In this final Advent blog, we look at the quality of peace – what it is and how it marks us out as Jesus’ disciples in the world. Peace, as this season of Advent reminds us, is a gift of God like love, faith and hope. May you and I revel in the peace that God brings through Christ this Christmas.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” (Luke 2:14).
An old chorus I sang growing up, based on an African-American spiritual, spoke of having ‘peace like a river.’  Recently, my wife and I were wondering where that phrase came from, since we didn’t generally think of rivers as peaceful bodies of water. We thought rather of waters in constant motion.
At points indeed, rivers could be terrifying – raging and foaming rapids that cascade over treacherous, bone-wrenching rocks, often culminating in tumbling waterfalls.
Shortly afterwards, in an evening devotion, we were reading together in Isaiah 48, in which God accused Israel of being obstinate in their rebellion against him. He called them back, as He often did, to repentance. Isaiah records God’s plea in these terms:
“Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for your profit, who leads you in the way you should go. Oh, that you had listened to my commandments; then your peace would be like a river and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” 
Now we got the point. Peace is like a river in that it brings life. Rivers in Israel were a real source of security, sustenance and abundance. The great Jordan River and her tributaries, as they cut across the thirsty, arid landscape, gave rise to fertile banks. The rivers of peace and her righteous waves were meant to carry us along God’s holy ways – a means of great blessing and rule that come from following in the way of God.
Our sinful world however, like stubborn Israel, wants peace on its own terms.
According to popular culture, peace is often (and only) thought of as the absence of conflict, war, trouble or stress. They picture a world devoid of struggle – that lets then be as they want.
The Scriptures, by contrast, root ‘peace’ not in the absence of danger about us, but in the presence of God with us, no matter the outward circumstance.
True peace is God’s gift. It can only be found as we submit to the will and ways of God. The poet Dante captured it well: ‘In his will is our peace.’ 
C.S. Lewis agrees: “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” 
Peace then, that the angels sang about to the lowly shepherds at Christmas, is peace that is given through the favor and blessing of God. We cannot manufacture it, nor earn it ourselves. It is instead a dynamic by-product of the Gospel transformation that comes by grace through faith in the salvation of Christ alone, for God’s glory.
Didn’t Jesus promise such a genuine peace – unlike the world’s type – in John 14:27? So we need not be afraid at all, even though a little later in John 16:33, he tells us that we will have trouble in the world. There again, he reiterates that in him, we have peace.
May the peace of God that is yours in Christ therefore, rule your heart this Christmas.
As disciples of Jesus called to ‘know nothing except Christ and Him crucified’ and to make disciples after Him, may that peace also be a source of blessing to many around you, this time and always. From Him, springs life everlasting and peace unending.
Oh cross that liftest up my head
I dare not ask to fly from thee
I lay in dust’s life’s glory dead
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be. 
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 In the same vein, the opening line of Horatio Spafford’s well-loved hymn ‘It is Well with My Soul’ carries the same image: “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way…”
 Isaiah 48:17-18, ESV. The passage ends with a solemn warning in verse 22: “There is no peace, says the LORD, “for the wicked.”
 Dante Alighieri, translated from Paradiso, Canto III, line 85.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), page 50.
 Final verse of Hymn “O Love, That Wilt Not Let Me Go” by George Matheson. https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/432
In these past blogs, we’ve looked at how Advent affects our spiritual/physical senses. I wrote first about having eyes that see with a bi-focal view of Christ’s first and second comings, framing our faith with hope. We then discussed the right use of our mouths –to communicate God’s Gospel of love to a world that is truth-famished. Finally, we spoke having ears for God – the listening posture of the disciple who seeks to do all Jesus says.
I want to end this series by speaking about our feet – that is, our call to walk after the Holy Spirit in the footprints of Jesus, into world mission.
One of my heroes was the great Indian itinerant evangelist, Sadhu Sundar Singh who lived in the early part of the 20th century1. His missionary feet took him all over India and Tibet (and overseas on trips to Europe and other parts of Asia). Everywhere he went, he drew strange looks, the tall Indian dressed as a Hindu sadhu (or holy man). But Singh was a disciple of Jesus, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ everywhere he went. ‘I want to bring the water of life in an Indian cup’, he once said.
Vision of Jesus
Born in 1889, Singh was gloriously saved as an intense young man of 15 on the verge of taking his own life. He was heartbroken at the time since losing his beloved mother. In his anguish, he failed to find inner peace in his forays into his native Sikhism and Hinduism. On the morning of his planned suicide, he desperately cried out to God. At that point, his room filled with light, and he saw a figure he did not recognize, who said to him: “I died for you. For you and for the life of the world I gave my life.” On seeing the scars of the risen Christ, Singh knew it was Jesus and gave his life to him.
Disowned by his father for converting, Singh decided, after a period of prayer, he to take to the Indian road as a sadhu for Christ, traveling from 1905 without any possessions, and trusting God to provide his keep and lead his way.
He spent the early part of his ministry reaching out to villages and towns in Northern India. Small Christian communities in the North were surprised to see a Christian sadhu with saffron robe and turban and bare feet blistered by the dirt roads. They called him the ‘Apostle with the bleeding feet.’
Missionary to Tibet
But Singh was not content to stay in India and began to look further a-field to the land-locked country of Tibet, the first of a number of missionary forays he made there in 1908. It was a hard journey through the Himalayan mountain trade routes passable only in the summer months. There, he faced persecution at the hands of staunchly Buddhist Tibetan tribes.
At one town, Singh later recounted how he was sentenced to death by the chief lama and thrown into a dry well, one arm painfully wrenched from the fall. The well was covered over, and he was left in darkness for 2 days, in the midst of rotting flesh and bones of others of a similar fate. In desperation, he cried out to God.
Two days or so later, the cover of the well was removed, and a rope lowered. With great difficulty, Singh hooked it around himself, and was winched out of the well. Lying on the ground, the fresh air revived his weak and starving body. He looked around but found no one. Nor did he have any more pain in his arm. The next day found him back in town preaching again to the astounded people of the town.
The sadhu would later tell of many other similar supernatural experiences. But his life and ministry was more than the miraculous. Ultimately, it was the manner and message of his life – and feet – that enabled him to communicate a vision of Jesus that many in India found easy to relate to and understand.
It’s all about Jesus!
Above all, Sadhu Sundar Singh never forgot that Jesus was the centre and treasure of his life. He neither let a measure of global fame, the lure of a more comfortable life or the plaudits and criticism he received from various Christian corners, distract his focus on Christ.
He wrote: “Now I have no desire for wealth, position and honor. Nor do I desire even Heaven. But I need Him who has made my heart Heaven. His infinite love has expelled the love of all other things. Many Christians cannot realize His precious, life-giving presence, because for them Christ lives in their heads or in their Bibles, not in their hearts. Only when a man gives his heart shall he find Him. The heart is the throne for the King of Kings. The capital of Heaven is the heart where that King reigns.”
When Christ likewise has true ownership of all the rooms of our hearts, then our feet will likewise be fitted with the readiness of his Gospel of peace, to go where he sends us, to speak of his great salvation. Making disciples who listen to his voice and abide in his Word, we will make a people ready for his return.
This Advent/Christmas and always, may we have eyes, mouths, ears and feet surrendered to him, as we work and wait and the day of his glorious return.
 Parts of this blog are edited from a previously published article I wrote for Impact magazine. “The Apostle with the Bleeding Feet”, June/July 2008 issue, volume 31, no.3.
In this third of our Advent reflections, we consider the importance of developing a listening ear, in order to grow our faith and vision for the challenges, opportunities and mission of our day.
When I served in the army as part of National Service in Singapore, we were taught one basic rule in order to get-by in the military: ‘All you have to do is make sure you’ve obeyed the last order!’
Easier heard than done though. Similarly, many Christians have trouble hearing or giving priority to God’s voice in their life, let alone obeying it. His still, small voice so easily loses out to the cacophony of voices and noises, including their own, vying for prerogative.
But God longs to find us waiting to meet with him, that we may hear his voice and commune with him daily. Jesus told us that His Father, incredibly, actively seeks those who will worship him in Spirit and in truth (John 4: 24).
Did you know that what God’s first recorded question in Scripture is – it was the searching call: ‘Where are you?’ (Gen 3:9). God apparently has a habit of walking in the garden with them in the cool of the day (verse 8). Adam and Eve, having sinned and hearing the sound of God’s approach, realized in their shame, they were not fit anymore to meet with him. They did what any sane sinner would: they took cover and hid – not ever asking how one plays ‘hide-and-seek’ with an all-seeing God.
But sin does more than keep us shamefully hiding in guilt from an omnipresent holy God. It also deadens our ability to hear his voice. The prophets God sent to Israel found God’s people both hard of hearing and heart.
Jesus often ended teaching moments with an enigmatic challenge: ‘To him who has ears to hear, let him hear.’ Clearly, he was addressing those who were longing to respond to the voice of God, not ignore, refute or question it. Above the din of religious legalism, imperial oppression and the struggle to survive, such followers were ready to hear and heed his word, recognizing them as having divine weight and authority. ‘You have the words of eternal life,’ said Peter in John 6:68.
And as they listened, faith took hold. For the listening ear is a door to a converted soul. ‘Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.’ (Romans 10:17). When the searching voice of God finds people willing and ready to listen, transactions of eternal value are affected.
The very Word that spoke creation into being, finding entrance in the dark chaotic voids within us, does the ever-novel work of creating light and life once more. In Christ, God speaks to us – through the words of Scripture and through the activity of the Spirit.
But these are days when many Christians struggle to hear God. We are so easily distracted by the booming sounds of our own plans, the haunting melodies of illegitimate desires, screaming ambitions and the sheer noise of the world around. Listening does not come easy to us who are at the beck and call of trivia on screens, blue-tooth ear-pieces and the ever-haunting social media.
But Jesus was not so easily distracted – he had ears only for God (see John 8:26, 28), And he expects that we too will learn first to hear his voice (see John 10:3-5).
Witness then the posture of the true listener – of Mary, who to her sister’s chagrin, took the lowly place at her master’s feet, hooked on Jesus’ every word (Luke 10:39). Or of three disciples who find themselves literally floored when, on that unique mountain-top experience with the transfigured Christ, they learn that God doesn’t need advisors or consultants, but servants at the ready – ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’ (Mark 9:7).
Ultimately, we must learn to listen to Jesus before we can speak or act for him. Listening is a critical precursor to obedience (Matthew 7:24-27, Luke 6:46, John 14:24, James 1:22, etc.).
This Advent season may God help us daily to make space to hear him – to turn off our phones and devices, to listen, reflect and obey his every word and the wonder of his first coming in history, in preparation for his future return.
Last week, we began a series of Advent reflections by noting that all disciples of Jesus are called to a bi-focal view of life that keeps Christ’s first and second comings always in sight.
When all life is seen from this dual vantage point, faith, hope and love thrive.
Practically, this requires an intentional allowing of God’s redemptive acts to shape our present, and to order our everyday lives by godly means – i.e. devotion to Christ by means of grace, discipleship after Christ in Christian community and on-going mission with Christ into the world – for His greater ends of God’s glory and Kingdom come.
God’s storied interventions into our sad histories have profound meaning and impact on our identity and purpose. For one, it puts us in our rightful place.
Our lives become primarily not about us. (In truth, they never were.)
The self-centered sin-laden script of our lives is supplanted in Christ by His greater story of sacrificial love that saves. The world is His canvas to paint and restore. History is really His.
“God is not the supporting actor in our stories; we have bit parts in his.” 1
In fact, each time we gather for communion as His people, we remind ourselves of this: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
Such words are declared by God’s people after the consecration of the elements in the Anglican liturgy for Holy Communion. It is an ancient confession of the mystery of our faith. 2
They, of course, recall the Apostle Paul’s injunction in 1 Corinthians 11:26 – where he fuses past, present and future with meaning around our common table, with Christ as both exalted host and spiritual meal.
The season of Advent accentuates this reminder of an overshadowing transformative canopy of hope and love infusing the life of faith – a greater story than our sinfulness and brokenness perceives or allows.
For He indeed is the brim and base of our journeys round, the true horizon of our pilgrim wanderings, the Promised Land of our final hope and arriving.
God’s meta-narrative told in Scripture in 4 Acts (Creation, Fall, Redemption and Renewal) is the truest story there is, no matter what the world protests and proclaims. It is our making and becoming.
It is the only story we the church are divinely given to tell a world full of fear, the fake and the frivolous.
The saddest reflection I can make on this COVID-19 stained year is how little and to so few I have shared what I know and been graciously given by Christ – the greatest story never told?
For Jesus demanded we make disciples of all peoples in Matthew 28:28-20 – it is the lasting overarching task on us his church.
As the late John Stott argued, “His authority on earth allows us to dare to go to all the nations. His authority in heaven gives us our only hope of success. And His presence with us leaves us no other choice.”
Indeed, there is no higher purpose in life than to do the Father’s will; no work with greater significance than that which witnesses to and glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ; no lasting legacy that does not have God’s eternity in view.
He came to die so we, the condemned might be free; the dead in sin come to life in Him. He lives again, is ascended and will return to judge and rule. A Story of stories – timely, timeless and true.
This Advent and Christmas, will you and I, empowered by His Spirit, go the extra mile to tell his Gospel story loud and clear – with words that are backed up by our works and lives?
1 Vanhoozer, “Letter To An Aspiring Theologian: How of Speak of God Truly.” In First Things, August/September 2018. http://www.firstthings.com/article/2018/08/letter-to-an-aspiring-theologian.
2 Versions of this statement (called the Memorial Acclamation) are found in Eucharistic liturgy of many historic churches. In the Liturgy of St James, the principal liturgy of the Syriac Orthodox Church, after the priest blesses the bread and wine, the people respond with a similar acclamation: “Your death, our Lord, we commemorate, Your resurrection we confess and Your second coming we wait for. May Your mercy be upon us all.”