In general, I don’t recommend paying close attention to the words written inside a bathroom stall. Twenty years ago, I made an exception to that rule. In one of the women’s bathrooms at the seminary where I worked, someone had posted a Bible verse on the inside of each stall door. On that day, I happened to pick the stall with John 16:33:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV)

I’m sure I’d read that verse plenty of times before, but in that moment, seeing it isolated, I was struck more profoundly, and it’s stayed with me since. Let’s look at it closely.

“I have told you these things…”

The “these things” Jesus refers to is a long monologue He just gave to his disciples, known as “The Farewell Discourse,” recorded in John 13-17. Shortly before his death, Jesus taught them what they would need to know in his absence. Some of the themes of that teaching included the sending of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ promise to return in the future, and what it means to abide in him.

“…so that in me you may have peace.”

The word “peace” conjures up a spirit that isn’t afraid, a mind that doesn’t ruminate on negative thoughts, a heart that isn’t distraught. The Lord has allowed humans to discover ways to calm anxious minds through various means, and I don’t discount them—I myself have benefited from therapy.

However, Jesus offers his followers access to a different kind of peace. By providing for the forgiveness of our sins, He offers us peace with the Father. The peace that comes from the assurance of salvation and the promise of Heaven supersedes the peace offered by human means.

“In this world you will have trouble.”

I suspect each one of us has a personal image that comes to mind with this phrase. For me, in the bathroom twenty years ago, what came to mind was the recent death of my only sibling, my brother. In the decades since then, that particular pain has eased while other troubles have arisen: marital strife, financial strain, and physical ailments.

Jesus acknowledges that his disciples don’t automatically receive a “Get out of jail free” card. We don’t get to get to zoom right to the blessings. In fact, for some in the room that day with Jesus, what lay ahead for them included persecution and even death for being a Christian.

So, Jesus moves to reassurance.

“But take heart!”

It’s this second part of the verse that I have always cherished, particularly in the NIV translation. I love the full-stop-exclamation-point translation of this sentence. You can practically see Jesus leaning in toward his disciples, pausing for a moment to let the words have their effect. He’s just acknowledged the pain they will encounter, and now is telling them why they—and why we—shouldn’t lose hope.

And why shouldn’t we lose hope in this broken world with our troubled lives?

Because, Jesus said, “I have overcome the world.”

Chronologically, as Jesus stood before his disciples in this moment, He had not yet gone to the cross and conquered the grave. Yet Jesus spoke of something guaranteed by God as if it had already happened.

Two thousand years later, we have the record of him overcoming death—dozens of witnesses recorded in the gospels who saw him after he was resurrected.

If Jesus did the overcoming, why should we take heart? We don’t get to see our loved ones resurrected in this world. We have no trouble-free relationships in this world. We may struggle to have peace in our minds as long as we’re in this world. We also deal with physical weaknesses at some point during our lives.

Jesus, who came from Heaven to earth and then returned to Heaven, knows that this world is temporary. Because it’s all we’ve experienced, we sometimes lose sight of that. Jesus is pointing us to look ahead, to the promise of a trouble-free, peace-filled, perfect union with God in Heaven.

Paul understood this and reiterated it in 2 Corinthians 4:17: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

If these verses strengthen you today, write them down. Hang them up somewhere you’ll see them again and again. In fact, maybe hang them up where someone else will see them—you don’t know how long these words may stick with them! Let the encouragement Christ offers minister to you when you’re experiencing trouble. He’s saying it to you: take heart!

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

Jamye Doerfler

Jamye Doerfler holds her B.A. in English from Grove City College and her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Virginia Commonwealth University. She is the wife of Peter, pastor at Redemption Hill Church in Pittsburgh, PA, and mother of three boys. Her advent devotional for tweens and teens is forthcoming from CDM in the Fall of 2023. Read more of her work about cultivating a joyful, faith-filled family life at jamyedoerfler.com.