Whenever I think of peace, I picture the night sky. Standing outside, away from the busyness and artificial lights that distract me, a hush and a stillness blanket the moment as a multitude of stars poke holes in the darkness.
There is something about that sight – much like the vast horizon of the ocean or the massive strength of the mountains – that speaks to me of the magnitude of God, the strength and power of God, the eternity of God. That is the source of our strength. This God who creates stars in abundance knows where he has placed each one of them, even as he knows each one of us. That is the source of our peace.
In Isaiah 26:3, the prophet says, “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is focused on You because he trusts in you.” As I look at those stars – that trust, that focus, that peace – come flooding in.
I wonder sometimes if that’s what the shepherds felt, staring at the night sky. After the shock and terror of this unexplained event, did the promise of God, the peace of God, come flooding in? Jesus the Prince of Peace had been born in a manger and they were pointed to him. Jesus the one who leaves us his peace – this other worldly peace that cannot be manufactured or even understood but only experienced. Jesus the one who calls us to be peacemakers.
Peace is at the heart of the Christmas story; it is at the heart of our faith. Yet so many of us find peace to be elusive in our lives. When we get past this deadline or get through this semester… When we get on the other side of healing or when we work through this conflict… Then maybe we will feel peace.
But the reality is, Jesus has already given us his peace. Peace is not a resolution of an external situation or an internal struggle. Peace is a choice; a choice to surrender, a choice to trust, a choice to fix our eyes and our minds and our hearts on the One who is our peace.
Choosing to surrender
What causes you to lose sleep at night? What do you wake up anxious about? What situations rob you of your peace?
In Philippians 4:5-6, Paul writes,
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Sometimes when we are burdened down by situations in our lives that cause us to worry or be anxious and afraid, too often we try to shoulder the weight by ourselves; chasing our tails trying to fix it or control it or make it go away – whatever ‘it’ is. Paul reminds us to pray, to surrender control, to hand our situations over to God and to be anxious for nothing. It’s not that our prayer automatically changes our circumstances in that moment; rather prayer changes us. Prayer reminds us that we are not alone; that the one who knows the place of every star in the night sky knows what is happening with us as well. Prayer creates space in us for peace.
Choosing to trust
In that same passage, Paul reminds us to pray ‘with thanksgiving.’ Too often peace is elusive to us because we have set our hearts on other things. A better job. A bigger house. A newer car. A list of other ‘things’ that is endless.
Peace is found in the contentment of,
“The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.”
But somehow what we have is never enough. It’s not that the things that comprise our list are bad. Some of them may be very good. But when we are always striving, when we need just one more thing before we can really be happy, really be satisfied, instead of trusting God’s abundance for us, then peace will continue to elude us.
Choosing our thoughts
Do your thoughts rob you of peace? Do ideas and assumptions and past conversations swirl in your head creating a perfect storm of frustration or bitterness or anger?
In Philippians 4:7-8, Paul writes,
“The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things.”
What ‘things’ do you think about? We can’t always choose the thoughts that come into our minds, but we can choose what we allow to stay there. Choose what is true, honorable, pure, lovely… and you will choose peace.
Choosing our actions
Paul concludes this passage in Philippians 4 with these words,
“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.”
We are not just promised to have peace; as followers of Jesus we are called to bring peace. To be instruments of God’s peace. And ironically, in the perfect abundance of God’s economy, as we choose to be people of peace, as we imitate the actions of Jesus, we discover God’s peace in us and among us.
How are we instruments of God’s peace? Consider these words of St. Francis. Read them prayerfully. Ask God where in your life, in your relationships, in the world he desires to use you as an instrument of God’s peace.
The Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
As you choose to surrender and to trust, as you choose your thoughts and your actions, may you discover that God’s Peace is the greatest gift that you give and receive this Christmas.
Grace & Peace,
Rev. Jayne Davis