Inner Peace

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Philipians 4:1-23

How would you like to live a life of contentment and inner peace? It is possible. All you have to do is remember a few basic truths.

In this series of messages I want to talk about a commodity that is in very short supply in the world right now. I don’t mean oil or minerals or precious metals. I’m talking about peace.

Why can’t we, as members of the one human race, get along with each other? How can we work to eliminate the hateful scourges of ethnic strife, terrorism and war? Why do we, as individuals, experience so much inner turmoil and conflict? What can be done to improve the peace and harmony of our communities, churches and families? These are some of the most important questions of our time, questions I want to explore in a series of programs around the themes of peace and reconciliation.

In the last program we looked at the key to peace. Christians believe that the source of all the unrest and conflict in the world, as well as in our lives, can ultimately be traced to one spot, the sinful human heart. Human beings are living in rebellion against God; the human race is the ultimate dysfunctional family. Until we have been truly reconciled to God, we have little chance of finding real, lasting peace, either within ourselves or with others. But Christians also believe that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has taken the decisive action that makes reconciliation and peace possible.

The Peace of God

Today I want to focus specifically on inward peace, peace within, peace of mind and heart. There is a wonderfully practical passage in the New Testament that reads like a sort of “how-to” manual for experiencing inner peace, no matter what the external circumstances of our lives might be. It’s found in the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

The Lord is near. Do not worry 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. . . and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:5-7,9

Here is the basic principle. Inner peace is the bye-product of a robust trust in God, which itself is an integral part of a living relationship with God. Listen to Paul: “Do not worry about anything, but . . . let your requests be made known to God” (v. 6). Being a Christian does not mean we ignore reality. We’re not like little children who pull the bedcovers over our heads, thinking that if we just don’t look, nothing will hurt us. When Paul says “Don’t worry about anything” or when Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount tells his disciples not to be anxious about their lives (Matthew 6:25), they are not suggesting that there is nothing worrisome or hurtful out there. On the contrary, there is plenty in the world to worry about. But for Christians, the deeper reality is that knowing God can put all our fears and anxieties to rest. You don’t have to worry if you know how to pray.

The command to not worry about anything is supported by a pair of magnificent promises. “The Lord is near,” says the apostle first of all. That is a statement with a double meaning. The Lord is near, or the Lord is at hand, in the sense that he is about to return. Jesus Christ is coming soon, and that bedrock truth ought to be enough to allay our fears, to dry our tears, and to encourage our obedience. But the Lord is also near in the sense that he is close to us right now. I get the feeling that even as Paul sat in his confinement, in prison, dictating these words, the consciousness of his Lord’s presence came sweeping over him like a strong tide. The Lord is always near, always; if only we realize it!

The second promise draws out the implication of the first: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard – or keep, or protect – your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Where the Lord is, there is peace. Peace of mind and heart isn’t some sort of psychological trick or natural ability that only a few lucky people possess. It is a gift from God to us, a gift that is beyond our understanding. We don’t quite get how it works; it almost seems miraculous. But it happens. Whether in great danger, or confronted with our own worst fears, or when facing worrisome circumstances, nevertheless, suddenly we find our hearts and our minds filled with a peace we cannot explain. This peace comes from the presence of the Lord who is always near, never far away. The peace of God will guard our hearts and minds (v. 7) because the God of peace is with us (v. 9).

The Discipline of Peace

But if inward peace is a gift that comes from trusting in God and realizing his nearness to us, it is also a discipline we can practice. Experiencing peace within our minds is not a completely passive exercise. Listen to the testimony of Paul just a bit later in this fourth chapter of Philippians:

I am not complaining about having too little. I have learned to be satisfied with whatever I have. I know what it is to be poor or to have plenty, and I have lived under all kinds of conditions. I know what it means to be full or to be hungry, to have too much or too little. Christ gives me the strength to face anything.

Philippians 4:11-13, cev

What amazes me most about these words is that Paul wrote them while he was under a sort of house arrest in Rome awaiting trial for his life, and dependent upon the charity of his far-off friends in the city of Philippi just for the basic necessities of life. This is not an armchair theologian speaking, dispensing smooth platitudes about peace and contentment from the comfort of a nicely furnished study. No, this is a man who doesn’t know where next month’s rent will come from, or how he is going to get his next meal, or whether he will even be alive to eat it. Paul doesn’t write about peace and contentment from a beachfront villa on the Riviera. He’s talking about them from prison, with a death sentence hanging over his head. And as Christians, we don’t rejoice because we’re always happy. We’re not; no one is. We rejoice because of what Christ has done, is doing, and will do for us. We have peace, not because everything is always great in our lives (it’s not), but rather because we belong to the Lord, because we are his people and we put our trust and we find our hope in him, and nothing can shake that.

If Paul is right, contentment isn’t a matter of temperament; it’s not something you’re born with, so you either have it or you don’t. It is rather a lesson to be learned and practiced. Notice what he said: “I have learned to be satisfied.” We don’t have to be chronically dissatisfied with lie, instead, we can learn one of life’s greatest secret – the secret of inner peace.

What exactly is peace like that? It’s being satisfied with who you are and with what you have. Contentment means learning to live within limits, recognizing that though your reality may fall short of the fantasies you have dreamt about, nevertheless you can accept it as something good. It is being at peace with yourself and with your circumstances. The opposite of this kind of peace is . . . worry . . . fretfulness . . . dissatisfaction . . . grumbling. Inner peace does not depend upon how much money you have; one of the curiosities of life is that it is often the rich who are the most discontented with their lives. A common fantasy is that if we just had a little more – another thousand, or ten thousand, or hundred thousand, or million – then all our problems would be solved and we would be happy and at peace. But it isn’t true. Peace doesn’t come when you have all the money and goods you want, because there’s always something more to want. You can’t win the rat race if the finish line keeps moving further and further away. No, contentment is a discipline to practice, a habit of mind to acquire – right here and now, whatever our circumstances.

Do’s and Don’t‘s

What you can do right here and now to practice contentment is something specific. Paul suggests that we think about think a list of certain things. First of all, he says, instead of worrying, pray; “let your requests be made known to God.” And then he goes on to urge us to fill our minds with everything that is good and true; to focus our attention on things that are pure and beautiful. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” and not the things you don’t have but want. “And,” he adds, “the God of peace will be with you.”

So how do you handle stress and worry? Some turn to God. Others turn to food and drink. Some go into depression, others go on a vacation. Some fret, some pray, some pray and fret. (Christians are not automatically immune to anxiety.) I am not going to try to claim that faith in Christ is some sort of magic charm that automatically keeps us free from all spiritual and emotional difficulties. But I am going to claim the peace of Christ – for myself and for you too. It is real. It is mysterious; it surpasses all our attempts to explain or even understand it. Peace is a gift given to us when we remember that the Lord is near.

I am also going to suggest an exercise for us to practice, to help us learn to be satisfied with what we have. Here are five practical rules for what not to do if you want to achieve and maintain your peace of mind:

  • Don’t complain – about anything. Maybe you sometimes show a tendency to grumble. It seems we’re rarely satisfied with things as they are. Paul could say: “I have learned to be satisfied no matter what” (v. 11). Too often we turn that on its head and say “I’ve learned to complain no matter what.” But complaining and contentment are mutually exclusive; you can enjoy one or the other, but not both.
  • Don’t picture yourself in circumstances in which you are not. We all indulge our imagination from time to time. “What if I were a millionaire? What if I had a movie star’s looks? What if I were a professional athlete, or a world leader, or a famous artist?” But don’t make fantasy habitual. Live in the real world where God has placed you, as the person God made you and intended you to be. Contentment isn’t possible in a dream world.
  • Don’t compare your life with anyone else’s. God gave you gifts, he loves you for yourself, he values you as you are, and he expects you to serve him as yourself, not as somebody else. So learn to accept who you are, and stop envying those whom you aren’t.
  • Don’t dwell upon the past. The past is over and can’t be changed. You can’t live backwards, you can only live forwards. If there is something in the past you deeply regret, or some great grief or hurt, you may not be able to forget it completely. But you don’t have to keep living in the middle of it. You may not be able to change the past. You may not even be able to change what the past has done to you. But you can live in the present by God’s grace and with God’s peace.
  • And finally, the last rule: Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow belongs to God. And God has promised to be with us always. You can take him at his word. He’s never broken a promise yet.