And so shall the peace of God, which exceeds all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus
Reflection by: Sharon Nelsen
I was on the phone conversing with my friend who said, “I had the most unusual experience yesterday; I felt enveloped in peace at the same time I was experiencing a deep sadness.”
For the past thirty years he has worked with at-risk youth, and presently is entrusted with youth on probation, so I certainly related to his experience of deep sadness. He works in areas many of us are not inclined to drive through, much less stop and visit the families that live there.
His comment inspired me to think about how I view peace. I realized that often I think of peace as that sense experienced when everything works out well; when a challenging situation has good results; when what I have hoped and hoped for, finally happens. Is that the peace promised and given to us by Jesus? The peace bestowed not as the world gives? I would name what I experience, “relief,” for it is the same sense I have when the ache in my shoulder goes away.
I went to the Gospel of John where we find so many comforting, challenging words of Jesus. The first passage I read showed me that the Peace Jesus gives us is connected to who we are. Knowing our identity and that God's desire is to preserve us from evil, is perhaps our foundation for receiving this peace, a peace that exists because it is based on truth, the Truth that is grounded in the reality that we are not OF this world, but here to sanctify it in the power of Jesus.
(John 17.14-18) “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them. For they are not of the world, just as I, too, am not of the world. I am not praying that you would take them out of the world, but that you would preserve them from evil. They are not of the world, just as I also am not of the world. Sanctify them in truth. Your word is truth. Just as you have sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”
Another aspect of this peace is, as in my friend's experience of deep sadness and comforting peace, that it can coexist with all circumstances of our lives. (John 16.33) “These things I have spoken to you, so that you may have peace in me. In the world, you will have difficulties. But have confidence: I have overcome the world.”
And yet another mark of this peace is that it sets us apart, again because we rely not on passing circumstances but on the transforming power of God. (John 16.20) “Amen, amen, I say to you, that you shall mourn and weep, but the world will rejoice. And you shall be greatly saddened, yet your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”
It is a peace we lose only through sin. This thought came to me as another friend and I were chatting about his work experience: He said. “I can't do less. I have realized that even though it is tiring, challenging and sometimes seems impossible, I need to stay with my job. Years ago, I got tired of it. I took another job that was a lot less work, thinking this would give me a respite. But I had no peace. I was miserable. I had less demands upon me, but I was upset all the time. So, I went back to my former job. I am sometimes tired, worn out by the demands, frustrated by the slowness of some aspects of it, yet I am at peace. This is who I am and I can't settle for less.”
My friend illustrated in a most powerful way, what sin is. So often we think of sin as a list of do nots
and weaknesses, when actually, it is a deliberate, knowledgable choice; we decide to settle for less even though we know what we are called to do. We'd like an extended vacation and we're tempted to take it. When Jesus lived His Truth, “ ... many of his disciples went back, and they no longer walked with him. Therefore, Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” Then Simon Peter answered him: “Lord to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6.67- 69) When we are trying to live our true calling, where else do we have to go except to the Source, who strengthens us constantly with His Eternal Peace, the first gift He gave as Risen Lord: (John 20.19) “Then, when it was late on the same day, on the first of the Sabbaths, and the doors were closed where the disciples were gathered, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and he said to them: 'Peace to you.' ”
Nothing had changed in external circumstances; everything changed internally with the Presence and the Promise of the Risen Lord because His Peace transcends the physical stage of tranquility; it is an internal dynamic that empowers us to endure. It is a gift grounded in truth, not circumstances, that we can receive in the midst of our trials. It is a gift that only our choice to settle for less can affect, and even then its very absence is often the most effective message to return to truth. In that way and in others beyond our full understanding, this Peace of Christ is our protector. “Be anxious about nothing. But in all things, with prayer and supplication, with acts of thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God. And so shall the peace of God, which exceeds all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4.6-7) And not only guard, but elevate, encourage, inspire, put things in perspective: “And let the peace of Christ lift up your hearts. For in this peace, you have been called, as one body. And be thankful.” (Col. 3.15)
Peace is wonderfully contagious. If you've ever been upset and you move into the presence of a peace-filled person, somehow, you catch that peace. It goes beyond words, answers, solutions, or any changes in circumstances. It's just there, and you know it. A world filled with individual bearers of this Peace of Christ, can be powerfully contagious. With that in mind, let us greet each other this Lent with the prayer of 1Peter 1.2: “May grace and peace be multiplied for you.”