Peace Like a River
How control (or lack there of) can make our lives bearable
It’s 1:30 in the morning.
The storm passing through is mostly gone, but I’m still watching the flashes in the sky illuminate the sleeping world below every few seconds.
As I watch the chaos of the storm float away over the treetops and out of my sight, I can’t help but reflect on peace.
I love to make people think that I’m laid back, sometimes to the point of apathy, but at my core I’m a worrier. Peace is not a virtue that comes naturally to me. When things are good, I’m paranoid about how I’ll lose them, and when things are bad, I’m terrified of how they’ll get worse. I’ve searched and searched for peace with little to show for my efforts.
At the heart of inner-turmoil is almost always a lack of control. People strive to be able to take charge of their own destiny, but in reality no one has control over anything. Millions of factors go into every little thing that happens in one’s life, and it’s impossible to control them all. You never know what seemingly meaningless thing can cause your whole life to come crashing down around you.
That’s a truly terrifying thought. It’s hard to be at peace when you never know what fresh horrors the future may hold for you. How can you even sleep at night knowing you could wake up to the effects of disaster, disease, or death?
This past year has been a rough one for me. In the past 12 months it’s felt like everything I had built my life around was falling apart. My grades dropped dramatically, my family experienced unusual conflict, relationships failed, my job, my career plans, and my favorite place in the world have experienced substantial change. I’ve felt completely out of control of my life for quite some time now.
The lack of peace in my life caused me to fall into a deep depression and experience anxiety in ways I didn’t even know were possible. I was completely and utterly lost. I cried out countless times for relief from the war inside my head, and in His own timing, God answered.
This past week, I had the opportunity to be a counselor for Sr. High Camp at Camp Kirkwood in Wilmington, OH. I was there to help high-schoolers learn about God, and deepen their relationship with Him. But boy, did I learn a thing or two while doing it.
Throughout the week I encountered campers and counselors alike who were just as broken as I’ve felt for the past year. Some I’d known my whole life and I had never seen a glimpse of the problems they face.
You might think that seeing so many broken people would be disheartening, but for me it had the opposite effect. I was overjoyed to see an abundance of weakness because in that weakness, I could see God at work.
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
It’s exhausting to try to control every aspect of our own. The truth is, we can’t do it. As much as that sucks to hear, it’s a truth that everyone knows deep down. We are not strong enough to control our future. We are not powerful enough to control our future. Only God is.
The only peace this world has to offer is not found in control, but instead in the release of it. When we come to accept our weakness and inability to control, we can allow God to absolve us of that responsibility. True freedom can only be experienced by relinquishing control and trusting in the only Being who has the power to do it for us.
Our weakness is not a failure on our part, but instead a tool to show the glory and power of our Creator. When we renounce our grip on our future, we give God the opportunity to work in ways that He wasn’t able to before. This is what I saw last week in countless situations in the lives of my friends and my campers. God works miracles through our inability to hold it together; I’ve seen it firsthand.
Trust is also a big part of the equation. You’re not going to experience much peace by turning your life over to God if you can’t trust his plans for you. You may be able to accept that God is capable of controlling your life for you, but why should we trust the way He does it? What evidence do we have that He’ll do a good job?
The main way we know that God will handle our lives with care is that he loves us. The Bible is filled with declarations of God’s love for us, but one of my favorites is in Zephaniah 3. In verse 17 it says, “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
We also know that because of God’s love for us he feels our pain. Psalms 56:8 tells us that God collects our tears and records them. He knows when we are hurting, and feels that pain with us. We can trust that God’s plans for us are in our best interest because of His empathy and passion for us. If that’s not enough for you, He also happens to tell us straight up that He’s working for our favor.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
Peace isn’t a thing that you just have to accomplish once. It’s a daily battle. In Isaiah 66, God compares peace to a river, which is a very apt comparison.
Rivers were completely necessary for life to people in biblical times. People came to the river for water, and would come on a daily basis for more as they needed it. Thousands of people used one river at a time to supply themselves with what they needed to survive, but the water never ran out because it came from a never ending source.
Peace works the same way. Without peace, life is unlivable. And so people come to God for peace every day. It doesn’t last forever, but more is readily available whenever you need it. And you can trust that it will always be there because the source will never run out.
It’s difficult to surrender control of my life to God, and it’s a choice I need to make every day. But the power to make that choice will never run out. I’ve got peace like a river, and that’s a pretty darn good feeling.
Thunderstorms make me feel small. The one that just rolled through was a big one and I felt powerless in the midst of its fury. Normally that would be a disconcerting feeling for me, but tonight I feel good. Tonight I’m basking in the knowledge that my Lord and Savior has freed me from the responsibility of controlling my life.
Maybe it’s just for tonight, but tonight I feel at peace.