DO WE REALLY WANT PEACE?
John W. Cowart
I once worked with a man who constantly borrowed things from my tool box. Every time I reached for my screw driver, he was using it. I grew to hate him over an 89¢ red-handled screwdriver.
Once I exploded in an absolute rage because one of my children used a crayon to draw a picture on a page of my Bible. And when someone scratched the paint on the door of my new car....
Another believer, author of an article appearing in New Covenant magazine, also confesses to similar fits of anger. He took his frustrations out on walls. Because he is a six-foot-four, 220-pounder, his rampages proved visibly destructive.
"Every place we lived during the first several years of our marriage had at least one wall through which I put my fist--once all the way through into the next room," he confesses ruefully.
Probably all of us have been subject to temper tantrums triggered by various stimuli. You know how much of the tension in your life is related to someone's misuse of one of your possessions. You know how much of you own unhappiness and lack of peace comes from wanting things you don't have.
Peace! How it eludes us! The American government spends billions each year for military hardware designed to insure peace. Individual Americans outspend the government trying to find internal peace. Millions seek encapsulated peace through tranquilizer pills. Other grasp for peace through illegal drugs. Alcohol, by offering peace in a bottle, lures thousands to destruction. Some try Freudian analysis, oriental meditation, primal screaming, or twisted yoga positions; while millions more coddle their brains embracing a TV-induced stupor instead of receiving God-given peace.
In spite of our frantic seeking for elusive peace of mind, few of us want it as much as we think we do. The Scriptures outline steps toward peace; history confronts us with saints and martyrs who have faced atrocity and death with peaceful serenity; and godly older Christians present us with living examples of peace in the midst of trial and adversity.
However, because the very concept of peace presupposes a victory and victory means battle, many of us do not really want to be bothered with peace. Peace comes at the conclusion of war. We must win the war in order to have peace. But we are either too apathetic to fight, or we like our enemy too much to want him defeated.
Pogo, the possum of comic strip fame, once observed, "We have met the enemy and he is us." He's right. I have no greater enemy than myself. The only person in the whole universe who can keep me from peace is myself.
Peace is available. Peace is ours--if we want it.
PEACE AND POSSESSIONS
When I was a boy, I wanted a bicycle. I mean I wanted it. I thought bicycle. I prayed bicycle. I dreamed bicycle. If I only had that bicycle, all would be right with my world. My parents gave me the bicycle for Christmas. It was fire engine red with battery-operated lights and horn, black leather saddle bags, and a basket. It was everything I wanted.
Today, I rack my brain trying to remember what happened to that bike. I'm sure I learned to ride it. But after that--nothing. I think I eventually stripped it for parts. The next year I yearned for a chemistry set as strongly as I had for the bicycle.
A quotation attributed to Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State, reads, "It is a great tragedy for a man to strive all his life to reach a goal and not attain it; it is an even greater tragedy when that man works hard and attains his goal only to find it empty."
In spite of advertising to the contrary, possessions bring neither peace, happiness nor security. Common sense tells us that the more gadgets a car has, the more there is that can go wrong with it. The man who increases possessions increases troubles. Children of the poor live safe from being kidnapped for ransom. We read the dire warnings of Scripture concerning wealth and we gloat over the idea that the rich had better watch out.
However, small possessions--such as my screwdriver--can generate as much trouble as great ones. Although a whole kingdom belonged to them, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel's downfall came about through greed for one small vineyard (I Kings 21). Once I saw one man slash another open with a knife; they both wanted the same garbage-can lid.
Our sense of peace will increase in direct proportion to how lightly we hold on to material things. Christ told one peace-seeking man, "One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me" (Mark 10:21).
These seem like hard words until we realize that we can keep nothing permanently. Eventually we must give up everything. And unless we begin to relinquish our grasp on things now, we will feel exceptionally naked when that time comes. Jesus discusses that matter fully in Luke, chapter 12. He knows what He's talking about.
God can be trusted to provide us with food, clothing and every other thing we really need. Can't He? Then why do we stir our minds to a boil with worries over things? No one in heaven will complain about having lacked anything on earth. Jim Elliot, martyred missionary to the Auca Indians wrote in his journal: "He is no fool who gives up that which he can not hope to keep, in order to gain that which he can never lose."
That makes sense, doesn't it?
PEACE AND PEOPLE
Another opportunity for victory and subsequent peace lies in the area of the will. A conflict of wills destroys peace. But I (or you)-- and no one else-- can end such a conflict victoriously.
No man has his own way in everything. Even kings and dictators must bend to the will of another on occasion. No matter how powerful we are now, it is only a matter of time before few--if any--will pay attention to our will in even the smallest matter. If we escape death long enough, we face senility. As our Lord told the Apostle Peter, "When you were young, you dressed yourself and were free to go where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands for another to dress you and lead you where you won't like” ( John 21:18, Condon's translation). Common sense tells you that to press for your will to be done is to fight a losing battle.
On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus, the Prince of Peace, prayed, "Not my will but Thine be done" (Luke 22:42). If we really want peace, why do we push and strain to assert our own wills in all our affairs? And why do we feel so frustrated every time our wills are crosses?
Once God rebuked a prophet by speaking through the mouth of a donkey. He may speak to one of us through his mother-in-law or son-in-law. We must listen for Him in the words and desires of others. We must cease struggling to manipulate others. Conflict of wills destroys peace. If we voluntarily relinquish our self-defined rights, trusting God to bring about that which is best, then conflict is denied opportunity.
"But why," you argue, "should I be the one to give in?"
"Because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps; who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously" ( I Peter 2:21-23).
Nowhere does the Bible, the guidebook of peace, tell you and me how other people ought to act toward us. It tells us only how we ought to treat them.
PEACE AND POSITION
High, higher, highest is the ever-craving, never-satisfied cry of conflict. This world's system dictates that the man with "the most" is the best. Worldly pressures make us long to be like the bionic man, running faster, jumping higher, having more, fighting harder and looking better than anyone else.
Christ, whose kingdom is not of this world, taught that an inverted hierarchy best represents the Kingdom of God. There the first shall be last, the least greatest, and the greatest servant of all (Mark 9:34-35, Luke 22:24-26). His way, the way of peace, stands in direct contrast to the world system we have followed since childhood.
The world's system, by its very nature, cannot offer peace. Instead, it naturally generates competition, stress, conflict, striving, self-assertion, bickering, opposition, squabbling and tension. If we deliberately chose to seek less--less position, less authority, less fame, less attention from others--we break the world's craving cycle of uneasiness.
Christ advises that we deliberately, consistently seek the lowest place at the feast (Luke 14:7-11). Let others scramble for promotion and position. "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time; casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you (II Peter 5:6-7).
A word of caution: following Christ does not necessarily mean quitting work, dropping out of society and living under an overpass with a blanket roll. It is not an excuse for shirking duties and responsibilities. We are to reject the world's system for a specific purpose--the service of others.
Christ, the Son of God, lowered Himself from the highest heaven to save and serve men. He washed the disciples' feet not only as an example of humility but also because their feet were dirty. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God...made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant...He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath exalted Him...(Philippians 2:5-9).
Scripture almost always relates exaltation in God's Kingdom to humility in this life. Fame with men quickly passes. Who was the wealthiest, most famous man in England on the day David Livingstone sailed as an unknown missionary to Africa?
Fame with God endures. Who would ever have heard of Mother Teresa, Nobel Peace Prize winner, if she had not chosen the lowest place, serving Christ among "the poorest of the poor" in the rat-infested garbage and open sewers of Calcutta? God's kingdom boasts millions more like her who will not receive their glorious "Peace Prize" until they reach the award ceremony at the marriage feast of the Lamb. But they will not be forgotten because in God's scheme of things the lowest is the highest.
PEACE AND PLEASING
We can't please everybody.
Sometimes it seems as though we can't please anybody.
We even disappoint ourselves because our high opinions of our worth, talents and abilities constantly are being frustrated by our meager achievements and outright failures.
Someone else gets the credit we deserve, and it hurts. A lesser man is promoted over one of us, and jealousy galls. Our grown children don't appreciate all we've done for them, and we're heartbroken.
This attitude undermines our peace of mind, However, if we realistically evaluate what we deserve in the light of Scripture, we will thank God that no one treats us as we deserve. We will agree with a wise man who once wrote, "If I look rightly unto myself, I cannot say that any creature hath ever done me wrong; and therefore I cannot justly complain."
Much of our peace corrodes because we desire the good opinions of others or because we yearn to promote our own good opinion of ourselves. The only person we must please is God. If He does not hold a good opinion of us, then what does anyone else's opinion matter?
We all have the "head knowledge" that we cannot serve two masters, but our hearts strain this way and that trying to please dozens. We must stop tearing ourselves apart. We must, instead, make David's prayer and purpose our own: "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that I will seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple" (Psalm 27:4).
Thomas a Kempis, in On The Imitation of Christ, offers this formula for obtaining freedom of heart:
"Forsake thyself, resign thyself and thou shalt enjoy much inward peace.
"Give all for all; seek nothing, ask back nothing; abide purely and with a firm confidence in God, and thou shalt possess Him; Thou shalt be free in heart, and darkness shall not tread thee down.
"Let this be thy whole endeavor, let this be thy prayer; that being stripped of all selfishness, thou mayest with entire simplicity follow Jesus only; and dying to thyself, mayest live eternally to Him.
"Then all vain imaginations, evil perturbations and superfluous cares shall fly away."
The key to peace is to set our hearts to please God alone. Then relax. He's easier to please than we might think. He likes us. He cares about us. "We are His people and the sheep of His pasture" (Psalm 100:3). Peace is His gift to be received with thanksgiving. Our part is to follow His will as revealed in Holy Scripture.
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