“Shalom”… the Jewish word for peace.
We all wish we had it on a daily basis, but often we don’t. We worry, we lack confidence, and we experience despair, in spite of our faith. We feel we don’t have any faith or we certainly don’t have much and we certainly don’t have peace.
One of the most common things I sometimes hear from some Christians about their faith in times of crisis is this: “I don’t know why I worry so much. I believe in God. Why is this happening to me? Why can’t I trust God that everything is going to be ok? Why don’t I have peace, you know that peace that passes all understanding? Why can’t I get through this and feel good about it?”
Let’s take a moment and look at the opposite of worry, lack of confidence and despair. Let’s look at Pastor Billy Graham’s* picture of a Christian who has peace. “He stands alone on the battlefield, by faith garrisoned round with God’s holy weapons, and in command of the situation. Such a man is not troubled about the future, for he knows who holds the key to the future. He does not tremble on the rock, for he knows who made the rock. He does not doubt, for he knows the One who erases all doubt” [Graham, 253-54]
A pretty high bar, isn’t it…
We need to acknowledge that this faith and resulting peace that we are all supposed to feel is often born from a mountaintop experience. Some people report that they are ready to commit to faith in God when they hear a truly inspirational sermon. Maybe they experience something that seems miraculous, for example the birth of a child. They have prayed for a long, long time and then in a dramatic fashion, their prayers are answered. Faith could be born from something as simple as the sounds of a beautiful song, a phrase in a book, but for the first time in a person’s life, they know that God is there…and they commit to having faith. They are a new believer in God and they may have peace that they have never had before.
And then they leave the mountain. They find themselves in what John Ortberg** calls “the valley of ambiguity”. It makes ultimate sense that once you begin to believe in God that your belief should be a stable, everyday thing, but it is not. Ortberg writes that “one of the biggest illusions is that our minds are generally governed by reason. But our minds are not logic machines. What seems true to us in one moment can change drastically in the next” . Logical stable belief does not even seem to be what we should expect from human beings. I wish it was, but it’s not.
Throw in trials and tribulations and you have a recipe for loss of faith and lack of peace. Throw in sin and you have a person who is at war with himself, doing things that he may not want to do but doing them anyway. This is a far cry from John 14: 27: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you, not as the world gives, do I give to you.” Focus on the phrase, not as the world gives; that peace only comes to man and woman from the Holy Spirit.
Yet we are only human…
Why is sin such a problem? Why does it cause such unrest in our souls? Christ came to earth to save us from ourselves. He ended the internal war between sinful man and righteous man. He ended the war between sinful man and a vengeful God. Jesus’ blood made peace within man and made peace between man and God. The debt was cancelled and the books were balanced. Man was set free from his stressful concern about his sin. Graham writes “For us, peace with God is not simply an armistice; it is a war ended forever.” Indeed this peace transcends human knowledge; it is a gift we do not deserve but it is ours for the taking. It is ours for the living.
It makes sense. I believe; I must have peace.
Even though we have this peace, we certainly can relate to Charles Spurgeon when he says “I looked at Christ, and the dove of peace flew into my heart; I looked at the dove of peace and it flew away.” We have it and they it leaves, maybe making us question our faith in God.
What should we do if we want this illusive peace? We must carefully examine our relationship with God and we must carefully consider how well God really knows us. He knows us so well that we can turn to Psalms 139 and see that He has searched us, He knows when we sit and rise, He knows our thoughts from afar, He is familiar with all our ways. Before we speak, He knows what we are about to say. His knowledge of us is wonderful and from my perspective it is reassuring. He knows that we will have moments of peace and that we will have moments of worry, lack of confidence and despair and yes folks, we even have moments when we sin.
I don’t mean to be disingenuous, but God knows that we are human.
He knows that we are going to have moments when we have so much lack of peace that the only thing we can do is throw up our hands and ask Him for help. There is nothing else for us to do. We know we don’t have the power to have the peace we need, but we know that in God we might have the answer. He knows we need Him, and He wants to help us. When He helps us, we have been given the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in our weak bodies. When we most need Him, He is there. He wants to be there because He saved us that we might bear fruit for Him. This is our purpose; to bear fruit in our lives through the Holy Spirit. To bring glory to the Kingdom of God.
Some of the most amazing fruit that we can bear is the fruit of peace in the midst of trying times. There is not a stronger message that we can deliver about our faith. Graham knows peace when he sees it and he uses a simple example to illustrate. He recounts the story of a hijacked airplane and after landing, the passengers disembark, showing horror, terror and fear on their faces, only natural. But in the middle of all that crisis, a woman disembarked with her small baby in her arms, calmly sleeping through it all. “Peace in the midst of turmoil.”
The child’s peace speaks volumes. Our peace speaks too. When all is falling apart around us, there is it, for others to see.
It says we know who made the rock, we do not doubt, for we know the One who erases all doubt.
It says it loudly…it says it clearly…
The Holy Spirit fruit of peace…
*from Graham’s book The Holy Spirit
**parts of this blog are based on John Ortberg’s Faith and Doubt