Day 11. An active peace

[above: Sunrise hike at Lake Moraine Jason Greenplate hiking in Banff National Park, From the portfolio of Allie Greenplate]

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12–13, NIV)

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

— J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

When I feel overwhelmed by the state of the world, or the problems I am facing; when all seems hopeless, and I don’t know what to do, I am often reminded of this, my favorite scene in The Lord of the Rings. Here Gandalf gives Frodo a very precious gift—he limits Frodo’s responsibility to the few things he can actually do something about. Dorothy Sayers echoes a similar idea in The Nine Tailors

It does not do for us to take too much thought for the morrow. It is better to follow the truth and leave the result in the hand of God. He can foresee where we cannot, because He knows all the facts.

In my more honest moments, I see how I can use the enormity of the situation, or my regret over past failures, or my worry about what might happen tomorrow to avoid doing the things that are actually within my power to do here and now. But a peace comes from resting within our limits as created beings, content to play the small role we have in the story God is weaving. Yet it is an active peace—we must actually get up, walk out the door, and do the thing we can do. The poor shepherds who witnessed the first Christmas Eve no doubt had many struggles and perhaps felt powerless and small in a large world, but there was something they could do: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened…” And God used this simple effort for his glory.

Philippians 2:12–13 reminds me both that God is in sovereign control and that I must work; I must decide how to use the time he has given me. Like the shepherds I fear and tremble because God is at work. But this fear and trembling empowers me to do that thing I can do, overcoming that other fear and trembling—the one that comes from the brokenness of the world.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to focus on the one thing I can do today and to entrust to you how things will work out. Amen.

By Langdon Palmer

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #133+ in 2019]

Langdon Palmer is pastor of Leverington Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. His sermon podcasts related to the Inklings’ works can be found at
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