Summary: We’re all seeking peace, but most fail to find it. Four steps to finding the path to personal peace.
(Note: The title comes from a Rick Warren series; however, the sermon is original)
If we took a poll to identify what people want most out of life, what their hopes and dreams revolve around, the list would probably include things like good health; financial prosperity; positive relationships; rewarding work. And who could argue with any of those things? Who wouldn’t want to be healthy and wealthy, with a great career, and a loving family? But there’s a more fundamental need we have; a deeper desire, and that’s the desire for personal peace. Peace of mind. Freedom from fear and worry; freedom from trouble and distress. Most people, in their daily lives, are searching for peace; doing what they can to avoid the painful turbulence of life. They diet and exercise to avoid poor health, because illness would threaten their peace. They work, and save, and invest to avoid financial hardship, because poverty would upset their peace. And they choose to enter into relationships with people they like, relationships they hope will bring peace, rather than conflict. In other words, one of the strongest motives behind the way we live is a desire for personal peace.
Does it work? Do our efforts bring us peace. Yes. But only to a limited extent, and only for a limited time. If we’re lucky and diligent, we can keep the forces of chaos at bay, at least for a while. But eventually, and inevitably, something will break through; something we can’t control; something we don’t anticipate. And then the carefully constructed world of peace and order that we’ve labored so hard to build will come crashing down. Sometimes it happens without warning – a pink slip, a sudden illness, a fire, an arrest, an emotional breakdown. And sometimes it develops over time, in spite of all our efforts to stop it. A slowly deteriorating marriage. A long stock-market slide that erodes our savings. A chronic medical condition that becomes less and less manageable. And besides all these things, all these private threats to our peace, we live in a dangerous and unpredictable world, in which we’re constantly at risk from things like wars, and terrorist attacks, and natural disasters. It’s no wonder, then, that Henry David Thoreau would write this:
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country . . . A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind." – from Walden, "Economy"
Thoreau penned those words almost a century and a half ago, in what we usually think of as a more peaceful time than ours. But what it shows us is that personal peace has been elusive in every age. We have AIDS, in other eras they had smallpox. We have attacks from Al Qaeda, they had attacks from Cherokees. We have stock market crashes; others had droughts and crop failures. The best that can be said about any time in history is that it was relatively peaceful.
Thousands of years ago, in one of the earlist books of the Old Testament, we see Job expressing these same feelings. Job was a great man – prosperous, respected, good health, lots of children. And then one day, it all fell apart. His livestock, which were the source of his wealth, were stolen. His sons and daughters – all of them – were killed in a freak accident. He developed a painful, disfiguring illness. And his wife and friends, instead of supporting him, viciously attacked him. In response, Job lamented that,
What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil." – Job 3:25-26
Have you ever felt like that? "No peace, no quietness, no rest, only turmoil." If so, then I have good news for you. It doesn’t have to be that way. The Bible states clearly that God’s will for us is not emotional turmoil, or fear and anxiety, or even "quiet desperation". God’s will for his people is peace.
"The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace." – Psalm 29:11
"I will listen to what God the LORD will say; he promises peace to his people, his saints . . . "
Just out of curiosity, I went through a concordance and counted the number of times the phrase "fear not" occurs in the (KJV) Bible. Sixty-two times! Fear is not what God desires for his people! But if that’s so, if peace truly is what God wants for us, then why do so few people seem to find it? Why is it so rare, even among Christians, to meet someone who possesses a solid, lasting, genuine peace; a peace that sustains them through good times and bad, through joy and sorrow, triumph and failure? Why does "quiet desperation" seem so much more common than the peace of God? This morning, I’m going to suggest an answer to that question. And then I’m going to offer four principles from the Scriptures that will help us find the path so many have missed; four principles that will guide us along the path to personal peace. Because in order to experience God’s peace, we must seek it on his terms and in his way.