This point might initially seem of little relevance, but for at least two significant reasons, an understanding of temptation is critical to our search for peace. The most obvious connection is that it might seem contrary to peace to have to suffer intense battles with temptation, but we will later discover even more relevance.
One of the most ridiculous notions some Christians fall for is that holiness means no longer being strongly tempted to sin. To be tempted is to be attacked by anti-God forces, just as Jesus was attacked. If a particular sin seems undesirable, there is nothing heroic in avoiding it. Anyone – even the most self-serving, anti-God person on the planet – would avoid a sin that repulses him. The proof of righteousness is when a person denies himself something his flesh cries out for. It is only when temptation rages – only when sin seems the most desirable thing in the universe – that you have the chance to prove that you are committed to doing God’s will, rather than selfishly following your own desires.
Some people foolishly imagine that if temptation is so strong that they keep surrendering to it, then God has let them down, or Christianity does not work for them, or they lack faith. Their failure is for no such reason but simply because they give in too easily. Usually this is because they have not realized the extent to which all of us must suffer for Christ. Read this carefully:
Lack of temptation does not make a person holy, any more than lack of opposition can make anyone a champion. Christlikeness means acting like Jesus in Gethsemane sweating as it were drops of blood. Everything within him screamed to flee from God’s will, and yet he forced himself to submit. That, not lack of temptation, is true holiness.
Let’s approach this from a different perspective. Miraculous deliverances glorify God. Displays of divine power draw attention to the Almighty and win him immense praise. If our Lord were into ego trips, such attempts to wow us would be commonplace. But our Lord is never egotistical, nor superficial. Instead, he is the ultimate in sacrificial love and wisdom. He seeks to exalt not himself but us. Like a wise parent who lovingly gives his children vegetables when they want nothing but candy, he will even risk breaking his own heart by exposing himself to the wrath of his darlings by doing things we do not realize are ultimately in our highest interest.
Whenever God miraculously spares people from temptation – a heavy smoker instantly losing all desire to smoke, a porn addict never again tempted to lust, a junkie suffering no withdrawal symptoms, and so on – God is glorified and the recipients of the miracle are denied the opportunity to win glory for themselves. In contrast, if he lets us battle temptation, his name is blackened whenever we lose and when we win we bring ourselves eternal honor. Such battles build Christlike character like nothing else can achieve. Until our appetite for Godliness matures, however, most of us would rather be spoilt brats than Christlike. We crave a soft life, but that is not how anyone becomes a spiritual champion. In the short-term we might prefer to be lazy, but the King’s goal is to make his children regal.
As research for a webpage, I collected dramatic testimonies of supernatural deliverances from powerful addictions such as heroin. To my amazed disappointment, when interviewing these people I kept discovering that despite the astonishing miracle, most were still defeated by yet another addiction in their lives. Even though in at least one area, victory had been almost effortless, the Lord refused to make effortless other victories over sin.
What makes this discussion about temptation so pertinent goes beyond the fact that such divinely-assigned battles seem contrary to a peace-filled life. Keep reading and you will discover that the divine path to peace usually involves not a miraculous deliverance (the lazy, easy way we hope for) but battling the temptation to fear or worry.
Nothing is more important to the Holy One than breaking bondages to sin, and it is possible only through Jesus, and yet if even that takes immense effort on our part, and even the Holy Son of God agonized in Gethsemane’s garden over yielding to God’s will, we cannot expect God’s peace to be any easier to obtain. Like freedom from sin, divine peace – freedom from doubt and worry – is something we must fight for.
There is another thing we need to understand about temptation. After forty long days of fighting temptation, the devil “departed from him for a season” (Luke 4:13, KJV). “Left him until an opportune time,” is how the NIV renders it. We can therefore expect seasons in our lives when our peace is more under attack than other times even if, like Jesus, we remain consistently devoted to God.
I fully endorse the miraculous side of Christianity, but I refuse to do so in any way that contradicts truths that people do not typically underline in their Bibles.
If ever we should not take Scriptures out of context, this is such an instance. Note Jesus’ very next words:
Here’s how Paul and Barnabas set about “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith”:
Let’s not fall into such arrogance as to think ourselves superior to the great apostle, nor get a distorted view of how free from normal stresses a Christian can get:
There might be “no peace . . . for the wicked,” (Isaiah 48:22 – repeated in Isaiah 57:21) but even Job, of whom God boasted, “For there is no one like him in the earth, a blameless and an upright man, one who fears God, and turns away from evil” admitted:
So Bible-based peace does not mean the absence of distressing times.
So let’s briefly explore the biblical view of grief.
Without ever intending to, vast numbers of caring, Bible-loving Christians have slipped from the Bible’s perspective. They suppose they should be more lion-hearted than David the giant-killer, the man after God’s own heart who, upon finding Ziklag burnt and his family taken captive, wept aloud until there was no strength left in him, before heroically seizing back from the enemy everything that had been stolen (1 Samuel 30:3-19). There are Christians who think they should be less human than Jesus, who often wept, and more spiritual than the Spirit-filled early church. See how the power-packed early church reacted to the death of its first martyr:
Tapping into, and releasing, emotions is not only psychologically healthy, it is a highly biblical factor in finding peace. The Bible mentions men shedding tears more than 130 times. That’s without even considering all the biblical references to women crying.
Being ruthlessly honest with oneself and with God about one’s negative feelings – inner pain, doubts, guilt feelings, anger or frustration towards God or people, and so on – is the biblical norm. Trying to suppress such inner turmoil, and refusing to face it, is a significant enemy to peace because it is denying ourselves and God the chance of ever resolving it.
Just as we cannot expect divine forgiveness while trying to suppress the extent of our sin, so living in divine peace necessitates courageous honesty with ourselves and with God about everything that is troubling us. This applies whether the source of our unease is grounded in the present or the distant past.
Study the Psalms until they become your emotional roadmap. The inspired poets typically worked through their issues until reaching the pinnacle of praise, but to get there they were fiercely honest in confronting raw emotion and inner turmoil. For example, Psalm 13 ends with:
God alone thoroughly understands us and has answers to the most complex matters we could ever face. In theory, we need only God to resolve our inner turmoil and meet our every need. In practice, however, the Lord has purposely arranged it so that we need the help of other people. As he says of fellow Christians:
Christ is always the Head – the Source – but because of his great love for his spiritual body, he often deliberately limits himself by choosing to meet certain needs within someone only through another Christian. Consider how in the following, healing is made contingent upon seeking human help (elders) and upon confessing sins not to God but to other Christians:
If we consider ourselves too superior or “spiritual” to seek human help – a Christian counselor, perhaps – our pride could be cutting ourselves off from divine help and the peace that results.
Note who it is that God guides:
No wonder the Bible is filled with such scriptures as:
James 4:10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Seeking God is obviously of extreme importance in obtaining the divine wisdom exalted in the book of Proverbs, and living in this wisdom is sure to increase one’s peace. It would be a critical mistake, however, to overlook the importance this inspired book gives to seeking human help and advice:
Proverbs 12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who is wise listens to counsel.
Proverbs 15:22 Where there is no counsel, plans fail; but in a multitude of counselors they are established.
Proverbs 19:20 Listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter end.
Proverbs 20:18 Plans are established by advice . . .
Consider carefully the implications of these Scriptures:
Matthew 11:25 . . . I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to infants.
1 Corinthians 1:19-21,26-29 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, I will bring the discernment of the discerning to nothing.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the lawyer of this world? Hasn’t God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom didn’t know God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save those who believe. . . .
not many are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, and not many noble; but God chose the foolish things of the world that he might put to shame those who are wise. God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong; and God chose the lowly things of the world, and the things that are despised, and the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are: that no flesh should boast before God.
Intelligence, learning and theological knowledge, instead of making us superior and independent, can actually contribute to arrogance that blocks one’s ability to receive spiritual revelation. Though few of its victims realize it, this blockage renders those who think themselves highly capable more dependent than ever on people they are tempted to look down upon.
From early childhood, men, in particular, are trained to pride themselves in their independence and to treat asking for help as humiliating weakness. Countering this brainwashing is not easy, but renewing our mind and dying to self needs to include an extensive revision of such worldly thinking.
Real Christians Grieve
Men Crying in the Bible
Courage to Heal from Inner Pain
Healing of Fears and Hurts
Most of us have an exaggerated fear of at least one thing. Common examples are a fear of spiders or snakes or heights or flying or public speaking. If your phobia differs from mine it hardly makes one of us godlier than the other.
The cause of exaggerated fears is usually neither spiritual nor medical but an unpleasant past experience.
Many of us also have an inner wound due to some highly unpleasant past event and until it is healed it is like an open physical wound in that even a gentle touch on that area can be distressing. Just as serious physical wounds need attention, and neglect can make them worse, so it is with inner wounds. Trying to suppress or ignore inner pain is neither being spiritual nor strong but will prevent healing and perhaps even worsen the situation.
We cannot expect God to miraculously flood this sensitive area of our lives with peace if we keep trying to run from it rather than face it head-on. God’s longing is not to anaesthetize but to heal; not to promote cowardly living in denial but courage.
Why Living in Denial is not of God
Fear, Phobias, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Christian Help & Cure
The Rarely Understood Medical Factor
Suppose you meet someone at church who is looking particularly haggard. You ask if anything is wrong and he informs you that he has been waking up in the middle of the night with a start and thumping heart. Would you embarrass yourself by piously launching into a dissertation as to how Jesus gives us peace, or would you wait for him to explain that his faulty smoke detector keeps going off randomly?
Many of us make a mistake of this magnitude without ever realizing it.
Our bodies are ingeniously designed to set off an inner alarm when there is danger, but like a faulty smoke detector, things can go haywire. A common medical disorder can cause the inner alarm to keep blaring when there is no danger. This excess anxiety is a medical problem, not a spiritual issue, just as a faulty fire alarm is a technical matter, not a spiritual one.
Although most people with this medical problem suffer only one or two of the symptoms, it can manifest itself in a wide range of disturbing ways including:
* guilt feelings that could get so intense and persistent that the victim keeps feeling utterly unforgivable
* uncontrollable blasphemous thoughts
* panic attacks that might be so severe that they seem like heart attacks
* phobias such as agoraphobia or social phobia
Believing the right thing is important, but when the primary cause is not what you believe but medical, the distressing feelings and side-effects will persist until the medical issue is healed. Medical problems require medical solutions and it is only Christians who are blind to this who should feel ashamed.
It is my conviction that our wise and loving Lord sometimes allows trials and/or this medical condition to linger in order to build our faith, just like a sports coach can seek to build muscle in favored athletes, turning them into champions by insisting they run up hills, press weights and other activities that, in the short term, exhaust them and seem to weaken them rather than strengthen them.
Scrupulosity: Religious OCD (Keep following the main link near the bottom of each page.)
The Use of Medicine and Doctors: A Christian Perspective
Peace with God
Being at peace with God is of such mind-boggling importance that if the price for it were a lifetime of terror, worry and anxiety, it would be infinitely worth it. When the Bible speaks of peace with God it is referring to the fact that he has signed with his own lifeblood his total commitment to being our friend. This is despite the terrifying reality that, regardless of whether or not we feel it, the Holy Lord should be the enemy of everyone who has ever missed his immutable standard of absolute moral perfection.
Romans 5:1, 10 Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . . while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son . . . (Emphasis mine.)
The fearsome Lord of righteousness is the eternal enforcer of moral perfection and the executer of justice. As the ultimate owner of everything we have ever misused and the zealous defender and passionate lover of every person we have ever cheated, exploited, lusted after, lied to, gossiped about, resented, been jealous of, felt superior to, or have mistreated in any other way, the Holy Lord should be our resolute enemy and source of torment for all eternity. Instead, the Pure One took all our moral filth upon himself and the Innocent One assumed full blame for all our atrocious offenses. This is so staggering that the human mind has no hope of comprehending the enormity of what he did for us. Nevertheless, the consequence of the most stupendous display of love the universe has ever seen is that he, who should be our eternal enemy, has declared peace with us and made us his friend.
And yet many of us needlessly allow ourselves to continue to assume blame, as if this magnanimous act of divine proportions had never occurred.
More: Forgiving Yourself (and keep following the main link near the end of each page).
Even those of us with a superior understanding of the magnitude of God’s forgiveness often waste far too much of our lives striving with God; treating him, if not as an enemy, at best as a reluctant friend who does not understand us. We squander our peace by struggling with him, rather than snuggling into him and pampering ourselves in the wondrous reality that he is even more on our side than we are. He is a better friend to us than we are to ourselves; loving and forgiving and believing in us more than we do. He weeps for us, making our pain his pain, understanding us better than we understand ourselves and having our highest interest more at heart than we do.
If only we spent less time fighting our greatest Friend and more time luxuriating in faith-filled thanks to the most wonderful Person in the universe, our minds would rest in far more peace, far more comfort and far more contentment and fulfillment.
Instead, we get frustrated with God, not understanding his heart and the perfection of his timing. We might even take our ignorance to the scandalous extreme of falsely blaming the Perfect One.
Finite minds cannot be expected to comprehend the exquisiteness of God’s mind-blowing wisdom, nor the necessity of his timing, but we should at least be able to revel in the certainty that every speck of the limitless wisdom and power of the one who agonized on the cross for us is passionately focused on maximizing our highest good.
Don’t frazzle yourself, squandering nervous energy on trying to get God to love you more, when his exclusive love for you is not merely stupendous but keeps exploding with mind-boggling intensity in every direction and dimension for all eternity. Fretting over how to get God to love you more is as needless as working yourself into a tizzy trying to get the God of infinite knowledge to understand your need, when his knowledge of your situation is already infinitely superior to your own understanding.
Peace & Faith
As much as we might wish it were otherwise, it is unbiblical to expect, in this life, peace that is never seriously challenged. We have no right even to expect imperfect peace to come without effort on our part.
1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, don’t be astonished at the fiery trial which has come upon you, to test you, as though a strange thing happened to you.
Not only does living in God’s peace take more faith than I had once supposed, even when you experience that peace, it often takes faith just to believe that it is truly supernatural and not merely “mind over matter.” To be honest, I find that disappointing. The truth, however, is that faith is critical to every part of the Christian life.
Consider Gideon. If Gideon had somehow misheard God, the results would not just be terrifying for him but catastrophic for the entire nation. He needed a faith boost, so he asked the angel for a sign that he was truly hearing from God. He got an astounding one. The angel touched the offering. It exploded into flames and then the angel vanished into thin air. Wow!
Soon afterwards, Gideon started worrying about the same thing again. He felt the need for yet another sign that would pump up his flagging faith. This time, he reasoned, he would leave nothing to doubt. The sign would be of his own choosing. He pondered the matter and decided to formulate a sign so ingenious that he knew it would annihilate all his doubts. He would put a fleece outside and if in the morning it was wet and the ground around was dry it would be such a miracle that he could be at peace, knowing for sure that God was with him and that all would be well.
It happened just as he had asked. Then something totally unexpected occurred: his mind went into overdrive. What if there were some natural explanation? What if it had rained lightly early in the night and then evaporated from everywhere except where it was protected by the fleece’s fibers? Could an animal have been attracted to the fleece and urinated on it? What if . . . ? (Judges 6).
If what he was certain would be the ultimate faith-boost, giving him the peace he craved, had fizzled to nothing in minutes, we can expect the same. Surprisingly many spiritual experiences that we imagine would be dramatic enough to boost our faith if they happened to us turn out to be more subtle that we expect and in the cold light of day take faith to believe they were actually supernatural. Divine peace is no exception.
We imagine we crave some experience that boosts our faith but by that we really mean we want to experience something that is so compelling that we don’t need faith. Faith grows only when everything within us screams the opposite. Faith is spiritual muscle. It must be exercised if it is to grow or even be maintained.
Peace: A Divine Partnership
Discovering how to appropriate God’s peace, however, gels with what I learned decades ago from my yearning for my writing to be totally of God. I wanted it to be all of God and none of me. To my mind, it was obvious that this would most delight my Lord and I kept praying and praying and praying for it but to my bitter disappointment and frustration, Almighty God was not interested in overriding my role in the creative process. I was initially annoyed at God’s refusal but even in the original text of the Bible, the literary style of each human writer shines through. In Breakthrough in Creativity I detail the beautiful reasons for God loving each of us too much to reduce to mere dictating machines even his most inspired writers.
Just as Naaman’s miraculous healing hinged on whether he decided to dip in the Jordan (2 Kings 5:10-14), God lets us determine the extent to which he moves in our lives. In fact, The Almighty so humbles himself that in the entire biblical record of God’s acts, the Omnipotent One did almost nothing without rendering himself dependent upon human help. For example, the sovereign Lord declared:
Exodus 33:2 I will send an angel before you; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite
Nevertheless, even the commencement was delayed forty years because of the Israelites’ lack of faith. The miraculous collapse of Jericho’s walls depended upon the Israelites marching around it again and again and again. Then the next step in the divine battle plan was sabotaged because of Achan’s sin (Joshua 7). Next, the Lord’s plan to annihilate the inhabitants of Gibeon was foiled because Joshua forgot to consult God and mistakenly made a peace treaty that the Almighty then obligated himself to respect forever (Joshua 9:3ff). And the saga of people messing up the sovereign Lord’s battle plans continued.
When two people love each other so much that they become one, their offspring becomes a unique creation that bears the characteristics of both partners. God loves us so passionately that he wants in our ministry – the offspring resulting from our intimacy with him – a similar blending of his characteristics and ours.
God is not remotely like a drug pusher and his peace is not some heavenly version of dope. Regardless of how unworthy we might think ourselves, God loves, honors and trusts us so much that he refuses to reduce us to automatons but insists on moving in partnership with us.
Whether it be spiritual gifts or any other aspect of the Christian life, God yearns not to do it all himself but for us to play a significant role. Us living in peace is no exception to this divine principle.
Let’s look at this another way: the Bible groups peace with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). In both biblical Greek and Hebrew (and even older English) “fruit” is a rich word. The term is not limited to just an aspect of plant reproduction but includes human reproduction (children). So “fruit of the Spirit” could be translated “the Holy Spirit’s offspring or child” (Proof). Just as physical intimacy with a human produces physical offspring, so intimacy with the Spirit of God produces spiritual offspring. What a beautiful thought! But here’s the rub: children take after both parents.
Both the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit in your life are products of your union with God, and as such they bear, as it were, both your genes and God’s; having both natural and supernatural elements. The human contribution makes the result less than perfect, and yet God is so in love with us that every product of our intimacy with him delights him. Perfection can wait until heaven but the fruitfulness of our union with God starts now and it is something that we contribute to, as well as God.
Let’s approach this from yet another angle: neither fruit nor children come fully grown. Fruit is initially unpalatable and newborn babies can do little but cry. If fruit takes long to sweeten and children need years of training, we are likely to be disappointed if we expect peace to start off as robust and fully developed as we might wish. As in the natural, everything in our spiritual life takes time to develop. Consider these Scriptures:
Proverbs 4:18 But the path of the righteous is like the dawning light, that shines more and more until the perfect day.
Mark 4:26,28 . . . God’s Kingdom is . . . first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
Ephesians 4:15 . . . we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ
Colossians 2:19 . . . the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and ligaments, grows with God’s growth.
2 Thessalonians 1:3 . . . your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of each and every one of you towards one another abounds
1 Peter 2:2 as newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the Word, that with it you may grow
2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. . . .
Despite us wanting everything immediately, the Bible keeps insisting that spiritual things grow. Seldom, if ever, do they arrive fully developed in a Christian’s life. Moreover, even for the divine elements within a Christian, there is a human contribution that inevitably renders them less than perfect, just as a little child’s best efforts are imperfect and yet they still delight a loving father’s heart. Additionally, we have gleaned from Jesus’ battle with temptation that we can expect times when our peace is more under attack – and hence harder to hold on to – than at other times.
Peace is Resting in the Certainty that God Knows Best
A missionary was ill. To make matters worse, her support money had not come through. Things were so desperate that she had nothing to eat. The only food left in her cupboard was oats. And this appalling situation kept on and on and on.
When faced with such a predicament, we can either fret or rest. It is not for God to supernaturally flood us with gooey feelings. It is for us to choose. What would your choice be?
Would you choose to think that God is cruel or would you snuggle into the certainly that God is good?
Would you fear that God has abandoned you or bask in the integrity of the faithful Lord who said, “I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)?
Would you accuse God or blame evil forces?
Would you narrow your thinking to this speck in time or seek an eternal perspective?
Would you resent God or maintain that it is infinitely better to die of starvation serving the King of kings than feast in luxury while wasting your life, achieving nothing of divine significance?
Would you beat yourself up for lack of faith or recall that the great apostle Paul wrote often of being hungry, and even the Lord of glory went hungry when he walked this planet? (Scriptures)
Would you see it as an unredeemable disaster or delight in the fact that trials build Christlike character, which brings eternal reward?
Would you rail against God or lovingly delight in the assurance that God’s ways are higher than our ways?
Would you complain that God owes you or gratefully acknowledge that all you deserve is an eternity in hell from the moment of your first sin?
Would you worry that God is displeased with you or rest in the knowledge that the forgiving Lord gave his very life for you?
Would you bring yourself down with a pity party or lift yourself with a praise party?
Would you gripe about not having luxuries or give thanks for the oats?
Would you sink in despair, concluding that no good could possibly result from this or would you keep your head above water by clinging to God’s promise to work all things together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28)?
Eventually, things improved for the missionary. Some time later, she related the story to a doctor. He informed her that with the particular illness she had had, a normal diet could have killed her. The best thing in such circumstances, he said, is to eat oats.
One of the keys to divine peace is choosing to praise when everything within us wants to fret, worry and be miserable. At the very time that we most need it, praise is like trying to drag our weary bodies out of bed when it is freezing cold outside the blankets. But praise lifts us heavenward, empowering us to look down on earthly problems, causing them to shrink in our view and lose their power to upset us as we gain heaven’s perspective.
The first link will inspire you to make that life-changing move. The other links will open your eyes to how astoundingly trustworthy and good God is.
Praise: God’s Anti-Depressant
God’s Will for You: More Wonderful than You Dare Hope
The Power and Limits of Faith and Prayer
Isaiah 26:3 You will keep whoever’s mind is steadfast in perfect peace, because he trusts in you.
Note how peace is contingent upon keeping one’s mind steadfast and on trusting God.
The role of a steadfast mind is expounded here:
James 1:5-6 . . . let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach; and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, without any doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed.
Mention of the sea takes me full circle by bringing my mind back to another reference in Isaiah to peace:
Isaiah 57:20-21 But the wicked are like the troubled sea; for it can’t rest, and its waters cast up mire and mud. “There is no peace”, says my God, “for the wicked.”
Peace comes from being resolute and unwavering, both in one’s commitment to be godly and in one’s conviction that God is good and is passionately devoted to our highest good.
Learning not to waver is like learning to ride a bike: it takes time, and one is sure to be wobbly at first. Falling off the bike is not a defeat nor an indication of ungodliness; it is part of the learning process. Likewise, living is peace is learned through practice and it is normal for early efforts to look pathetic even though it is to be the path to success.
Let’s look further into the role of faith and prayer:
Philippians 4:6-7 In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition 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 thoughts in Christ Jesus. (Emphasis mine)
One of the invaluable things about praying with thanksgiving is that focusing on God’s blessings builds up faith. Faith and prayer are indispensable to every part of the Christian walk. It is a serious mistake, however, to try to pervert these precious gifts into an excuse for spiritual laziness. Too often we find ourselves waiting for God to answer our prayer, when he is waiting for us to act (see Enlightening Scriptures).
For example, we can be praying for peace, when God is waiting for us to dispel fear and worry by building up our faith through praising God. We can be waiting for God to zap us with peace, when he is waiting for us to die to self. We can be “believing God” for a soft life when God is expecting us to use trials as a training regime to develop Christlike character. We can want God’s peace as a sleeping pill, when what is keeping us awake is our refusal to make peace with someone by forgiving him.
We need less gimmes in our prayers – give me gooey feelings, give me bliss, give me a lazy, carefree life – and more thankyous and showmes. We need more prayers like:
* Thank you that you will bring me through this.
* Thank you that you are continually sustaining me and blessing me more than I realize.
* Show me my current concerns from your holy, eternal perspective.
* Show me what I must do to be Christlike – to delight you, to live in holiness, to walk with you in love, joy, peace, etc.
We must take this seriously:
James 4:3 You ask, and don’t receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it for your pleasures.
Why Peace Seems So Elusive
My rough count reveals at least 89 instances in the Bible when God either directly or through a divinely inspired spokesperson (such as an angel or prophet) told people not to be afraid. Include times when he told people not to worry or be anxious and you pass the hundred mark – and still more if you include telling people to “go in peace”. You have probably met this so often in your Bible reading that you find it unremarkable. So let me pose this question: why did the Almighty Prince of Peace repeatedly go to the effort of making such statements rather than simply zapping those people with peace as if firing a celestial tranquilizer gun?
Here's a quote from one of my webpages about fear:
I heard a Christian song. The words were fine except for part of one line that said something like, take away my fears. I don’t recall anything like that in the Bible. Instead of God repeatedly promising to stop us from feeling afraid, I read over and over and over of God promising to remove all reason for us being afraid. Then he puts the onus on us by telling us not to cave in to fear. I read such things as:
Isaiah 35:4 Tell those who have a fearful heart, “Be strong. Don’t be afraid. Behold, your God will come with vengeance, God’s retribution. He will come and save you.
Isaiah 41:13 For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I will help you.’
Isaiah 51:7 Listen to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law: Don’t fear the reproach of men, and don’t be dismayed at their insults.
Jeremiah 42:11 Don’t be afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid; don’t be afraid of him, says the Lord: for I am with you to save you, and to deliver you from his hand.
1 Peter 3:6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose children you now are, if you do well, and are not put in fear by any terror.
1 Peter 3:14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “Don’t fear what they fear, neither be troubled.”
Genesis 15:1 After these things the Lord’s word came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
Exodus 14:13 Moses said to the people, “Don’t be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today: for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you shall never see them again.
Deuteronomy 20:3 and shall tell them, “Hear, Israel, you draw near today to battle against your enemies. Don’t let your heart faint! Don’t be afraid, nor tremble, neither be scared of them
Ezekiel 2:6 You, son of man, don’t be afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you, and you do dwell among scorpions: don’t be afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house.
Luke 12:4 I tell you, my friends, don’t be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.
John 14:27 . . . Don’t let your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful.
Revelation 2:10 Don’t be afraid of the things which you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested; and you will have oppression for ten days. Be faithful to death, and I will give you the crown of life.
If I were willing to risk boring you by getting excessive, I could cite over seventy more such Scriptures.
There is no point trying to pass the buck, saying, “Lord, do it – you take my fear away. He simply replies, “No, you do it – refuse to let fear hold you back.”
The God of truth declares you have no reason for being afraid. So don’t be bullied by irrational feelings. Your feelings are not your God, so refuse to act as if they were. Don’t let them dictate your beliefs or actions.
Being overwhelmed by powerful waves of peace is as empty as a drug-induced haze, relative to the God of infinite knowledge and power – the God who cannot lie and whose love for you is more vast than the universe – stating that everything is okay.
To prefer feelings is like preferring $5 in cash over a check for a billion dollars. What makes it interesting is that, unlike the trifling amount of cash, a check requires faith in the person who signed it.
We have noted that many people fall into temptation because they keep waiting for God to do what he expects us to do: to put in the effort. Likewise, many of us miss out on peace because we are idly waiting for a miracle rather than putting in the effort required to take God at his word that there is no need to fear or worry. It is like Peter walking on water: even though the result was supernatural, when Jesus said “Come,” he still had to take Jesus at his word, climb out of the boat and start walking (Matthew 14:29).
Whether it be Moses having to throw his rod on the ground before it turned into a snake, the Israelites having to march around and around and around Jericho before the walls fell, the servants having to draw the water before it turned into wine, or so very many other biblical examples, miracles almost always hinge on people doing something natural before the supernatural manifests itself.
Yes, the Omnipotent Lord could (and occasionally does) miraculously deliver from temptation or give peace when the human participants put in little or no effort, but God’s usual preference is for miracles to be a partnership between us and him, and if we do not do our part, the miracle will never occur.
I used to naively assume that if God gave me peace I would be enveloped by the blissful feeling no matter what. But gifts don’t operate that way. If I gave you a warm blanket on a cold night, what you do with my gift is up to you. To enjoy the blanket you must choose to snuggle into it and stay in its warmth. If you decide you don’t deserve my generosity, or object to its color, you can push it aside and shiver in the cold, no matter how cozy the blanket is.
My eyes were opened to this as I helped a friend I’ll call Robbie. There was a real possibility of virtually her worst nightmare becoming gut-wrenching reality.
As a young mother, Robbie had been subjected to terrifying dangers regarding the safety of her baby. So intense was this prolonged crisis that this strong woman developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This awful affliction causes people to see dangers even where there are none. It is what compels courageous soldiers to remain on hyper-alert, diving for cover when a car backfires and suffering nightmare after nightmare after returning from frontline dangers to the safety of home at the end of active duty.
Through no fault of her own, panicking when there was no danger had become a way of life for Robbie and it had continued for almost two decades. Now there was a real chance of the terrors that had created her Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – threats to her child’s safety – materializing into icy cold reality. She had done her very best as a mother but, like many good mothers, guilt and wishing she had done more were always stalking her like a pack of wolves.
The Lord clearly spoke to her, saying he was giving her peace that passes understanding but that she must embrace that peace and not cave into the guilt and condemnation that so persistently haunted her.
Despite God’s gift of peace, Robbie discovered how easy it is to yield to the deceptively enticing but maliciously false accusation that unless one is worrying, one is not showing sufficient love and compassion for a loved one. She also found that because God’s peace passes understanding, embracing this peace will be at odds with logic. Logic should be your friend but in this case it will turn against you, giving you reasons to worry. It will entice you to explore a million what ifs, but to do so is to let go of your Christ-bought peace.
Robbie found that God’s peace was like holding on to a priceless gift in the midst of a jostling crowd. Often the gift would slip from her grasp and she would have to seize it again. Many in the crowd would have loved to steal it but through Christ she was stronger and able to grab it back.
Is this Really Biblical?
We have used logic and one woman’s experience to affirm that no matter how much supernatural peace God gives, it still depends on us whether we let that peace rule in our hearts or we cave into negative thinking and emotions. Logic and experience, however, are weak indicators of God’s ways. The critical issue is whether it is taught in God’s Word. We have already examined many Scriptures, but since what we have been discovering in the Bible clashes alarmingly with common presumptions about divine peace, let’s indulge ourselves by exploring even more of God’s biblical revelation to humanity.
Here is an intriguing Scripture:
Hebrews 12:11 All chastening seems for the present to be not joyous but grievous; yet afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been exercised thereby. (Emphasis mine.)
Note how peace is linked in this verse with training. We are instantly granted Jesus’ righteousness when we place our faith in him and yet for us to daily live righteous lives we must learn how to exercise our Christ-bought power over temptation. Likewise, it takes training before we can daily live in peace.
As little children, we had to learn how to walk. We would fall and cry but we kept trying until we finally mastered the art. Similarly, we need to learn how to walk in the Spirit, one of the results of which is peace.
Note also this:
1 Peter 3:11 Let him turn away from evil, and do good. Let him seek peace, and pursue it. (Emphasis mine.)
So here, too, we see that righteousness and peace takes effort on our part.
Romans 14:19 So then, let us follow after things which make for peace, and things by which we may build one another up. (Emphasis mine.)
We know that the Bible bunches peace with the “fruit of the Spirit”:
Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. . . . (Emphasis mine.)
So for further confirmation that peace takes effort on our part let’s sample some of the Spirit’s fruit. For an overview, let’s select the first and the last in the divinely inspired list.
The romantic emotion that hits a person independent of his or her will is not biblical love. No matter how much love God gives us, it still comes down to whether we keep deciding to resist the temptation to be selfish. Similarly, just because the Spirit gives us self-control does not mean we can never sin. Regardless of how Spirit-filled we are, how much we live in love and self-control is our choice.
Likewise, no matter how much peace God gives us, whether we live in that peace or let fear, doubt and worry dominate us, depends upon our moment-by-moment decisions.
This is confirmed by the following:
Colossians 3:14-15 Above all these things, walk in love . . . let the peace of God rule in your hearts . . . (Emphasis mine.)
Neither love nor peace is something that is automatic for Christians. You must keep choosing to “put on love” and to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts”.
We have looked at the beginning and the end of the Bible’s description of the fruit of the Spirit and both these products of divine intimacy require effort on our part. Is this just coincidence? Let’s examine yet another: faithfulness.
Jesus repeatedly said such things as:
Matthew 25:23 . . . Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.
So faithfulness is clearly an achievement; something worthy of commendation and reward – not something that comes effortlessly.
But what if we follow the King James rendering and take this reference in the fruit of the Spirit as referring not to faithfulness but to faith? Remarkably, the conclusion is identical. For example, we find Jesus repeatedly praising or rebuking people according to their level of faith.
It hardly takes a genius to realize that patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness fall into the same category. They are all virtues, moral achievements, praise-worthy acts.
Having now looked at more than two-thirds of the Spirit’s fruit and consistently found them to be praise-worthy decisions, not feelings, isn’t it safe to assume that that this applies to all the fruit of the Spirit, including peace?
Perhaps you find joy a sticking point. If one part of this divine list of the Spirit’s fruit is a feeling, not a decision, we might be left with a nagging doubt that perhaps peace is likewise not a decision we make.
Like love, however, the Bible keeps commanding us to rejoice and be joyful:
Deuteronomy 16:14 You shall rejoice in your feast . . .
Deuteronomy 28:47-48 Because you didn’t serve the Lord your God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, by reason of the abundance of all things . . . you will serve your enemies whom the Lord sends against you . . .
Psalms 100:2 Serve the Lord with gladness. . . .
Luke 6:22-23 Blessed are you when men shall hate you, and when they shall exclude and mock you, and throw out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy . . .
Romans 12:12 rejoicing in hope; enduring in troubles; continuing steadfastly in prayer (Emphasis mine)
Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say, “Rejoice!”
James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various temptations
1 Thessalonians 5:16 Rejoice always.
Clearly, for anyone other than an idiot to command anything, it must be something the person has the power to choose to do. If joy were merely a feeling that occurs because of circumstances or a sovereign act of God, scriptures such as the above would be nonsensical.
So, as we have kept finding with the fruit of the Spirit, joy is a virtue. It is an on-going decision; the product of a daily resolve to rejoice in God; to delight in him no matter what circumstances we face:
Habakkuk 3:17-18 For though the fig tree doesn’t flourish, nor fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive fails, the fields yield no food; the flocks are cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls: [i.e. even if everything goes wrong and I am facing financial ruin and possible starvation] yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
This attitude, by the way, will also greatly help peace. We will later discover that the interconnectedness within the fruit of the Spirit is of profound significance to anyone wanting peace.
It would be wandering way off track to devote still more space to proving that joy is not spiritual dope but takes determined effort on our part. Our fleeting glimpse, however, should suffice to indicate that joy being grouped with peace in no way weakens what the rest of the Bible indicates about peace requiring effort on our part.
But here’s the clincher:
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, give I to you. Don’t let your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful.
This is crystal clear: even when Jesus gives his peace, we still have to choose not to let our hearts be troubled and not to be afraid.
This dovetails with:
Philippians 4:6-7 In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition 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 thoughts in Christ Jesus.
Despite this text strongly emphasizing the supernatural nature of this peace, we see yet again that enjoying this stupendous gift hinges on us striving to “not be anxious about anything.”
We have seen from our brief but extensive overview of the Spirit’s fruit that the Bible categorizes peace not with sovereign acts of God but with virtues and moral achievements such as patience, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Moreover, we found that these products of divine intimacy are not plopped full grown into our lap but take much effort on our part to develop. What we are discovering from other Scriptures about peace slots perfectly into this framework.
The Surprising Secret of Supernatural Peace
I have experienced mind-boggling peace. The miracle occurred through entering deeper than ever before into what the Bible calls dying to self.
This peace ruled during an astounding set of circumstances that, to the utter bewilderment of my wife and I, seemed to indicate that I was about to lose not only my house, but my most precious thing on earth: my wife whom I so passionately love and am very dependent upon. Moreover, I was led to believe that I was going to be betrayed and falsely accused worldwide of such atrocious things that the result would not merely be devastatingly embarrassing but that my ministry (which is virtually my entire life) would be ruined. Everything that meant anything to me on earth was about to be lost forever.
The person at the center of this colossal misunderstanding ended up seeing things as they really were and fully repented of the very real threats aimed at me. Nevertheless, I found the experience invaluable in highlighting to me the link between the peace the Bible speaks of and its many references to dying to self.
It is sickening enough to be reeling under a satanic onslaught without having some holier-than-thou do-gooder twisting the knife by falsely implying your agony is because you are an inadequate Christian. So it is most important to me that my writings remain firmly entrenched in spiritual realism and not enter some exaggerated or fanciful realm that leaves readers floundering, or vulnerable to the Accuser’s attempt to falsely condemn during times when practical reality does not match what I portray. So I must point out that the situation when I thought I was facing disaster came out of nowhere and lasted only a day or so. This short timeframe means there must have been an element of shock involved – a natural, rather than supernatural, numbing of one’s distress.
Nevertheless, there is a strong biblical connection between the fruit of the Spirit (of which peace is a part) and dying to self:
Galatians 5:22-24 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace . . . and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts.
Some people feel as if the only way to have peace is to try to have full control of their circumstances. The reality, of course, is that this is doomed because no one can control all of his or her circumstances. In fact, lasting peace necessitates us relinquishing our efforts to control our circumstances and letting God assume full control of every aspect of our lives.
The theoretical advantages of dying to self are undeniable: go to any extreme you wish to threaten a corpse, slander it, rob it, torture it, terrify it or expose it to great danger, and it will remain unmoved. Reaching that degree of disinterest while one’s heart is still beating, however, is quite another matter. Moreover, we fear what we wrongly perceive as frightening disadvantages associated with dying to self. These supposed disadvantages are exploded in the Spiritual Secrets link below.
The fundamental key to finding the peace that transcends all understanding is reaching that point of yielding to God where nothing (not life, happiness, material things, relationships, reputation, vocation, avoiding suffering, or anything else) really matters to you except God and him having his holy, wise and loving way in every aspect of your life. If, for example, everything you regard as your treasure is in heaven, you will not fear losing your job, being robbed, or a global financial meltdown. Reaching this point of abandonment and trust, however, is not easy. One key is to not wait for a crisis but even when things are going swimmingly to continually practice these Scriptures:
Colossians 3:2 Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth.
Psalm 49:16-17 Don’t be afraid when a man is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased. For when he dies he shall carry nothing away. His glory shall not descend after him.
Psalm 62:10 . . . If riches increase, don’t set your heart on them.
Psalm 119:36 Turn my heart toward your statutes, not toward selfish gain.
Psalm 119:37 Turn my eyes away from looking at worthless things. Revive me in your ways.
Luke 12:15 . . . Beware! Keep yourselves from covetousness, for a man’s life doesn’t consist of the abundance of the things which he possesses.
Romans 8:5 . . . those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
1 John 2:15,17 Don’t love the world or the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the Father’s love isn’t in him. . . . The world is passing away with its lusts, but he who does God’s will remains forever.
Dying to self doesn’t mean ceasing to care about people – people are infinitely important to the God of love. It doesn’t mean giving up – through God we are winners. It doesn’t mean ceasing to put in enormous effort – Jesus sweat until it was like blood. Dying to self means no longer trying to get things for yourself – whether protection, fulfillment, achievement, peace or whatever. Such things are no longer your concern. If they come, praise God; if they don’t, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is God, because his way is perfect and can never be improved on. And when that attitude floods your heart, you have peace no matter what horrors are exploding around you.
Spiritual Secrets: Dying to Self
Peace, Contentment, Fulfillment: A Radical Call to Authentic Christianity
The Neglected Essentials for Peace
Let’s return to our earlier observation that the very spiritual activity that promotes joy – rejoicing in God no matter how bleak the circumstances – also contributes to peace. This interconnectedness is no coincidence.
Some scholars make much of the Bible saying, “The fruit of the Spirit is . . .” rather than, “The fruits of the Spirit are . . .” If someone learning English asked what part of an apple is the fruit, you would reply, “The fruit is the skin, flesh, core and seeds,” just as the Bible says the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace and so on. The various elements of an apple are not fruits. It is only fruit when all the elements form one whole, by being united in the way that God grows fruit. Each element is so dependent upon the others that if just one element – the skin, the core, or whatever – were removed from a fruit growing on a tree, the entire fruit would soon begin to rot.
Every part of the Spirit’s fruit is not only from the same source – our intimacy with God – every part is a facet of the one jewel or, looked at another way, a vital organ of the same divinely-conceived baby.
Of particular interest to our search for peace is that each aspect of the fruit of the Spirit contributes to peace. For example, a dear, chronically ill friend of mine was crossing a street at night with a female companion. A car deliberately sped up and my friend’s companion narrowly escaped being hurt. The car stopped and four men got out, one of whom punched my friend in the face. That would shake anyone up but what powerfully calmed my friend is that he filled with deep love and compassion for the four strangers involved in the incident.
Love powers forgiveness which quells anger, an enemy of peace.
Likewise, patience, gentleness and self-control combine to increase one’s peace by lessening conflict in interpersonal relationships:
Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath . . .
Proverbs 16:32 One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty; one who rules his spirit, than he who takes a city.
Here are a few more examples of how each aspect of the Spirit’s fruit/offspring contributes to peace:
* What we give we will receive “pressed down, shaken together, and running over” (Luke 6:38), so if we give people kindness we are more likely to receive kindness and so enjoy less relationship strife and receive more support.
* Self-control in spending will lower financial stress.
* Patience aids our peace by helping us be less focused on the immediate.
* If you are faithful in prayerfully reading the Word of God, you will accumulate a vast store of spiritual wisdom with which to handle a crisis.
* And the more you think about it, the more helps to peace you will discover in the fruit of the Spirit.
We have learned much about peace from the company it keeps and there is still more that this approach will uncover. For example, there is a particularly strong link between peace and righteousness:
Isaiah 32:17 The work of righteousness will be peace . . .
Psalms 119:165 Those who love your law have great peace. . . .
Isaiah 48:18 Oh that you had listened to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.
Isaiah 57:2 He enters into peace. They rest in their beds, each one who walks in his uprightness . . .
Isaiah 57:21 “There is no peace”, says my God, “for the wicked.”
Isaiah 60:17 . . . I will also make peace your governor, and righteousness your ruler.
Malachi 2:5-6 My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him that he might be reverent toward me; and he was reverent toward me, and stood in awe of my name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found in his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many away from iniquity.
This link with righteousness is not surprising: to have the fruit of the Spirit, one must have abandoned the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) and “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25), which involves being in submission to his holy ways:
Romans 8:6-7, 13-14 For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace; because the mind of the flesh is hostile towards God; for it is not subject to God’s law, neither indeed can it be. . . . For if you live after the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God.
Peace cannot survive in a spiritual vacuum. Lasting peace is impossible except by nurturing all the rest of the fruit of the Spirit, plus prayer, thanksgiving, righteousness and every other aspect of godly living you can think of. Consider these Scriptures:
2 John 1:3 Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
Psalms 85:10 Mercy and truth meet together. Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Isaiah 55:12 For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace . . .
Zechariah 8:19 . . . Therefore love truth and peace.
Romans 15:13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 13:11 . . . Be perfected, be comforted, be of the same mind, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Ephesians 6:23 Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Timothy 1:2 to Timothy, my true child in faith: Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
2 Timothy 2:22 Flee from youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
Romans 14:17 for God’s Kingdom is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
And, of course, there’s the Scripture already quoted:
Philippians 4:6-7 In nothing be anxious but in everything, by prayer and petition 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 thoughts in Christ Jesus. (Emphasis mine)
Divine peace arrives permanently melded to every other quality God expects his children to manifest. All Godly qualities – of which peace is one – are like essential bodily organs than can survive without each other no more than your brain could survive without the rest of your body.
Or look at this way: the Prince of Peace needs to dwell in us:
Galatians 4:19 My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ is formed in you
John 14:23 . . . If a man loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.
No one can carve up the holy Son of God, saying, for example, his joy can enter but not the rest of him. You cannot invite the Prince of Peace to reign in your heart without extending the same invitation to the Lord of lords. The same person is both the forgiving Savior and the terrifying holy Lord who stays set apart from sinners. The one who stoops to lift us up remains the one before whom we must bow. He is both the lamb and the lion. He who is mindful of our every weakness is a consuming fire. There is healing in his wings but he comes as the sun of righteousness. He who came not to judge will return as Judge. (Scriptures pertinent to this paragraph)
We cannot have peace without devoting ourselves to everything else that is Christlike.
If seeking peace means we are seeking an easy life, we are hurtling headlong into a spiritual crisis.
We will get very frustrated with God until we finally realize that his plans for us are far higher and nobler than most of us dream. We want to feel good; he wants us to be good. We long to be comfortable; he longs for us to be great achievers and spiritual champions.
Romans 8:17 . . . heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.
2 Timothy 2:3 You therefore must endure hardship, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:12 If we endure, we will also reign with him. . . .
We want peace to be something we don’t have to work at. We hope for a divine miracle that requires little or no input from us. But despite being all-powerful, the God of love is into partnership, not domination. He is into relationship and faith. He yearns for regal children, not slaves; Christlike confidants, not robots; moral achievers, not drugged-out zombies.
Peace is a virtue; a praise-worthy achievement that requires divine help but demands our full-blooded cooperation and input. Like the love the Bible keeps commanding, biblical peace is a decision, not a feeling. And living in peace is about continually opting to do so.
We overcome fear by taking Christ’s hand and facing our fears. Likewise, we overcome inner turmoil, not by trying to push it down and pretending everything is fine, but by facing those issues with Christ, acknowledging their intensity and pouring out our heart to God until they are resolved. Just as leprous Naaman had to humble himself by dipping in the dirty Jordan before God acted, so for God to bring about inner healing we might have to humble ourselves by seeking human counsel.
We have noted that peace and all the rest of the Spirit’s fruit is a product of our union with God. Merely signing a marriage license will not cause anyone to “be fruitful and multiply.” To have many children takes years of frequent intimacy with one’s partner. And children are a huge responsibility. It takes much effort and commitment to properly look after and train children. As with the natural, so it is with the spiritual.
The Spirit of God is overflowing with love, joy, peace, etc. The closer we get to God, the more we will become like him. The more we get to know God, letting him share with us what is on his heart, the more we will be able to view from his perspective everything that worries, frightens, annoys, frustrates or defeats us. Seeing people, events and circumstances as God sees them will transform our outlook, incrementally filling our hearts with more and more love, joy, peace and every other aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.
It takes time to gain God’s view of the universe, and continual effort to train ourselves to keep seeing things God’s way when it is so easy to revert to our old, human way of seeing things.
Taking on God’s perspective is related to dying to self – denying ourselves our old, human way of seeing, believing and acting – and accepting God’s way as the right way. This is not a one-off spiritual experience but a daily occurrence:
Luke 9:23 . . . If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (NIV, Emphasis mine.)
1 Corinthians 15:31 . . . I die daily.
I could have sought popularity by pandering wishful thinking about peace. Rather than set you up for bewildered disappointment, however, I have sought to be ruthlessly honest about what the Bible really teaches. It turns out that peace is not heaven’s drug; it is an achievement. It is not a tranquilizer gun that God keeps in hand for emergencies. It is the product of continual intimacy with God; of daily following Scripture’s directive to store up treasure in heaven, not on earth; to fix our minds on things above; to die to self and declare with the great Apostle, “For to me, to live is Christ . . .”
We will never find the peace of God in a piece of God. For the peace of God we need all of God. For God’s peace to rule in your heart, God himself must rule in your heart.
Peace is not found in a box of spiritual trinkets we can rummage through and select whatever titillates us. It comes inseparably melded to everything else that together makes God’s heart. Having peace necessitates not only acting as if we have the heart of God but, through the miracle of spiritual new birth and daily dying to self, actually having his very heart throbbing within us; driving our thoughts and deeds every moment of every day.
Those who seek peace will never find it, just as those who seek to save their lives will lose their lives (Luke 9:24). We come alive to God by dying to self – by surrendering all claim to our comfort and desires.
We have the peace of God when the God of peace has us, but even then, God has promised us troubles and trials. There will be times when God’s peace in our lives will be so seriously challenged as to be hardly recognizable.
We have seen godly Job and St. Paul speaking as if they had no peace (Scriptures) and even the Holy Son of God, who urged us to follow him, had to wrestle in the garden over doing things God’s way. So we all can expect significant battles. When Christ struggled in the garden he seemed anything but peaceful, but as he was victorious, so can you, by uniting with him, letting him be your leader and inspiration as you keep crucifying the flesh and making Christlike decisions. The result with bring glory to God – and to you.
Fear: Help & Cure
Help When Doubt Knocks: How to Grow in Faith
Life’s Mysteries Explained
Spiritual Secrets: Dying to Self
Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2011, 2012 Grantley Morris. May be freely copied in whole or in part provided: it is not altered; this entire paragraph is included; readers are not charged and it is not used in a webpage. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings available free online at www.net-burst.net Freely you have received, freely give. For use outside these limits, consult the author.
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