Written by Matt Harris, a core team member at Inspiring Hope Church.
To be honest this topic has been weighing on my mind since well before recent global events, but it seems even more important now. There seems to be so much MORE anger, MORE uncertainty, and MORE fear in our world today. And of course we have good reasons, right? Fear of disease, fear of losing freedoms, anger and sadness over the unnecessary loss of loved ones, frustration over changing social power dynamics, uncertainty and fear over the developing war in Europe. The list goes on and on and is different for each of us. But what is really at the core of all of these feelings? Is there something deeper producing them? And do we have any control over what we feel and how we react to these concerns? To be honest I don’t have the answers, but thankfully scripture does!
For starters, let’s quickly explore the context of when these words in the Bible were written. Imagine moving far from home - somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit. Imagine spending many years of your life there and coming to recognize just how similar the people there are to you, even though their culture is very different from back home. Now imagine that you’ve time-traveled back to the 1st century. The people you meet then are surprisingly similar to you even though their culture is quite different.
There were plenty of people back then that felt that their government was oppressive and some even acted to overthrow their authorities. Disease ran rampant through their communities - plagues and pandemics occurred with frequency, maiming or killing friends, families and foes indiscriminately. And did I mention conflict? It was a warring time and their wars had existential stakes for their peoples’ entire race, culture, and ethnicity. So yeah - it would have been a tough living. Thankfully we haven’t experienced too much of this in the modern age. Even so, we can learn a thing or two about finding peace through scripture specifically written to those people who had it worse than us.
Matthew 5:1-10 NIV
1 When he saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the humble, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”
So what is Jesus saying? There’s a lot here, but I’ll boil it down to this: you will experience difficulties and suffering at some point in your life and your reactions matter. You can’t choose your circumstances or your feelings, but you do have a say in your attitude and how you let your circumstances influence other people in your life. If you’re angry, so you start an argument - that’s a choice. If you’re frustrated, so you make yourself unavailable to others - another choice. I’m not saying it’s always a conscious decision. Frequently we do this because that’s what we’ve learned to do through years and years of PRACTICE. But what if there was a better way? And not just a “you need to change your attitude” kind of way either, but something practical?
Philippians 4:4-9 NIV
4 "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 every situation, 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.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you."
Did you see it? Paul here is reiterating that God wants you to first talk with Him - to pray. Tell Him what is troubling you - your needs, your wants - and trust that He loves and hears you. The result is an increase in peace which guards your heart and mind against all sorts of troubles. Why? Because our prayers aren’t just intended for God to hear but to radically change our hearts. The act of taking time with Him and expressing our feelings and concerns teaches our hearts to trust Him. And where there is trust in the Lord’s provision, authority, and goodness there can be no anger, uncertainty, or fear. In the end God may not answer all of our requests how we prefer, but we will be more at peace with His answers.
Secondly, Paul instructs us to fill our hearts and minds with good things. If we allow good things in, good things come out. If we spend all of our time focused on the disappointments of this broken world, then how do we expect to find peace? Instead it robs us of joy! (You may have already thought of some things that are stealing joy from you today.) However, if we practice limiting negative inputs and in their place insert things that affirm God’s grace, or that reveal His authority over creation, or that help us find Him through times of suffering, then through that practice we make space for God’s peace in our lives.
See it’s not a switch-flip - it’s a practice. And practice takes intentionality. Little-by-little we make room for more good things and little-by-little we are blessed with increasing peace. If you’re like me and a firm fan or instant gratification, the thought of something taking time can be frustrating. But life is a long walk and after salvation it is less about the destination (Heaven) and more about the journey - finding along the way more and more reasons to give our adoration, emotions, resources, and time back to God. This practice is not meant for a season, but for a lifetime. Life is not a sprint, but a marathon and expecting quick results is missing the point.
Let’s not forget that in Matthew 5 Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” In other translations it says “blessed are those who work for peace (NLT)” and “Happy are those who strive for peace.” Each of these translations uses a clear action word. Why then would Jesus use such heavy action language if we couldn’t work to attain peace? By now I hope it is clear, we CAN!
There is no UNCERTAINTY in Christ, no ANGER in the Spirit, no FEAR in God our Father. So by intentionally filling our hearts with godly things, we are pushing out the joy-stealing intentions of sin. This is the pursuit, not of salvation from our circumstances, but of sanctification - becoming more like Christ in our attitudes and actions through our circumstances. In this case, practice does not make us perfect but it does produce practical peace.