I want to talk with you a moment about peace. If you’re wondering why a former fighter pilot wants to talk about peace, it is because peace is sadly one of the most misunderstood and least experienced aspects of the fruit of His Spirit today for far too many believers, myself included at times.
According to a report last year by the American Psychological Association:
- 27% of U.S. adults say that most days they are so stressed they can’t function;
- For adults under 35, that number goes up to nearly half (46%).
According to the VA, in the first 20 years after 9/11 we lost over 120,000 veterans to suicide, and thousands more in the active duty. This is compared to approximately 7,000 active duty personnel who lost their lives in combat operations around the globe. Each of these lives is precious in God’s eyes.
Please hear me…the issues surrounding clinical anxiety and suicide are many and complicated, but what should be abundantly clear to us is that here in the U.S. we are living in one of the most affluent times of our history, with incredible technological advances, and yet many people all around us are desperately seeking for peace, and if we truly want to be real with each other, so are many of us.
Know this: God has set us free from the chains of anxiety and fear and wants us to 1) experience His peace, and 2) share that peace with a broken world that desperately needs Him.
So the natural question is what do we mean by peace? Too often we think of peace solely in the negative…as the absence of something like conflict, anxiety or fear. While this is true, it is not the totality of how peace is displayed to us in Scripture.
The Greek word used in Galatians to describe peace is eirene. Greek translators use this word to translate the word shalom, which was often used as a greeting and conveyed a wish of fullness of wellbeing or completeness. It is an inner security regardless of what we may be going through.
What does peace NOT mean? It is important that you hear this. Peace does not mean the absence of trouble, suffering or persecution. God clearly says we will have trouble. He says when, not if (2 Timothy 3:12 and John 16:33).
We live in a broken world with trouble and suffering. We don’t do ourselves, our families, our friends, or co-workers a favor by implying that if you only become a believer, everything is going to be rosy…ice cream and unicorns. God says just the opposite! Jesus said, “I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you…’A servant is not greater than His master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:19-20).
Too many Christians are living in fear like our nation and the whole world are about to fall apart. God is sovereign and not surprised by anything going on in your life, the nation or the world. Yet, we can have peace because we know the end of the story…God wins…and praise the Lord by His grace we are on the winning side with Him!
Peace, therefore, is not simply the absence of suffering or conflict, it is the state of our heart even in the midst of suffering and conflict. Peace is not pretending we don’t have any problems but remembering that God is bigger than our problems and that as Romans 8:28 says, God is able to work all things together for good.
Let what God’s Word says about peace permeate your heart today: 2 Thessalonians 3:16 says, “Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!” and John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
Many of us genuinely long for God’s peace in our lives, but we aren’t experiencing it. We think this lack of peace just impacts us. That’s simply not true. Your lack of peace not only prevents you from living the life God desires for you, it negatively impacts your witness.
Henry Blackaby said, “The Christian needs to walk in peace, so no matter what happens they will be able to bear witness to a watching world.” Peter says it this way in 1 Peter 3:15: “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”
For all those still wearing the uniform, this is especially key because if you are asked, then you are free to share about the Reason for your hope, joy and peace. If we’re just as anxious and fearful as everyone who doesn’t know Christ, then no one is going to see anything different in us. If they do ask you, are you ready to share, and are you ready to make a defense? Please don’t forget you’re making a defense, not being defensive, and we are called to do so with gentleness and respect.
As one bumper sticker so aptly put it: “Know God, know peace. No God, no peace.” What is robbing you of experiencing this peace and/or sharing His peace with others? The main culprit for you may (or may not) be a little different than it is for me. But whatever it is, God says in Galatians 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free, therefore do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”
Whatever is destroying your peace today, that is chaining you to fear and anxiety, God wants you to lay it down. He wants you to live in freedom. This may not be a sudden and sensational process, but slow and simple. Here are four practical things you can do today to start the process:
1. Meditate on, trust in, and obey His Word. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Look honestly at how you spent this morning, week and year. What are you spending most of your time thinking about and dwelling on? Does it meet the criteria we see in Philippians 4:8? Are they things that foster hope, joy, and peace, or things that foster fear and anxiety?
2. The second is to remember…and be thankful! God commands His people throughout Scripture to remember. Why does He do that? Because we, ok let me just speak for myself, because I am too quick to forget. God instructs us to remember His character (love, faithfulness, sovereignty, goodness…) and His acts in our lives and the lives of others because when we remember what He has done in the past it gives us perspective and endurance for today and faith for what He will do in the future. Throughout Scripture, remembrance is tied with thankfulness. The more we remember, the more we should be thankful (Philippians 4:4-7 and Colossians 3:15).
3. Third, fight for margin! I’ll be honest, I struggle with this. In a book called Margin by Dr. Richard Swenson, he explains our lack of peace at times is self-inflicted because we refuse to establish and maintain margin…with our finances, our physical energy, our emotional energy, and our schedules. Dr. Swenson says, “The best thing to remember about time-saving technologies is that they don’t. Instead, they consume, compress and devour time. All the countries with the most time-saving technologies are the most stressed-out countries,” while also quoting a man from Mali who put it this way: “You Americans have all the watches, but we have all the time.” In encouraging us to practice simplicity and contentment, Dr. Swenson says, “Everything we own owns us. We must maintain it, paint it, play with it, build space in our house to put it, and then work to pay it off. Perhaps if we had fewer things, we’d have more time…Recognize unnecessary possessions for what they are: stealers of divine time. At the beginning of every day, we are given assignments that have eternal significance—to serve, to love, to obey, to pray. Instead, we squander much of this time on things that soon will leave us forever.”
4. This leads us to our fourth and final application point…Pray. If we want to know peace, we have to stay connected to the God of Peace, the Prince of Peace, and the Holy Spirit who will lead us into all truth. I Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray without ceasing,” but all too often we’re content with just checking in in the morning, maybe again at lunch, and perhaps once more in the evening, but for most of the day we are about our own business. Think about your mobile device and how tied you are to it. How you pick it up at the slightest vibration. You don’t want to miss something. What about your Heavenly Father and Commander, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Don’t we need to have that level of connectivity with Him?
In closing, remember this is not our home, but one day God will call us home, and the lion will lay down with the lamb. Until then hold tightly to the peace that His Spirit freely gives us, don’t let anything quench it, and please don’t keep it for yourself, share it freely as His ambassador with a world that is desperately searching for true peace.