I've often heard the phrase, "the peace that passes understanding" or "the peace that makes no sense" as part of a benediction or a prayer.
I like that idea.
Of course, in my own life, "the anxiety that makes no sense" is much more a reality.
I'm a worrier. I worry about silly things, about unlikely things. Zeke doesn't answer his phone? He's obviously been in a horrific car accident and is probably dead in a ditch. I might have to move. What kind of information should I bring to the hospital? How will I tell his parents?
My mind goes immediately to ridiculous and extreme outcomes right away, for no reason. I've decided that my need to control every situation is to blame. If I don't expect something horrible to happen, then I won't be prepared if something does. Which, I do realize, makes very little sense.
But it's the way I do it. I've already thought through the possible outcomes, and made my little mental to-do list, so if it happens, I'm all set. I've got it under control.
Or so I think.
Peace isn't the result of having control over everything, of having detailed plans in place.
After all, God changes our plans pretty regularly, doesn't He?
In the first chapter of Luke, we're introduced to two characters who have their plans changed.
Zechariah is an old priest. He and his wife always expected to have children, prayed for them, but God had answered "No." Zechariah and Elizabeth had a painful life, but after many years, they had most likely found some acceptance. He was probably toward the end of his ministry when the lot fell on him to pray in the temple, in the Holy of Holies. And he prayed, pouring out his heart to God one more time, that they would have a child.
We don't know, but personally, I think that Zechariah's prayer was less, "Please God, won't you give us a child?" and more, "God! Why?!? Why didn't you give us a child!?!" Well, that's the way the prayer would have gone if I was in Zechariah's sandals. I don't think his prayer was to ask for a child- he was old. He didn't think it could happen anymore. He had made other plans.
He had plans of retirement, of living out his quiet life in his quiet town. He was old- the excitement of his life was over.
But God changed those plans. God said "Yes" to the prayers of Zechariah's heart. And Zechariah became our example of what not to do.
"How can I be sure of this?" Zechariah asks the angel. Can you prove it? Because if I'm going to change my plans... I mean, we're really old, you know? I won't believe it til I see it. And he leaves the temple that day with not only a changed life plan and baby on the way, but also without a voice because of his unbelief.
And then we meet our second character- Mary.
Mary is a young lady who is betrothed- she's probably making wedding plans and working on preparing for her new life as a wife. She's got plans- a big wedding, marrying her Joseph, having lots of babies and living out a nice life in her little town of Nazareth.
And then, like Zechariah, she's visited by an angel. Suddenly, her plans are thrown out the window. She's now going to have a child, Joseph will probably divorce her, her family will be disappointed and hurt, she's even at risk of being stoned to death for getting pregnant out of wedlock. Nothing will be the way she had hoped, the way she planned.
She responds with a question- "How will this be?" (reminding us that it's okay to ask questions from a place of belief- she knows it will be, but she doesn't understand the mechanics of it all)- and then says...
“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Now that's peace.
I don't want the peace that comes from rigid planning and holding on to control. I don't want peace that's dependent on my own emotions, my own actions, or my own expectations.
I want a Mary kind of peace.
Because, you know what? Even though we won't have our plans change the same way Mary's did, God changes our human plans. A lot. And we have to trust that God knows what He's doing, and that He will work all things for our good.
Advent is often a time of lots of planning, lots of expectations, and lots and lots of pressure for everything to be "just right." Not only that, but a lot of us have things we're praying for so desperately (like me and having a baby.)
Not only does the first chapter of Luke tell us the story of Jesus's birth, but it also has two very important lessons for us to learn.
1. God answers prayers in miraculous ways. The vulnerable heart that Zechariah presented to the Lord in prayer was answered. Not in the timing that Zechariah might have chosen himself, but God knew what He was doing, even when we can't see it. He has worked miracles before, and He will do it again.
2. God's plans are the best plans. Even when we can't see the reason, we have to trust His planning, His path for our lives. We know that He loves us enough to send His Son to die in our place. Would He withhold any good thing from us?
The challenge for this week is more a challenge of changing a habit. It's such a habit for me to get all worked up and anxious this time of year- there's just so much going on!
I challenge you- whenever you're feeling the need to control, or whenever you start to worry about what's next- whenever your plans are changing- don't stress or get anxious or get out a pen and start making plan B. When you're feeling disappointed and let down because you're waiting for something that may never be, or you start to feel the threads of jealousy tugging your heart away from Him...
That's the challenge. Instead of seeking to control, seek the God of miracles.
(A Note: This prayer was in part inspired by the St. Andrew novena, which is a prayer in the Catholic tradition. It is changed quite a bit... but I think that understanding the idea of a "novena" can be a great resource for even my non-Catholic friends. The St. Andrew novena is meant to be prayed 15 times per day every day of Advent, and has resulted in many miracles.
Personally, I don't believe that the prayer itself is responsible for the miracles, but being in intentional, heartfelt prayer 15 times a day shows a real dedication and sincerity, and helps to center our souls on regular conversation with God. )
We see examples of God disrupting human plans throughout the Bible. Some of these stories are more cautionary tales, telling us what not to do when God sends us a different direction, and some are great examples of steadfast faith.
Reading through these has really made a difference to me- just look at what amazing things God has done through the lives of people who are willing (or a little less willing) to follow His plan:
Noah: Genesis 6
Abraham: Genesis 17
Moses: Exodus 2 (and not only his story- think of the plans of his momma!)
Esther: Esther 1
David: 1 Samuel 16
What stories help remind you that His plan is the best plan?
How do you find peace, even in such an uncertain world?
This post is part of a little Advent series- you can see my post on Advent Hope here: