There is an old hymn that has been on my mind going into the new year, a hymn that begin with the words: Peace like a river. I believe the Lord has promised me, and my church, that this would be a year of blessings, among those blessings is a peace, a peace that as the scriptures say, “Surpasses understanding.” (Phil 4:7) The kind of peace we all long for, the kind of peace that is not dependent on external circumstances, the kind of peace that leaves us saying: “It is well with my soul.”
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
That is a peace that can only come from God, a peace that surpasses understanding, that is the power of grace. It is something I have experienced and something I have witnessed over and over, so I have no doubt that it is real and that is why I often pray—if I have prayed for you there is a good chance you have heard me say—Lord grant them the peace that passes understanding. It is not just an empty church platitude or an encouragement to screw up your courage, to somehow manufacture your own peace, it is an invitation for God to overwhelm you with a sense of wellbeing that can only come from him.
Only through the good shepherd can we walk along the still waters, only then can peace like a river be our guide—steady, true and unstoppable. Or, as the more contemporary composers, the Doobie Brothers sang, “O black water keep on rollin’ Missississippi moon won’t you keep on shining on me…gonna make everything, yeah momma gonna make everything all right.”
Peace like a river…Think about a river. If you grew up here in Montana you probably think of the Yellowstone. I think of sitting on the river bank up near Livingston casting lures into the water hoping to hook a big Brown or a Rainbow surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountains in the world—they don’t call it Paradise Valley for nothing.
Or I think of fishing on the Mississippi, as a kid, while camping with my Dad in Southern Minnesota—the river so wide and deep that you hardly even know it’s moving, watching a grain barge go by on the way to Minneapolis with another load of wheat destined for the mills that will turn it into flour to feed a hungry world, creating a wake that you watch heading your way for what seems like an impossibly long time.
Or later in after moving to New Mexico— I think of standing on a bluff looking down and seeing the infamous Rio Grande for the first time as it reflects the last rays of the sun as it sets in the west, setting the sky ablaze with reds, golds and purples— the river winding its way through a thirsty desert and stretching on as far as the eye can see— Marveling that a river, so small in comparison to the might Mississip’ would be called Grande yet marveling that a river could even exist in such a hot dry place.
There is just something about a river that brings a sense of peace. Perhaps it’s the quiet strength and dependability as it just keeps flowing, ever moving, always in the same direction to an unseen destination that you can only imagine, coming from a seemingly inexhaustible source, also far beyond your sight. A river brings life and is always going somewhere if you should choose to follow, yet if you choose to just stay and ponder it, it will still be with you as long as you choose to tarry, and is always there when you come back.
—Peace like a River. I think I just described our Lord.
Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Psalm 46:10,11
It is the presence of the Lord that brings our peace.
Peace is not always the absence of conflict, peace is often overcoming conflict. Peace is being in Christ, Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me, I shall not fear. It is well with my soul.
If the Lord is promising us a peace this year, then to me that can only mean he is promising to be with us, offering us a strong sense of his presence. If the God of peace wants to be with us than I want to do all I can to stay out of his way— trust and follow.