What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9
Peace. About as elusive a possession as there is in life. On the global scale, with war being defined as an active conflict claiming at least 1,000 lives, historians estimate according to a 2003 NY Times article that over the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, or just 8 percent of recorded history. Since 1000 A.D., estimates are that that the world has only seen 23 war-free years.
On the more personal level, interpersonal conflicts in family, work and neighbors often seem more the rule than the exception. Add on that our own inner angst and restlessness, and peace at times can seem beyond our grasp.
This month as we continue our study of the Fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5, this month we get to “Peace.” Peace is an attribute that the Holy Spirit wants to develop in all of us. Jesus promised ”Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). So let’s give some thoughts to why that peace may be so elusive and perhaps identify some obstacles blocking God’s peace in our lives.
In the book of Philippians, Paul pens these words: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” What had they learned, seen and heard in Paul that he insists will bring them peace? While Paul shares many gems of truth in his letter, I want to focus on one particular thought that is so key to us experiencing God’s peace.
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13b-14
- “Forgetting what lies behind…”
Paul here is not talking of some kind of spiritual amnesia. Forgetting what lies behind is more the idea of letting go of the past. We can hold on to past experiences, regrets and excuses that causes unrest, anxiety and turmoil – both with others and within our own selves. Staying in the past will stunt and paralyze us one way or the other. If we idealize the past, we get stuck pining for the” good ole’ days” and wishing things we are good now as they once were (or at least we are convinced they once were!). On the other hand, we can allow negatives of the past to still linger, control and rob us of peace.
A key aspect of letting go of the past is forgiveness. Forgiving others and forgiving ourselves. Forgiving what others have done to us, and seeking forgiveness for what we have done to others as well as forgiving ourselves for things we have done.
- “Straining forward to what lies ahead…”
In order to stop living in the past, we will need to begin living in the present – ready to take on what lies ahead each and every day. That takes trusting God daily for wisdom, courage and strenght to live each day as he calls us to live. It takes trusting him at his Word and holding to the promises he gives. Obsessing on negative news (which often flows from spending too much time with negative people) will keep our sprit unsettled. It will only multiply our fears and our worries of life. What we focus on will greatly impact how we deal with life and whether our life is marked more by peace or worry. Paul closes his letter to the Philippians stating: “ I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Whatever the circumstances Paul says he is at peace. It is significant to note that Paul writes these words while under house arrest in Rome with expectations of impending execution (for a full listing of his life events that could easily be preace-breakers read through 1 Corinthians 11:16-33 some time).
- “Press on toward the goal…the prize…the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”
Last but not least, the source of inner peace is solid hope for the future. Putting our hope in things that won’t last, can fade away, may be gone in an instant will always keep us on edge. Peace flows from putting our hope in that which is certain. We certainly do not know nor control all things, but we, through Christ, can come before the throne of the One who does and can. As we have just celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus this past weekend, knowing that same power that raised Jesus from the grave is the very same power that is at work in us gives us the peace that surpasses all understanding.
One final thought. It is often said that “the peace of God comes from peace with God.” This of course is THE starting point to experiencing God’s peace in all things. It is peace with God that gives us the ability to forgive and let go of the past, to live today by the strength that HE gives us, and to have hope for the future. And that peace with God comes from Christ our Savior and mediator.
Grace and Peace!
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication 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 minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
Some Food (Fruit?) for Thought:
Letting Go of the Past
Are thing any things in the past you are hanging on to that you need to let go? People you need to forgive? How about forgiving yourself? What is it that keeps your spirit unsettled?
Living in the Present
Do you live and act each day out of strength (God’s strength, not your own) and freedom or weakness or fear? What is behind that fear and anxiety? Do the people you hang with most exude peace or anxiety themselves? Fear-based choices and decisions are exhausting. What do you do with Jesus’ words: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid”
Hope for the Future
In what or whom do you place your hope? We all know the good, Christian answer is Jesus, but does how you live, how you cope, what you pursue demonstrate that your hope is fully in Christ?
Since peace is so elusive, we know these are some pretty tough questions to ask ourselves . It may be helpful to find a wise/spiritual friend or counselor to help you work through some of these obstacles.