A Peaceful Mind
By Andrew Ussher
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3 (ESV)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:6-7 (ESV)
As believers in our Lord Jesus, we know that when it comes to eternity we have absolute security – heaven forever, with our Lord and with our loved ones who have gone ahead of us. Perfect peace, uninterrupted joy, untouchable fellowship with our Lord, and glorious rest forever.
If you are anything like me, though, this same sense of peace and security sometimes seems very far away and unreachable while here in this life! In the current tumultuous times we are facing these days, very few of us are exempt from the danger of gnawing fear, gripping anxiety, racing minds and failing hearts. Just a few weeks ago, things might have seemed predictable and manageable and bearable and stable. But in rapid-fire succession in the space of just a week or so, it seems as though our entire way of life is under attack and any sense of “normal” feels to be totally out of reach. Even as believers, we cannot escape the impact of these circumstances. Left to our natural reactions, our hearts get heavy, our spirits get weary, our minds start to race, and anxiety sets in. Powerful waves of conflicting emotions course through us – sometimes feeling angry, sometimes betrayed, often confused, frequently frustrated, and occasionally (maybe even frequently) gripped by despair.
If this is your current situation, dear brother or sister, do not feel that you are a failure as a Christian or that somehow God has forgotten you. Let the Word of God reach into the darkness of your current mindset, and allow the healing of your heavenly Father and the indwelling Spirit of God to reach the darkest corners of your soul.
Into the current torrent of stress, anxiety, emotion and confusion, that risks swamping our souls, the Word of God interjects a rock-solid promise in Isaiah 26:3 (quoted above). The verse speaks of “perfect peace” and it is talking about here in this life – not in eternity! And it talks about being “kept” in perfect peace – implying that this can be an actual living, ongoing, constant reality. Maybe you are struggling today with the circumstances and problems that have unexpectedly crashed into your life, and you’re just not sure how to process them, how to sort through the surging emotional waves, how to find answers to seemingly unanswerable questions, and how to find rest or peace when all seems hopelessly confusing, upsetting and unresolvable.
The verse speaks about “perfect peace” but how can this peace ever be found? And how can it be experienced? The verse actually tells us! Notice that it is not found in something that I do – it is found in something that HE does. The verse says “YOU keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on YOU because he trusts in YOU.” It’s obvious, right on the surface, that this sentence begins with the Lord, ends with the Lord, and the Lord is right there in the middle as well! When it comes to this peace, He is the one who gives it, He is the one who keeps me in it, and He is the one in whom I must therefore trust. We subconsciously often believe that peace would come if I could just find answers – this verse reminds us that peace comes not in answers but in God!
The verse does, though, include something relating to us – and it has to do with the discipline of our minds. The second verse quoted above (Philippians 4:7) speaks about our “hearts and minds” being kept – speaking of our emotions as well as our thoughts – but Isaiah 26 speaks about the real root of the matter – our minds. Notice the verb that is used – “whose mind is stayed on you”. This word “stayed” is very interesting, and perhaps some of its meaning is lost to us because of its evolution in common English usage. But an understanding of the subtle depth in the word’s meaning in its biblical context is very helpful to us in this whole matter of being “kept in perfect peace”.
Firstly, the word means “to stop”. For example, in a court case, if we read about a “stay in proceedings” it basically means that the case has been halted – it has stopped. So what this verse is telling us is that when our minds are racing, and we’re mentally chasing down avenue after avenue wondering why? Or how? Or when? Or Who? Or How long? We must focus our minds, and we must stop at God. He knows all the answers, and whether or not he ever chooses to share these with us is his prerogative. He may – or he may not – but either way he is still God – and he expects us to trust Him. Peace will never come from finding answers, no matter how desperately we seek them. Peace comes from stopping at God and trusting Him. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind STOPS at you, because he trusts in you”
Secondly, the word “stayed” means to rest or reside. We use it that way all the time – for example, we might say “I stayed at home all weekend” or “I stayed at the cottage overnight”. So the verse is not only instructing us that our minds need to stop at God – it is also telling us that when we stop at God, we then rest there in Him. It’s not that we stop in frustration because we can’t find answers – rather, we stop in trust because we know we can depend on him. We may never have answers – but we will always have Him! He has promised to never leave us, never forsake us, and to be with us all the way. Isaiah 43 beautifully captures this when it records our Lord as saying “Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” So our verse is saying to us “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind STOPS at you, and RESTS in you, because he trusts in you”.
But finally, the word “stayed” has another, deeper meaning. It has the thought of being anchored or supported or fortified or protected. The well-known hymn “My hope is built on nothing less” captures this perfectly when it says “When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay”. Basically, the hymn writer is saying that whenever it seems that everything around me is shifting and changing and slipping through my fingers and I begin to despair that I am losing my grip – there is One who will never move, never shift, never fail, never falter. He is my stay! I am anchored in him. My foundation can’t be shifted. My security is not found in circumstances nor in relationships – My security is found in Him! The chorus of that same hymn says “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand”. So, coming back to our verse and putting all three of these elements of meaning together, we read the promise of scripture: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind STOPS at you, and RESTS in you, and is ANCHORED in you, because he trusts in you”.
I love the next verse – because it gives weight, meaning and support to the amazing promise of verse 3. Verse 4 of Isaiah 26 says: “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock”. Recently, on vacation, I stood and watched ocean waves crashing against the rocks – and I thought of this verse. Different waves come and go – tides rise and fall – storms batter and winds blow – but the rock remains the same. I contemplated, though, how even this physical picture is a failing one – because we all know that over a long enough period of time, ocean waves can erode rocks and reshape them – but not so with our Lord. Notice how Isa 26:4 describes him – “the Lord God is an everlasting rock”! Centuries
have come and gone, crises have arisen, pandemics have struck, world wars have ravaged, hearts have failed, humans have fallen, the devil has opposed – but our Lord has never changed! And he never will! He is a rock that cannot be moved. That is why he is absolutely worthy of our trust. And in a very sobering, yet encouraging way, it’s maybe important for us to remember that he is the only one who is absolutely worthy of our absolute trust – He will never, never fail!
But let me just close by drawing attention to the second verse quoted at the start of this little article (Phil 4:6-7). The question may come into your mind – “this all sounds good about having a mind stayed on him – but how do I actually do it?” Paul’s exhortation to the Philippian believers gives us the answer “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds through Christ Jesus”. We find this peace by coming to Him and asking Him – not so much asking Him for answers – he’s never promised to give us all the answers – but asking Him for peace in the middle of all the questions – He has promised to give us peace! Here are a couple of very simple, practical tips that I have found helpful in circumstances where my mind races, my heart gets anxious, my spirit gets burdened, and my soul gets weary:
- • Focus much more on communicating with the Lord than on endlessly churning through controversial or sensational details with other people. Feed my soul much more on the Word of God than on the endlessly-streaming news feeds.
- • Be very honest in my communication with the Lord – he already knows exactly what I am thinking and how I am feeling – if I am angry, disappointed, confused, betrayed, etc. Even if these emotions are directed at Him – he already knows! So be honest in his presence and actually put these things into words – to Him! The psalmists did this all the time.
- • In doing this, though, never forget that He is God and we are not! Again – the psalmists did this over and over again – and it was usually the very thing that ultimately transformed their frame of mind from one of despair to one of trust and praise.
- • When my mind gets swamped with discouragement, devastation, darkness and despair and I feel overwhelmed by the unpredictability of life and the instability of dangerously shifting circumstances – focus it instead on the Lord’s immutability. He is steadfast, faithful, unchanging, and unchangeable! He can never fail, and he will never fail!
- • Take a verse or passage that has been particularly useful to you (the two passages I started this article with are two such ones for me) and write it out (or print it out if your writing, like mine, is virtually illegible) on a small piece of paper – fold it up, and put it in your pocket. Nobody else needs to know that it is there – but as you go through your day, pull it out periodically and read it – or once you have committed it to memory you may simply need to put your hand in your pocket – hold the little piece of paper, and repeat the words of the passage to focus your mind and comfort your soul.
In conclusion, let me stress that my intention is not to trivialize or minimize the awful reality of the buffeting circumstances of life in the present reality. This article is not meant as an inadequate band-aid to stick glibly over aching wounds, nor as a flippant “everything is fine” solution to incredibly complex pain. It is meant as an encouragement to our souls that there is peace in the middle of the storms of life – and that this peace is real and lasting, and is meant to be experienced by us as the people of God. It is