What enters your mind when you think of peace?
Maybe a picture comes to mind of tranquil surroundings. Like resting in a hammock on a beach with the rhythmic sound of crashing waves in the background. Or paddling a canoe on a glassy lake with the sound of water rippling against the hull. Or fly fishing in a remote stream with the hypnotic sounds of water coursing over and around the rocks.
Or maybe you think of a Peace Treaty. A cessation of hostilities between two warring parties. Where damages are surveyed; strengths and weaknesses assessed; risks and rewards calculated; concessions made, and a peace treaty negotiated.
Or maybe you think of a greeting or salutation. A “V” shaped hand signal you might flash to a friend or acquaintance. “All is well between us”; or maybe “I hope things go well for you”.
Three different concepts of peace, but they all require a common component. Circumstances. And arguably good or favorable circumstances.
In the case of the hammock on the beach, that peace might be interrupted by a sudden downpour, or someone with a boom box. The peace in the canoe swamped out by a passing ski boat, and the fly fishing tranquility dunked with a slip on the rocks. These circumstances are perhaps especially applicable in the case of a Peace Treaty. Only after certain conditions are met will the warring parties agree to cease war – and even then, with a wary, watchful eye.
But what about the kind of peace that doesn’t make any sense. The peace that defies logic. The peace that doesn’t depend on circumstances. We read about it in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 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.” (Philippians 4:4-7)
We might speculate that Paul was having a particularly good day and was just seeing the world through rose colored glasses. But then we remember Paul wrote these words while in prison for preaching the gospel. Hmmm. Not the sort of circumstance one would typically associate with a good day. Or with rejoicing, thanksgiving, and peace. And this prison sentence wasn’t an isolated incident. Difficult circumstances were the norm for Paul. Consider his “boasting” in second Corinthians:
“Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
An amazing list of challenges Paul faced while preaching the gospel, and yet I don’t get the sense he was looking for sympathy. In fact, it seems these obstacles weren’t things he lamented, but rather they seemed to elicit wonder and joy at how God worked through these difficulties:
“That is why, for Chris’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
Through Paul’s many trials and tribulations, he learned to depend on and trust in that peace that transcends all understanding. It obviously didn’t mean that his circumstances improved because of that peace – far from it – but rather that he trusted God would use him and bless his work in spite of his circumstances. His joy and peace seemed to deepen and improve as his circumstances worsened, until he was ultimately martyred. Most historians agree he was beheaded at the order of the Roman authorities. No, Paul wasn’t seeing the world through rose colored glasses.
More like eternity glasses.
“Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:19-21)
Challenging words from a man with his priorities in order.
And a reminder that our circumstances need not dictate our joy, peace, and contentment. A reminder that we are dearly loved children of the most high God, regardless of our circumstances. That in all things (any and all circumstances) God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
May we seek to live our lives according to God’s good and perfect will, encouraging and exhorting one another in the faith and through the trials and tribulations of life.