This is a picture of the Elah Valley where David stood and fought Goliath. When David first happened upon the situation, he was appalled that someone would dare blaspheme the name of the LORD – no matter how big and strong he was. Though all of Israel was afraid of Goliath (including the King), David was undaunted. Though his oldest brothers mocked and disrespected him for showing up, David did not stop asking why no one was standing up to Goliath. Even when King Saul was made aware of David’s strong words, he told David that he was incapable of fighting the giant.
“David said to Saul, ‘Let no man’s heart fail on account of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.'” (1 Samuel 17:32)
David describes fear as a failure of the heart. David understands that fear, intimidation, and the unknown can make a man’s heart fail to do the things he knows he ought to do. And yet, David’s heart was protected from the anxiety that every other grown Israelite was feeling at that moment. How was David’s heart protected from fear in such a moment?
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
The peace of God is able to guard our hearts from fear and anxiety. When we place our faith in God in the face of anxiety, His peace will make sure that our hearts do not fail during the time of testing. I believe the same was true for David in the Valley of Elah. He didn’t have fear like the rest of the Israelites did because his heart was guarded by the peace of God. As a result, David was able to act courageously.
I wish we all viewed the peace of God the way David did.
However, we often speak of “God’s peace” as more of a guiding force in our life instead of the guarding force that Paul describes in Philippians 4:7. A few days ago, I mentioned this problem via Twitter in this way:
Many times I will hear people that are confounded with a decision they need to make say something along the lines of, “God’s really ‘given me a peace’ about this decision.” While that statement certainly sounds very spiritual, I’m not sure it demonstrates the same understanding of Philippians 4:7.
God’s peace is given during times of anxiety and is found most readily in the life of the believer who is turning to God in faith by prayer. When we pray and ask God for whatever we need, we remember that God knows what we need before we ask (see Matthew 6:25-34; 7:7-11) and He will provide exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we can ask for (Eph 3:20). “God’s peace”, therefore, is a result of our prayer and His promised provision and is designed to keep anxiety at bay so we can step forward in faith. While other people see a Goliath and tremble in fear, we are able to see the same man and act courageously in faith.
In other words, God’s peace isn’t some mystical force that ‘tells’ us which choice is the right one; it is a comforting protection that enables us to do what we already know needs to be done (that our fear or anxiety would otherwise discourage us from doing).
Of course, it’s easy to fabricate this peace that we long to feel when faced with fear. Take King Saul, for example. Why did he ask for one of his men to fight Goliath when he himself was likely the most qualified Israelite to fight? (1 Sam 9:1-2) It would certainly have sounded spiritual for King Saul to have said, “I don’t have a peace about fighting this Goliath. See if one of the soldiers will do it.” Of course he had a peace about not fighting a giant that could have been over 9 feet tall!
The peace that comes from avoiding fear (and not doing what we know to be the right thing to do) is not the peace that surpasses all understanding.
A coward’s peace cannot guard a heart from fear. Instead, it thrives on fear. Thus, every choice the coward makes will continue to be the path of least anxiety. The coward will not think of anyone else in making the choice either. How the choice will affect him is all that matters. With each choice, the coward will certainly experience a feeling of peace from the relief of not having to face the anxiety before him, but the truth is that his heart has failed him and led him into a decision based on fear rather than one based on faith. Though he may have a sensation of peace, he can be found ‘peacefully’ hiding behind the baggage (1 Samuel 10:22-24) or a young shepherd boy (1 Sam 17:38-40).
The peace of God is an existing reality that calms our hearts when we are faced with anxiety; it allows us to make kingdom-minded decisions – not self-centered ones. When we transfer our anxiety to the King of our kingdom we live peacefully in His provision of peace (rather than our own cowardly imitation), do what needs to be done (no matter how intimidating), and our hearts never fail.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)