Three Ways to Maintain a Peaceful Heart

The Bible is filled with promises of peace for those who trust in the Lord. The Psalmist says, ‘In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety’ (4:8). Jesus says, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you’ (Jn. 14:27). Paul refers to a ‘peace that surpasses understanding’, which comes upon a believing heart through prayer (c.f. Phil. 4:6-7). From beginning to end, the Bible mentions peace as one of choice blessings that the LORD reserves for his people.

Yet, any honest Christian will admit that each day presents new worries that threaten to disrupt the repose of a heart resting in the love of God. This situation is not new. The Psalms, in particular, are filled with candid statements about just how difficult it can be to find peace in the midst of suffering, persecution, and spiritual anxiety. In view of such daily struggles, as Christians we need to know how to exercise our souls in the disciplines that quiet anguish and sooth mental and spiritual pain.

Here are three spiritual exercises that are a strong defence against emotional turmoil.

1 – Meditate on the Everlasting Rock

Isaiah 26:4 says, ‘Trust in the LORD forever; for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock’. We don’t think often enough about how strange it is that God is willing to describe himself as a rock. Rocks have no intelligence; they cannot love. In many ways, rocks seem altogether unfit to serve as a metaphor for anything divine. Yet, there is one thing that rocks can do, which is a beautiful lens through which to understand God. Rocks are exceptional at supporting weight. When standing atop a large boulder, rare is the person who fears that the ground will collapse under his feet. We have an intuitive sense that rocks are load-bearing.

And so it is with God to a superlative degree. God is not just ‘a rock’; He is ‘an everlasting rock’. He is the unique ground that will never crumble under the weight of a trusting heart. The more we meditate on this truth, the less vulnerable we will feel.  

2 – Preach the Gospel to Yourself

There is an old spiritual discipline that has largely been forgotten. The Puritans used to counsel that, in times of spiritual anguish, a person should imitate the most powerful preacher that she had heard in applying the gospel to herself. The idea was that, rather than be a sitting duck for the fiery darts of the devil, we should take up a more aggressive posture. We should do for ourselves what the Psalmist often does by interrogating his own soul. For example, in Psalm 42 we read, ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God’.

Of note is the way in which the Psalmist does two things. First, he does not passively accept his emotions. He questions the validity and basis of his sorrow. Second, he tells himself to trust in the Lord. Rather than accepting a condition of tenuous faith, he grabs himself by the scruff of the neck and points his doubting feelings back in the direction of God’s promises. 

This practice is something we should put to use in times of sorrow, despair, or worry.

3 – Make a List and Cast Your Cares upon the Lord

Negative feelings flourish in obscurity. Often, we feel anxiety, depression, or dread without knowing what precisely is feeding the moods. One helpful exercise to combat such overcast feelings is to pause for a few minutes and take inventory of the heart. This is a two-step process.

Step one is to take out a piece of paper and to write out in a column all of the contributing factors of our underlying feelings. The goal is to make a list as comprehensive as possible of all of the things that are disrupting the heart. In truth, the end result can be a bit overwhelming. To pull out all of the troubles of the heart can be like emptying a junk drawer. It’s not unusual to be shocked by the sight of just how much worry has been crammed into the heart.

Yet, step two is where shock gives way to faith. The next action is to pray through the list item-by-item. In doing this, there are multiple benefits. I Peter 5:7 says, ‘Cast all your anxieties upon him, because he cares for you’.  By lifting our worries before God we are actively reminding ourselves that he does indeed love us and care for us. He is the Father who knows the exact number of hairs on our head.

A further benefit is revealed by Phil. 4:6-7. These verses indicate that peace is a dew that falls on prayerful hearts. It is only as we speak to God about our struggles that a special blessing descends from heaven – a renewed sense that Jesus is saying to a troubled soul, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest’.

For more advice on combatting spiritual anxiety, listen to this sermon on Isaiah 26

By Joe Barnard