The Takeaway - Peace
Today we’ll be focusing on the peace of God as fuel for our lives—and we’ll explore how we can draw upon God’s peace for our own lives and communities. Spoiler alert: it’s not by avoiding conflict or working towards consensus. Listen in.
“Let there be peace of earth, and let it begin with me.” This was the perennial grand finale of the Christmas pageant at First Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, when I was a kid. The rambunctious sheep and animals had stomped by, the angels had wreaked their own version of precious havoc, the shepherds and kings had adored and worshipped the baby Jesus. What next? Where do you go from there? “Let there be peace of earth, and let it begin with me.” This one song—its soaring melody and yet actionable message—shaped my view of God’s kingdom. A rule of peace, where everything is whole, right, restored. “Let there be peace of earth, and let it begin with me.”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines peace as quiet, tranquility, mental calm, serenity, and freedom from war. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for peace is shalom, meaning completeness, soundness, welfare, and peace; to bring shalom, the verb, is to make complete, whole, or restore.
In the New Testament, the Greek word for peace is eirene, meaning harmony, order, peace; welfare, health, wholeness.
What do the Scriptures say about peace?
Peace, in the most basic sense, is the absence of war. “Do you come in peace?” is a frequent question in the Old Testament narratives. Laws or commandments in Deuteronomy give guidelines for peace. The people of God long for peace. In the words of Psalm 122: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: may they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers” (Psalm 122.6-7).
And yet peace means so much more than the absence of war. Peace, or shalom, is the state of right relationship with people and with God, a state of blessing. The oldest blessing in the Bible, the priestly blessing from Numbers 6.24-26, concludes with receiving the peace of God: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
Peace, and the restoration it involves, is connected to the Messiah, the Kingdom of God, and the age to come. Peace is the end goal of the trajectory of hope.
The Messiah’s reign will be marked by peace—from the very beginning. The prophet Isaiah fortells: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9.6). And the angels confirm this message to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors!” (Luke 2.14).
Jesus’ life and ministry are marked by peace. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaims: “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5.9). Jesus calms the storm by saying, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4.39). In the Farewell Discourses, Jesus says to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14.27). Finally, in almost all of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, his first words are, “Peace be with you.”
The Apostle Paul’s letters are infused with peace. He frequently begins his letters with the greeting “grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” He also proclaims that “Jesus is our peace” (Ephesians 2.14). And Jesus “made peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1.20). Grace and peace are pointers to the entire Kingdom of God.
So what? How can you and I participate in God’s peace? How can we lean into it? How can we tap into it? How can we fill up with the peace of God in the fuel tanks of our lives?
Not by avoiding conflict. Not by working to resolve disagreements through negotiation or consensus. Not my making sure that all parties are in agreement. Not by just trying to get along with your brother or sister.
The quest to be settled and comfortable is the quest of Enneagram nines, known as “The Peacemakers.” Recall that the enneagram is a personality model that describes how we see and interact with the world—and how we grow into our true selves and our true callings. The divine attribute that nines most reflect is God’s peace. The most common way they get sidetracked in life is their need to be settled, comfortable, unperturbed by the winds and waves of life. They get tripped up by their own sloth, or inaction, inertia. This sloth leads them to withdraw, detach, numb out, in attempt to be unaffected by life—from within or without.
Nines are the least controlling number on the enneagram—and are also perhaps the most stubborn. Both distinctions stem from the desire of nines not to be affected by life.
The way ahead for all of us in growing in peace, and not just for Enneagram nines, is to engage, to show up. Becoming engaged—in body, mind, and heart—is the antidote to sloth, or inertia.
There are three dimensions of growing in engagement, and therefore peace: body, mind, and heart.
To become engaged in your body, focus on what you are busy doing. Turn off the auto-pilot and do the next right thing for you. Ask for help in prioritizing your to-do list so you get to the most important things. Recognize your own numbing strategies—how you tend to zone out: by checking email, social media, watching TV, eating, shopping, etc. And when you notice yourself drifting, refocus on the present moment.
To become engaged in your mind, practice saying no (or “maybe” or “let me think about it”). Don’t default to yes. Focus on making decisions, taking stands, making goals. And meditate on the mantra, “I matter, and I matter to God.”
Finally, to become engaged in your heart, give yourself permission to be angry—and to engage in conflict with others. Unmerge with others, separate yourself, be your own distinct self. Follow your heart’s desire for peace into the world—our world is in desperate need of peace and understanding.
These three paths towards peace in body, mind, and heart will lead you to your true self, you’ll be a full person, taking up physical, mental, and emotional space. You’ll be truly present and ready to engage the world.
And then you can then begin to ask yourself the question: “how can I share the peace of God with the world?” Growing in peace happens through the backdoor of becoming engaged, by showing up to life.
This is the last episode of season 2 of the Takeaway, where we’ve surveyed attributes of God’s character: God’s goodness, love, glory, beauty, wisdom, faithfulness, joy, power, and peace. I have relished contemplating the character of God. This whirlwind journey through the Scriptures has been a balm for my soul. I hope you have also enjoyed our journey.
Yet we didn’t stop there. You and I explored how we could grow into God’s image, the image in which we were made, the image to which we will be perfected and transformed. Growing in these attributes happens through the backdoor of pursuing something else:
We can grow in goodness through patience, in love through humility, in glory through truthfulness.
We can grow in beauty through equanimity, in wisdom through generosity, and in faithfulness through courage.
And we can grow in joy through groundedness, in power through tenderness and vulnerability, and in peace through engagement.
Sound a little familiar? We’ve explored many of the Apostle Paul’s fruit of the Spirit, which are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5.22). These fruits are markers on the path of the spiritual growth.
My biggest hope for you, dear friend, is that you continue to grow into your true self, because you in your essence bear the very image of God. May you not harden into a brittle version of your personality over time. Instead, may you become who you truly are.
As we turn to God in prayer, let us pray using the words of St. Francis:
Let us pray.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
This is the last episode of this season, so until next time,
Wake up. Wake up to God. Wake up to God’s presence in your life. Wake up to your true self. Wake up to your true calling in the world.
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with all of you (2 Thessalonians 3.16).
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, world without end, Amen.