What is peace?
The word peace is used in a variety of ways. It can indicate the absence of conflict or hostilities such as nations or a household at peace. Individually, it can describe a sense of contentment where there is no conflict within. The Bible describes Jesus rebuking a tumultuous sea, commanding it to be peaceful and a great calm followed, Mark 4:35-41. Similarly, following the command of Jesus can bring peace in our lives.
The desired state of peace most seek is:
- Free of anxiety
- Acceptance of self and one’s situation in life
- Peace in our relationship with God
- Harmonious relationship with others
Free of Anxiety
Anxiety steals internal peace
Anxiety disturbs peace. You may hear bad news or forecasts about national and world news, the economy, or uncertainty about your job, health, finances, or situation. Nothing bad has happened but the possibility of negative events can send us into a downward spiral of worry, negativity, and pessimism. Think of the times the news has predicted bad things that didn’t occur. Several years ago there were warnings of frequent super-hurricanes that would ravage the US but since then we’ve gone almost a decade without a major hurricane hitting our coasts. People waste much of their life worrying about things that will never occur and miss the opportunity to enjoy the good that is in their life.
Discontent steals internal peace
Part of this anxiety and dissatisfaction arises from the gulf between how things are and how we want them to be or think they should be. For example, if we are in a monotonous low-paying job but we think that by now we should be a high paid manager, that difference will cause grief, frustration, and dissatisfaction. If we feel like we are in the job we ought to be for our current stage of professional progression, we will feel satisfied. Likewise, if we feel that we should have close friends and enjoy good times but we are alone and bored, we will be discontent. It’s about the reality of our situation, how we think our situation should be (or dream it should be), and our reaction to that gulf. An alternative to frustration and anxiety is acceptance. We can acknowledge the decisions we made and the situations in life that brought us to our current state and accept our situation and be happy about the blessings we have. This doesn’t mean we give up for one can accept the situation and still strive to improve it by making different decisions. Those without peace dwell on the gap and blame themselves, God, and others for their plight, give up a hope that it can ever improve, and list all the things that will ensure things do not change. The key is how we react to the gap between reality and expectation. Even if the gap is broad, you want good health but you are fighting a disease, you can accept your situation and either make different choices from those that diminished your health or, if the problems are not of your doing, follow a plan to get the best improvement that you can. The better we get at accepting reality while allowing for improvement, the more peace we will have.
Finding peace with God’s strength
When faced with bad news or the possibility of bad events in your life, you must realize that there are some things that you can affect and other things that you cannot. Climate change, elections, the economy, and the job market are examples of things our of your control. You can turn off your lights, place your vote, make purchases, and improve your skills but you cannot control the bigger outcome of these large events. The Christian comfort is God’s control over the world for His purposes. When we realize that sometimes evil is allowed to prevail so a greater good may arise, we can accept the decline of civilization and trouble in the economy. God hasn’t promised paradise on earth so we should not expect it. Let me suggest four ways we can find peace in this:
- Trust God to take care of life’s needs. The answer is not to fold your hands up and expect God to do everything because He expects us to work. Jesus told believers not to worry about food and clothing, taking comfort that the God who cares for the birds and flowers cares more for our needs, Matthew 5:25-34. However, the scriptures also encourage us to do what our hands find to do with all our might and that one who doesn’t work shouldn’t eat. We have responsibilities that affect God’s provision for our food and clothing. But it is foolish to brood over the basics of life that God will provide. Jesus said to focus on His things (the kingdom) and the Father would focus on our needs.
- Trust God with the future. James warns that in making plans we must remember they can be fulfilled, “if God wills” it to be so, James 4:13-17. We should make plans to the best of our ability but realize that a different outcome may result and accept it and operate within that outcome. A song that gives me comfort says, “Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand. But I know who holds tomorrow and I know who holds my hand.” I can face the uncertainties of the political, economical, and personal realities of tomorrow because the God who guided me through today will be there tomorrow. Despite the drama of the world stage, God is in control. Romans 13 tells me God controls the government and its affairs so God can help me navigate what he brings about. He may bring about things I perceive as negative but produces a greater good. God may allow the world to descend further into perversity and darkness so the light of holy people and the truth of His word may shine brighter. I don’t need to know the future, I just need to know God.
- Learn contentment despite your situation. We must learn to be content despite our condition in life. It is easy to be content we have plenty and are in comfort. The challenge is to be content when we have little and are discomforted. From prison, Paul wrote the Philippians to be joyful and encouraged them with his ability to be content in any situation, Philippians 4:10-13. The popular “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” is not written in the context of the “never say give up” attitude but is the power behind Paul’s ability to be content in any situation. We must recognize that we may be hard working godly people yet may struggle in life. Sometimes hard work does not pay off as well as we hoped but we can find joy in the results anyway. Sometimes things do not go the way we want but we shouldn’t give up or become negative. As others have said, we pray to God wanting Him to change the situation but God wants to change us. He is trying to make us better despite what we must endure in life. We are made stronger in struggle, develop patience through suffering, and gain endurance through trial. If God doesn’t remove your burden, pray for the strength to carry it and then rejoice in the gift you’ve received from God, 2 Corinthians 12:6-10.
- Trust God with everything in your life. Paul, in Philippians 4:4-7, described how we can have a peace that transcends understanding through trust in God. Notice the extremes described in this verse: “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 peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” If you want a peace that surpasses understanding and no anxiety, you must give everything to God. We often say we are putting things in God’s hands but then begin to worry about the outcome. Paul is commanding a radical step of complete trust in God. You can only have a peace that transcends understanding by giving your concerns to God in a confident way that transcends the world’s understanding. You can be free of anxiety when you truly trust that God hears your prayers, cares about your life and your needs, is actively doing something in response to your request (though the outcome may be something different from what you desire), and that His response will be the best because “all things work together for good for those that love God (Romans 8:28).” We can say it but do we really believe it? Do we trust God with the results? I recently talked with a lady whose cancer went into remission. She told me that she didn’t worry at all because so many godly people were praying for her, she was being treated by good doctors, and she would accept the results which either would be death (and going home to be with God) or life (and an opportunity to continue serving God on this earth). Her heavenly perspective and trust in God was such that she said, “I really didn’t worry.” Had she only been focused on a clean bill of health, she would have anxiety but she trusted the results to God and continued to live her life.
Sometimes we do not have peace because we are overly critical of ourselves or unforgiving of our past sins. It is important to learn from our failures and even use them to help others out of the mire of sin that we escaped, but we cannot dwell on the wasted time, damaged lives, and lost opportunities due to sinful choices. We must ask God to forgive us and forgive ourselves as well. No amount of self-loathing or despair will change one minute of the past and it steals opportunities from the present to accomplish much good. As we would find plenty of grace and mercy to forgive a brother or sister anguishing over sin, we should offer mercy and grace to ourselves. I’ve written elsewhere on the importance of forgiving ourselves that provides additional insight into this challenge. We are being perfected, we are not perfect and we must accept that. When we focus on trying to serve God diligently and don’t dwell on our failures, we will be more useful in God’s service.
Peace with God
The comforting words of Paul in Romans 5:6-11 remind us that Jesus died for us while we were in rebellion in order to reconcile us to the Father. If He did that for us when we were in rebellion, how much more can we enjoy the peace as children of God when we obey His will, enjoy His grace, and do His work (2 Corinthians 5:17-19; Colossians 1:21-23)? The Christian can enjoy sweet sleep and calm days because the greatest peace that can be obtain was offered by God through the blood of His Son and He will receive the faithful into glory when this life is over.
Peace Perfect Peace
If we reconcile with God through His Son, forgive ourselves for our failures, and put our cares and anxieties in His hands, we can have peace within, a peace that surpasses understanding. We can have peace though we live in a sinful world, though we have challenges and trials, though we often fail to get what we want, and though life is imperfect. Peace is a wonderful spiritual gift that we should savor and seek to regain if we allow our hearts or our lives to drift from its pleasant harbor.