I Am With You—Always

I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.—John 14:27 (MSG)

My peace is the legacy I leave to you. I don’t give gifts like those of this world. Do not let your heart be troubled or fearful. —John 14:27 (VOICE, emphasis added)

Peace is God’s parting gift to us.

Of all the parting gifts that Jesus could have left for us, He left us His peace. Not love, not faith—although those are both very valuable things—but peace. Isn’t that interesting? This is the culmination of everything Jesus taught, everything He demonstrated while on earth. Christ left this legacy of peace for us to follow. I have found myself ruminating on this passage and being drawn back into it recently, and I believe there is great truth to be found in this short exchange with the disciples.

Worry and peace cannot coexist.

Why? Because God designed our brains to only process either worry or peace. Neuroscientists have discovered a truly interesting phenomenon regarding the human brain; it has something like an on/off switch1 and cannot focus on both a positive and negative feeling at the same time. Interestingly enough, the brain will always pick the negative before the positive as an unconscious survival mechanism. Can you relate?

Our brains are always trying to help us avoid pain and will unconsciously focus on the problem rather than on the solution. We all know the proverb that states, “For as a man thinketh within, so he is.” This quite simply means the more I worry about things, people, and situations, the more anxious I become; and the more my mind finds to worry about. It’s a vicious cycle.

But Jesus gave us peace as His parting gift to us.

Jesus must have known how important peace was to our hearts, souls, minds, and physical bodies. He Himself dealt with immense struggles here on earth, yet he never worried. Why was Jesus able to make such good decisions and never be anxious? He was always in communion with His Father and continuously at peace.

So how we embrace peace in the midst of circumstances that beg for us to spiral into anxiety and despair? It’s all about trust.

Jesus gave us His peace as His legacy for us. We need to learn to trust Him.

I recently had an “aha” moment as I cared for my finicky cat. I was pouring cat food into his bowl, of all things, when I felt the Lord speaking to me. Cinthia, you feed and care for your cat every day and night, even though he is not always the best cat, because he belongs to you. You give him what he needs; he does nothing to merit it. He just receives it, trusting that you will care for him.

It reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34 regarding the lilies of the field and how they are clothed better than Solomon. You don’t see lilies wringing their petals, wondering how God will feed and clothe them. And you certainly won’t see my cat spending a single moment in anxiety that I won’t feed him.

How much more will our Father who loves us care for us in abundance when we are in need? Just like my cat and the lilies, we can’t do anything to earn His favor. All He asks of us is to trust Him and not worry. He knows what worry can do to us. He is pleading with us, “I made you, I created you—this will compromise you and kill you. Don’t drink the poison of worry! It is a slow kill.”

Worry is a slow kill.

Neuroscientists have confirmed through the use of an MRI the many neural changes that your brain undergoes within one second of having a negative thought. The amygdala releases dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters. These brain chemicals immediately interrupt normal functioning of the brain, especially those involving logic, reason, and problem solving. In other words, negative thinking and worry puts you into survival mode. The more you stay focused on the negative words or thoughts, the more you actually damage key structures that regulate your memory, feelings, and emotions. You may disrupt your sleep, your appetite, and the way your brain regulates happiness, longevity, and health.2  The bottom line? Worry is simply not good for you. If you let it, it will slowly kill you.

The science of the mind is now catching up to the Bible and proving what God has been saying to us all along. We must maintain the highest level of positivity in order to counteract the effects of negativity on our bodies, our spirits, our souls, and our relationships. God really knows what he is talking about when He says not to worry. It truly harms us and lowers our effectiveness.

One way to combat worry is to understand the relationship we have with our brains. You can talk to your brain and tell it what to do. Sound silly? Hear me out. Take a moment to think about the words peace, love, and joy. Meditate on them,  and really let their meanings settle into your psyche. What happens when you practice this type of meditation is that the thalamus (command center) in your brain takes that word and disseminates it through the rest of your brain.3 Instead of moving into the “fight or flight” survival mode that worry instigates, meditating on “peace” takes that word straight to the frontal lobe where higher-level thinking and emotions reside. It’s like restarting your computer. Contemplating the positive is akin to hitting a reset button in your brain.

I encourage this meditative practice with my clients, and I’ve benefitted from the practice myself. When you are stressed and feeling burned out, tell your brain, “Relax, you can do this. You are capable. You can pull through this trauma. You are strong.” This practice actually builds neurological connections in your brain that can have a healing effect, even after inconceivable trauma.

Having Jesus in you means you get to have “His” feelings.

This is not just about knowing you need to be at peace cognitively, how he wants you to feel, but actually getting to feel the way He feels. In a sense, you can borrow His feelings. When we are overwhelmed by problems and circumstances, we can look at Jesus and borrow His peace.

My peace I give you.

I recently had an amazing experience at the San Diego Zoo where I was treated to a back stage encounter with the animals. I saw a sloth, a leopard, an Alaskan wolf, and a cheetah, along with many others. The animals were a mere five feet away! It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it led to an epiphany of sorts. You see, the cheetah had a unique buddy that helped him to stay calm—a specially chosen shelter dog.

The calm cheetah with his canine buddy.

Cheetahs are naturally very skittish and wary. As part of a program called “Animal Ambassadors,” zoologists pair cheetahs with dog companions particularly chosen for their calm demeanors. I watched as the cheetah constantly looked over at his canine buddy and stayed calm during the entire interaction. Though he would be a nervous wreck with all the people and commotion on his own, with his buddy at his side, he was able to be at peace. The dog’s peaceful demeanor was enough reassurance for the naturally skittish cheetah that it was all good. Everything was going to be all right.

Isn’t that amazing?

We can do the same with Jesus. We can constantly keep our eyes on Jesus as our “buddy” and take our cues from Him. We can borrow His feelings of peace when we are just not feeling it. If He is good, we are good. And He is always good. Everything is going to be all right.

That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy. Trust is hard.

One saying of mine that I refer to often is that “trust is a word I understand until I actually have to do it.” It doesn’t feel like a heavy word until I actually have to put it into practice. But Jesus understands how hard it is to trust. He wants us to trust Him because the peace of God is almost inaccessible if we’re not trusting.

Our trust should be in God, not in ourselves.

My trust always needs to start and stop with God, not with me. I have to learn to trust Him with my “God–sized” problems—the ones that are unsolvable, burdensome, and unmanageable. Instead of focusing on how and if He will solve them, I need to focus on my relationship with Him and on who He is.

I accept this life of uncertainty; I accept God’s timing. Nothing is impossible for God—He is the God of the impossible, He is the God of me, therefore I am thankful that I am not too impossible for God.4

We can accept His peace by being transformed in His presence.

The famous devotional, Jesus Calling, encourages us to relax daily in His healing holy presence. We must allow Him to transform us through time alone with Him. As we center our thoughts more and more on Jesus, trust displaces fear and worry. Our minds are like seesaws—as our trust in Him goes up, worry and warring go down. This heals my brain, my spirit, my soul, and eventually my body. This trust helps me to know what’s important, how I am supposed to spend my time, and what I am supposed to do!5

A prayer that I often repeat to myself when I need to get myself centered back on God is the prayer of Saint Teresa of Avila. Sometimes I only say the first two lines, but the first stanza is incredibly poignant:

Let nothing disturb you.

Let nothing frighten you.

All things pass.

God does not change.

Patience achieves everything.

Whoever has God lacks nothing.

God alone is enough.

When we have peace (His peace), we can truly be who He created us to be. We can have full access to our logical, rational, and creative beings versus using our thinking only for survival. Having His peace allows us to thrive.

Jesus accomplished so much during His short time on earth because He was at peace with himself and had His Father’s peace, so He was able to walk out the immense calling on His life without wavering. He also had amazing amounts of energy, because his energy wasn’t being used to fight and defend.

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” —Matthew 28:20 (MSG)

This scripture encapsulates the idea that we cannot do what God has called us to do without His peace. So He gives us His peace, commissions us, and will always be with us as we do His work in us and for His kingdom.

His peace is with us always, because He is with us always, helping us to do His work through us, no matter our circumstances. Nothing is impossible for God. You can trust Him. Accept His amazing parting gift of peace each and every day, without worry, without fear, and just wait to see what He can do!

My peace I give you.

Citations:

1 Words Can Change Your Brain, Andrew Newberg. Page 18.

2 Words Can Change Your Brain, Andrew Newberg. Page 22

3 How God Changes Your Brain, Andrew Newberg.

4 Streams in the Desert, November 27, L.B.E. Cowman.

5 Jesus Calling, Aug 10, Sarah Young.