In the midst of daily life, Holy Spirit speaks. Bzmmmmm. The floor-to-ceiling glaring-white machine rotated itself, and me, 45 degrees so the technician could record a different view of the heart. I closed my eyes again and took a long, slow breath, careful to stay still.
“Ten more minutes or so strapped into this device,” I thought. “Harumph! Help me have a good attitude, Lord!”
“Thank You for training me to meditate on Your Word. It helps in every situation! So, let’s start at the beginning of my verses again, with Isaiah 26:3-4.
“You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because He commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You. So trust in the Lord—commit yourself to Him, lean on Him, hope confidently in Him—forever; for the Lord God is an everlasting rock—the Rock of ages.” (AMPC).
Hmm . . . “ the mind [both its inclination and its character]”. . . I opened my eyes and managed not to jerk upright only with effort.
“Lord, what does character of mind mean? I have repeated this passage how many times and I only now see this? I believe that “inclination of the mind” means what your thoughts are focused upon and that was my subconscious thought while meditating on this verse these many months, but what does “character of mind” mean?
Clear guidance. I was reviewing the first of the verses and passages I had memorized on my way to victory over depression last year. For the last three days, after completing the blog post for the week, I had wondered which of the many topics floating in my mind to start on for next week. I was wondering, that is, in brief snatches of time during the work of daily life, which now included extra time invested in health and thus, less time to write, some of the “troubles, trials, distresses and frustration” which Jesus said His followers would experience. I was indeed frustrated!
So many things I wanted to write! I desperately wanted to finish the book about depression but other topics, including blog posts on each verse I had memorized, had fluttered overhead like birds zipping across the high ceiling of a big building. Some writers, like me, have difficulty picking and completing one topic. But I recognized when Holy Spirit was getting my attention, like now, in the middle of the stress test. He was saying write about Isaiah 26:3-4. Now.
Complete and constant peace is possible. So, dear friend and fellow pilgrim, here we are, you and me, exploring God’s truth in Isaiah 26:3-4, the first weapon in my “spiritual arsenal”, that list of verses that opened the dungeon doors of depression and fear for me.
It helps me think deeply about the Word to put new thoughts on a new line and sometimes to put each word on a new line. Many months ago, as I pondered Isaiah 26:3-4, I wrote it in long-hand like this.
“You will guard him and keep him in
perfect and constant peace
whose mind [both its inclination and its character]
is stayed on You,
He commits himself to You,
leans on You,
and hopes confidently in You.
So trust in the Lord—
commit yourself to Him,
lean on Him,
hope confidently in Him—forever;
for the Lord God is an everlasting rock—the Rock of ages.” (AMPC).
Let’s look at each phrase and see what God might be saying. Remember, this is the Amplified version of the Bible, which has phrases other translations do not include. These phrases give the fuller, or amplified, meaning of words that modern-day readers do not understand but which speakers of that time would have automatically known was what the words meant. I find it extremely helpful to study and meditate using the Amplified. For a more detailed explanation as to why, please see the blog post “God’s Arsenal for Peace and Security”, October 1, 2020.
Isaiah 26:3-4. Two years ago, when I desperately needed peace, I studied verses about peace. I had not purposely memorized Bible verses for a long time and those hidden in my heart years earlier, including this one, had faded. I liked the essence of this verse that remained in memory, the concept that God keeps us in peace if we fix our minds on Him. So, I began studying this verse in more detail, through meditating on the clarifying phrases in the Amplified.
Guarding and keeping. “You will guard and keep. . . “ The first thing I noticed was that the verse said God would guard and keep our minds in peace, whereas the NIV, only said God would keep. It was reassuring to ponder that God would not only keep us in peace if we kept our minds fixed on Him, but He would guard us as well. To guard something or someone, is to protect or shield them from harm by keeping potential danger away. So that must mean God will not allow anything to damage my peace when my mind is focused on Him.
“Complete and constant peace”. The next phrase shows two aspects of the peace God promises: it will be complete, or perfect, and it will be constant. Complete peace would mean freedom from worry about any aspect of one’s life. One aspect of peace is freedom from struggle and fighting, and phrases similar to “He was given peace from his enemies round about” appear often in the Bible. So, if the nation of Israel was given peace on all sides, then maybe God is saying we will be free from attacks of worry, or fear or irritation any such thing, on all sides of our life, in each aspect of life, including health, family, friends, finances, our world, etc. That would be complete peace.
And, I reflected, constant means constant, sixty minutes each hour, twenty-four hours each day, seven days each week, and so forth until we see our loving Father face to face and, finally, no longer have to battle the world, the flesh, and the devil. That must mean there is a way to stay in peace all the time, so that means no dread at any time–no dreading hard mornings or exercise or the job or house cleaning, or anything! And that verse “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30). Life, life from God, the good life He planned for human beings, is a peaceful life, with us enjoying every day and staying in God’s presence every day.
Inclination of mind. “You will guard and keep in complete and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is fixed on You.” As I pondered “inclination of mind”, I thought about focusing and I thought about the psalm when the psalm writer asks God to incline His to him. To incline your ear to someone, you focus all your hearing powers on that person’s voice. And I know the earth is inclined, or tilted toward or focused, at a precise angle toward the sun and that angle causes the seasons of the earth. To me, that means our thoughts, our mind, is focused or pointed toward God. And that means I am to be consciously thinking about God—His innumerable good qualities, His love and power and goodness and strength, His loving ways, His faithfulness, and the things He has done for mankind and for me in particular. That leads to light and life and all good things.
And I think that principle operates in my life only in those minutes and hours when my mind is focused or inclined, toward God, thinking about Him as the earth is inclined, tilted toward, the sun. If I incline my mind away from God, then my thoughts will start darkening.
The character of the mind. “Hmm. . . Lord, I know we develop character by repeating actions over and over and over, like that truism most people credit to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”
So, just as our character, our “mental and moral qualities”, is shaped by what we repeatedly do and think, so is the quality or nature, the quality or character of our mind, shaped by what we repeatedly think and do?
Lord, I know that thinking on the Word all day long remakes our heart, but is the doing of that meditating, the habit of meditating, does that habit in itself also change the nature of the mind and how it works? Is that like if someone develops the habit of being patient by choosing, time after time, to wait quietly and calmly and then eventually they develop a patient character so that their automatic reaction to frustrating situations is to consciously stay calm?
I know that getting Your truths deep into my heart healed depression, but were You also changing how my mind actually works? Now, when problems arise Your Word immediately pops into consciousness. However, before You trained me in the habit of constant meditation on Your word, my mind consistently thought negative thoughts and my heart constantly felt negative emotions, not only when problems came.
That is such an encouraging thought, to know that You have already changed at the fundamental, most basic level, how I think and act, that You have already begun forming a stronger, more Christ-like character of mind. That is encouraging because I know it took months of persistence on my part, but the change did happen. So I know that, as I continue to persist, these occasional flare-ups will become less and less as You continue to give me a stronger character of mind, Lord! Thank You!
“Fixed on Him.” And “fixed on You” would mean to always have You on my mind, as that old song says, so that not only do I consciously, deliberately think about You but also in the moments when my mind is not occupied with some task or some other thinking, there You are! It’s like being in love or being a new parent or being preoccupied with an enjoyable project. So, it is a choice but it is also automatic because of deep, all-consuming love, attraction, and pleasure.
. . . because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You. Thank you, Lord, for showing me to ponder cause and effect links in Your Word, like here, and to study entire verses and passages. I see that You keep us in peace when we keep our minds fixed on You because we commit to You, lean on You, and hope confidently in You. I had always quoted just the first part “You will keep in perfect peace whose mind is fixed on You” (NIV) and forgotten the second part of the sentence. So I see that peace requires a trusting heart as well as a mind fixed on You. How had I overlooked that all those years?
So, trust in the Lord – commit yourself to Him, lean upon Him, and hope confidently in Him — forever. That word “so” is another connecting word, meaning “therefore” or “for this reason”. That “So” after verse 3 means that “because of verse 3, do verse 4.” Clearly, You are saying that trust is essential in this process of having peace.
And, as I look at verses 3 and 4 together, I see another example of how Your Word defines itself. In verse 3, You say You will keep us in peace as we keep our minds on You and commit, lean, and hope confidently in You. Then verse 4 says “So trust. . .” The Amplified version sets the next three phrases off by dashes, which signifies “additional phases of meaning included in the original word, phrase, or clause of the original language” (from the preface to The Amplified Bible, Zondervan, 1965.) So trust means to “commit ourselves to You, lean upon You, and hope confidently in You.” That shows me that the kind of trust You require is not some half-hearted thought or mindless repetition of a verse.
Rather, Your kind of trusting requires purposeful, focused thought and mental effort. You require trust like Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines it (as a verb) meaning “to place confidence in; to rely on”. The definitions of trust as a noun give even more clarity: “confidence; reliance or resting of the mind on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship or other sound principle of another person.” And perhaps Noah Webster also defined trust as “confident opinion of any event” and “credit given without examination” because he was mindful of how You meant it in Your Word. Your Word is used often in Mr. Webster’s 1828 dictionary!
So, trusting You means committing to You, leaning, and hoping confidently on You. If I really trust the weather report (and wouldn’t I be a rare bird!) I will schedule a family reunion at an outdoor park, with no alternate location identified. Furthermore, I will bake beans, make potato salad, and ice cupcakes with confidence. I would thus commit to, lean upon and hope confidently in the weather report. So, if I really trust You I will go about my life with confidence and NOT WORRY! Oh, help me, Lord!
And You say we are to trust You that way for ever. Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “ever” as “at all times; always; continually; eternally.” That leaves no exceptions, does it Lord?
“. . . because the Lord God is an everlasting Rock – the Rock of Ages.” And here is another connecting word. We are to trust You like that because You are our Rock. I had seen Scripture use rock as a metaphor for the Lord many times, which I knew from a footnote (I forget where) that says rock means a source of strength. And sure enough, that is how Webster’s 1828 defines rock: “defense; means of safety; protection; strength; asylum; and a firm or immovable foundation.” In looking into this, I saw that the website for R. C. Sproul clarifies that the meaning for this metaphor is multifaceted and that it “. . . tells us of the Lord’s stable, unchanging nature (Deuteronomy 32:4)” as well as “His strength and ability to safeguard His people, much as stone fortifications provide an excellent refuge from the elements and other dangers.” https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/rock-ages/.
And Father, six days after starting this piece of writing, I see another truth: we are to trust You like You said so because doing so strengthens us. Phew! I need strengthening today, Lord, especially so thank You for fresh insight today. That is related to the thought that just as meditating continually on Your Word has made big changes in the character of my mind so will keeping my mind on You make me stronger. That is so encouraging, Lord. You really do know just how to encourage us and You know when we need it most. You are such a loving and good Father, Lord. Thank You for loving us like You do, with such understanding and such tender mercies!”
So, dear friend, in conclusion, when considering the whole chain of thought in Isaiah 26:3-4, I see that because our God is our Defender and our impenetrable place of refuge, He will surely guard us and keep us in complete and constant peace IF we keep our minds fixed on Him AND trust in Him, in the full, original meaning of those words. That is a guarantee from God, who cannot lie (Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29) and whose promises are always yes.
“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20, NIV).
Our Rock of Ages. Writing this has made me more aware of the fact that it is God who does the work here. Certainly, I have to “try” my best, but the bottom line, the reason we are to keep our minds fixed on Him and fully trust Him is because He will defend and protect us. That takes the emphasis off me and my fickle frailties as I visualize seeking refuge from a storm in the hollow of a huge mountain, as Augustus Toplady, writer of that great hymn “Rock of Ages” actually did.
The fiercest wind, snow or rain cannot penetrate into the cleft of a great mountain. That mountain, and that small, sheltered place within the side of the mountain, will be untouched by any storm. The mountain, and that small hollowed out place, stand firm. All I have to do is choose to walk into that place and stay there.
As a native Floridian, I know the snug feeling of being safe inside while hurricane force wind howls and rain flings itself against buildings. In the storms of my life and each ordinary day of my life, I can let my mind be battered and pounded, or I can choose to step into peace, into the everlasting, almighty, merciful, and ever-loving arms of my Heavenly Father, as I fix my mind on Him and trust (lean, rely, and hope confidently in) Him. And in doing that, I can know He will give me strength for whatever I need. It will be His strength, not my own weak strength, and it will make His strength complete. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
And, I am thinking it must give God a special joy when we turn to Him with trusting hearts and let Him take care of us and bear our burdens, just like a loving parent is gratified when they can carry a tired child and snuggle them close in their loving arms. Oh, my Father! Let it ever be so! Amen.