Until recently, the idea of ‘being at peace’ had never been particularly high on my agenda. I am a maths teacher (who, contrary to popular belief, work a little outside the hours of 9am-3pm) and also someone who generally fills their time with a whole host of commitments and activities. As a result, I have previously tended to find myself squeezing my time and energy to the limits - I wonder if you’ve ever felt the same, and as a result concluded that perhaps this isn’t the way in which God designed us to live life. I’ve somewhat fallen into the worldly trap as well, I feel, of thinking that how busy I am, links to how ‘successful’ I am (whatever success looks like).
However, when I looked at the Bible a little closer, I noticed that ‘peace’ plays a much more prominent role than I expected. For example, Jesus’ invitation to us in the first place calls us to a place of peace: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Then shortly before he leaves his disciples, Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you; 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).
First things first, these commands of Jesus strike me as things that I can’t just ‘choose to do’. Some commands from the Bible I can – I can choose not to commit adultery, or I can choose not to get drunk, however the command to not let my heart be troubled, and not be afraid, is a little different. How does one decide to do that?
I think there are several clues in passages of the Bible. In the verse before these words of Jesus, he refers to the Holy Spirit being sent by the Father to teach all things and remind them of all that Jesus has said. Later on, Galatians 5 tells us that if we live by the Spirit, then an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (in other words what we see as a result of us living by the Spirit) is peace. So there is a very strong connection between my heart being in a place where it is not troubled, and my obedience to the command to ‘live by the Spirit’.
However, we still need to work out what ‘living by the Spirit’ looks like. I don’t like to overcomplicate this – I think living by the Spirit means that my decisions (on an ‘everyday’ level and a ‘big picture’ level) are influenced by the Holy Spirit. Therefore to allow this influence to happen, I need to spend daily time in the presence of God’s Spirit, through reading the Bible, praying, and generally being available and open to God.
Gradually as I’ve improved at this, I’ve noticed several things:
Firstly, sometimes I feel that time spent in God’s presence has allowed me to receive peace in a very direct way – my heart feels noticeably lighter, and I find myself with a much more positive, God-focussed mind-set. Secondly, I learn stuff. I learn more about the magnitude of what God has done for me, about the nature of his relationship with me, about the story of God and how I fit into it. Just like John 14:26 says, the Spirit teaches me things. The result of this is that, bit by bit, I have a much deeper and richer sense of what it means to be truly forgiven and truly accepted. Preserving and inflating the image of ourselves to others has got to be one of the most time-consuming peace-sapping endeavours out there, but time spent in God’s presence reinforces to us the love and value that he places on us, causing that endeavour to rapidly fall down the priority list. As a result, we move that bit further away from feeling stressed, pressured and anxious, and that bit closer towards the peace that the Holy Spirit promises.
As we strive for a rhythm of life that is glorifying to God and characterised by peace, I think as well that there are many instances where practical wisdom can help us on our way. A book that I have found particularly useful in this is a book called ‘Simplify’ by Bill Hybels – it gives really helpful Biblical guidance in structuring your life so that aspects that can sometimes be chaotic (schedule, money, relationships, work/study….) are aligned with Godly intentions and wisdom. The ‘simplified’ life that Bill talks about as a result is characterised by having priorities in their rightful place (including God himself!), so that having peace is much more of a close reality rather than a distant dream. Perhaps there are some areas of your own life that feel pretty chaotic and drain you of the peace that God promises, and maybe some practical and intentional decision-making alongside God can go a long way towards rectifying it.
Let me clarify before finishing however, that I don’t think that a life characterised by peace is by any means necessarily an ‘easy’ life. That is not what Jesus called us to in my opinion – the pursuit of peace is not an invitation to remove all of the difficult things that we are faced with, it is the accepting of an invitation to follow Jesus wherever he leads, knowing that he himself is the Prince of Peace.