Summary: Compare the human “absence of conflict” definition with the essence of the peace Christ has given those who love and obey him.
Scripture: John 14:25-27
"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."
Peace, blessed Peace. Last week I defined the human understanding of peace found in the dictionary: “…tranquility; calm; the absence of conflict.” I suggested that when we attempt to apply that definition to Christ’s Peace we cannot help but be disappointed because by its nature, the world will always be in conflict on some level. Friction and turmoil drive nature. We may experience moments of calm, but they cannot last long. Even in the midst of those moments, chaos and conflict abound. They are simply beyond our scope of vision.
Compare the human “absence of conflict” definition with the essence of the peace Christ has given those who love and obey him. The original word he used for peace was “shalom.” In his culture, shalom was not defined as an absence of something. Instead, it was seen as the fullness of every possible good in heaven and on earth. What he has given is an overflowing of blessings from a loving, benevolent God. Unlike the typical human understanding, the Peace of Christ is not offered to us in moments. It is ours every minute of every day. To be one in whom the gift of Shalom is opened and enjoyed is to be one who is always aware and fully appreciative of the state of abundant blessedness in which one lives.
The Peace of Christ is one that enables us to live surrounded by natural conflict—without being pulled in or overwhelmed. There are Christians who are able to live in that state of Peace. Chaos pounds at the door, but because the focus is locked on God, the Shalom is never threatened. Most of us though, experience Christ’s Peace in glimpses. As we mature in faith, and the more devoted we are to growing, the longer and more frequent those glimpses last. Without question, an immaturity of faith prevents us from fully embracing that Peace. The depth of any relationship depends on the quality and quantity of time spent together. Prayer, study, worship, fellowship, service; immersing ourselves in the rhythms of the Christian faith—the Means of Grace—help us grow closer to God. To actually live continuously in a state of Peace requires spiritual maturity that comes through devotion, discipline and focus.
Beyond spiritual immaturity, there are other conditions that interfere with the opening of our gift. The Good News is we can begin to overcome every one of them, once our humility enables us to see them in ourselves.
Another obstacle to Peace is a guilty conscience. Christian or non-Christian, guilt can take a heavy toll. So much emphasis though, is placed on teaching believers the difference between right and wrong, and encouraging us to choose right and do good. We take the time to build personal, loving relationships with God through Jesus Christ. When we have done what we know disappoints Him—by action or inaction—the guilt can paralyze us.
When Hazel Goddard was a child, she and her brothers spent Saturdays at their grandparents’ farm, riding horses. This particular day, the boys galloped off as Hazel led her horse out of the barn. As she placed her foot in the stirrup she noticed a white chicken standing in the middle of the path. Its head was buried in its feathers, and it seemed to be picking at itself. Otherwise, it did not move. Curious, Hazel started toward it. Granddad called from the porch, warning her to stay away. It was sick, he told her, and he would take care of it. Hazel knew her brothers would race that way eventually, so she took some pieces of scrap wood from the barn and built a little fence around the chicken, trying to protect it as best she could. Then she did what she was told. She left it alone. 60 years later she could visualize that moment, and of it she wrote, “What a picture of the guilt-ridden Christian who, because he is more aware than the unbeliever, picks at himself constantly."
We are taught the difference between right and wrong. We’re also taught that when we do what is wrong, we will be forgiven. By our repentance, God cleans the slate so we can start again. But sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to accept God’s forgiveness, because we won’t forgive ourselves. The guilt turns us inside out, and we endlessly pick, pick, pick. If we would allow ourselves to just let go, the sin would die away. But instead we cling to it, rehashing, beating ourselves up with it. That only serves to keep it alive. So many Christians still carry the burdens of past wrongs. Things God forgave and forgot long ago.