Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Internal Peace: It Can Be Learned

I was sitting in my hotel room on yet another business trip, and was feeling a little unsettled. My wife and I had been texting back and forth on a host of subjects, including the importance of making the seeking of personal peace a priority in our lives, something which that day, was clearly lacking in me. Perhaps you can relate.

But how does one find personal peace? What does personal peace look like? In this stress-filled hustle and bustle world that we’ve created for ourselves, can personal peace even be found? Isn’t the very concept of personal peace somewhat of an anomaly, and perhaps even, utopian?  What would bring us personal peace?

Just before his arrest, Jesus spent some of his last hours sharing with his disciples some of the things that would soon be happening. He predicted His betrayal by Judas, His denial by Peter, and His own death. I can only try to imagine what the disciples must have been feeling upon hearing these things. Do you think they might have been feeling a little unsettled too? I think they were, and Jesus knew it, for He then began to try and comfort His disciples. He told them,
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 14: 1-4; NIV).
Poor Thomas still didn’t get it, and he questioned Jesus on it further. Sometimes I’ve done that too. Despite being a Christian for many years, I too can still get stressed out and overwhelmed with it all; I too need to hear again Jesus’ gentle words to Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

The Inheritance

I think we need to hear that, to really hear it, before we can move on. If we don’t hear and accept that, what Jesus would soon say to His disciples about personal peace probably will lose some of its impact. At the very least, we may find ourselves relegating some of it to the proverbial “pat answer” status that no one really feels comforted by. So let’s look at it again: Jesus said that He is “the way and the truth and the life.” Once we see that, it becomes easier to see that the solution to all my unsettledness, valleys, and inner anxiousness – is Jesus. The answer to my soul’s restlessness, to my lack of personal peace, is found in Jesus; He is “the way and the truth and the life.” He has the answers to all our unsettled peacelessness, and He alone is the answer. Listen to what Jesus then told His disciples in their dark hour. He said,
"Peace I leave with you; My [own] peace I now give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled]. ... I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you] (John 14:27; 16:33; Amplified).
I’ve read that a hundred times before, if not more. Yet this time it all translated a little differently as I slowed down and really chewed on the words for a while. The peace of Jesus is not just given, but it has actually been bequeathed to me, just as someone bequeaths their property to another through a legal will after they die. The personal peace of Jesus is mine! Likewise, if you are a true Christian, then it is as if you and I have inherited this divine peace together, as joint siblings in Christ. It’s ours for the taking.

It’s important to note that Jesus’ peace is not as the secular world sees and gives peace. What does the world’s version of peace look like? Perhaps it is best summed up in that anonymous mantra, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Whenever I’ve heard that, I’ve often wondered, “Wins what?” The fact is, all the toys in the world, and the money with which to buy those toys, though often high on the list of the world’s idea of personal peace, is a vain hope. Can any of that really give us peace? No. If the thieves don’t break in and get your treasured pseudo-peacemaking possessions, the moths and the rust will be sure to destroy it (Matthew 6: 19-24). 

Why was I feeling unsettled that evening in my hotel room? It’s a long story and one whose details are probably best not shared here. Yet Jesus seemed to be saying don’t allow yourself to go there; don’t permit it! Part of me wanted to say “That’s easier said than done,” yet at the same time, I doubt Jesus would have said such a thing to His disciples (and to me) that if it were not possible. Sure the world is full of stressors and trials and distresses and frustrations, yet Jesus says that, perfect peace is not only possible, but He has actually bequeathed exactly that to you and me. The only question is, do we believe it? And if so, what are we going to do about it?

Learning the Lesson

Building upon what Jesus said above, I think that the Apostle Paul gives us a hint as to how we might achieve that elusive personal peace. He said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). Let’s meditate upon that a bit.

Paul says that contentment, or personal peace, is a “learned” thing. Even Paul didn’t come by it naturally; he had to learn it, and as with all learning, I’m sure he didn’t graduate from this learning overnight. Life wasn’t easy for him either; he had plenty of hardships along the way that I’m sure left him unsettled a time or two as well. Paul was frequently locked up in prison, he was severely flogged, and exposed to death. Let’s listen as he tells the story:
I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten with Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather. And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11: 23-28; The Message).
Not to belittle any of our struggles and difficulties, for they are all significant and real in their own right, but my woes seem pale in comparison to what Paul endured. More amazingly, though, is that through it all he “learned” to be content and at peace. No doubt there were probably times when he thought he had arrived, only to break down at yet another calamity. But at the end of his life, as an old gray-haired man in Nero’s prison, he had somehow found perfect peace that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

Pressing Onward

So where do we go from here? Do we really need to “learn” to be content when Jesus said that we’ve already inherited His peace? I think we do, because we do not come by perfect peace naturally. We can practice all sorts of immorality naturally enough; we don’t need to “learn” how to sin, but we do need to “learn” to be content in whatever circumstances we may find ourselves in. The devil doesn’t want us to have perfect peace, and he will oppose us in the quest to obtain it, just as he opposed Paul. But like Paul, I believe that you and I can defeat the devil’s schemes as we “learn” to “put on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11). Only then will we also find perfect peace.

Am I there yet? Have I already achieved this perfect peace? No, but I’m learning. And one thing that I found in this quest is that, the more I am concerned with the welfare of my fellow man (regardless of their faith or lack there of), the more peace God blesses me with. Conversely, the times in my life that I seem less concerned with my fellow man’s welfare, the less peace I have in my own spirit. Maybe that’s not so surprising after all, especially when I think of how much God loves our fellow man (John 3:16).

Finally, in the words of that great Aaronic priestly blessing, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6: 24-26). Amen.

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