I lead a noon Bible Study every Wednesday. Right now we are working our way through the Gospel of John, and last week we were at chapter 14, verse 1 –
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
Troubled hearts come easily these days. As I heard somebody say during a previous financial crisis that we survived – “If you aren’t worried, then you’re just not thinking straight.” The volatility of the market, the global dimensions of the economic issues that we are facing, and the snail’s pace of the recovery, such as it is, combine to make these days feel more perilous than previous ones, and leave the visceral impression that the problems confronting us are more intractable than ever before. No, troubled hearts come naturally.
But Jesus told His disciples not to “let your hearts be troubled.” The construction of this instruction suggests that we actually have a choice about it. We don’t have to settle for troubled hearts if we don’t want to. And that’s fine advice, like the Mary Engelbreit image of the sassy little girl with her hat pulled down around her ears, her hands on her hips and leaning into a snarly “Snap out of it!” But is this what Jesus meant? Are untroubled hearts the product of pep talks and attitude adjustments? When Jesus said “let not your hearts be troubled,” I don’t believe that He was pinning hope up in a vacuum, calling for optimism without a sufficient base (Francis Schaeffer – No Little People 43) John 14:1 is not the Biblical equivalent of the bouncy little “Be happy; Don’t worry!” ditty that was so popular a number of years ago. No, in John 14:1 Jesus didn’t just issue a call for serenity, He rooted and grounded it in a rationale, a reason why our hearts don’t have to be troubled –
Believe in God; believe also in me.
When the world is spinning and everything we thought was securely nailed down is now flying all about, what we’ve got to find is a still point, something that is solid and sure to which we can securely lash ourselves, and Jesus told His disciples that He would do in the storm, that we could count on Him not shifting when everything else was giving way.
Later in this same chapter of the Gospel of John (14:26-27), Jesus talked about the sending of another helper whose presence would bring peace.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
The repetition of the phrase “let not your hearts be troubled” in John 14:1 and 14:27 begs us to connect the dots. This phrase in fact bookends the teaching, marking the opening and closing of our Lord’s counsel on how best to avoid troubled hearts. Not letting our hearts be troubled has something to do with the Holy Spirit. This connection between the sending of the Holy Spirit and inner gift of peace should come as no surprise to us. Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the heart of a believer (Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 4:4), and the experience of anyone who is in Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:15; Philippians 4:7). The question is “how?” How does the presence of the Holy Spirit produce peace in us? And the answer according to the Gospel of John is by making Jesus Christ powerfully and personally present. The Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John doesn’t freelance. The Holy Spirit doesn’t showboat. The Holy Spirit doesn’t draw attention to Himself. The Holy Spirit comes to make Jesus Christ known.
I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you. (John 16:12-15)
In his interpretation of this text, Frederick Dale Bruner wrote –
The work of the Holy Spirit is simply to thrill us with Christ, to infect us with enthusiasm for all that Christ can do for men and women and for the world to change things, to renew institutions, and to salvage lives. The Holy Spirit is shy about everything except Christ, but about Christ the Spirit is downright bullish. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter and all the rest were united in one great fact: they believed that Jesus was central, and they never stopped pushing Him. Irenaeus, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Augustine, Thomas, Luther, Calvin, Bengel, Wesley, Schlatter and Barth all shared this Christ-passion with the Apostles. They shared this common enthusiasm for the raw relevance of Jesus to the deepest needs of human life and society. More than anything else, they cared that Jesus be preached, believed and obeyed. And that caring is exactly what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit… It is the great work of the Spirit… that Christ be known. (The Holy Spirit ~ Shy Member of the Trinity 23)
The way to an untroubled heart in days of storm is not positive thinking but is rather to have lives that are rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ who is the sure foundation (Matthew 7:24-27). As a hymn we love to sing here at Northway puts it –
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.
Refrain: On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
Being rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ doesn’t change the circumstances and challenges that we are facing. Faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior doesn’t fix the damage that’s been done to your 401k or increase the value of your home. What faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior does in days like these is to change our perspective by enlarging our view through the cultivation of what Harry Blamires called “the eternal perspective.” What’s happening in the stock market right now is the worst possible thing that could ever happen if this world is all there is and these days are all we have. But against the backdrop of eternity, as Paul put it in Romans 8 –
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (8:18)
And in 2 Corinthians 4:17 –
For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
This is what faith in Jesus Christ does for us who believe in God in Jesus Christ. It provides us with hearts that that are neither troubled nor afraid, not because of some kind of magical or wishful thinking away of the problems that are coming at us fast and furious, but rather because it roots and grounds us in an experience of love from which difficult circumstances can’t separate us (Romans 8:31-39), and in a promise that is as sure as the day is long (Romans 8:28-29).
When we understand this, this present financial crisis, as well as any other crisis that will eventually and inevitably come our way – health, relational, employment, etc. – is at its core a spiritual crisis. The Gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t offer us immunity from trouble in this life, but hearts that don’t have to be troubled. As for what your heart is doing these days, Jesus in John 14:1 said that you have a choice.
In getting ready to write this blog posting I spent some time over the weekend taking a look at what others have been writing about the spiritual dimensions of the present economic crisis that we are facing. Hands down, the very best thing I found out there was the Pastoral Letter that the Wesleyan Church sent to it ministers and members in November of 2008. Here is an excerpt from that letter that provides you with a sense of its deep spiritual wisdom and pastoral sense-
The Board of General Superintendents of The Wesleyan Church calls upon the Church to renew its demonstrations of being the people of God in the world. In financially troubled times, we call upon Wesleyans to lead lives that are disciplined, generous, prayerful, courageous and creative.
• Disciplined because many of us have consumed too much of the world’s resources on ourselves. This can be a time to control our cravings and determine to live more simply.
• Generous because there are people who are (or will be) going without some of the necessities of life and we have an obligation to share with them in Jesus’ name.
• Prayerful because the problems that plague our world will not be solved by throwing money at them, but by God intervening with justice and grace.
• Courageous because fear and panic are not becoming to the people of God. The peace of Christ allows us to approach life’s difficulties with calm, deliberate, confident steps.
• Creative because the mind of Christ inspires His followers to think more clearly of how to minister to others and to society in ways that spread hope and holiness that transform culture.
The entire letter can be found at http://www.wesleyan.org/bgs/pastoral_letters, and I can’t recommend it to you highly enough.