Unshakable Peace: Ann & Michael Swindell
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Ann & Michael SwindellAnn Swindell and her writing have been featured widely by The Gospel Coalition, Risen Motherhood, (in)courage, Proverbs 31 Ministries, and other publications. She is the owner of Writing with Grace and holds an MA in Writing from DePaul University and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Seattle Pacific University. Ann lives in West Michigan with her pastor-husband and their children. Learn more at annswindell.com.
Where do you find peace if your situation doesn’t change? Michael and Ann Swindell talk about unshakable peace smack in the middle of stress and fear.
Unshakable Peace: Ann & Michael Swindell
Ann: You’ve been a pastor for more than 30 years, preaching; you’re talking to so many people. Why do you think peace evades so many of us?
Dave: My gut answer is we look in the wrong place. The same reason we are disappointed in our marriage is we’re looking at our spouse, which we said in Vertical Marriage over and over: “You didn’t marry the wrong person. You are looking in the wrong place.”
I think we do the same thing with peace: “I’ll find it in a job; I’ll find it in a relationship; I’ll find it in an amount of money.” Some of that you can get there, but at the end of the day, you are disappointed and—
Ann: —doesn’t last.
Dave: —you’re unfulfilled and you lay in bed sweating because it’s never enough and we just look in the wrong place.
I think we’re going to find out today something I’ve said many times in a sermon is “Peace is a Person.”
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbot, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife–
Ann Swindell and Michael Swindell are back with FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, guys.
Michael: It’s great to be here.
Ann Swindell: Yes, thanks.
Dave: Ann, obviously we’ve already talked a little bit about your book, The Path to Peace: Experiencing God’s Comfort When You’re Overwhelmed. You talk about a journey of being overwhelmed. Wow!
You are a skilled writer. You teach it. [Laughter]
Michael: That’s true.
Dave: We just write, and somebody fixes everything, but you—
Ann: Someone taught Ann to write.
Ann Swindell: Yes, I spent a lot of years going to school for writing, and I do love it.
I used to teach at the collegiate level, and I have my own business ministry called Writing with Grace (URL: http:, , www.writingwithgrace.com) where I teach writing classes for primarily women—I have an occasional man who joins a class—how to write their own stories or other’s stories, if they want to tell someone else’s story, with excellence and winsomeness; so that we can be a people who share the goodness of Christ through our stories, whether it’s explicit or implicit in a great way.
We want to be those who can tell our stories beautifully and powerfully to hopefully draw others to the Lord.
Ann: Michael, you’ve been in the pastorate how many years now?
Michael: Over a decade.
Ann: And you live in Michigan now.
Michael: We do; just west of Grand Rapids. We love it there most of the year.
Dave: You’ve got to catch us up to Michigan, because yesterday, and we can’t go through it all so if you missed yesterday, go listen to it because it was gripping: the agony that you guys went through in Texas and the overwhelming - the miscarriages and anger and depression.
It was fascinating journey, and you’re writing a book on peace. I said it, but you explain it: “Peace is a person.”
Ann Swindell: It is.
Dave: How would you explain that to people?
Ann Swindell: I’ll back up a little bit. I think important for us that when we talk about the peace of God, there’s actually two types of peace biblically speaking. There’s peace with God, which is this biblical concept that Romans 5:1 tells us, which is “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” [Emphasis added]
This is that type of peace that those of us who have put our faith in Jesus, we don’t have to atone for our own sins. Jesus has paid the price for our sins, so we have right relationship with God. We have peace with God for all time, for eternity.
But what most of us desire on a day-to-day basis is that peace of God. That’s what Christ talks about in John 14:27 when he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I don’t give as the world gives. Let not your hearts be troubled; don’t be afraid.” [Paraphrased]
That’s because we can rely on Christ as our source of peace. Peace is a person; it’s Jesus. If we have access to Him, because He never changes. He’s the same as Hebrews tells us, yesterday, today and forever. We can rely on His peace and we can have access to that peace no matter what’s swirling around in our lives.
Ann: I love your book, The Path to Peace. It’s a devotional, and it’s filled with Scripture. It’s filled with stories from Scripture. It’s filled with your own accounts of battling with trying to find that peace with Christ.
Dave: I’m thinking of the person that right now knows Jesus is their peace and can’t access it. Because I’ve had sleepless nights and I know Jesus is my peace. Yet, there I am sweating and feeling anxiety.
I know you’ve experienced that so—I have peace with God. I’m justified by faith.
Ann Swindell: Amen.
Dave: I’m no longer an enemy. That is crazy good. I’m in the process of being sanctified, set apart. Yet, sometimes it’s hard to feel, like you wrote in your subtitle, God’s comfort.
How would you help someone understand, “How do I access the peace that I know is available to me in Jesus?”
Michael: Keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking. [Laughter] It is a process.
When I lost my job in Texas, we didn’t experience that peace of God that surpasses understanding, contentment. No, we experienced “God have mercy on our souls; we need You right now.”
There was a sense of peace of we knew cognitively “God’s Word is true,” but it took months to get to a place of a settled rest in God, of continuing to seek Him. There is a sense in which God allows us to struggle into a type of breakthrough.
I remember specifically there was a time when people asked us how we were doing and I remember my answer changed. My answer went from “We’re struggling; we’re praying. It still hurts,” to “It’s only a matter of time before God breaks through into the next season.”
Ann: That’s a faith-filled answer.
Michael: God had given that faith through that long process of asking, seeking, knocking, crying out to Him. There was a moment and I can’t remember exactly when it was but I remember I told Ann first. I said, “Ann, it’s only a matter of time.” Then I was like, “God has given me the faith that the next season is going to be good. This isn’t going to last forever; it’s just a matter of time.”
That was a real turning point in our season after that loss.
Ann Swindell: It was encouraging for me, too, as Michael was wrestling through a depression and we were trying to figure out our lives in this season, to turn to the Psalms and to realize that King David, who knew that he was anointed by God long before he became king, knew that there were plans for his life, he still went through crazy seasons of ups and downs. And his longing is so bare in the Scriptures.
Ann Swindell: Yes, it’s so honest, his desire for God’s presence and protection and peace and all these things. As an encouragement to anyone who is listening to say, “You’re not condemned if you don’t feel super peaceful today. God is not condemning you because you experience anxiety or you experience fear.”
Those are normal human emotions that all of the saints that we read in the Word of God experienced. It’s part of what I actually loved getting to study all these men and women that I wrote about in the path to peace. They’re so human. They’re responses are so honest.
When I studied and wrote about Hannah—her response when she’s longing for children—she’s basically getting goaded by her husband’s second wife—which that’s a whole other conversation—[Laughter]—but her response is that she’s so anxious and overwhelmed she can’t even eat. How many of us know what that feels like?
Michael: That’s right.
Ann Swindell: There’s no condemnation for her in that, but she makes a choice in the middle of that anxiety to run to the temple and to pray.
My encouragement to those of us that might be in the middle of that anxiety, fear overwhelm is that even in those feelings we still have choices to make. One of the choices that we can make is to run into the presence of God and to pray. It’s to go to Him.
Ann: —and to be honest in it.
Ann Swindell: Yes, and to pour out our hearts. Hannah did; she just poured out her heart so honestly to God.
If you are like, “I don’t even think I have the strength to go to God on my own,” get some friends at your local church, in your small group who will pray for you. I’ve had times when I can’t even pray—
Ann: Me, too.
Ann Swindell: I’ve needed Michael to pray for me; I needed my small group women to pray for me, to read Scripture to me when I couldn’t even do it myself.
There’s grace for us in the midst of our anxiety and overwhelm. But we also have this beautiful gift of a choice to say, “I am going to choose to turn toward God in this season and to ask Him for that peace.”
Ann: We keep saying that word, “season,” and I think when we’re in the midst of it, it feels like it’s gone on forever and it will never end.
Michael: That’s right.
Ann: I think it’s good to remember it’s a season; to be in the Word to remind you of the truths is good.
Let’s do go back. You’re in Texas; you’re thinking “Okay, now I have some faith that God’s going to do something.” What happened?
Michael: Yes, we had some wonderful friends in Michigan—
Ann: Of course!
Ann Swindell: —the good ones are in Michigan.
Michael: —who we had actually set up on their first date and they ended up getting married. They moved back to the Grand Rapids area where he was from. It was a text, I think, and they said, “Can we send your resume to our pastor at our church?”
We said, “We’re not moving to Michigan," [Laughter]
Michael: “But sure; go ahead if you want to.”
Ann: It’s what we all say.
Michael: He actually got rebuffed the first time he sent it to our lead pastor. The lead pastor said, “No, we’re not interested.”
He came back a second time, and said, “If you ever need somebody with these sorts of experiences and skills, just keep him in mind.
It was at that point that our lead pastor said, “Actually, maybe for those experiences and skills.” One thing led to the next, and within a couple of months we were being voted in as the Discipleship and Connections Pastor of a church in Grand Rapids area.
Ann Swindell: I will say to what was really cool for us in that season was, as God—and that process even of interviewing took three months—it was not fast—but once that congregational vote went through for Michael to get that new job, we put our house on the market in Texas, we sold that house and bought a new house in Michigan within a week.
Everything fell into place. It was like we had waited and waited, and nothing was happening and nothing was changing, and it just felt like that season was going to go on forever; until God said, “Now is time,” and it was like a house of cards falling in the right direction that everything lined up and we were able to move up there very quickly and settle into life.
It has been such a blessing; not without its ups and downs. But we have felt God’s presence with us.
Dave: When you Michael felt like, “It’s going to turn; the next season is going to be better,” was it immediate after that thought or did you just have to hang on?
Michael: It was not immediate. That’s what was so great about it is I experienced this peace before anything tangibly happened. We were walking in peace, but I was still jobless, there was still no income coming in.
You look at that [and] it’s such a great testimony looking back to go, “God gave me that faith and that peace, the peace that surpasses understanding. I have a testimony of it.”
Then a couple of months later, break through happens and we see it actually play out.
Ann Swindell: I think the encouragement, too, is that when you have that sense of “God is on the move; God is going to do something, although we can’t see anything changing, we have faith that God is moving,” our faith wasn’t in a particular job.
Michael: That’s right.
Ann Swindell: Our hope wasn’t in a particular change because we didn’t know what we were even hoping for. We were just praying and saying, “God, we trust you with our lives. We trust Your character; we know that You are good. We’ve seen You taking care of us up until now. We trust that You will until we go home to glory.” Our hope was in Christ. It wasn’t in the circumstances.
Just as an encouragement to anyone listening—because I’ve done it the wrong way so many times—if we start to put our hope in the new job that’s going to finally make things easier or the new relationship, those things might help, but those things aren’t our ultimate source of peace. If we keep putting our hope in those things, we’re just going to be constantly disappointed.
If we put our hope and our faith and our peace and out trust in the person of Jesus, no matter what comes, we’re going to be satisfied, we’re going to have what we need because we’re going to have Him.
Ann: You guys have always been connected with people and friends that are walking with Jesus; like your friend in Michigan that went to that head pastor twice. That’s gutsy.
Michael and Ann Swindell: It is.
Ann: But I love that you’ve stayed connected in that fellowship that’s super important to you. Do you think that that is a part of peace, too, is having people surround you in that?
Michael: Absolutely, developing those relationships in a prior season, seeing the fruit of that pay off in a later season. I mean of that couple where the guy vouched for me, his wife actually was roommates with Ann in college. We maintained close relationship with her for many years in the Chicagoland area.
Part of what has been spoken for, I just want to say clearly is - if you sow spiritually, you will reap spiritually, if you sow according to the Spirit. A lot of what paid off for us in the hard season is we had already sowed good seed in the good season.
We talked about the loss of a community. It wasn’t the whole community. A couple of staff members who were under me at the church, they went to bat for us. One of them, you could say just as much as our friend in Michigan, it was her letter of recommendation having served with me, that turned the tide in the interview process for the elders to really trust “Here’s somebody who has worked with Michael and totally vouched for him.”
Yes, sowing those good seeds, walking by faith in the good season, God used that time and again to bear good fruit in a difficult season.
Ann Swindell: I can guess that there’s some people listening who are like, “That’s great for you that you have community, that you have Christian community. How nice for you.”
I get it. We had a season where we literally moved four times in four and a half years. I know what it’s like to uproot, feel like, “I know no one.”
Ann: —to feel alone.
Ann Swindell: Yes, and to have to start over again and again. It’s exhausting. Or maybe you’ve lived in the same town your whole life, but you still don’t feel connected to anyone at your church.
My first encouragement is, if you’re not in a local church, get in a healthy local church. Then if you’re not in a small group or you’re not in a Bible study or someplace where you can get deeper relationships, you’re probably going to have to make the first step.
Michael: That is so true.
Ann Swindell: Most of us really want to be reached out to. But if we want that Christian community, we’re probably going to have to be the instigators of it. But the long-term fruit of having people who are for you, who know about the goods and the bads in your life, who are praying for you, who are studying the Word with you, those kinds of relationships really can uphold you and sustain you when you are in a season of deep darkness.
That’s what the body of Christ is for. You can’t be nose or an eye or a pinky out on your own and surviving. We only survive when we are connected to the head, which is Christ, and then when we are all connected to each other.
Community is integral to faith and to having a robust faith life that can put up with the ups and downs of life.
Ann: Ann, as you studied all these characters in the Bible who experienced peace through God but in really hard circumstances, which were your favorites? I’m sure you’ve read this, too.
Ann Swindell: He was my theological editor.
Michael: Oh, yes.
Michael: I’m an editor, right?
Ann Swindell: He was my editor, yes.
Ann: Anyone you related to?
Michael: I take all accountability for any theological mistakes. [Laughter]
Ann: Any that you just “This was my favorite?”
Ann Swindell: I think that Sarai as we first come to know her. She’s the first section; maybe I have some affinity towards her. But one of the things I love about her story is that she basically gets tossed into a circumstance that she had no control over.
Abram comes down from this experience with a new God. You remember they lived in a pagan land with lots of gods. Abraham comes down from this experience and says, “I’ve talked to Yahweh, and we’re up and moving and leaving everything.”
Abram was a rich man. They had a settled, good life. Can you imagine poor Sarai. We have to remember Old Testament women in the ancient world, they had no legal rights. She has no say in what’s going to happen to her. But again, she has a choice how is she going to respond emotionally.
Now the Scriptures don’t give the nitty gritty of that, but she didn’t try to say behind, she didn’t plant her own little tent and say, “See you later, Abram.” She went with him. And in doing so, through her very intense amazing story, she experienced the blessings of God. [Genesis 12]
Ann: I felt like that when we moved to Detroit. [Laughter] She did, you’re right, out of her love and trust for Abram at that time.
Ann Swindell: What has been so encouraging to me about her story is she had no say in how her life was changing and yet God still protected her and provided for her.
For those of us when we feel like, “My life is out of control. People have made choices that have hurt me or have changed the direction of my life in a way that I didn’t want or impacted me negatively,” God can still work through those things. God still sees you, God still is with you and He will guard you. It might not look like anything you might have expected. Sarah certainly did not expect in her 60s to move up and across the known world.
Ann: —and to have a baby when she’s 90.
Ann Swindell: Exactly, but God had a plan.
We can take heart and we can have peace knowing that the God who sees us, knows us and loves us. That’s the same God who cared for Sarah in the middle of her life upheaval.
Dave: You know in some ways as I hear you guys talk, it feels like—tell me if I’m right—the peace of God is something you’ve got to go after. I think we often think “I just sit and wait on it.” [Laughter] Again, that can happen; God does that sometimes. But it feels like it’s a process where I’ve got to wrestle for it. I’ve got to chase it down.
I mean it’s there, it’s in us. The Holy Spirit is the peace of God; He lives in us as His temple. But I still have to fight for it. Am I right? Has that been your experience as well?
Michael: I think so. We forget that life is more than a war, but it’s not less than. We’re always fighting. You used the verb, wrestle, and that’s right. We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood; we wrestle against these principalities; we wrestle against these forces of darkness coming at us. [Ephesians 6:12, Paraphrased] We wrestle against our own flesh.
We have an enemy within; we have an enemy without. That is a fight. If you’re not fighting, you are being impacted by it. You might want to go to sleep to it, but you can’t. It’s impacting your life all the time.
Yes, you’ve got to go after it, and you’ve got to fight for it.
Ann Swindell: I will say, too, we have to remember that we live in a world that is constantly pulling us away from God. The world lies to us and says, “You can find your peace in all sorts of things. If you will just go on a really nice vacation and put your feet up on that white sandy beach.”
Ann: That does sound good. [Laughter]
Ann Swindell: But the inherent promise is “That is where you are going to find peace; just escape from your current life, whether you escape through a vacation or escape through video games or escape through scrolling social media or escape through alcohol. If you can just escape from your life, then you’ll feel peaceful.”
The good new of the gospel is you can have peace in the middle of your actual life, in the middle of the hard and the good. Christ is present there. You don’t have to eject from your life. You get to stay present and grow in godliness and experience His peace.
It’s a battle in some ways just because the world that we live in, Satan wants us to think peace of found outside of our lives and outside of Christ. We have to constantly work to go to Jesus and find our peace in Him.
Ann: I’m thinking, too, as we’re talking about this the importance of teaching our kids where true peace comes from.
Ann Swindell: Yes.
Michael: That’s right.
Ann: We’re living in such a culture and time of anxiety and depression. There’s so much upheaval in the world and our kids feel it. They experience it and they’re watching us as parents: “Where are they finding their peace? Where are they finding their contentment?”
Because I think about that. For me, even with grandkids, as I’m watching them grow up in a culture that just feels crazy at times, and I’m seeing so much anxiety with young, young kids, that can keep my up at night worrying about our kids or our grandkids. I think then, as a woman, I can go on to if they’re anxious—the opposite of peace could be anxiety—but then it can also lead to this hopelessness.
I think in our culture that’s our fear: “Is there any hope? Will I ever get out of this stage? Will I ever get out this season?” As parents, we get a chance to show them where our true peace comes from.
Ann Swindell: Amen.
Ann: The Prince of Peace.
Ann Swindell: Yes.
Michael: If I can use a real world example—it might be little shocking to think about it. If God really is who He says He is and Jesus really is our peace, then He’s peace no matter where you are at in the world right now. That means He’s peace for you.
You talked about going after it. Some of the fight is just this perspective change. It’s not a perspective that says, “if we just think good thoughts, good things will happen.” It’s the real deal. God really is sovereign; He really is good; you really are His child.
That means that you are going to make it. He’s going to give you everything you need regardless of what culture does, regardless of what your job does, regardless of what your kids are doing or your spouse is doing.
If God is who He says He is, then you can have peace right now wherever you are. That’s so encouraging. But we forget that.
Ann Swindell: We are talking about seasons; we’re talking about all this fear and worry. The best promise that we have to really let our hearts settle into peace is there is a day coming when we are no longer going to face the trials and tribulations of this life.
Even if your season of struggle on this earth literally lasts your entire life, you will get to lay that burden down. When you meet Christ face to face, it is going to be nothing but peace and bliss and beauty and love and life and laughter.
We can take heart because the saints of old remind us that they weren’t, especially Old Testament, they didn’t even know when Christ was coming. We live on the other side of the cross. We have this promise of salvation, abundant life in Jesus and ultimately of the hope of heaven.
Maybe you live in a body that is broken and is going to be broken until you meet Jesus. There’s still coming a day when you’re not going to feel broken anymore and there’s coming a day where you are going to be renewed and that peace that you long for will finally be yours because you will be with Christ.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Ann and Michael Swindell on FamilyLife Today.
Ann Swindell has written a book called the Path to Peace. We’ve been talking about that today. If you want to go deeper into the topic of peace and experience more peace, we’d love to send you a copy of Ann’s book as our thanks when you partner financially this week at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Are you co-parenting right now? How do you keep your kids on track spiritually when you have dual influences?
Tomorrow, Dave and Ann talk with licensed marriage and family therapist, Ron Deal, where he gives some insight into the best way to navigate in a blended family environment. That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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