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Meditation: Learning the Things that Make for Peace

Peace I leave with you,” Jesus told his friends at the Last Supper. “My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14: 27)

Our day and age is characterized by activity, energy, and action. Peace is not an attribute of our times. When magazines and television broadcasts highlight the lives of celebrities, peace is not mentioned as one of the advantages of “the good life.”

Jesus, however, offered his disciples the yoke of discipleship, and under his instruction they would experience rest and peace. He spoke about peace often: peace is among the fruit of the Spirit. Peace is an attribute of believers even when they face persecution or violence. Peace is the fingerprint of Jesus upon the lives he has crafted. He can teach us how to live a life of peace.

The Apostle Paul, writing to a healthy group of believers in Philippi, gave these words as his final command:
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4: 6 – 7)

These are famous verses. Perhaps you have heard of this incredible promise of “the peace which transcends understanding.” But has anyone taught us how to receive the gift of God, this perfect peace? We can be free from fear and anxiety through prayer and thanksgiving.

For many followers of Jesus prayer is more a source of frustration than peace. We know that we are supposed to pray, but who has instructed us in how to pray? For some of us, our prayers are driven by need or fear. For others prayer is a duty and a mystery. One reason we do not experience the peace that passes understanding after we pray is that we have not learned how to pray as Jesus taught.

The passage in Philippians also reveals the key ingredient in prayer: thanksgiving. A thankful heart is the foundation for peace in God’s Kingdom. As we “present our requests to God,” we are instructed to do so with thanksgiving. It’s fine--natural--to have requests, we simply need to do so with thanksgiving. These need not be opposed to each other. Thanksgiving changes the atmosphere. Thanksgiving orders our world properly.

The Father does not demand thanksgiving: he is teaching us that a heart thankful toward him is a heart in right relationship with him. Do we need to petition God? Absolutely! But the life-giving way to bring our requests before him is with a genuinely thankful heart. Many of us pray from a place of worry and fear, and so we emerge from prayer even more anxious than when we started! We can learn to be thankful, and we must pursue this heart-quality if we are to follow him.

Finally, we need to see the connection between our understanding and peace. Many Christians are driven by the need to control our circumstances. Part of that control is the driving need to “understand” what is going on in our lives. We believe that if we can understand what is happening, we will somehow have the power to affect our situation. This is largely an illusion. We rarely are capable of the perspective needed to understand our complicated lives. Until we give up our right to understand we can’t have the peace that passes understanding.

We worry about so many things! We want to know: why have we been treated unfairly? Why did our loved one make such a foolish choices? The “why” questions reveal our inner desire to be in control, and when we are not in control we are filled with worry, grief, and care. God gives understanding, but it is a gift to the heart at rest in him.

The good news is that we can learn the things that make for peace. We can learn to pray the Jesus way. We can cultivate thankfulness that springs from the heart. We can experience transcendent peace. He calls us to learn from him. We can start there.

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I have always considered the idea of this "peace that passes understanding" to be a poor translation. I submit - perhaps you have Greek exegetes among your readers - that the idea being transmitted to us is "peace that is beyond our ability to understand" which is the idea that it is not rationally derived. To put another way, we do not think our way to this place, not by our wills. Not even by willing ourselves hard. It is a state engendered into us by the influence of the Holy Spirit. As it is not rationally derived, things that we perceive - accurately - with our rational faculties, such as how bad things really are ( we are not playing games of pretend ), it does not affect the peace. So we need to look carefully at how this happens, and what recipe is given for us to find this, which are you doing a bit with this piece.

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCharles

Hi Charles: I would never try to pass myself off as a Greek scholar, but I resonate deeply with your take on it. I especially like this line: "we do not think our way to this place, not by our wills. Not even by willing ourselves hard." That said: I do think there are habits of the mind that can position ourselves to receive from the Spirit. But to you, as always, Peace!

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

"Peace is the fingerprint of Jesus upon the lives he has crafted."

I love how you put that, and need desperately to claim that truth each day. I have often experienced the peace that passes understanding during big changes in my life, like when my husband was unemployed last year. And I can usually talk myself out of little worries. But there are a whole collection of daily, mid-sized worries in my life (many having to do with my work as a writer and my role as a parent) that I allow to engulf me. Thanks for reminding me where to begin.

Hi Kristin: I think there's a reason the Apostle Paul opened every letter with "Grace and Peace." I believe it was something he wished upon every one of his sisters and brothers, as I do for you!

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

Fighting anxiety the entire way, I climbed the pedestrian ramp to the Mike O'Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge deck, which rises 900 feet over the gorge below. Plastering myself against the inside traffic barrier, I inched my way toward the middle of the bridge, daring only occasionally to peek in the direction of the five foot cast iron railing that separated humans from oblivion. Turning my attention back to the center of the bridge I saw, to my horror, two little girls, maybe 5-6 years old, skipping along in my direction, having just fearlessly crossed the bridge safe in the hands of their father. As they approached I knew I must acknowledge their bravery, and perhaps find a way to explain why even my sunburned face had turned white. Loosening my grip on the barrier I said to them and their father, “If two little girls can cross the bridge fearlessly, so can I!” They carried on, quite pleased with themselves. I carried on with renewed courage…but only a little bit more. I quickly retreated toward the car, soon overtaking father and girls on the pedestrian ramp. I explained this time that it was not fear that drove my haste, but that it was unfair to keep my wife and granddaughter waiting. Right.
I agree with Ray in that, while the Holy Spirit will make a gift of peace, and Rom 8:26-27 is also true, we can facilitate our receptivity to peace by positioning ourselves to receive it. Translation: Loosen your grip! You're safe in the hands of the Father.

July 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEd

Bravo, Ed: "we can facilitate our receptivity to peace by positioning ourselves to receive it."

July 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

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