The Great Wall of China is an amazing thing to stand upon. It’s even more amazing to take an alpine slide down the mountain it’s on with Chinese men yelling at you, in a language you cant understand, that you should slow down. But that’s another story. (And perhaps “amazing” is not the right word for that later experience.)
What I learned in China about the Great Wall—It was built to repel invaders from the north. Its massiveness is beyond imagination, unless you happen to be standing on it. Fifteen to thirty feet wide, up to 25 feet high, 4000 miles long. That’s a serious wall. A thirty-foot wide stone wall should have no trouble doing its job of keeping the bad guys out.
Except it did. The wall had one job—and it failed. It failed at its most vulnerable points—the gates. Though outside barbarians could not mow down the wall, traitors inside could and did open the gates. They willingly let in the enemy. Why? Various reasons. Money, revenge, even at least one case of love (or more likely, lust).
Opening the Gates
We, too, open our gates to the enemy when we should know better. During this season of Thanksgiving and Advent, a focus on gratitude and the reasons we don’t feel it at times can never go wrong. We are in a tough season here in America. There is a lot of anger. A lot of hate. A whole ton of fear and frustration. Gratitude is not an emotion I’m seeing a lot of these day. And from Christians? That is simply a tragedy. We of all people should trade in thankfulness and joy and hope. We are the only ones who know its inexhaustible source. Yet I see believers acting as hopeless and thankless as anyone.
That’s failing at our one job.
The invaders of fear, mistrust, hopelessness, ingratitude, and disobedience need to pack up and turn around at the gate.But how do we ensure that we don’t open it ourselves?
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4.6-7
Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
Then . . . peace. It’s right there.
There are very, very few times I will make a guarantee, because I know how many things in this world are not guranteeable. Like, “I will for sure be there!” and “I absolutely promise not to tell anyone that.” And “We are definitely going to offer you a book contract!”
Jesus said to let my yes be yes and my no be no, and I take that seriously, so, few promises.
But I absolutely promise—if we remember all God has done and thank him? We will experience peace.
First, let’s look at that word “remember.” In the Bible, it’s not a word like “I can’t remember why I came into this room,” or “I don’t remember why I came on Facebook in the first place.” “Remember” in Scripture has a full, rich meaning. It’s the Earl Grey of Bible words.
Remember — To call the past into the present, making it real here and now, and act upon it.
Funny how all the good Bible words are calls to action. It’s like God knew we would need a few kicks now and then.
This kind of remember is like me thinking about the day we spent on the Great Wall of China, pulling out the photo album, going to the website for the orphanage we worked at, praying for those kids in the photos, then writing them a check and an email of encouragement. It’s remembering the past in a way that creates momentum in the present. I do something with my memories. Something constructive.
Constructive, obedient action always leads to peace.
When God remembers, he is going to act, not just think fondly of us. When he remembers his people in Egypt, he immediately acts to put their freedom into the works. The prayers of the Psalmists for God to remember them were all calls for him to act on their behalf, not send positive thoughts.
If I remember that my car needs gas and drive off without getting it, that remembering does not do me much good.
If I remember I have a doctor’s appointment but don’t actually show up, the remembering is not useful.
If I remember I have an assignment or article deadline but choose to head out to Six Flags instead, that memory is pointless.
Do you get the point?
So if I want to feel God’s peace rather than getting anxious over the situation of the world (or the situation in my own living room), one key is to remember all the things he has done in my past—in a way that brings them into my present and moves me to action.
Maybe I remember how he has kept my children from harm in specific past instances. Then maybe I write down one of those things and post it somewhere I will see and remember it, all the while saying a prayer of thanks. After that, perhaps I’ll text my kid and tell her I’m thinking about her and praying those thanksgivings. Maybe I’ll even go online and make a donation to some organization that works to protect other children who are at risk. And—I will feel peace.
See what remembering does?
The cool part about what God offers here? It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. If I remember and give thanks, refusing to open the gates to fear and worry, his peace will guard my heart. That’s what it says. With my heart guarded by peace, I am much less likely to open those gates the next time. The more I keep the gates closed with my thanksgiving, the stronger the gates become.
How awesome is that?
Next time, I’ll go into some details about how we can guard those gates. Happy Thanksgiving!
Jill Richardson is the pastor of Real Hope Community Church near Chicago. She is the author of six books and a national speaker, as well as a contributor to books from Dayspring, Lillenas, and Christianity Today. Jill’s doctorate in "Church Leadership in a Changing Context" is helping her with her passion—passing on a healthy, creative church and doing it with the next generation. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul), and Washington University. Her focus is on church leadership, creative preaching, immigration and refugees, women’s issues, and intergenerational leadership. She has an unnatural love for Middle-earth, chocolate marzipan, old musicals, fish tacos, oceans, cats, and Earl Grey. She believes in Jesus, grace, restoration, kindness, justice, and the Cubs. You can find her work at jillmrichardson.com.