Philemon 3 (ESV) – Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Fear unsettles you. It shakes your heart so all the sin sediment that has settled at the bottom is stirred up. It clouds you, confuses you, and disorients you. Fear squelches peace.
Someone who is motivated by fear has their heart fixed on what they hope will never happen. They’ve created a scenario in their own mind that brings what they fear to pass, and what they fear becomes as real to them as that which they can see in the noon day sun. Fear becomes the lens through which you see everything you see. It leaves no room for peace.
And God is offering to give us peace as a gift. Paul wishes it on the readers in every one of his letters. Paul greets his readers with the express desire that they would experience God’s peace. Both God the Father and the Lord Jesus are granters of this peace. He calls peace a fruit of the Spirit. With all three members of the Godhead desiring that we experience peace, why don’t we?
At the bottom of the struggle for peace is a wavering confidence in the sovereignty of a good and loving God. Maybe God doesn’t love me and wishes ill for me? Maybe God’s not in charge and can’t protect me from ill? A lack of conviction concerning the love of a sovereign God leaves us fearful of just what might happen as helpless pawns in a sin-cursed, strife-inflicted world. When you fear something more than you trust the Lord, you end up bereft of peace.
The disciples had much to fear from every earthly perspective. Jesus had called them to himself, and they’d left all to follow him for a bit over three years. Then, as if to pull the rug out from underneath them, when things really started heating up with the Jewish leadership, Jesus begins to tell them that he’s going to be leaving them. And in his absence, they are going to face some real tribulation in this world. He’s kicked the nest, and now he’s leaving them to face the mad hornets.
This is how he puts it in John 16:33 (ESV) – I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. He wants us to have peace in the face of tribulation because he’s overcome the world. How can this happen?
As I see it, we have to believe two indispensable truths. First, we must expect tribulation. We must expect trials. We must expect things to break, fall apart, and dissolve. Relationships, bodies, minds, cars, pennies, and everything else in this life. We must expect it, embrace it, and we should not be surprised or shaken when life is really, really hard.
Second, Jesus has overcome this world and all its cursed brokenness, not so that Christians might find their greatest joy in it, but that they might find their greatest joy in the new heavens and the new earth. We must live for another time and another place, and we must look to the promised peace that God has guaranteed after death is finally defeated, the curse is removed, and all creation is restored. You must find your peace in me, Jesus said. Not in this world.
So, what I’ve been working on is this: I’m working on intentionally NOT seeking peace in this life. I want to enjoy whatever God gives me that’s good, and I want to see as good whatever God gives me. If I am at peace because my circumstances are favorable, because my marriage is without conflict, because my children are succeeding, because my health is holding up, because my bank account is padded, well, then my peace is fleeting and flimsy.
Now, I will definitely work for these things because I think they are worth working for. Good stewardship demands it. God makes it clear that a life of wisdom is a life worth pursuing. And yet, I don’t think it’s worth sacrificing my peace for them. If my greatest joy and peace are found in Christ, then I can experience both the peace of God and the sting of loss at the same time. I don’t think Jesus is saying tribulation will be fun. I DO think he is saying that I can be at peace in the middle of it. Because he won. This is not all there is. And whatever ease I experience in this life is a simple and temporary gift of God intended to give me a foretaste of glory divine because Jesus beat death and went to the future to prepare a place for me.
I hope you can work at these same things with me. Please pray for me, at the least, that I would know the peace of God that passes all understanding, that he freely offers, that Jesus paid for, the easily eludes me.