For the last half of my walk with Messiah, I’ve been most aware of one specific aspect of Kingdom living in my life. Shalom. It’s a Hebrew term that could take a lifetime to explain, but some of it’s English synonyms would be peace, wholeness, tranquility, harmony. To me, beauty and shalom are tightly connected as well. Our former farm in southern Tennessee was named Shalom Farm, in fact. Most who visited could attest to the spirit that dwelled there. I felt Shalom, and as the leader of my family, my intention was to allow that inner peace, and the confidence that came with it, to fill my wife and my children, and extend as much as possible to our many guests as well. Recently, however, I temporarily lost my grip on shalom, now that I’ve gotten it back, I’ve been prayerful about the dangers of living without it and mindful about how to never lose it again.
The same year we bought Shalom Farm, not only did we adopt our two youngest daughters, but we also had our sixth child (natural water birth, on the back porch.) I had doubled the size of my family, doubled my mortgage payment, and magnified my workload exponentially, all in twelve months. I had no idea what I was doing in pretty much any regard, and the insecurity and frustration continued to build. Facing death regularly was new to me, and the graves we dug as we learned to farm were numerous. In baking, you can eat your mistakes, but with livestock, a hole in the ground has to suffice.
There were moments when I got so angry that I punched through drywall. I threw a huge flashlight at my wife in one outburst (missed) and in another I lifted one of my little sons off the ground by his collar. To most people, I seemed light-hearted and jovial, but far too often humor was simply a coping mechanism. Humor often comes from an impressive sub-routine programmed into many children who grew up in homes full of stress and anxiety, as I did. Many of the funniest people I know face the deepest struggles. Tears of a clown, and all that.
It took a few years of mental and spiritual hardship, but I finally began to understand the root of my anger, and more specifically my lack of shalom.
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34).
“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the SHALOM of YHWH, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Messiah Yeshua.” (Philippians 4:6-7).
I had allowed my mind to fall forward into the future, a place where I have zero jurisdiction and even less control. Every day seemed to be a game of catch-up in one way or another, and I would never catch up. It doesn’t matter how simple you make your life, there’s always going to be some sort of future need trying to trip your mind and bind it into tomorrow.
This is why “Shabbat Shalom” is the traditional phrase echoed each Sabbath. Shabbat is designed to be a reset button for our minds. A place in space-time where tomorrow truly does not exist. Messiah said he was the Lord of the Sabbath, so renewing our body, mind, and spirit on this day brings us closer to Christlikeness, which is the stated goal of every Christian. When we renew our minds to the mind of Yeshua, we surrender our perceived control of tomorrow back to the only one who truly knows the plan and has all the power. It’s only in that surrender where we find the promised Shalom. Remaining “mindful” seems like some sort of woman’s magazine cover headline, but it is not. Mindfulness, otherwise known as “being present”, is as biblical as any concept can be. When we truly put our faith, our lives, into the hand of YHWH, that act of trust should transform a potentially debilitating fear of the future into a healthy fear of He who holds us.
Shabbat doesn’t just offer a weekly oasis from the world of checklists and rat-wheels, it also provides tangible hope for the future of humanity. Contrary to popular belief, the promise given to the Children of YHWH is not to “go to Heaven”, someday. The promise is for the Kingdom of Heaven to come here, with Yeshua as our physically living King, reigning over this very world for 1,000 years. This kingdom begins on the “Day of the Lord”, when every believer, from Adam onward, will be resurrected and placed back into a perfect garden, with Messiah walking with us as YHWH did in Eden. Shabbat invites us to enter that spirit—one of no worry and no lack. When we are truly present with the ones we love—spouses, children, intimate friends, we aren’t easily distracted by things of less importance. Shabbat offers a regular opportunity to experience that intimacy with our King, and resulting in shalom that can then flow out to those around us. Once a week, we rest fully in the promise that we will live in that Kingdom with him, and that every single need will be taking care of accordingly.
Despite its significance, we aren’t given extraordinary detail about this perfect future. Why? Because our minds aren’t designed to live in the future nor the past, perfect or imperfect. Instead we are supposed to simply embrace the reality that every wrong will be made right, every injustice will be judged properly, and death will truly be no more. We are to hold fast to the truth that the Creator of the Universe has a plan that ends well for His people, and that perfect ending doesn’t depend on us. That’s good news, for sure.
“Without vision, people get discouraged, but happy is he that keeps the Torah.” (Proverbs 29:18).
At the end of the Bible is a book popularly called Revelation, which is sort of a compendium of visions and promises that lay out this vision of the perfect fulfillment of every promise. In my experience, most studies of Revelation (the most studied book in the Bible) seem to lure our minds into that trap of the future. Instead of simply embracing its purpose, which is to eliminate worry, we can easily be tempted instead to bank those worries into some sort of account, and then open that ledger again and again to recheck the balance. A good Christian would never use the term worry, of course. We’d say we were being wise, or simply being concerned about the next generation. Yet, many believers are hooked on headlines, subconsciously cherry-picking facts that pre-fit our existing narrative of the future we’d prefer and choosing to surround ourselves with likeminded voices who reinforce that same vision. In this process of study, an otherwise noble pursuit, we don’t even notice that we may have traded the blessing of shalom, embracing the mind of Messiah right now, for a narrative which relies on our own futile efforts to save the world.
Eventually, through a deeper embrace of Shabbat and intentional surrender of my desire for control, I found my groove of shalom with YHWH. I was able to bring that weekly spirit of the Sabbath, that vision of a literal and physical safest-of-all-places, into my daily life. Not just once a week, but as a mental overlay, a comfortable pair of glasses, reminding me to stay in the present. My anger vanished. The day-to-day struggles of farm and family life were still ever-present, but there is no room in the present to dwell on the potential of negative outcomes. The present moment only allows space for unity with YHWH and the shalom that results. The future holds no emotions of its own, only the one’s we subconsciously project into it. I chose to be done projecting my own imaginary frustration forward.
Two years ago, I lost my job and my income. Even with that surprise and trauma, I was able to stay in the present, maintain shalom, and respond properly to each opportunity YHWH put before me. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) We make that job much easier on YHWH when we don’t insist upon our own specific versions of the future, or insist that He joins us in our purpose, rather than the other way around.
When we surrender our lives to Him, we don’t just surrender our future, we need to surrender our pasts as well. My recent intense lack of peace was actually triggered by falling backwards into memories of my childhood. I intentionally went digging, prayerfully, into memories of my formative years, looking to heal some painful events to bring even greater shalom and self-control into my present. Or at least that’s what I had planned. The emotions that lay dormant, but not dead, came alive like junkyard dogs. In the ensuing panic, I began to reidentify with aspects of myself that were no longer true, clinging to the once familiar like a comfortable but completely deteriorated blanky. The lie-based beliefs which I was trying to unearth with the intention to surrender temporarily replaced my shalom spectacles with a blindfold of fear. I regularly experienced shortness of breath, and tightness of chest. I started to doubt many aspects of my faith and looked back at many the forks in my life’s road and wondered if I had made the right choices. Regret was always in my periphery, and if I gave it any room to speak, it would bring me to tears every time. I didn’t simply backslide to a version of my pre-redeemed self, I became double-minded—a hybrid of my best and worst self, fully knowing the truth, yet with my mind transfixed with lies and really bad ideas. I found ways to justify these thoughts and corresponding behaviors, despite the panic attacks and other signs that my shalom was truly gone, long gone. This state lasted for months, with some days and weeks better than others.
The fear and associated emotions that lurk in the past had suddenly become as powerful to me as the fear that lurked in the future. The two conspired to paint dissatisfaction, insecurity, and threatened to steal all hope from my now. I made the bad choice to keep this struggle a secret from everyone I loved, assuming I’d snap out of it. Especially as someone who wants to be known for shalom, I felt trapped, and that shame and self-isolation only exacerbated my struggle. I finally confessed some aspects of my depression to close friends, others to my family, and then eventually the fullness of the pain to my wife. This was the hardest disclosure, because we’ve always been transparent with one another, and I had built up months worth of secrecy. With her help (is this not the main role of a “help-meet”) I was able to allow YHWH to bring me back to the here-and-now, and in that process, I learned several valuable lessons.
When we are redeemed by Messiah, we are told to identify with his death. This means that any sin we’ve committed, any sin committed to us, any lie we’ve been told, all of our past, is dead. It is powerless. If we remember our pasts at all, it has to be done through the lens of victory of the power of our testimony of Messiah. We have no business resurrecting our dead selves. If the Holy Spirit leads you to deal with past trauma, identify it, let YHWH shine his truth into it, accept that truth and the healing it brings, and return to the present. Don’t linger, don’t reminisce, don’t enjoy the nostalgia. Let the dead bury their dead. Hebrews don’t hang out in graveyards. We can truly be new creations, right now, if we only let go of everything besides the present moment.
Similarly, we have no fear of the future. The worst thing that can happen to an unbeliever is death, the one thing that is inevitable for all living things. What a shame to be afraid of the one thing that no action can possibly avoid. Our faith transforms that fear into the ultimate hope. Instead, we let YHWH do His job as the author of our endgame and beyond. We aren’t called to be prognosticators, or news pundits, or Anti-Christ hunters. That game only ends in pride or disappointment, but never in shalom.
We are called to live lives of faith and trust, staying on the straight and narrow path of today, and not pulled left into the past, or right into the future. Even further, we are invited to forget both the last hour, and the next, only existing in the literal moment. From there, we can choose Him, we can choose life, we can choose blessing. Our past doesn’t drag us one way, our fantasies don’t lure us into another. We are in a place of power and self-control, and the fullness of the Holy Spirit is right there with us. Before you know it, that moment is gone, and a new moment instantly comes. We are asked to choose life and choose blessing continuously.
After having founding shalom, losing it, and then finding it again (I still feel fragile after my fall), I’m more aware than ever about how many professing believers have never felt shalom, let alone embraced it as a lifestyle. In Christendom as a whole, resting on the Sabbath is rarely practiced, let alone understood as a vital gift to those who believe. I also became keenly aware of friends who truly love Yeshua and study scripture regularly who, like me, still have lies rooted in their past, still speaking to them today. “You’re not good enough.” “You’ll always be alone.” “You can’t trust anyone.” “The Lord only helps those who help themselves.” “More money is the solution to happiness.” Those lies (all lies) have to be left behind, the blood of Messiah was shed specifically to cover them. Because they are so familiar, we instead tend to anchor our lives to them, returning back to them like a dog returns to its own vomit (Proverbs 26:11).
By choosing to live only in the present, we don’t erase or deny our past, but the power of any lies or driving negative emotions are gone. Only then are we able to experience shalom in our daily walk. It becomes our posture, our continence, our way. It becomes the antidote for every poison, the remedy for every sickness, and secure footing for every step forward.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have shalom. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)