Keeping the Peace (of Jesus)

IT’S FALL, Y’ALL!!!! Finally! Fall is my absolute favorite season. I love everything about it. I love the decorations; I love the weather; I love the pumpkin patch; I love Thanksgiving, and I love the clothes. Ah, the clothes. I love the cozy socks and the oversized sweatshirts and the scarves and the boots and….well, you get my point. I just feel better snuggled down into something warm and roomy. (Shut your mouth, it does NOT have anything to do with these such clothes being the kind to hide all manner of bodily imperfections, like the food-baby I sport for a large portion of the fall season.) But you know what? Some of us wear our emotions like cozy fall clothes. For me, I feel most comfortable in a state of worry. I can slip on my worry, and it feels comforting, familiar, like being in the presence of an old friend. However, for others, maybe it’s not worry you wear like that oversized sweatshirt. For you, maybe it’s bitterness. Maybe it’s rejection. Maybe it’s self-pity. Maybe it’s anger. I don’t know about you, but just like I’ll feel about those fluffy socks come warmer spring weather, I’m ready to shed those unhealthy emotions, no matter how comforting the devil might convince me they feel.

Shortly after becoming a mom, I noticed a SUBSTANTIAL decline in my inner peace (my daughter was born at 7:08 pm, and this happened about 7:09pm). At the time, I believed it was just because motherhood and its vast responsibilities were so new to me, but three months, six months, 18 months later, my peace had not returned. It was around this time that God really placed a deep, sincere craving for His peace within my spirit, unlike anything I’d ever longed for before. It was such a strong desire that I immediately began to actively seek that peace. During this search, the Lord started making it clear to me just how absolutely necessary peace is for the life of the believer. As I’ve stated so very many times, worry was my biggest peace-stealer, my biggest hurdle. But despite my own area of difficulty, lately, while praying for God’s guidance with my next blog topic, God really placed a burden on my heart to spend some time discussing the importance of trading not worry this time, but anger and strife for His peace.

So before we get into the thick of it, let me ask you this: is this you? Do you, my friend, have leftover anger and/or resentment toward someone (even years-old anger) that keeps you from feeling content and at peace? Does it affect your relationships? Does it keep you just unhappy enough, just on edge enough, that your household suffers? That your health suffers? That potential relationships suffer? Does it keep you just angry enough that your relationship with God suffers?

Through the guidance of Jesus, I’ve come to believe that there are four steps to ridding our minds, bodies, homes, and lives of the stronghold of anger and strife. Let’s trade in that damaging anger and resentment for the peace of Jesus, shall we?

*Know God’s love for yourself so that you’re able to show it to others

In order to let go of anger and irritation at the moment they arise, to prevent their taking root and festering, we must be able to replace those undesirable emotions with something worthwhile, with fruit of the Spirit. If you don’t know God’s love for you, if you’re not 100% convinced He’s your #1 fan, how can you, when faced with the hard choices of life, choose love as the Bible instructs? My friends, it is the love of Jesus within us, and that ALONE, that allows us to excuse someone else’s words or behavior and opt for love toward him/her instead of upset. Think of it this way: it’s impossible to give away something you yourself don’t possess. How, then, can you give the love of Jesus to others if you don’t accept it for yourself? It is only once we each personally accept God’s unearned love for us that we can show that same unearned love to someone else when the moment of truth comes. What is it that you believe keeps God from loving and accepting you? Whatever it is, I can promise you He’s over it. It’s not an issue for Him. “…Fear not, for I have redeemed you [ransomed you by paying a price instead of leaving you captives]; I have called you by your name; you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1). You. Are. His. Still believe that whatever you have in your past is awful enough that God can’t possibly love you? Look no further than Jesus Christ. Fact: His blood was shed. Fact: your sins were forgiven. The end. No disclaimers, no tiny legal print. God knew exactly what He was doing when He made you. He knew you before you were in your mother’s womb, He knows everything about you, He believes you are wonderfully and beautifully made, He knows you are sinful and flawed, and He knows you were so very worth the sacrifice of His Son. God loves you. Say it. Accept it. Embrace it. Believe it. Then, go show it to others.

*Be (intentionally) slow to anger and quick to forgive

In the book of James, we are told directly that anger is not what God has intended for us to settle down into and walk around in. In chapter one it states that EVERY person should be “slow to speak and become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (vs. 19-20). WARNING: time to watch your toes again…stepping is about to commence! Have you ever justified your attitude, your decision to hold onto your anger, your choice to actively hold a grudge against someone because that’s just how you are? That’s just how your personality is? Or maybe that’s just how you were raised? Well, stop that mess. Deep down, you know those are nothing but excuses to be mad because it’s that “cozy sweatshirt” emotion for you, and it’s way easier than getting unmad and forgiving. “But you don’t know what so-and-so did to me!!” You’re exactly right, but God does and I’ve yet to find a verse that gives a little loophole for those of you who’ve met a certain level of hurt/rejection/wrong-doing. Choosing peace over anger IS NOT NATURAL. We were not made to do this automatically. If we had been, there’d be no need for verse after verse instructing us on the hows and whys of letting anger go and being quick to forgive. Just look at Proverbs 29:11. “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” Notice it says “in the end” is where the calm is. It’s okay to get mad. It’s okay to feel angry about something. That’s normal and human and just part of life. But to settle down and live in that emotion is NOT. It’s detrimental to your spiritual walk, and it puts up a barrier between you and God. Maybe it’s just me and maybe I’m crazy (hush!), but fool is NOT one of the titles I want associated with my my name.

And don’t forget that second part, forgiveness. Maybe you’re not too bad about letting go of your anger. Maybe you’ve mastered the art of getting mad, deep breathing or counting to 10 or whatever, but you can’t quite forgive. Maybe you’re a cataloguer, someone who never forgets the ways others have wronged you. Please, be so very careful about this dangerous tight-rope walk. In Colossians 3:13, we as believers are instructed to “…forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” But our Bible doesn’t just stop there. God wanted to make sure that you and I fully understood the danger of walking around with that unforgiveness, that anger in our hearts. “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15). Whoa! Read that one more time. Carefully. Out loud maybe even. Listen to what God is saying to us: if we don’t let go of our anger, if we don’t go that one step further to forgive the person or people who’ve wronged us, until we do, we will not be forgiven of our own sins. YIKES! I don’t know about y’all, but I screw up a lot. I desperately need God’s forgiveness on a daily basis (who am I kidding, it’s more like an hourly basis some days…can I get an amen?!). We must be so careful about this. We MUST let that love of God shine through us so that we can dismiss our anger and forgive those who trespass against us as we’re instructed.

Before we move forward to the next point, I do want to take a second for those people who might fall into yet another column with their unforgiveness. So maybe forgiving others you can do, but your struggle has been forgiving yourself for something you did/didn’t do/mishandled in your past. The Bible has you covered, too! Remember what Jesus did for you, how fully He’s seen your sin and how quickly He’s forgiven it: “Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Or maybe this helps you see just how forgiven you truly are: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). The message is this, my friend. Peace isn’t possible until you let Jesus do what He gave His life to do: save yours, forgive yours, empower yours. Believe in His complete forgiveness so that you can do what He’s instructed you to do: forgive yourself, forgive others, and live peacefully.

*Mind your own business

Shout out to all you nosy social media drama queens! 🙂 Y’all, what are we doing with this social media bit? Are we improving our lives? I just don’t know. For every uplifting Beth Moore or Joyce Meyer post that helps me feel safe and secure, there are 753,000 that bring me crashing back to the disaster that is our world. And wouldn’t it be interesting if we could all be in a room together and honestly respond if I asked for you to raise your hand if you’ve ever felt your blood pressure skyrocket over something you’ve seen on social media? {slowly raises hand} Again, what are we doing? We are allowing our peace to be stolen so that we get three and a half minutes of entertainment while looking at the silly Internet (which just might be the anti-Christ, anyway). And don’t even get me started on people who’ve allowed social media to ruin family relationships and friendships! As is His usual, God knew what was coming. He knew what we were facing and the temptations and faults we’d cave to. So guess what He did…He covered this topic in His Word, too. First Thessalonians explains how we are to approach such behavior. In verse 11, God’s Word tells each of us “to make it your ambition and definitely endeavor to live quietly and peacefully, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands.” Let me translate: mind your own dadgum business, stay busy with your own life, and make a continuous, determined effort to keep the peace of Jesus. As that grossly overused expression goes, enough said.

*Purposefully avoid strife

Most of us would probably agree quickly that anger within our hearts and homes is dangerous and far from what God intends for us. But what about strife? Strife is a word used within the Bible to describe an atmosphere of bickering or a confrontational attitude people take on. You know those days when you don’t feel good or are tired or just over it completely and you meet every single statement from your spouse or children or coworkers as a challenge? That’s strife. It’s that unsettled feeling where no one’s full-out fighting necessarily (although that’s frequently present in strife-filled households too), but you can feel in the atmosphere that peace is not prevailing. It hardly takes a rocket scientist to determine that a house or heart full of strife cannot simultaneously be one of peace and calm. Quarrelsome behavior doesn’t allow for peaceful interactions, and the presence of such behavior is something we are strongly cautioned against in II Timothy: “And the servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome (fighting and contending). Instead, he must be kindly to everyone and mild-tempered [preserving the bond of peace]” (vs. 24). It is our JOB, as followers of Jesus, as people of the Church, to purposefully walk in peace. When that person behind you in the checkout line is stepping straight on your last, worn-out nerve….choose to remain in peace. When your child misplaces his/her shoe for the 7,000th time on the morning you’re running late…choose to remain in peace. When your coworker will NOT stop asking tedious questions about whatever dumb new thing your company is attempting to implement…choose to remain in peace. When it would be so easy to make that cutting remark to your spouse’s question…choose to remain in peace. I’m sure some of you recognize yourself in these descriptions of quarrelsome behavior, and maybe you even think that it’s not really that big of a deal. I’m sure some of you think it’s not like you’re really fighting with your wife or your husband or your kids, and who did bickering ever hurt anyway. If you feel this way, I strongly encourage you to take a minute to read Galatians 5, especially around verse 20. Just how serious is strife? Our Bible puts it in the same category as adultery, witchcraft, murder, hatred, and idolatry. Did you catch that?? Something as “simple” as strife is so potentially damaging and so dangerous that it’s grouped with the “biggest sins” one could think of. I guess it kind of makes sense, since after all, it certainly is murderous on our inner and outer peace.

So regardless of where you fall in the tendency to get angry and act upon that anger, I think it’s safe to say that we all need more peace in our lives. We know we can’t expect others to create that peace for us. It is up to us to choose that lifestyle and attitude for ourselves, but we also know that we don’t have to go it alone. Not only do we have a great, tried-and-true instruction manual at our fingertips that teaches us how to behave so as to encourage more peacefulness (um, hello…it’s the Bible!), but we also have a Teacher who is more than happy to meet us right where we are. He’s more than happy to help us in big ways and small ways until reacting with love, forgiveness and peace feels way more cozy and snug than anger and resentment and upset ever have.

Dear Lord, thank you so much that I don’t have to rely on myself alone when it comes to making big changes in my life, especially in my behavior and attitudes. Father, I ask that you help prompt me when my behavior doesn’t glorify You. Help me to recognize areas which need improvement, especially those involving my tendency toward anger, upset, and strife. I want to be at peace, and I ask that You help me to desire the peace that comes from You, Jesus, above anything else. Help me to crave the peace that surpasses all understanding more than I crave the temporary satisfaction that human emotion gives. Thank you, Lord, for hearing my prayer and for walking with me into this new way of being. Help me to be patient with others and patient with myself. Thank you for Your Word and guidance. In Jesus’s name I pray this prayer. Amen.