The Prescription for Powerful Peace
by Jeff Strite
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Some time back the Gallup organization polled Americans about their most important criteria for judging personal success. They apparently gave them a list of 20 or 30 different option, and these were the results:
Good health came in 1st – 58%
Second, an enjoyable job – 49%
A happy family was third – 45%
A good education, fourth – 39%.
Peace of mind, fifth – 34%
Good friends, sixth – 25%
Materialistic factors as unlimited money, a luxury car, and an expensive home brought up the rear.
I found it interesting that one of the top 5 qualities of a “successful life” was peace of mind.
I. And peace of mind was something God has promised to us.
When Jesus was born the angels declared “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:14
Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you….” John 14:27
In fact, Isaiah prophesied that when Jesus came, He would be called “The Prince of Peace, and of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end…” Isaiah 9:6-7
And then, in Galatians 5 we’re told that part of the fruit of the spirit is… peace.
So, not only do most men and women highly prize peace… so does God.
I spent a great deal of time thinking about this morning sermon. And as I was considering the many scriptures and illustrations about peace, it occurred to me… if everybody wants so much wants peace in their lives – why doesn’t everyone have it?
As I considered this question my mind went back to a conversation I once had with a liberal/feminist friend of mine. I commented to her about how much I used to like the old comedy singing group “The Smothers Brothers”. Back in the 60’s, they had a extremely popular comedy/variety show called “The Smothers Brothers Hour” and they enjoyed a great deal of success, until they started turning their show into a platform for political commentary and satire. The network promptly cancelled their program.
Thirty years later, the Smothers Brothers were back on TV with a special, and (as I explained to my liberal friend) what disappointed me about them was how angry they seemed to be. Do you know why they were so angry? They were still bitter at the network that had cancelled them 30 years earlier. I shared with my friend about how disappointing it was that these great comedians and singers couldn’t let go of their anger.
That led us into a discussion of the need to be able to forgive others… and my feminist friend became agitated. Why? Because the idea of forgiving anyone who had deeply offended her wasn’t something she was comfortable with either.
As I thought back to that conversation it suddenly occurred to me that everybody wants peace. The Smothers Brothers wanted peace My feminist friend wanted peace Everybody I could think of who’d ever been angry or embittered… they all wanted peace. The problem was – they wanted peace on THEIR terms.
Many people believe they will experience peace of mind when they get revenge
Many will experience peace only when their political party is in power
Many will experience peace only when things go the way THEY want them to go.
Everybody wants peace-they just want that peace to be on THEIR terms.
And that is why there is so much conflict in this world
James wrote: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.” James 4:1-2a
But God’s peace is different than the kind of peace the world pursues.
Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives…” John 14:27
God wants to give us a peace that we can have no matter what happens to us in our lives. That’s because God’s kind of peace is dependent upon His Spirit being IN us… not upon the momentary difficulties that we encounter in this world.
As one man once put it “Peace is not the absence of trouble. Peace is the presence of God”
II. Now, that brings us to our passage in Philippians 4
This is one of the most powerful passages in Scripture because it tells us HOW we can have God’s peace.
Paul tells us in Philippians 4:9 – if we follow his advice “…the God of peace will be with you” In fact “… the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7
I was examining the text for this morning, I almost passed over verse 2. I’d always regarded this verse as having nothing to do with the rest of Paul’s discussion about peace. But then I realize that what he said in this verse probably initiated his entire discussion of the topic.
Look with me at Philippians 4:2. Paul is saying “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.”
There’s a couple of ladies in the church that are not happy with each other. In fact, they’re probably downright angry with one another. I’ve seen people like this in church. They’re so mad at each other that they’ll come to the same building an then sit on opposite sections of the sanctuary just so they don’t have to speak to one another.
These ladies (Euodia and Syntyche) are not at peace… there’s a conflict between them that’s upsetting the church. It has become so obvious that news of their conflict has made its way back to Paul. And so he’s writing to them and telling them… “knock it off”
He’s telling them that the way to resolve their conflict is “To agree with each other… (HOW?) In the Lord.”
This brings us to the first KEY of having God’s peace in our lives – to do everything we do “in the Lord” Remember what I said earlier about what causes conflicts in people’s lives? They want peace… but they want it on their terms. That’s why these ladies were in conflict they wanted what they wanted – on their terms.
Now, what Paul is telling these ladies that they’ve got to change their perspective. He’s telling them that – because they were Christians – none of their conflicts were “about them” anymore. They belonged to Christ. As it says in 1 Corinthians 6:19b-20 “…You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
Therefore, since these ladies belonged to God – their objective was no longer allowed to be based upon whether they WIN. That’s the way many people conduct themselves in such conflicts. They want to win. They want conflicts resolved in their favor. And, if you were a pagan, you could do things that way. But if you belong to Jesus, you can’t do things that way any more. If you belong to Jesus, you have to start asking yourselves the question: “What does God want? Not – what do I want?”
Remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed “Not my will, but thine?” He’s our role model. He has set the pattern of our priorities. When conflicts arise, we need to ask “What does God want?”
Well, the Bible tells us. A repeated command throughout the Bible is “Love One another”. You have a conflict with someone in the church… settle it! Resolve it! DO NOT rest until you have sought or until you have given forgiveness. In fact, this is so critical that I get the impression that Paul wanted the entire church at Philippi to be involved in this endeavor of getting these ladies back together. To crowd them into the same pew, to find ways of helping them settle their differences.
Why? Because when we do this… God promises us His peace
I read once of a woman who realized she needed to forgive a friend who had hurt her. Some time later, she ran the woman in a store and was tempted to avoid talking to her. “Instead of turning away (she said) I told her how profoundly she had hurt me. She listened, but didn’t apologize. Then I surprised myself. I apologized for harboring anger and hatred against her for so long. As I spoke, I realized I’d forgiven her.” The effect was potent. “My anger melted away,” she says. Now, whenever she sees that woman she says “I can breathe calmly and my heart isn’t palpitating.”
The 2nd key to having God’s peace is to INCLUDE GOD in all that we do.
Philippians 4:5-7 says “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The principle reason people don’t have peace in their lives is because they don’t include God in solving their problems.
Perhaps they think God is too busy
Maybe they don’t want to bother Him
Maybe they would prefer to handle it themselves
But as one person once observed… “If something is big enough to worry about… it’s big enough to pray about.”
BUT the kind of prayer I need to pray is the one that turns all my problems over to God. Because if I don’t turn my problems over to God… if I end up being the only one struggling with my problems… then I will not have peace.
Too often we view praying to God the same way a mountaineer once did. He fell off a cliff, and as he tumbled down into the huge canyon, he grabbed hold of a branch of a small tree. “Help!” he shouted. “Is there anyone up there?” A deep, majestic voice from the sky echoed through the canyon. “I will help you, my son. But first you must have faith and trust me.” “All right, all right, I trust you,” answered the man. The voice replied, “Then, let go of the branch.” There was a long pause and the man shouted again, “Is there anyone else up there?”
The problem is, when we approach God in that fashion, we’ll have neither peace nor answered prayer.
James tells us that when a person prays, they “… must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” James 1:6-8
I’ve seen this far too often in my ministry. Someone will come to me asking for advice. But no sooner do I give them Biblical counseling than they flitter off and do something entirely different. They asked for my advice, but they had no intention of putting it into practice. God’s basically telling us in James 1 – if that’s how we intend to approach Him in prayer, He’s not going to bother with us.
One poet put it this way:
As children bring their broken toys with tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dreams to God because He was my friend.
But then, instead of leaving Him in peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help with ways that were my own.
At last I snatched them back and cried, “How could you be so slow?”
“My child,” he said, “What could I do? You never did let go.”
Now… let me review
IF I WANT GOD’S PEACE IN MY LIFE
1st – I need to do all that I do “in the Lord” – I must live by His priorities
2nd – In all that I do I must include God, especially in prayer
3rd – In all that I do, I MUST REMEMBER what God has done before.
Remember that mountain climber who wanted someone else to answer his plea??? Why did he doubt? He didn’t trust the voice. The voice was asking him to do something that he wouldn’t ordinarily do. And most importantly, the voice had no track record that he could trust. The voice had no credibility with him.
In Philippians 4, Paul’s telling us that – in order for us to trust God the way we need to…
… we need to focus on what God has done in the past
… we need to focus on God’s track record
Philippians 4:8&9 says
“Finally, brothers, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me– put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
What has God done in the past?
How has God shown Himself to be faithful?
How has God shown Himself to be worthy of your trust?
THINK ON THESE THINGS
I have concluded, after several years of ministry, that if I were to give most people a tablet of paper and ask them to write down what disappoints them in their lives – the thing they don’t have…the things they wish they did have…the things they feel should have been – they’d have to ask for another tablet or two to write it all down. But if you were to give them a single sheet of paper and ask them to write blessings they’d have trouble filling out one side of the paper.
The reason many people don’t trust God with their lives is because they’ve never practiced the concept.
But when we do… God’s peace is the result. Henry Frost served for many years as a missionary to China. In his journal he wrote of a very difficult time in his life. He says, “I had received sad news from home, and deep shadows had covered my soul. I prayed BUT the darkness did not vanish. I summoned myself to endure, BUT the darkness only deepened. Then I went to an inland station and saw on the wall of the mission home these words: ‘TRY THANKSGIVING.’ I did, and in a moment every shadow was gone, not to return”
The peace that God promises us is different than the peace that this world pursues. The peace that appeals to most people is that which hinges on life being kind and gentle with them. If things are good and life runs along at a gentle flow, they are comfortable and at peace. But when difficulties strike and tragedy overwhelms them, their peace disappears.
The Bible is very clear on the fact that life will be hard even for the Christian. Jesus “In this world you will have trouble.” Even the disciples faced repeated conflict and difficulties as they were arrested, beaten, stoned, whipped, thrown in prison and executed because of their faith.
But the peace of “passes all understanding.” It’s a peace that makes absolutely no earthly sense, because it’s based upon God’s presence. He doesn’t remove the pain and the tragedy from our lives because this world is not our home. 2 Corinthians 5:2 tells us that while we live on this earth, “we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling”, longing to be with God because – as that old Negro spiritual once declared “This World is not my home, I’m just apassing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’s open shore. Cause I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
But while we are in this world, even when faced with death, divorce, tragedy and pain, we can experience God’s peace. A peace that will make absolutely no sense to anyone around us.
There’s a favorite hymn that many of us grew up hearing in church. “When peace like a river attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea-billows roll, Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to know; ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’ It is well… with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.”
The writer of that hymn was a Chicago lawyer named Horatio Spafford. In 1871, Chicago was devastated by a great fire that destroyed much of the city… including many of Spafford’s own possessions. At about that same time, his son died. But in spite of his own personal loss, he unselfishly helped others who had become grief-stricken and homeless because of the fire. Some time later, he and his wife and 4 daughter planned a trip to England where they were going to take part in a revival with the evangelist D. L. Moody. As their ship was about to depart, Spafford was unexpectedly detained by urgent business and so he sent his family ahead with intentions to join them later. As the ship neared England, it collided with an English sailing ship and swiftly sank drowning 226 of the 273 passengers on board. His wife was one of the 47 who survived. She sent a telegram with these two words “Saved alone.” Their 4 daughters had drowned in the tragedy. Spafford left immediately for England, and as his ship approached the area where his girls had drowned, he penned the words to this song…
“Tho’ Satan Should buffet, tho’ trials should come, Let his blessed assurance control, That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul. It is well, with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.”