If someone says to you ‘I’ve not known any real peace recently’, I don’t know if you straight away rehearse all the well-known ways of keeping anxious thoughts away from you. For example, deep breathing (‘yoga’ not being a celebrated option amongst Christians), perhaps soaking in worship, or simply taking a bath, or a long walk. Doing things that you like doing.
I can imagine that these ideas would come across as very frustrating to someone who has already tried all these solutions, or is simply too harrassed or distressed by their circumstances to have the space or inclination to try them.
There are other ways of finding peace. They lie in a deeper experience of the simple truths of the gospel. You can never say too many times: as far as the east is from the west, God has taken my sins from me. Or meditate on that wonderful invitation at the start of Isaiah where God says: ‘Come, let us reason together. Though your sins were like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they were like crimson, they shall be as wool.’ Where submerged guilt, like a dull toothache or an ulcerous stomach pain, nags at us at all the most stressed points of our day, reminding ourselves that we are clean and justified before the Judge of all the earth, only because of Jesus, is unfailingly helpful for me.
Often, we are mistaken about the real cause of our anxiety. Fear of the unknown is by definition rather tricky to pin down. What am I actually anxious about? How am I going to be found out? When will my boss realised that I am deep down incapable of doing my job? When will my partner see through my hypocrisy and glimpse the vastness of my selfishness and the smallness of my love for her, and just come out with it? Or am I running from physical pain, or the prospect of terminal illness? Is it the loss of my parents, or my children – are these the things that steal my peace the most?
Those of us who have trusted in Jesus, and have confessed Him as our Lord and Saviour: those of us who have received the fullness of the Holy Spirit when we believed… we have a fountain of life within us that no outward circumstance can quench. One reason that I get constantly robbed of my peace is that I rest my well-being in something that I can lose. My peace for the day depends on my achieving these certain goals – I must read this chapter, write that lesson plan, have these conversations, and do those jobs around the house. Two on my list don’t get done – and my peace flies off like a wild bird, scared by my sudden movements and unnecessarily loud voice.
Why not start the day by centering yourself every morning in Christ? He is our peace. My rest for the day is not dependent on what I achieve, but dependent on what He achieved, and dependent on His presence with me. And is he with me? Oh yes – he will not leave me at all today. Thanking Him for his presence and His Comfort, in the Holy Spirit, I am at peace though I have not got things done. He is smiling on me. Knowing His smile is better than anyone else’s approval.
You will be wondering why I haven’t mentioned that great verse in Philippians, about making your requests known to God and receiving the peace that passes all understanding. I know a fellow Christian who in the face of life-threatening cancer showed in her eyes and demonstrated through how she was living her life that she was confident in her God to bring her through – she declared she just knew peace, and that went right through an operation and out the other side.
Perhaps you think that you ought to experience more peace than you currently do from God. Maybe you have not yet gone through the deepest trial of your life. God reserves the sweetest mercies for the darkest points of our lives. It’s only when the thief really has come to steal and kill and destroy that we realise how abundant the life is that we have found in Jesus. And that we see, in a way that we never saw before, that His agape love for us is absolutely perfect and without a single shadow. W.E. Sangster tells the true story of a Christian woman who lost her sight, and who wanted his help. One of the things she was most distressed about was her garden, because she loved the colours and textures of the flowers. Her husband, however, planned to replant the garden with more fragrant flowers so that she would appreciate the smells. Suffering helps us to appreciate the glory of His creation more. Being around the broken, the hurting and the humbled there is peace. Spend your time with the ambitious, among pleasure-seekers and lovers of self, and you will have little real peace.
I looked at a book recently which was focused around Psalm 91, and recommended memorising the Psalm (something I thought I’d work on) to prepare you for whatever life hits you with. Here is Eugene Peterson’s version of that Psalm:
You who sit down in the High God’s presence, spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow, say this: “God, you’re my refuge, I trust in you and I’m safe!” That’s right – he rescues you from hidden traps, shields you from deadly hazards. His huge outstretched arms protect you – under them you’re perfectly safe; his arms fend off all harm. Fear nothing – not wild wolves in the night, not flying arrows in the day, not disease that prowls through the darkness, not disaster that erupts at high noon. Even though others succumb all around, drop like flies right and left, no harm will even graze you. You’ll stand untouched, watch it all from a distance, watch the wicked turn into corpses. Yes, because God’s your refuge, the High God your very own home, Evil can’t get close to you, harm can’t get through the door. He ordered his angels to guard you whever you go. If you stumble, they’ll catch you; their job is to keep you from falling. You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes, and kick young lions and serpents from the path. “If you hold on to me for dear life,” says God, “I’ll get you out of any trouble. I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times; I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party. I’ll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!”