17. Peace and Contentment

Short Meditations on Peace 17. Peace & Contentment

1 Tim 6:6     there is great gain in godliness with contentment

Two meditations back we considered the absence of peace that comes from worries over major world issues, and then in the previous one, worries that come over trials and difficulties, personal hassles, but between the two there is a whole major area of absence of peace which is caused by the world’s discontent.

Prosperity, modern economics says, comes from buying and consuming things, and as such it encourages us to want more and more and more, but the only trouble about that it that such a philosophy leaves us never satisfied and so we are all discontented and lack peace.

Paul’s teaching to Timothy was in the context of wrong teaching. That teaching was in a spiritual context and the teaching we are talking about comes out of an economic context but it has a spiritual dimension to it. The world’s economic teaching comes in a godless context, it comes from man’s wisdom and forgets God.

Very often it is the godless context that causes people to strive for more and more. Not knowing they are loved by God, not having any relationship with Him, they strive to achieve purpose and meaning, identity and fame. I watch people do this all the time. It doesn’t necessarily have to be people striving to earn more or even get more possessions to achieve self-worth, it is often people striving to achieve things in society. Local councillors, for example, in local government, may be there because they want to make a name for themselves. Some may genuinely be there to do good for the community, but even that goal can have an underlying motive to get a name. All of these sorts of things mean we are worried about who we are, worried about what we have, and so we are discontented and lack peace.

There is a significant verse I often quote and quoted in the previous meditation that applies: ““For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10) When we come into relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, the whole of our live can be viewed from a new perspective – that of being a child of a loving heavenly Father who has got plans and purposes for us to bless us. The focus of life stops being on striving to achieve, but learning to listen to Him to see what HE has on His heart for us.  With this approach we can rest in Him, be content with what I am and have TODAY, realising He may have more for us tomorrow, but as we are open to Him, He will lead us into it, and in that perspective we can be at peace. We trust all of these 17 reflections will help you to live in peace.  May it be so.

16. Peace in Trials?

Short Meditations on Peace 16. Peace in Trials?

Jas 1:2-4     Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Now there are (let’s be real!) times when we go through trials and testings, and those times are not easy. In fact, it might be legitimate to ask, is it possible to have peace in the time of trial?

Again, seeking to be real, I suspect the honest answer has to be, initially at least, probably not. Why? Because these things tend to come to us out of the blue, so to speak, without warning and the first thing we know is that things seem to be going wrong. Worry!

Remember Paul’s words to the Philippians: “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:4-7) Challenging words that start with the suggestion that God is there, on our case – but we are anxious, otherwise we wouldn’t need Paul’s words. His counsel: pray and God’s peace will come.

But it’s a difficult trial? How can peace come? Perhaps first by recognising that it is a trial and such things are either brought or allowed by God and if that is so, the Lord is looking for you to pass the test. God isn’t out to pull you down, He’s there to build you up, He wants you to pass this test, to succeed in it, to triumph in adversity.

What is going on when a test comes?  God is wanting you to learn, to realise just who you are, a child of God with all of His resources available to you. Be at peace in it – He’s in control and He’s standing there holding out His resources to you to take.

Remember, through the Cross of Christ He has provided absolutely everything you need to see you through life: “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8) He tells us He has a plan for us: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10) Life is no accident. With God there is purpose.

So to conclude, God’s got a plan for you, He’s with you and He’s provided everything you might need for any and every circumstance, and that includes times that are trials or testings, and so you can be at peace in them, once you realise what is going on and understand the dynamics of God’s love that comes to us in this way sometimes. He’s allowing this for your blessing. Rejoice in it as such.

15. Peace in World Crises

Short Meditations on Peace 15. Peace in World Crises

Psa 121:3    He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber;

The truth is that we live in a worrying world and because we live in media saturated world, we hear about all these things that can cause worries and worries, of course, rob us of the peace that should be ours. In 2016 in the UK there have been worries over leaving the European Union, in the USA there were worries over the candidates in the race for the White House. On top of these things there are ever the clouds overshadowing us of Global warming and Global terrorism. Back in the last century there were worries over the Cold War with the USSR and those worries have been resurrected by the activities of the Russian president. Will it all end in one big bang?  On top of these things we have virus’s that seem to appear from nowhere and we now use words like Pandemic to describe the potential horrors of world-wide plagues. We live in a fallen world and things go wrong, so how can be possibly have peace in the midst of all this?

The first thing to remember, taking hold of the ‘big picture’, is that God is in control of His world and it IS His world, because He made it, perfect at the beginning but not so now. Second, remember He is working with a heavenly agenda and although He allows wars to bring discipline to nations, He is still in control. Third, remember His adversary, the devil, is only a fallen angel, one small being in God’s big creation and Jesus taught us to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one” (Mt 6:13) which is a daily reminder that we need God’s protection – which He’ll give!

Our header verse above comes from a psalm that is all about security and in it the Psalmist reminds us that our help, our security, is to come from God (v.2), who keeps watch over all His children (v.3,4). Indeed, he goes on, He will keep watch over you twenty-four hours a day (v.5,6) and He will keep you from harm (v.7) because He sees everything you do (v.8) and, by implication, will make sure you remain safe.

The book of Revelation is a strange book as far as many are concerned but after an introductory chapter and then two chapters addressed to local churches of Asia Minor, our perspective of history is set in the light of what is in heaven – God Almighty (chapter 4) and the lamb of God (chapter 5) who is given a scroll which is end time history to open. This is God who is sovereign, God who came to save you, God who is overseeing all that happens today. Let everything else be seen in the light of these truths, these realities, It is your loving heavenly Father who is supreme over all things. Be at peace in His love.

14. Peace over the Past

Short Meditations on Peace 14. Peace over the past

Isa 32:17   The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.

In the previous two meditations we considered a little of the stress (and therefore absence of peace) that comes with relational breakdown and I suggested that relationships are the most fertile ground for upsets in our lives and therefore for absence of peace. But often these things have their roots in the distant past, things that happened years ago, maybe in our childhood, and we are living today with the damage from that. It is another of those things that robs us of knowing peace in our lives. Very often such things we push into our subconscious and, on the surface at least, forget them.

But they are not forgotten because every now and then something happens that triggers a response based on what happened back then. Imagine two children playing when they are fairly young and they have got hold of and managed to light a blow torch. One of them waving it around carelessly blows it across the upper arm of the other one causing very serious burns, which leave a scar. Now suppose the scar leaves a very tender feeling. Every time someone or something goes near that arm, that person, now grown up, will veer away from being touched.

Now translate that into the emotional trauma that can be left in an abused life. I used to know a lovely Christian man who eventually told me that his father used to lock him away in a room for hours on end when he was a child. For 98% of the time he was fine but every now and then something triggered the darkness he had known as a child, and he found himself withdrawing into his own dark hole and no one could get near him.

If such things have happened to you, you may say in the light of the previous meditation, “You want me to think well of the one who abused me as a child for years?” I would like you to face it and seek counsel from a trained local counsellor, I cannot do it in a few words here. We once counselled a young woman who shared she had been constantly raped by her father as a teenager and as a result could not let a man near her. Incredibly she was married and had two small children. How, we asked? I got drunk, she replied. To cut a long story short we listened to her for a morning, prayed over her for an afternoon and she went home free, so much so, her (unsaved) husband came and saw me and asked, “What did you do with my wife? She’s a raving sex maniac now?”  He was blessed. She was free.  It was God.

Don’t let past unresolved issues remain unresolved. Do seek help. God can deliver and heal ANYTHING! Peace follows.

13. Peace in Relationships (2)

Short Meditations on Peace 13. Peace in relationships (2)

Prov 17:1  Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.

We started to think about how our own insecurity may make coping with people difficult, and also about why people are ‘nasty’ suggesting understanding them may help cope with them.

However we understand them they still say and do unpleasant things which requires grace to handle, and for that we need to seek the Lord. Our starting place is to reject lies and pray for them. After all, Jesus did say love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5:44) But they are still obnoxious! So pray, be patient and look for an opportunity to bless them, yes bless them, showing the character of your Father in heaven who loves them.

But then comes the matter of forgiveness. We first have to clear up our own indiscretions and so if you have wronged another or spoken to them in a way your Father would not approve of, go, pray, seek them out at an opportune moment, and ask their forgiveness.

But what about the other way round? They have sinned against you. Popular opinion is just forgive them but forgiveness is a legal action based in heaven. There are three things to be noted here: First, forgive as your father in heaven forgives, was Jesus’ teaching but the truth is that God doesn’t forgive until there has been repentance. It’s true, look throughout the Bible.

Second, the Bible’s teaching does declare that when someone does repent and come seeking our forgiveness we MUST forgive, we cannot hold back forgiveness after repentance, because God always forgives us when we repent. But what about in the meantime? What if they never see their sin and never come to seek you out?

Well, third, the Bible shows God’s example towards us which we are to follow towards others, and that is always to look for the best for every person, desiring the best for them, that hopefully they may come into a good place with God (because at the moment they have an unresolved issue with Him in respect of their sin against you) and eventually come to repentance. Thus we need to have a good heart towards them, even while waiting for them to repent.  That may require more grace than casually saying, “I forgive them.”

Forgiveness, when it is sought but refused, is a main cause for stress and absence of peace. Holding bad attitudes (even when we think they are justified) towards others is another main cause for lack of peace. Working and praying positively for the good of others, even those who have hurt us, lifts us into the realm of heavenly blessing and there, in the presence of God, we said, is peace.

12. Peace in Relationships

Short Meditations on Peace 12. Peace in relationships

Prov 17:1  Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.

I suspect that relationships are the most fertile ground for upsets in our lives and therefore for absence of peace. I believe dealing with issues from the past requires a separate meditation of its own and so will deal with that in the next meditation. So, relationships in the present. How well we get on – or don’t – with other people depends on a number of issues, major ones being how we were brought up, what was expected of us, how successful we were, what we achieved and then, when we became a Christian, the extent of our knowledge of how much we are loved by God and that in itself will depend on how much we read the Bible ourselves, how much we pray, and what teaching we get from church and the experience we have of God’s people.

All of the above things contribute to how we cope with or handle other people. The fact is that people (and that includes us) are not always nice and so there, straight away, is the main cause for lack of peace. If we were able to be utterly indifferent in respect of what we thought about other people and what they say, life would be easy, we could shrug off their criticisms, their negative comments and so on, but we’re not like that. We feel. The old ‘self’ looks to other people for affirmation of identity. We want to be liked, we want to be loved and when we are not (often for reasons beyond our control), if we are not a very strong and secure person, we will find some measure of anguish and anguish means absence of peace.

If people are actively against us and perhaps even threaten us – a brother, a hostile neighbour, a superior at work, a school bully – then that ‘anguish’ I referred to may include fear. The presence of fear is yet another cause for absence of peace.

From what I have said so far, the need to build up personal security, knowing that in Christ I am loved by God and He is all for me, is paramount.  Knowing why people are like they are may also help. The manager at work who is giving you grief perhaps has an unhappy home life. The hostile neighbour may be struggling with children going off the rails and feels everyone is looking at them. The snappy person may have just been told they need to go into hospital for tests. The school ground bully may have only one parent who is never at home for them. If you are a teacher you know that the child who starts acting out of character and starts acting rudely, arriving late, failing to give in homework and so on, is almost certainly one who has just heard that their parents are splitting up. Understanding people helps cope with people. But there is more. Watch this space.

11. Peace with Finances

Short Meditations on Peace 11. Peace with finances

Isa 26:3   You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.

For the early part of our married life I had a very good job and, without children, we had no financial worries. The Lord then led me into a better job but with a smaller salary (better in that the quality of our life increased) and then three children came along. I am aware, as I look back that during that period I was constantly looking at what we were spending and wondering much of the time how we were going to get by. As young Christians we wanted to tithe as we saw that as an Old Testament practice at least, it was a useful tool in God’s workbox for our lives to set us free from being slaves to finances and also learning something of faith. Nevertheless, I am sure that during that time I lacked peace about our finances. I know what that is like.  I was sure I was in the right work place but we hardly got by. Incorrect, we had everything we needed and we were not poor.

Now as I think about that testimony above I realise that so much of the time it is all about perspective, how we view our lives. You have no doubt heard Mr McCawber’s adage (of Dickens fame) about finances which in modern terms is, “a pound in the black and peace; a pound in the red and worry.” Apart from a mortgage and a loan on a car many years ago, we were never in the red. If we didn’t have the money, we didn’t buy it. At the end of the month I always pay off our entire credit card bill. When I took early retirement from a teaching job (decades ago now!) we used the money to pay off our mortgage contrary to the financial advice which is to have as much debt as possible. Why keep on paying interest to other people????  No, we had peace.

Contentment is being at peace with what you have. The advertising world and the fashion world and the world in general encourage you to have and get more and more. If you have the mentality of needing to keep up with others, and so need to keep looking for a bigger and better house, a bigger and better car, and so on, you will lack peace; you are living at less than God’s design for your life. Although changing jobs and careers four times in my life, we have managed to stay in the same house for over forty years and live well. Every job change meant a reduction in income but an increase in quality of life. We no longer tithe as such, but we give, some on a regular basis and others when we see a need we sense the Lord wants us to meet. I believe our faith is bigger now than when we first tithed when it comes to money.

Want to avoid the absence of peace in your finances? Receive gratefully what God gives in your circumstances, but don’t overstretch yourself. See what above speaks to you. Read it again.

10. Peace in Crisis

Short Meditations on Peace 10. Peace in Crisis

Jas 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds

Another aspect of why we may lack peace, it is the aspect of living through a crisis. (You may have thought the job issue in the previous meditation is a crisis issue for you). A crisis in our lives tends to be something out of our control and, therefore, of which we have no control as to how or when it will be ended and what might happen to us in it. The way we handle it or cope with it may depend on past experiences, what we have learned of life, or even our personality. It is natural in a crisis for there to be an absence of peace because there tend to be so many question marks hanging over us that are, as yet, unresolved.

I’m struggling not to identify specific types of crisis because whatever I suggest, you may find yourself in something different, because that is what happens in a fallen world, there is a tremendous variety of things that go wrong, but generally such crises tend to be health-related, work related, finance related or relationship-related. The question arises in such situations, apart from praying, what can we do?

With health issues if we are not in faith to pray for healing (which is where many of us are) then the first step is going to seek help from the medical profession and have our worries alleviated by the advice or diagnosis of a doctor. If it is work it, very often, is beyond us being able to do anything. Finances we’ll deal with separately. Relationships are so often about breakdowns and so seeking the Lord for wisdom to know what to say or do is a vital first step. Again we’ll consider relationship issues separately.

One of the causes of worry in these situations is the sense of being alone and therefore it is down to me to resolve this, but how? Well there is a very well-known verse that should be applied here that we have recently referred to: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.” (Rom 8:28) We have each (who are Christians) been called by God into relationship with Him, to receive of Him as His children. He is our provider and at the very least promises us His wisdom (Jas 1:5) and His grace (His resources to cope) are available to us – all part of His calling and purpose for us. But He also tells us that He is working for us in whatever situation we find ourselves and He is working to bring good out of that situation. That ‘good’ may be a change in you (what does He want you to become through it?) or a change in the circumstances themselves. Thank Him that He is there for you, to provide the grace you need and thank Him that He IS in your circumstances to work good for you in them. Rest and know peace.

9. Persevering for Peace

Short Meditations on Peace 9. Persevering for Peace

Prov 4:11  I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.

I am aware that the previous meditation was a little short and abrupt (the downside of ‘short meditations’). I spoke of life callings or careers but the biggest problem here is when we identify the sort of person we are and then (maybe with help) match it with a career or job. But then jobs may not appear obviously available and so prayer for wisdom and help from God is an obvious course to take.

Most of us have to work to earn to pay for life, but that is another subject we’ll tackle another day, but nevertheless this is the path we are forced to take (few of us being fortunate enough to inherit large sums!) So here comes this smart preacher who says ‘pray about it, seek God’s wisdom’ and it sounds so easy. It might be easy if we all had ears that caught every word from God’s lips, if I may put it like that, but actually ‘hearing’ God isn’t always easy and often it takes time. The thing is that the Christian life is not an automatic machine that always works the same way for every person and in every circumstance. Sometimes, the Lord simply remains silent because He sees the path ahead of you is simple and obvious and it is going to open up for you quite naturally. We don’t always have to ‘have a word’, we just have to be patient.

If I am honest, and I always try to be, I really struggle when I watch and listen to younger Christians, maybe parents worrying over the way their children are going, because my own experience says that in my life and that of my family, as we look back, some of us had no guidance at all, others had glimmers of desire for a certain direction, and one went one way and ended up backing off and going a completely different direction – but with God’s blessing.

I look back on my life, from school days, through college, into one career, then another career and then a third career and finally a fourth career (yes!), I have no doubt that I see the hand of God throughout that time, including before I became a Christian, leading me on and on. Much of it appears as coincidences and much of it was a matter of circumstances and timing, and yes in later years we did pray, and did note disquiets and did sense some directions but often His hand was out of sight and yet there. Now you may get a specific word, “this is the way, walk in it” (Isa 30:21) but if not, hold on to various things. Know He IS for you (Rom 8:31), He IS working all things out for you (Rom 8:28) and even though you cannot see or hear him (1 Pet 1:8), He loves you. Be at rest in those things. His purposes for you may take time to become clear, but be at peace in the meantime.

8. Peace in Being and Doing

Short Meditations on Peace 8. Peace in Being & Doing

1 Cor 7:15   the God of peace will be with you

We concluded the previous meditation suggesting that in God’s presence there is total peace AND also it will be there if we will face the issues of our lives that rob us of our peace. We need to start looking at those issues. The first to be considered is our identity.

Very often we lack peace because we do not know who we are.  Unless we truly know who we are, our peace will be undermined by doubts or worries about our status before God, often with a feeling of need to prove ourselves to God. This means we are constantly worrying about whether are getting God’s approval. Worry is the enemy of peace.

So how do we overcome these worries and anxieties so that peace may rule again? We need to turn to the Bible and believe what we read. John in his Gospel speaks of God giving to those who believe in Jesus the right to be called “children of God” (Jn 1:12) and then in his first letter declares how great it is that we should be called sons of God, “and that is what we are.” (1 Jn 3:1,2)

We ARE God’s children and we have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, his work on the Cross, and therefore there is nothing we can add to make us more His children. We just are. Now we have to enjoy being His children and not worry about it. Be at peace in being a child of God.

But then there is another aspect of this and it is about what we do as Christians, not about not sinning – for I assume you are not consciously and purposefully sinning – but what we do generally in life.

I find Christians who worry (and thus lack peace) because they are not sure what they are doing in life is what God wants.

There are several ways of dealing with this. First there is the school that says unless your job actively involves sin, any job is OK for you, any occupation for you. I’m not sure of that. Some of us are artists at heart and others are accountants. Some of us are highly creative and others less so. Some of us are comfortable with facts and figures, mathematicians or scientists, and others who are either utterly bored by them or struggle with them.

Knowing yourself is a good starting place. There is a verse that always comes to mind for this situation: “We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Now depending where your faith level is you can take this to mean your activities in life in general, your serving in the church, or a specific calling to do something special with your life. How do you know? Seek Him, pray, wait on Him, listen and watch and when it comes – peace!