In this world you will have trouble.
That’s what Jesus said to his disciples, shortly before he was arrested. To me, these are some of the hardest words to read in all of Scripture, mostly because they are so true. We know we have trouble: we face it in our jobs, our marriages, our parenting, and our health. And now, with what feels like increasing regularity, we face trouble on the otherwise unremarkable backdrop of our city streets, between people who don’t even know each other.
The good news, at least for believers, is that Jesus tucked these ominous words inside two of the most beautiful promises in the Bible. Here’s how John 16:33 reads, in it’s entirety (and I’ve added italics, so you can see the tuck): “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
I get the part about Jesus overcoming the world – that’s what the cross was all about – but what about the first part? What things was he talking about? What did Jesus tell his disciples, so that they could have peace?
To find out, we need to back up – and in fact, it’s worth backing up all the way to the start of John’s gospel. John is the guy we might call Jesus’ earthly BFF, and he not only records miracles and other events as they happened, but he often gives us the meaning of these things, as well. It’s like he knew we’d have questions.
But even if we don’t go that far, even if we back up just a little bit, to the beginning of the chapter, we can find a reason for peace. Jesus says that “a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” (Yeah. That’s not a new line.) But he doesn’t want his followers to be afraid. Instead, Jesus says he has a plan. He’s going to send the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, who will let everyone know what’s what and give the disciples a joy that nobody can take away.
And Jesus offers the same promise to us. When we’re facing trouble (whether it’s in our personal lives or on the national or global scale), we can take hold of his peace, knowing that he has both promised it and provided it. We can tap into the Holy Spirit, our Helper, and ask him to guard our hearts and teach us what we need to know. That’s how we get unshakable trust.
But some of us can do even more. Those of us who know what it’s like to be comforted by God can turn and extend this same comfort to others, encouraging people with words and deeds. Or even sometimes just with the gift of our presence, the way that God does when he says, “I’m with you. You are loved.” We are a nation that’s hurting; be alert to opportunities you might have to come alongside a neighbor and give them even just the smallest reason to hope.
And, in addition to building each other up, we can pray.
On Sunday, our minister talked about Amos, a guy who was minding his own business as a shepherd when God called him to be a prophet. I’m guessing that Amos had zero professional training, spiritually, but when he saw what was coming down the pike for Israel, he was horrified – and his prayers, prompted by a love for his country and a belief in God’s power, made a difference.
I’m not trying to make an Episcopalian out of anyone (Lord knows, we have our own set of issues), but if you’re like me and you sometimes find yourself groping for a prayer anchor in the face of things like racial violence, terrorism, and hatred, you might appreciate a few of the time-tested, biblically based prayers we drew from The Book of Common Prayer on Sunday. Click here if you want the whole catalog, or just join me in the briefest excerpt, which pretty much sums up what I want to ask God to do for us today:
O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth. Lord, keep this nation under your care.