Dr. Jim Denison
A friend sent me these first-grade proverbs. The teacher gave the kids the first half of the sentence, and they supplied the rest:
“Don’t bite the hand that … looks dirty.”
“If you lie down with dogs, you’ll … stink in the morning.”
“A penny saved is … not much.”
“Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and … you have to blow your nose.”
“Better to be safe than … punch a 5th grader.”
Even first-graders know that peace is valuable. And they’re right.
Here are some front-page headlines from this week’s newspaper: “5 shot dead at Oak Cliff home;” “19 die, dozens hurt in Mideast;” “Shooting victims’ family says suspect was abusive;” “NY to mark Sept. 11 with readings, flame;” “14 die in Colombia as leader sworn in;” “Holy Land’s assets will remain frozen.”
The one-year anniversary of the September 11 tragedy is one month away.
This week a bomb was discovered at the Olympic Stadium in Athens where the modern Olympic movement began and is scheduled to be celebrated again in two years. A movement to advance world peace has begun. $600 million will be spent for security there, the highest total in history.
Clearly, our world needs peace. Where do you? With whom are you at odds today? Where do you need a relationship to be healed? Where do you need peace?
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God,” Jesus promises. The Hebrew word for peace is “shalom:” peace with God, self and others. Today we’ll learn from God’s word where we find such peace for ourselves, and then how we can give it to the person with whom we need it most.
Make peace with God
Where can you find peace for your own heart, soul, and mind?
The Bible says, “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace” (Psalm 29:11).
Jesus promised us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
Later he said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Peace is one of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). It is the result of the Spirit’s work, not human ability. One researcher has determined that in the last 4,000 years, there have been less than 300 years of peace in the world. We cannot create peace ourselves. We can only receive it from God.
How? Here are the answers I found in God’s word this week.
First, if you want peace, accept the love of God.
Actress Sophia Loren told USA Today, “I should go to heaven; otherwise it’s not nice. I haven’t done anything wrong. My conscience is very clean. My soul is as white as those orchids over there, and I should go straight, straight to heaven.” Listen, by contrast, to the word of God.
The prophet said of Jesus, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Paul added, “He himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).
When we accept Jesus’ forgiving love by faith, we receive God’s peace: “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
We cannot be at peace with a perfect God and live in his perfect heaven, unless we are made perfect ourselves. This is why Jesus died on the cross: to pay the penalty for our sins, to purchase our forgiveness. We can only be at peace with God by accepting his love, by making Jesus our Savior and Lord.
If you’re trying to be good enough for God—religious enough, moral enough, successful or significant enough—know that you’re not succeeding. Imagine what it would take for a human being to impress the God of the universe. But we can accept the atoning love of Jesus, and be made right with God. This is the first step to true peace.
Next, if you want peace, obey the word of God.
In a recent interview, musician Paul Simon said, “The only thing that God requires from us is to enjoy life—and love. It doesn’t matter if you accomplish anything. You don’t have to do anything but appreciate that you’re alive. And love, that’s the whole point.” Note the contrast between his statement and God’s word.
The Psalmist prayed, “Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165).
God said through his prophet, “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river” (Isaiah 48:18).
God’s word gives the guideposts we need to live successfully. Here are the signs which point us to our destination and keep us out of ditches and dead ends. These principles are for our good, and they give us God’s peace. So meet God every day in the Scriptures. Measure your every decision by his truth. Obey his word, and you’ll have his peace.
Third, if you want peace, receive the forgiveness of God.
Dwight Moody gave a Bible to a friend, but first wrote these words on its flyleaf: “Either this Book will separate you from your sins, or your sins will separate you from this book.” When we obey the word of God, we judge ourselves in its light. We see ourselves as God does. The closer we are to God, the further away we realize we are. Then we seek and receive his forgiveness for our sins, and we have his peace.
God told the prophet, “There is no peace for the wicked” (Isaiah 48:22).
And later, “The wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud” (Isaiah 57:2).
Still later, “The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks in them will know peace” (Isaiah 59:8).
God’s word is clear: “You may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). So confess your sins to God if you want to have peace with him. He is waiting to forgive you, cleanse you, and set you free. He loves you that much. But you must ask.
Fourth, if you want peace, trust the will of God.
Advice from the Book of Job: “Submit to God and be at peace with him; in this way prosperity will come to you” (22:21).
Paul agreed: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).
One of my favorite statements in the word of God: “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 4:6-7).
Trust the will of God, and you’ll say with the prophet: “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).
Are you at peace with God this morning? Have you accepted his love? Are you obeying his word? Have you received his forgiveness? Are you trusting his will?
H. G. Wells was right: “If there is no God, nothing matters. If there is a God, nothing else matters.” He promises you his peace, and tells you how to receive it. The decision is yours.
Make peace with others
Now, how do we give this peace we receive from God? How do we become “peacemakers” with others? With whom do you most need peace today? Think of that person, and take these biblical steps toward the peace you need.
First, initiate pardon.
Choose not to punish whatever wrong has been done to you. God’s word instructs us, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12.18-19).
Later the apostle adds, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Initiate pardon. And you will be a peacemaker.
Second, seek reconciliation.
Jesus teaches us, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24, emphasis mine).
If someone has something against you, whether you believe their anger is justified or not, go to them. Seek reconciliation. And you will be a peacemaker.
Last, choose peace. Whether the person accepts your pardon or receives your attempts at reconciliation, choose peace. Give them to God, and choose his peace.
The Bible says, “God has called us to live in peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15).
It exhorts us: “Live at peace with each other” (1 Thessalonians 5:13).
Our Master tells us, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you” (Romans 15:7).
God commands us: “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:14-15).
When we have God’s peace in our heart, we can give it to others. And when we give peace to others, we find it in our own heart. As we love God we love our neighbor. As we love our neighbor, we love God.
And then we “will be called sons of God.” Jesus does not say that we become sons of God—that would be works righteousness. But people will know that we are God’s children as we give his peace to them: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Is your soul at peace with those who matter to you? Would you seek peace with God, and with them?
Your life will be forever different if you will. Here’s proof.
Francis of Assisi was riding on horseback down the road that went by a leper colony far from his home. He had recently sensed God leading him into a life of spiritual service, but he was still caught by the lure of wealth and glory.
Historian Arnoldo Fortini picks up the story: “Suddenly the horse jerked to the side of the road. With difficulty Francis pulled him back by a violent jerk at the reins. The young man looked up and recoiled in horror. A leper stood in the middle of the road a short distance away, unmoving and looking at him. He was no different from the others: the usual wan specter with stained face, shaved head, dressed in gray sackcloth. He did not speak and showed no sign of moving or of getting out of the way. He looked at the horseman fixedly, strangely, with an acute and penetrating gaze.
“An instant that seemed eternity passed. Slowly Francis dismounted, went to the man, and took his hand. It was a cold emaciated hand, bloodstained, twisted, inert, and cold like that of a corpse. He put a mite of charity in it, pressed it, carried it to his lips. And suddenly, as he kissed the … flesh of the creature who was the most abject, the most hated, the most scorned, of all human beings, he was flooded with a wave of emotion, one that shut out everything around him, one that he would remember even on his death bed.”
When young Francis of Assisi gave a hurting soul the peace of God, he found it in his own heart. So will we.