You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. (Isaiah 26:3)
Our strength or ability is often the area of our greatest struggle. I’ve proved that over and over again, and while it seems one of those great ironies, this conundrum is relevant to each and every one of us in many different ways. In reading today’s verse, I had to smile as I acknowledged that He was reminding me that it was a message He had to keep reminding me of, over and over, in infinite patience and grace. While in some respects my ‘ailment’ may be extreme, it’s nevertheless a perfect example of how we can so easily slide into things without realising it, and end up trusting in something or in ourselves rather than reaching for and living in the perfect peace of God. His peace has Him as ‘true North.’ It’s where our spiritual compass should point every moment, and even half a degree either side will subtly alter our course of direction.
Perfect peace is only from God and can only be found in one way – fixing our spiritual compass firmly on Him.
Today’s verse concerns the mind, and well it should. It’s often said that our greatest battlefield is the mind. This is the ‘throne room,’ the centre of rule for the old self, the headquarters of the sin regime. It’s in the mind that things are rationalised, explained, decisions taken, and subtle whispers from self and Satan are infused into the process. The devil knows very well that if he can control the HQ through thoughts and manipulation, he controls everything. Often, though, we do his work for him, and all he has to do is sit and watch while we rob ourselves of the perfect peace God intends for us. There’s no great spiritual secret to attaining perfect peace, and losing it is as simple as allowing a single thought to gain mastery.
I am blessed with a writer’s brain, and it’s a blessing that has brought and continues to bring great joy and fulfillment. I am blessed to have the opportunity to use my passion to earn a living which brings me in contact with other creative people in editing, and enables me to write which I know I was born to do. At first glance, there is nothing bad at all about having and using this precious gift from God. I am even especially blessed in that I love my work. There are many whose job is simply a way to earn a living, and they literally hate it or are utterly bored. But experience has taught me that this great blessing is also my place of trial because, if I allow it, it hijacks perfect peace.
There are a number of ways in which my writer’s brain can oust perfect peace. At least one of them will resound with you – while my case is extreme, it follows exactly the same process as any other mind out there, yours included. The problem with the mind is that it uses a very powerful tool – imagination. This is the mental ability to envisage things that do not yet exist. Imagination exists outside the bounds of physical laws. It uses reason and emotion to feed its processes, and entrenches itself in habits and thought patterns that govern our lives. It is imagination that has birthed and empowered every discovery, advancement, invention, scientific research, dictatorship, rebellion, or change the world has ever known. For something to happen, it must first exist in someone’s mind. It then provides the impetus to bring it to fruition.
Imagination without surrender to God is the world’s answer to faith. It’s the root of all positive thinking, visioning, self-actualisation, occultic practices like transindental meditation, and the plethora of new age though permeating society. While the Bible does define faith as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, it is always within the context of God and His will and purpose. Faith that does not have God as its source, power, and objective is not faith by biblical standards. While faith may require us to exercise our imagination, it is in the spiritual not the actual, i.e. our minds are directed and controlled by the Spirit to a particular purpose rather than the other way round. This Spirit governance is our protection and our assurance of perfect peace.
Imagination outside the realm of secure spiritual faith puts self at the helm. The moment self takes the wheel, perfect peace goes overboard. We lose our true North, and even the slightest variation will ultimately take us slowly but surely off course. Now, imagination also has a couple of henchmen to aid it in hijacking our perfect peace. One is fear, the second is pride, and the third – the one we least notice and who is perhaps the most dangerous because it appears innocuous – is enthusiasm.
When we think of perfect peace, the most obvious contrast we come up with is fear. This is the frontrunner when it comes to strong-arming perfect peace overboard. It’s violent, aggressive, and persistent. Fear also has an excellent memory – all those events and situations in the past that we’ve forgotten, moved on from, overcome, or dealt with, fear remembers each and every one. It’s use them to trip us up, slow us up, freeze us up, or have us give up and turn tail. It feeds the power of our imagination, and in turn feeds on what imagination projects. It works in tandem with imagination to present the worst possible scenario, to paint the one thing we most dread as being the most likely outcome. It’s vivid, dramatic, and powerfully real. While fear works happily together with imagination that works outside the will of God, it will work work just as enthusiastically against imagination that is surrendered to God. Its greatest enemy is perfect peace, and it will always go for the jugular, no hold barred.
Pride, on the other hand, is a little more subtle. Pride is the part of us that desires praise and validation, that wants to feel important or needed, that loathes anything that makes us appear weak or unsuccessful. Pride hates failure – or even the perception of failure – and always needs to be in control to protect itself. Pride will happily work alongside fear to oust perfect peace, because it sees itself as the source of the only meaningful peace – a false sense of security that comes from a skewed perception of our abilities, our character, and our achievements. Pride is really good at appearing to ‘blend in’ while taking every opportunity to remind imagination of self-power, of what we can and have achieved. Its primary purpose is misdirection – to shift our focus from true North – by turning our attention to self. Of course, the moment we start to focus on self, the door is left wide open should fear be needed to storm the control room.
Enthusiasm, in God’s hands, is one of the ‘good guys.’ Zeal for God and for the things of God is encouraged and applauded in the Bible. We’re told to rediscover our first love, to replace lukewarmness with absolute passion. But enthusiasm’s granddaddy is emotion, and emotion is easily swayed to the wrong side. Enthusiasm always means well. It always starts off with the best intentions, with a genuinely passionate desire to serve God, but it needs direction. It needs accountability. Enthusiam without the firm hand of the Spirit is as dangerous as fear and pride. I know, because this is my area of greatest struggle. Fear and Pride are obvious. We can easily see their manipulations and attacks against perfect peace. Enthusiasm, on the other hand, is Mr Niceguy. We don’t see the need to watch it or control it, which makes it as safe as handing a five-year-old a bag of dynamite and a box of matches. All he sees is the fireworks, not the explosion and damage it may cause.
This is the place where my writer’s brain – that wonderful, precious gift of imagination – is my biggest enemy. My imagination and enthusiasm, together, have the potential of a runaway train. It’s the kind of combination that seizes on half a sentence, and before God has finished speaking, I’ve already ‘conjured’ three wonderful possible scenarios and have my suitcase packed, ready to go. The moment I hitch those two horses in tandem, perfect peace is out the window. I haven’t lost the passion for God and His work, I’ve simply lost the focus. Enthusiasm doesn’t want to sit and listen, to be patient until the still, small voice has finished speaking. It doesn’t want to meditate and pray, to be certain that what I have heard is really what God wanted me to hear. Imagination says ‘that way’ and enthusiasm says ‘let’s go.’
It’s been a long, hard struggle, one fraught with good intentions and wrong, passionate decisions. I’ve had to learn all those things Paul talks of in Romans 5 – patience, endurance, perserverance – through tribulation, much of it of my own making. The lesson I learned was to recognise the absence of perfect peace. This is the only way to keep my little train on track. Enthusiasm without perfect peace is like that box of dynamite – just waiting for a spark to blow. We often overlook this ‘silly’ enemy because it seems so good and right. And it is. At least, in God’s hands, it is. It’s not inherently bad, just prone to tunnel vision and needing a firm hand.
Today’s verse is a wonderful affirmation of the simplicity of the ways of God. It’s important that we understand all the things that will come against us in an effort to oust perfect peace. We must be able to recognise fear and pride and deal with them using the Word and the promises of God in absolute trust in Him. We must look at our enthusiasm with new eyes, not as the favorite child who is allowed to do as they want. We must learn to govern ourselves in the authority of God – to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ – and surrender sovereignty to God.
Perfect peace is from God. There is nothing we can do that can achieve it for ourselves. Our part is to fix our minds on Him. He is our covering, our protection, our wisdom, our discernment, our strength, and our authority. While the heart mentioned often in the Bible, and rightly so, it’s also important that we fix our minds on our true North. Remember, out of the heart comes what goes into it. The mouth is the tool that both speaks in and speaks out, so it’s got a direct hotline to the heart. But nothing that is spoken can be spoken until its formulated, and its formulated in the mind. Our thoughts define what and how we speak. We think it, speak it, become it. Temptation first manifests consciously in our minds. It’s the control room, the headquarters, of the old self-regime, and must be constantly watched and submitted to the obedience of Christ – to His authority, and to His teaching.
Like most things, we cannot simply set our mental compass to true North and then walk away. We must constantly check to be sure it hasn’t shifted. Autopilot is not an option. It’s a conscious, daily decision to stay our minds on Him – set them as fixed and immovable, and make correction the moment we see even the slightest shift in direction. It’s the point of North that determines the direction. Everything must be seen in relation to this single point. If our needle veers right or left, we notice this in relation to true North. The needle is off to the side of that point. Unless our minds are stayed on Him, perfect peace will evade us.
Gracious Father, Your grace and patience is immeasurable, and we thank You for that. Help us in our struggle in the battlefield of the mind. Help us to fix our minds on You, and to recognise the things that nudge us off course before we encounter the rough terrain of being out of Your will. Keep us always in perfect peace, and our minds stayed on You.