that we face today. ‘They rebelled against the Spirit of God’ (v.33), ‘they mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. They worshipped their idols which became a snare to them’ (vv.35–36).
You are called to be ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’. This is such a difficult tension. As you mingle with those who do not share your faith or lifestyle, the temptation is to adopt their customs and worship their idols. The idols of the twenty-first century include money, sex, power and celebrity. Their influence on us can be quite subtle.
We should be able to enjoy all the good gifts that God has given us, without ever becoming obsessed with anything, or worshipping anything other than the living God.
The second-century Letter to Diognetus described the Christian’s lifestyle in the following way:
They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land… It is true that they are ‘in the flesh’, but they do not live ‘according to the flesh’.
They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require… They are poor, and yet they make many rich… Christians dwell in the world, but are not of the world.
Lord, help me not to worship the idols of the culture, or take on the customs of those I spend time with outside the church. Help me to resist these temptations and experience your ‘perfect peace’.
2 Corinthians 11:16-33
Paul Boasts About His Sufferings
16 I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17 In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18 Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20 In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!
Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.
Paul’s opponents have fallen into the very trap warned against in Psalm 106. They have adopted the customs of the world around them and worshipped its idols. They are ‘boasting in the way the world does’ (v.18). They have boasted of their achievements, they have wallowed in a culture of fame, success and showy rhetoric.
Their boasting forces Paul into a different kind of boasting. They, like the world, were boasting about their strengths. Paul says that if he must boast he ‘will boast of the things that show [his] weakness’ (v.30).
He lists some of the things that he has been through. It is not the usual list of things about which most people would boast. Rather they are, almost entirely, a list of things of which most people would be ashamed even to mention, let alone celebrate.
They include often being in prison, being flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, stoned with rocks once, shipwrecked, exposed to many dangers, hungry and thirsty, cold and naked (vv.23–27). The list culminates with what might appear to be a rather shameful escape from an arrest (vv.32–33).
In addition to all this, Paul lists his hard work (v.23), his travels (v.26) – ‘I have laboured and toiled and often gone without sleep’ (v.27) – the daily pressure of his concern (anxiety) for all the churches (v.28) and the pain he experiences when Christians are led into sin (v.29). He had plenty of anxiety, stress and challenges in his life.
Yet in spite of all this, Paul often spoke about the peace of God that he experienced and prayed for others to experience. God’s ‘perfect peace’ does not mean that there are no trials to face. What is extraordinary about his peace is that it is promised in spite of the trials. I cannot begin to imagine how it is possible to experience perfect peace in prison, being flogged, shipwrecked, constantly in danger, and much more besides. Yet this is what the apostle Paul seems to have experienced.
He writes, ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, [that is ‘perfect peace’], which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:6–7).
As E.H. Bickersteth wrote, ‘Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin? The Blood of Jesus whispers peace within.’
Lord, help us in our trials, criticism, bereavement, temptations, sicknesses and concern for all the churches. Even in the dark places, help me to live in such a way as to know your ‘perfect peace’.
The Lord’s Devastation of the Earth
24 See, the Lord is going to lay waste the earth
and devastate it;
he will ruin its face
and scatter its inhabitants—
2 it will be the same
for priest as for people,
for the master as for his servant,
for the mistress as for her servant,
for seller as for buyer,
for borrower as for lender,
for debtor as for creditor.
3 The earth will be completely laid waste
and totally plundered.
The Lord has spoken this word.
4 The earth dries up and withers,
the world languishes and withers,
the heavens languish with the earth.
5 The earth is defiled by its people;
they have disobeyed the laws,
violated the statutes
and broken the everlasting covenant.
6 Therefore a curse consumes the earth;
its people must bear their guilt.
Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up,
and very few are left.
7 The new wine dries up and the vine withers;
all the merrymakers groan.
8 The joyful timbrels are stilled,
the noise of the revelers has stopped,
the joyful harp is silent.
9 No longer do they drink wine with a song;
the beer is bitter to its drinkers.
10 The ruined city lies desolate;
the entrance to every house is barred.
11 In the streets they cry out for wine;
all joy turns to gloom,
all joyful sounds are banished from the earth.
12 The city is left in ruins,
its gate is battered to pieces.
13 So will it be on the earth
and among the nations,
as when an olive tree is beaten,
or as when gleanings are left after the grape harvest.
14 They raise their voices, they shout for joy;
from the west they acclaim the Lord’s majesty.
15 Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord;
exalt the name of the Lord, the God of Israel,
in the islands of the sea.
16 From the ends of the earth we hear singing:
“Glory to the Righteous One.”
But I said, “I waste away, I waste away!
Woe to me!
The treacherous betray!
With treachery the treacherous betray! ”
17 Terror and pit and snare await you,
people of the earth.
18 Whoever flees at the sound of terror
will fall into a pit;
whoever climbs out of the pit
will be caught in a snare.
The floodgates of the heavens are opened,
the foundations of the earth shake.
19 The earth is broken up,
the earth is split asunder,
the earth is violently shaken.
20 The earth reels like a drunkard,
it sways like a hut in the wind;
so heavy upon it is the guilt of its rebellion
that it falls —never to rise again.
21 In that day the Lord will punish
the powers in the heavens above
and the kings on the earth below.
22 They will be herded together
like prisoners bound in a dungeon;
they will be shut up in prison
and be punished after many days.
23 The moon will be dismayed,
the sun ashamed;
for the Lord Almighty will reign
on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem,
and before its elders—with great glory.
Praise to the Lord
25Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you and praise your name,
for in perfect faithfulness
you have done wonderful things,
things planned long ago.
2 You have made the city a heap of rubble,
the fortified town a ruin,
the foreigners’ stronghold a city no more;
it will never be rebuilt.
3 Therefore strong peoples will honor you;
cities of ruthless nations will revere you.
4 You have been a refuge for the poor,
a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
and a shade from the heat.
For the breath of the ruthless
is like a storm driving against a wall
5 and like the heat of the desert.
You silence the uproar of foreigners;
as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud,
so the song of the ruthless is stilled.
6 On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
7 On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
8 he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.
9 In that day they will say,
“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
10 The hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain;
but Moab will be trampled in their land
as straw is trampled down in the manure.
11 They will stretch out their hands in it,
as swimmers stretch out their hands to swim.
God will bring down their pride
despite the cleverness of their hands.
12 He will bring down your high fortified walls
and lay them low;
he will bring them down to the ground,
to the very dust.
A Song of Praise
26In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
God makes salvation
its walls and ramparts.
2 Open the gates
that the righteous nation may enter,
the nation that keeps faith.
3 You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.
4 Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
5 He humbles those who dwell on high,
he lays the lofty city low;
he levels it to the ground
and casts it down to the dust.
6 Feet trample it down—
the feet of the oppressed,
the footsteps of the poor.
7 The path of the righteous is level;
you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth.
8 Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws,
we wait for you;
your name and renown
are the desire of our hearts.
9 My soul yearns for you in the night;
in the morning my spirit longs for you.
When your judgments come upon the earth,
the people of the world learn righteousness.
10 But when grace is shown to the wicked,
they do not learn righteousness;
even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil
and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.
11 Lord, your hand is lifted high,
but they do not see it.
Let them see your zeal for your people and be put to shame;
let the fire reserved for your enemies consume them.
12 Lord, you establish peace for us;
all that we have accomplished you have done for us.
13 Lord our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us,
but your name alone do we honor.
14 They are now dead, they live no more;
their spirits do not rise.
You punished them and brought them to ruin;
you wiped out all memory of them.
15 You have enlarged the nation, Lord;
you have enlarged the nation.
You have gained glory for yourself;
you have extended all the borders of the land.
16 Lord, they came to you in their distress;
when you disciplined them,
they could barely whisper a prayer.
17 As a pregnant woman about to give birth
writhes and cries out in her pain,
so were we in your presence, Lord.
18 We were with child, we writhed in labor,
but we gave birth to wind.
We have not brought salvation to the earth,
and the people of the world have not come to life.
19 But your dead will live, Lord;
their bodies will rise—
let those who dwell in the dust
wake up and shout for joy—
your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead.
20 Go, my people, enter your rooms
and shut the doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
until his wrath has passed by.
21 See, the Lord is coming out of his dwelling
to punish the people of the earth for their sins.
The earth will disclose the blood shed on it;
the earth will conceal its slain no longer.
Isaiah writes, ‘You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast [‘whose mind is stayed on You’, AMP] because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord for ever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal’ (26:3–4). This is the secret of perfect peace. It comes from trust in the Lord, in spite of the trials and temptations: ‘We trusted in him, and he saved us’ (25:9).
When we think too much about tomorrow – the problems, challenges and responsibilities we are going to face – we can easily become worried and anxious. Yet, in all the trials and temptations of life, God promises to keep you in perfect peace if you turn your thoughts to God and keep your mind ‘stayed’ on him, trusting in him.
In today’s reading, Isaiah seems to be foreseeing the end of the world. There is going to be a devastating judgment (chapter 24). Yet it will also be a day of triumph (chapter 25).
He foresees a heavenly banquet: ‘On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines’ (25:6), ‘he will swallow up death for ever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth’ (v.8).
Isaiah appears to get a glimpse of the new heaven and the new earth spoken of in the book of Revelation when God ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Revelation 21:4).
The prophet goes on to say, ‘Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy’ (Isaiah 26:19). Arguably, this is the first clear reference in the Bible to individual bodily resurrection. It points to the bodily resurrection of Jesus, who is ‘the firstborn from among the dead’ (Colossians 1:18).
Jesus has conquered death and thereby defeated the fear of death and with it every other fear and anxiety. Because of Jesus, your future is totally secure. You do not need to be worried or anxious about death or anything else. Trust him with your future, turn your thoughts towards him and begin to experience his constant and perfect peace.
Lord, ‘my soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you… you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us… your name alone do we honour’ (Isaiah 26:9,12–13).
Lord, I commit to you all the possible causes of anxiety at the moment… and I put my trust in you.
‘You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.’
There is so much that I could worry about. I am going to make a list of the first things that come to mind, and then give them over to God and try and bask in that ‘perfect peace’.
Verse of the Day
‘You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you’