Thursday, May 3, 2018

Peace: For Many, It’s the Missing Piece

This snowy egret, unlike many of us, appears to be experiencing
an interlude of genuine peace.
“All I want is some peace and quiet!” Have you ever said that? In turbulent times, peace seems as rare as hope, about which I wrote recently. Ironically, these days even peace officers are hard-pressed to find peace. And quiet? What’s that? The barrage of noise surrounding us is relentless, powered by technology at every turn. We can’t escape noise. As if we’re afraid to be without it, we take it with us everywhere – on our smartphones, tablets and headphones.

Even if we succeed in finding quiet, maybe by leaving high-tech gadgets behind and fleeing to a remote setting civilization has barely penetrated, peace eludes our grasp. In this world, conflict and strife reign, not peace. Troubled thoughts, financial pressures, persistent aches and pains, relationship conflicts, even random worries, turn our minds into churning seas.

And yet, as He prepared to endure the most horrendous moments anyone in the flesh could experience, Jesus Christ promised, 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).

That sounds great, but how can we find peace, much less sustain it, when circumstances conspire to keep us from it?

It helps to understand that when Jesus spoke about peace, He wasn’t referring to momentary, idyllic states of mind. He used the Hebrew word,shalom, which captures much more than just calmness or tranquility. The “Prince of Peace,” as Isaiah 9:6 describes Him, was offering something of much greater breadth and depth – well-being, wholeness, prosperity – that’s available to an individual, a group of people, or even a place.

Recently I was visiting with a friend dealing with stage 4 lung cancer along with the aftermath of another chemotherapy treatment. He talked about “the peace that passes all understanding,” as it’s expressed in Philippians 4:6. Even though he couldn’t explain why, my friend stated he truly felt peace in the midst of pain, fatigue, and his uncertain future on this side of eternity.

It occurs to me that this peace is the missing piece, the prescription for many people barely managing to survive, but unable to thrive. They’re angry, frustrated, mentally and emotionally exhausted, fearing the next straw that might be laid across the proverbial camel’s back.

Contrast such a mindset with the assurance of Isaiah 26:3, [God] will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Search as hard as we can, wherever we can, as long as we want, but nowhere else can we find this “perfect peace” that’s offered through the transforming, never-ending relationship with the God of all creation.

Even when we’re enjoying a moment of calm, it’s like a ship taking refuge in a safe harbor as a major storm approaches. Sooner or later, we have to venture back into the unpredictable seas, never knowing what lies ahead of us – but certain there will be more storms, perhaps even more intense than before.

That’s the bad news. But the good news is in the midst of the storm, the Lord hasn’t forgotten how to walk on the water. 

In 1873, attorney Horatio Spafford must have felt a kinship with Job. Two years earlier he had suffered major real estate losses in the great Chicago fire, and his four-year-old son had succumbed to scarlet fever. Hoping to enjoy a much-needed respite from his travails, Spafford planned to take his wife and four daughters to Europe. When an urgent business matter detained him, he ushered his wife, Anna, and daughters to their ship, the Ville du Havre, got them settled in a cabin, then sent them on ahead.

During the early morning hours of Nov. 23, 1873, the Ville du Havre collided with an iron sailing vessel. Within two hours, the ship had sunk. His four daughters were among the 226 fatalities, with only Anna among the 47 people rescued as she clung unconscious to a piece of wreckage. A cable sent to her husband read, “Saved Alone.”

Spafford immediately booked passage to join his wife. One evening during the voyage the ship’s captain informed him they were passing over the area where the ship had gone down. Returning to his cabin, Horatio scribbled down the thought that filled his heart: “It is well; the will of God be done.” Later he wrote a hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul,” based on those words.

Only with “the peace of God that passes all understanding” could Horatio Spafford find comfort and write that “peace like a river attendeth my way” while standing on a ship sailing over the spot where his children had perished. Truly, as Jesus said, it’s peace “not as the world gives.”

This reality prompted the apostle Paul, no stranger to turmoil and suffering himself, to encourage his brothers and sisters in Christ, “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way” (2 Thessalonians 3:16). Whatever each of us might face today or in the future, may this be true for us as well.

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