By Pastor Glenn Pease
I have a good number of books by Norman Vincent Peale, and almost every one of them has a chapter on peace. The reason is, Peale appeals to the masses and peace is a topic that has universal interest. Dante, centuries ago said, "I am seeking for that which every man seeks-Peace." Peace of mind drugs are the most popular, for that is one way man can generate his own peace. For many, their only hope to cope is dope.
Much, if not most, of the social turmoil of our culture is due to a hunger for peace, which is sought for in all the wrong places. According to Ronald Hutchcraft, the Director of Youth for Christ in New York and New Jersey, in the next thirty minutes-
57 kids will run away from home.
29 children will attempt suicide.
22 girls under 19 years of age will receive an abortion.
14 teenage girls will give birth to an illegitimate baby.
685 teens will use some form of narcotic.
These tragic statistics reveal that we are a nation in perpetual war. The spiritual battle between light and darkness is everywhere and one of Satan's greatest weapons is to get people to think they can find peace in tranquilizers. The problem is he has a point. False and fake peace does have an element of reality. Tranquilizers work because they reduce or eliminate the inner reaction to stressful stimuli. They do not change the environment in which you have to live. They change your response to it and this makes a world of difference. If you do not respond to what is negative and disturbing with panic, fear, or anxiety you can have some measure of peace in spite of these negatives. This is an imitation of what the Holy Spirit does in our lives when we let him produce the fruit of peace in us. He does not change the environment and rid it of stress and conflict. The Christian has to live in the same fallen world with everyone else.
Ronald Hutchraft in his book on peace, Peaceful Living in a Stressful World, tells of the testing of his peace as he wrote that book. He wrote,
"No sooner had I made a commitment to insist on peace than stress
brought out the heavy artillery.
My wife has had three dangerous illnesses in the last nine months
The staff for whom I am responsible went through a major upheaval.
Our daughter started high school.
Our son started junior high school with a badly broken arm.
We faced a decisive deadline in the legal tangle due to an accident.
Paychecks for our staff were delayed.
The kitchen floor and the back stairs fell apart.
"All these surprises came in right on top of my already relentless
schedule full of speaking, counseling, managing, radio, nonstop
meetings, and daddying. The peace has stood the test. To be sure,
my old high-pressure, high-pitched responses still surface, but I
retreat quickly to the new peace I have chased and found. This
tranquility is anything but theoretical or passive. It is the product
of a daily insistence that we choose the peace alternative."
His testimony is typical of many. The Christian does not escape the external turmoil of life in a fallen world. But he can escape the internal reaction that robs him of peace. The world's imitations do work for awhile, and they are a temptation. That is why we are told, "Be not drunk with wine but be filled with the Spirit." Wine can help you relax and not feel as full of anxiety, but you have to deal with the after effects which can be worse than the problem you sought to escape. Peace purchased in this way is not worth the cost for in the end peace will be lost. The peace of God does not come with the risks of negative after effects.
What the Bible makes clear is that we can cooperate with the Holy Spirit is the growing of this fruit. David says in Psalm 34:14 "seek peace and pursue it." You do not sit on your couch and hope it will fall into your lap. Peace is a matter of activity. You go in search of it. It is like game. You have to go hunt to find it and possess it for your own. When David wrote this he was being pursued by Saul, and was the no.1 most wanted man in the nation. He was a fugitive running for his life under great stress. Yet he says seek peace and pursue it. The Apostle Peter writing to Christians going through tough times remembers these words of David. He quotes them for Christians under stress in IPet.3:10-11, "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good, he must seek peace and pursue it."
Seeking peace and actively pursuing it is one of the major obligations of the Christian life. It is a sin to let the world be in control of your emotional system. The Christian is to make the pursuit of inner peace one of the major goals of life. Without this fruit of peace the Christian cannot be truly Christlike and obey the laws of love. In IPet.3:8-9 we read, "Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing...." This passage comes just before his urging them to seek peace and pursue it. Without inner peace the Christian cannot do these things so essential to the true Christian life. The Christian will respond just like the natural man without the fruit of the Spirit. His peace will keep them in control so they do not react to evil and insult with the same. Internal peace is the key to external peace. Where men are filled with war within there will be war without. Only the fruit of peace can produce peace in a world of war.
Blessed are the peacemakers said Jesus, for they will be called the sons of God. Why? Because they are obviously of a different blood line than mere men who are ever war-like. Only God's kids can achieve peace in a war zone like this fallen world. If you want people to know you are a child of God, one of the most conspicuous ways of doing so is to be a peacemaker.
It is not natural not to want to live in peace with all men. It is unnatural to want to forgive offenses and not seek revenge. You seem like some sort of a freak if you don't hate your enemies, but pray for them instead. A peacemaker is not a conformist to what is natural and normal. They are as conspicuous as a pro basketball player at a midget festival. They stand out as unique, for they are like the man found beaten by the Good Samaritan, going to the priest and Levite who left him to die, and contributing to their ministry. That is the kind of thing the peacemaker can do, because he has the fruit of the Spirit-peace. Peace is the ability to respond to evil with good. This is the peace of God which passes understanding.
Let's face reality, there is not a lot of this going around, and the reason is very few Christians are surrendered to the Holy Spirit. Most all Christians are quenching the Spirit to some degree. That is why we need to back up the fruit of the Spirit with natural techniques. It is a matter of damage control. When we fell to be Spirit filled we need to have a net of safety to fall into. Christian leaders who fall and bring disgrace to the Christian faith do so because they depend to much on their Spiritual life alone. They do not develop natural methods for backup. Then when they quench the Spirit and have to depend on their own resources they fall.
The whole idea of pursuing peace is to get Christians to realize they have to play an active role in their own success. They have to learn to balance themselves like a child on a bike, so when dad let's go they can continue to move forward and not fall. God sometimes lets go because we grieve the Holy Spirit, and if we have not learned to go on our own we will fall. This means it is possible to be too spiritual. That is, we can so depend on spirituality that we do not develop any natural gifts, and then when we fell spiritually we are in deep trouble.
Paul is the one who tells us of the fruit of the Spirit, but he is also the one who urges us to labor like mad and put forth all the natural effort possible. In Rom.14:19 he writes, "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification." Won't the Holy Spirit just do this for us? No more so than He will grow fruit in your garden if you never plow it, cultivate it, or water it. Fruit is a joint adventure of God and man. If man does not cooperate the fruit is not grown at all, or is very inferior. In Eph.4:3 Paul writes, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Does Paul mean that if Christians do not make every effort the unity of the body can fall apart, and peace be lost? That is what precisely what Paul is saying, for he has seen it often, and it has been recorded all through history. Christians who do not put forth efforts to be peacemakers do not contribute to the peace of the world, or the body of Christ.
Paul writes in Col.3:15, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace." Every Christian has a calling from God. It is a call to be channels of His peace. We need this fruit of the Spirit to fulfill our calling. But peace is not very high on the list of priorities most Christians aim for. The Church has conformed to the culture which is T. V. driven, and one of perpetual stimulus and response. Dr. Maxwell Maltz in his book Psycho-Cybernetics, says we are so conditioned to respond that we feel we have no choice to not respond. He recommends that people de-condition themselves by letting their telephone ring and not answering it. This is hard, but when you can learn to do it, you have regained some control of your life. You realize you have a choice, and do not have to respond to all the stimuli that life hurls at you. You can just sit still and not respond. In order to have peace, the Christian needs to learn how to not respond to all the stimuli that comes at him for our culture.
Escapism is usually thought of as a bad thing, because it is a running away from reality. But we need to see there is much reality that we need to escape from. The stress and tension all around us is real, but we have no obligation to be in a state of constant reaction to it. If we can escape and be at peace in the midst of it, let us praise God for this kind of escapism. Sleep is escapism God has built into our life, and it saves our life everyday. Building a house to retreat from the weather is escapism. Taking a vacation is escapism. Carrying an umbrella is escapism. Life is full of perfectly valid escapism. And so is the escapism of the Christian who learns to retreat into the presence of God and bathed in His peace. Music, reading, relaxation tapes, there are all kinds of resources for the Christian to use to obey the Biblical command to seek peace and pursue it. The Christian who uses these means is going to be prepared soil for the fruit of the Spirit-peace.
Pursuing peace has to be seen in the same sense as pursuing a deer. I had to learn the hard way that the best way to get a deer is to be still. You have to go into the woods to pursue it, but then you have to learn to be still. I once waited for an hour in the woods and did not see a deer, so I got up to look around. Just then five deer were startled and ran. They were just about to come into the opening, but I never got a shot, because I scared them. Had I stayed still they would have come right to me. Passive pursuit is a hard lesson to learn.
We live in a culture where speed is king. I find myself in a hurry even if there is no reason. People get uptight today if they miss a revolution in a revolving door. We are an uptight generation of compulsive activists. There are ten times more things to do in a day than anyone can do, and so we feel we are always behind and failing to do all that we could. All we do is respond, respond, respond to stimuli. We want peace but it just does not fit into our agenda. Peace calls for doing nothing sometimes, and we can't handle that. Pascal the great Christian philosopher and scientist said, "Most of man's troubles come from his inability to be still."
God gave the Sabbath law to force His people to relax and be still one day a week. Modern man has made it one of the most active days of the week. Man wants peace in a pill he can swallow, so he does not have to stop his perpetual motion. "Be still and know I am God", goes against the gain of our culture. The result is, Christians often have no more peace than do non-Christians. Yet, the promise of God in Isaiah 26:3 is, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee." If we could have a mind focused on God, and not on all the stimuli about us, we could have perfect peace. We should pray often as May Rowland does in her poem-
Come! Peace of God, and dwell again on earth,
Come, with the calm that hailed Thy Prince's birth,
Come, with the healing of Thy gentle touch,
Come, Peace of God, that this world needs so much.
Break every weapon forged in fires of hate,
Turn back the foes that would assail Thy gate;
Where fields of strife lie desolate and bare
Take Thy sweet flowers of peace and plant them there.
The Holy Spirit will not give us peace if we do not retreat and escape from the constant bombardment of stimuli. Just as money in the bank draws interest and grows into more money, so peace in a peaceful environment draws interest, and becomes a deeper peace. People with the greatest evidence of peace are people who know how to escape. Former President Harry Truman is often used as an illustration. He had no end of stress with a war on his hands, and one crisis after another. When he was asked how he could stand it, he responded, "When I can't take it anymore, I go into a fox hole in my mind." That is where a soldier escapes from the bullets of the enemy. He would retreat into his mind and do what Paul tells us to do in Phil.4:8, "...Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things." He would live in the memory of all the peaceful scenes and beautiful experiences of his life, and be renewed in spirit. He could get away from it all without going anywhere, because he could slip into a state of peace.
This is what devotional time and prayer time is to be for the Christian. It is an escape from the perpetual stimuli of the flesh to the peaceful stimuli of the spirit. It is not an escape from reality, but an escape to a higher reality so that one can better cope with the lower reality. Peace is aware of conflict, just as love is aware of hate, and joy is aware of sorrow, but each fruit counteracts the impact of its opposite.
Peace, like all of the fruits, has its source in Jesus Christ. Paul says in Eph.2:14, "For He Himself is our Peace." There is no way the Holy Spirit can grow any of the fruits in us if Jesus is not our Savior and Lord. Michel Quoist defines peace like this-
"We mean the calm, the interior serenity, and the profound peace
which permeate and emanate from a man who, notwithstanding
a torn heart and body, and despite the suffering of mankind and
the world, believes with all his strength in the victory of the
Savior. And he believes this without for an instant forgetting
or denying the existence of suffering and sin, and without
giving up the fight against them."
What we are seeing in our study of the first three fruits of the Spirit is that they all depend on an optimistic conviction about Jesus and His ultimate victory over all evil. If you waver in this conviction, all of the fruits wither and lose their power. On the other hand, each of them flourishes to the degree that one is absolutely committed to the Lordship of Christ. When His Lordship is real in your life, you have a hiding place where you can escape from the storms of the world.
In the heart of the cyclone, tearing the sky,
And flinging the clouds and the towers by,
Is a place of central calm.
So here in the rush of earthly things,
There is a place where the spirit sings,
In the hollow of God's palm.
You do not need to become a monk or a mystic escaping to a desert or monastery, for you can escape right where you are by withdrawing to the inner life where Jesus is king. He is our peace, and as we look to Him, He will grant us His peace. Our problem is, we usually worry and fret and do all we can to control life's circumstances, and only after we fail and are full of anxiety do we come to Christ for escape. We need to learn to escape to His presence first, and get peace before we fight the battles of life. We need peace in the midst of the storm, and not just peace after the storm. Both are good, but before is better. Corrie Ten Boom said, "Look around and be distressed. Look inside and be depressed. Look at Jesus and be at rest." If we put Jesus first we do not have to work our way through the lower levels, but can start at the top and experience peace from the beginning.
When Jesus appeared to His depressed disciples after His resurrection, we read in John 20:19-20, "Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!' After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord." Why did He say peace and then show them His scars? Because those scars represented the worst life could throw at Jesus-crucifixion and violent death. Now He had conquered the worst and has a right to say peace be with you. Evil has done all it can, and it has lost. In Him there is victory over every evil foe. The worse can never rob them of His best, and so there is a solid foundation for peace in the midst of the battle with evil.
The cross and what Jesus did there for us is a symbol of ultimate peace. Jesus, by His shed blood, fixes all that sin had broken, and gives us a foundation for absolute optimism. Paul states it clearly in Col.1:19-20, "For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross."
The goal of God is peace. He is the God of peace, and He sent the Prince of Peace to achieve that goal on the cross. Jesus did achieve it, and now in Him we are to be a people of peace. Eighty eight times peace is used in the New Testament. It is used in every book of the New Testament. It is a major challenge of the Christian life to seek peace and pursue it. It is only by doing so that we can be prepared soil for the Holy Spirit to produce in us the fruit of peace.