Peace Through His Blood

Every year at this season, I get suckered in again.  I start yearning for peace, both as an inner condition of soothing tranquility and as an outward ease and warmth in relationships.  As Christmas approaches, I expect the peace of God to descend and enfold me like a comforting blanket, or like Isaiah’s river of peace (Isaiah 48:18; 66:12): wave upon wave, spreading out and bringing life.  But every year, in me and around me, I find tension, anxiety, conflict, resentment.  My wife and I talk with people who dread the holidays with their family gatherings and memories.  Perhaps it may help to remind ourselves of some basic truths concerning Biblical peace:

 1.  Lasting peace, the healing reconciliation of God doesn’t come to us simply by contemplating the baby Jesus. Here part of the problem may lie in all the cards and carols that have the angels proclaiming,

Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace, good will toward men.  (Luke 2:14, KJV)

In our best texts, eudokia (“good pleasure”) is in the dative rather than the nominative case, and so most modern translations say “and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (NIV) or “peace among men with whom He is pleased” (RSV); one could also render it “peace among men of good will.” (1)

The angels’ declaration is made to the shepherds, indicating that it may be God’s pleasure to extend peace along different lines than we would expect, whether our criteria are based on Mosaic Law or on Santa’s “nice” and “naughty” lists.  Even outcasts who sleep outside, who have not waited patiently nor searched diligently for God’s salvation — even the unworthy and unlikely — are invited into peace; but we are given fair warning that it will change us to receive the peace of God.  This echoes the prophecy of John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, that the Coming One will rise upon us like the sun and “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79, KJV, RSV), a way we have not known (Romans 3:17; Isaiah 59:8).

2.  Peace does not come to us automatically even when we direct our attention to Jesus and sing His praise. Nothing is easier, at a modern Christmas, than to go through these motions.  But peace with God requires that we acknowledge that we are rebels, and lay down our arms, and even die.

Some 30 years after the nativity, on Palm Sunday, a crowd forms, centered on Jesus, hailing Him as their King, rejoicing, praising God.  They cheer about “peace in heaven” (Luke 19:38).  Even the great throng gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover joins in welcoming Him (John 12:12-13).  Yet Jesus weeps, telling the city named for peace, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!  But now they are hid from your eyes” (Luke 19:42, RSV).  The people laid down their garments rather than their hearts; they received Him in accordance with their own expectations, and thought He would make peace by destroying their enemies.

Jesus Himself says that He comes to bring, not peace on earth, but division, a sword (Luke 12:51; Matthew 10:34).  Simeon, rejoicing over the baby Jesus, is ready to depart in peace, but also sees that disruption is coming for many, and that a dividing sword will go through Mary’s soul (Luke 2:29, 34-35).  Something in her will die.  And I too stand under the swordlike word of God (Hebrews 4:12-13; Revelation 1:16).

3.  The birth announces the gift of peace, but peace cannot reign in our hearts until we have followed Jesus to the cross. He is our peace offering (Leviticus 3); His is “the punishment that brought us peace” (Isaiah 53:5, NIV).

Paul says that God has made peace with us through Jesus, in a process that began in the Bethlehem manger and ended at Calvary:

For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.  (Colossians 1:19-20, NIV)

We have peace with God as we receive Jesus by faith (Romans 5:1-2), and we enter into peace with other people as we allow Jesus to put to death our hostility.  He is our peace (Ephesians 2:14-17; Micah 5:5).

God’s peace in me begins with the Incarnation, not because the baby “sleep[s] in heavenly peace,” (2) but because He is “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12, NIV).  As Luther says, God “sends, as it were, an earthworm lying in weakness, helpless without his mother, and [later] he suffers him to be nailed to a cross.” (3)  Both in the manger and on the cross, He puts to death all my proud expectations.  There is nothing left in me to draw me to Him, except the faith He gives; and so I die, and faith rises up in me.  His life, wholeness, righteousness, salvation, health, well-being, reconciliation, rest — all the richness of the Hebrew shalom — become mine as I enter into His death.

4.  The world still does not know “the things that make for peace” (Luke 19:42), but “the God of peace” continues to sanctify His Church, and each believer (1 Thessalonians 5:23). His river of peace washes over us and heals us.  I like the Amplified Bible’s expansion of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper:

. . . in Me you may have perfect peace and confidence.  In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer — take courage, be confident, certain, undaunted — for I have overcome the world.  — I have deprived it of power to harm, have conquered it [for you].  (John 16:33)

“Let the peace of Christ rule [brabeuo] in your hearts” and in the Church, urges Paul (Colossians 3:15, NIV), even though others, particularly legalists, may try to rule against [katabrabeuo] us or disqualify us (2:18). (4)  His peace rules in us as we die to earthly hopes and desires (3:2, 5).  He is “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) as His peace rules in us, and Isaiah also promises, “Of the increase of His government and of peace there shall be no end” (9:7, Ampl).

Around us, the whole creation continues to groan (Romans 8:22), and peace will yet be taken from the earth (Revelation 6:4).  All are bound over to disobedience and unbelief, that all may receive mercy through faith (Romans 11:32, 20), finding life “from Him and through Him and to Him” (11:36), united with all creation, and at peace.

Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times in all ways.  The Lord be with you all.  (2 Thessalonians 3:16, RSV)

 

(1) William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 4th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1952, 1957), 319; Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984, 1996), New Testament section, 671.  Compare Lewis Foster, note on Luke 2:14, in Kenneth Barker, ed., The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 1539: “Peace is not assured to all, but only to those pleasing to God — the objects of his good pleasure . . .”  Through the risen Jesus, “the God of peace” now works in believers what is “well-pleasing” [euarestos] in His sight (Hebrews 13:20-21).

(2) Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber, Stille Nacht (1818), tr. as Silent Night by John Freeman Young (1859).

(3) Roland H. Bainton, The Martin Luther Christmas Book (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1948), 48.

(4) Vine’s, New Testament section, 540, 537; Arndt and Gingrich, 146, 410.

 

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The Idol of Serenity

I sometimes attend Al-Anon meetings. I’m grateful for them; the regulars are much better people than I am, and they work hard at cultivating spirituality and serving others, sometimes in the midst of very difficult situations. But they sure talk a lot about serenity.

The word “serenity” describes an emotional state, or a state so calm and composed that it has been drained of emotion. (The Greek root means “dry.”)(1) This is considerably narrower than “peace,” particularly Biblical peace (Hebrew shalom, Greek eirene), which signifies inner and outer wholeness, harmony, health, rest, reconciliation, and even salvation and prosperity.(2) The opposite of serenity is stormy weather or emotions, but the opposite of peace is nothing less than death.

When I first showed up at Al-Anon, I lacked both peace and serenity. In key relationships I tended to be frantic, agitated, controlling, and — ugliest of all — manipulative. I am a Christian, and I knew very well that the fruit of the Spirit in every believer’s life should include not only peace but patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). It must be some root of unbelief that causes me, when the going gets rough, to fail to walk by the Spirit and to fall back on legalistic thinking and strivings out of the flesh.

Al-Anon encourages new habits of mind and spirit. Acknowledge that I am powerless to change others; detach myself from chaos, and set boundaries; focus my attention and effort on my own defects of character. There is wisdom, strategic wisdom, in these disciplines. They are better by far than my old habits, especially the impulse to fix, and the fear that shouts that there isn’t time to wait on God. I once had a history of healing others’ wounds “lightly and neglectfully” (Jeremiah 6:14, Amplified). Now I mostly content myself with pointing others to the Physician, or to the hospital.

Yet when I join in praying for serenity, or listen as others speak of preserving it, I am often at a loss. Is this really something I should aim for? Or does the Bible in fact present “a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31, KJV)?

Let me emphasize at the outset that my purpose is not to tear down Al-Anon, but to try to think and pray and live Biblically. I shall close this essay with responses from some in the program.

A Grieving Spirit

It was, I like to imagine, a beautiful afternoon in Jerusalem, and everyone else was having a good day. The Passover crowds might be annoying, the Roman presence galling, and the prices of sacrificial animals exorbitant, but people were glad to be in the house of God. Like the disciples, they marveled at the stately and impressive buildings (Mark 13:1). Indeed, only one man was deeply upset. Jesus turned over tables, drove out buyers and sellers, and disrupted even the transportation of merchandise (Mark 11:15-17). On that day, He had less serenity than almost anyone else in the city. His disciples later described His spiritual state as a consuming “zeal,” or jealousy for the honor of God (John 2:17).(3)

Similarly, when Paul had some downtime in Athens, he didn’t carefully cobble together a sightseeing itinerary that would keep him in unruffled calm. Rather, “his spirit was grieved and roused to anger as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16, Amplified). The Greek verb paroxuno, the root of our English word “paroxysm,” suggests a sharp, convulsive, visceral reaction.

Now set these responses alongside the options presented in the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference. (4)

Jesus did not, in fact, put an immediate end to the temple trade in currency and animals, nor did Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill make much of a dent in Greek idolatry. On the prayer’s terms, it would appear that they lacked wisdom, since they gave up their personal serenity without bringing about any change. The better course would have been to admit that they were powerless over great spiritual and social evils. “There’s wisdom — and serenity — in accepting what can’t be otherwise. We can only be responsible for ourselves.”(5)

There is a logical fallacy here. To permit myself to be disturbed and affronted by evil need not entail that I take responsibility for it, nor that I commit myself to changing it — not if I believe in a sovereign God. It requires only that I cry out to Him.

One man who recognized this was Bob Pierce (1914-1978). Shaken by the poverty of mothers and children in Asia after World War II, he wrote on the flyleaf of his Bible what might be called an anti-serenity prayer: “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”

Pierce wasn’t a Bill Gates, wondering what to do with his extra billions, or a Jimmy Carter, accustomed to power and familiar with world leaders. He was just an evangelist, an ordinary guy, powerless over geopolitical forces, natural disasters, entrenched poverty, mass starvation. Yet he went on to found the aid organizations World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse. At great cost to his family and himself, he did without serenity, acknowledging that he had “become a part of the suffering.” A journalist described him as “one of the few naturally, uncontrollably honest men I have ever met.”(6)

Which is the better prayer, to ask for courage to change only what one can, and power serenely to detach from the rest? Or to lay serenity on the altar, and make oneself available to the consuming zeal, compassion, and love of a God who is never powerless, but who may work slowly, and begin with groanings?

It isn’t our ability to change things that counts with God. Ezekiel, himself powerless and in exile, is shown that those people in Jerusalem who “grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done” in the city will be spared in the coming judgment (Ezekiel 9:4, NIV). Lot was ineffectual against all the wickedness of Sodom, and a poor father to boot (Genesis 19), yet he is remembered as “a righteous man . . . tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard” (2 Peter 2:8, NIV). There is neither serenity nor detachment for those who serve the God who pours out “a spirit of grace and supplication” (Zechariah 12:10), whose priests are called to weep between porch and altar, rending their hearts and crying out that He might spare His people (Joel 2:13-17). Jesus commends those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6), who cry out to God day and night for justice (Luke 18:7).

Redemptive Metaphors

Prayers rise out of situations, and perceptions of situations. Today one metaphor has gained wide acceptance as depicting what we need above all:

 In Al-Anon we learn to put “First Things First.” Just as airline passengers are instructed to put on their own oxygen masks before helping their children or fellow passengers with theirs, we must learn to attend to our own well-being first. We owe it to ourselves to give ourselves the love, care, and attention we need and deserve, even if the needs of others sometimes have to wait. (7)

This metaphor serves to crystallize and even to justify a whole ethic of self-care. But is it, in fact, self-evident? A person who lives with an alcoholic or an addict may feel as if he or she is hurtling through space, trapped in a cabin from which the air has been sucked out. Most of us, though, most of the time, face circumstances that are not this dire. We at least have room to breathe.

Before the age of air travel, a popular metaphor for a disastrous and out-of-control situation was the shipwreck, and it bred a very different ethic. The limit lay not in one’s strength and stamina, but in external factors: time and lifeboats. Adult males were enjoined to place gallantry ahead of self-care, and to say, “Women and children first.”(8)

A still older metaphor is more Biblical: it suggests that we are bound together indissolubly. Moses didn’t want to find his name in the Lord’s book of life unless it was accompanied by the names of all the Israelites (Exodus 32:32). Paul said the same (Romans 9:3), and explained why, writing to one of his most difficult congregations, “you are (nested) in our hearts, . . . whether we die or live, it will be together” (2 Corinthians 7:3, Amplified).

Here there is identification with no thought of detachment, and sacrifice rather than serenity or self-care. We are not seated side by side on a damaged airplane; we are members of one body, with Christ as our head.

This is not to deny that separations occur or that boundaries and a measure of detachment are often necessary.(9) But these are not our resting-place, nor do we particularly pray for them. We seek the place where we may “spend and be spent” (2 Corinthians 12:15), “poured out like a drink offering” (2 Timothy 4:6, NIV).

I have no wish to return to frantic overinvolvement, yet I feel called to something more than self-care. Perhaps many of us, like Moses, begin by being too engaged, too identified, too sure of our power to save. Situations blow up in our faces, and we end up in the wilderness, watching sheep mostly fend for themselves. It is reasonably comfortable there, and we are afraid even to contemplate the resumption of efforts to change a church and a community. But God has other plans.

How Shall We Pray?

Should we pray for serenity? We can and must commit our emotional pain to God, but it seems to me that He does not so much dispel it as make it bearable. Serenity is more characteristic of other religions, as John Stott observed:

 In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. (10)

At the cross, as we contemplate Jesus, we exchange all hope of serenity for submission to the redemptive will of God. We pray, as Jesus did, “Thy will be done.”

Do we even pray for peace? In the Latin Mass, the petition Dona nobis pacem (“Grant us peace”) is part of the Agnus Dei; it has been set to music by some of the great composers. But in the prayers of the Bible, it is surprising to find how rarely peace is mentioned. A rare exception is 2 Thessalonians 3:16:

 Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. (NIV)

Even this statement (like Numbers 6:26) is as much a blessing or benediction as a prayer, and it indicates why we need not plead for peace: When Jesus is present, His peace naturally fills the room and our hearts (John 20:19, 21, 26; 14:27). So Paul can say, more simply, “The God of peace be with you all” (Romans 15:33).

It cannot be wrong to pray for the growth in us of peace as one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).(11) But we must remember that this is shalom peace, not some “personal” emotional state. God’s peace comes to transform and sanctify (1 Thessalonians 5:23), to rule in the hearts of an entire congregation and unite us in obedience (Colossians 3:15). The prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi, “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace,” is better aligned with these realities than the simpler “Grant us peace.”

Lastly, from an earlier post on Biblical peace, I reiterate that it comes when we focus not on peace but on God Himself: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3, NKJV; compare Romans 15:13).

Al-Anon Responds

When I shared a synopsis of these concerns at an Al-Anon meeting, I heard a number of thoughtful responses. One was that we don’t simply detach from the difficult people in our lives; rather, we aim at “detachment with love.” The love means that we remain connected, working toward compassion.

A couple of people said that they don’t view serenity as a goal. One commented that we pray for “serenity to accept,” and suggested that the emphasis falls on acceptance. This is supported by one version of the Serenity Prayer, asking for “grace to accept with serenity the things I cannot change”; here, the object of our prayer is neither serenity nor acceptance, but grace.(12)

Perhaps, then, this is a tempest in a teapot; we are all seeking the same mercies, and I just lack the wisdom to discern the similarities. Privately, I normally pray the Lord’s Prayer; its petitions for daily bread, a practice of forgiveness, and deliverance from every temptation seem to me to sum up the basic relational needs of dependence on God as provider, committed love, and boundaries. But when I elaborate on relationships, my prayer is this:

 Lord, pour out the love of Jesus through me toward each creature I meet today. Give me His eyes of hope, to see them as one day complete in Christ. Release in me the groanings, cries, and words of His faith, committing both myself and them to Your care, submitting us to Your will, desiring above all else for us the grace of Your presence, now and always. Amen.

(1) Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, MA.: G. & C. Merriam, 1971).

(2) See, e.g., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984, 1996), Old Testament section, 173-74, New Testament section, 464.

(3) Because John places the cleansing of the temple at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, while the synoptic gospels set it within Passion week, some scholars conclude that there were two cleansings. It seems more likely to me that John has altered the sequence of events in order to juxtapose this incident with Jesus’ first miracle, changing water to wine at the Cana wedding feast. For the sake of all who wonder why God would multiply wine, John suggests that every one of Jesus’ miracles both reveals divine glory (2:11) and upholds divine honor. So we encounter the God of life-sustaining abundance side by side with the God of life-stilling holiness. But this is, of course, conjectural.

(4) See, e.g., How Al-Anon Works for Families & Friends of Alcoholics (Virginia Beach, VA.: Al-Anon Family Groups, 1995, 2008), 79.

(5) Discovering Choices: Recovery in Relationships (Virginia Beach, VA.: Al-Anon Family Groups, 2008), 150.

(6) Tim Stafford, “Imperfect Instrument: World Vision’s Founder Led a Tragic and Inspiring Life,” Christianity Today, Feb. 24, 2005, available at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/march/19.56.html; Steven Gertz, “Tsunami Catastrophe: ‘Let My Heart Be Broken . . .,’” Christian History, 2005, available at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2005/jan27.html. Quotations are from the Stafford article, only part of which may be viewed online by nonsubscribers.

(7) How Al-Anon Works, 87. A quick search turns up two books entitled Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First.

(8) Among others, the great evangelist Dwight L. Moody embraced this metaphor, stating in 1877, “I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.’” See William G. McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham (1959; Eugene, OR.: Wipf and Stock, 2004), 257.

(9) In Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus does urge us to step back temporarily from “helping” others, not to put on oxygen masks, but to attend to our blind spots; not to give ourselves the love we deserve, but to recognize that we ourselves are hypocrites who cannot see and judge clearly.

(10) John R.W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (1986; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), 326-27.

(11) In fact, the serenity I need is often not peace but another fruit of the Spirit, patience, as Thomas a Kempis recognizes: “Those things that a man can not amend in himself or in others, he ought to suffer patiently, until God orders things otherwise” (The Imitation of Christ I.16.1 [ca. 1471], ed, Paul M. Bechtel, Moody Classics [Chicago: Moody, 1980, 2007], 62).

(12) See Fred R. Shapiro, “Who Wrote the Serenity Prayer?” The Chronicle of Higher Education, Apr. 28, 2014, available at http://chronicle.com/article/Who-Wrote-the-Serenity-Prayer-/146159/. This essay makes a convincing case that the prayer was composed by Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, though the “grace” wording seems to have been one of his late revisions. Shapiro prefers a version in which Niebuhr asks for courage before serenity, but here my sympathies lie with Al-Anon: when one lives with chaos, one is all too apt to be bold and hasty, reaching out to steady the ark. A good argument can also be made that the Serenity Prayer is closer to Stoicism than Christianity in its essential division of phenomena into two classes, things in our power and things not in our power; see, e.g., W.R. Dynes, “Origins of the Serenity Prayer,” Nov. 10, 2005, Dyneslines, http://dyneslines.blogspot.com/2005/11/origins-of-serenity-prayer.html.

The Restlessness That Accompanies Peace

I keep hearing sermons that urge me to walk in God’s peace. Anxiety and worry arise, I’m told, when I try to control events. As I learn to trust, to “cast my cares” on Him (1 Peter 5:7), I step into His kingdom of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). And this peace — understood as an unshakable tranquility — will draw others to Christ.

On many days, this is a good message for me to hear. I do worry about inconsequentials; I do cling to illusions of control. But I have concluded that the advice is incomplete, and that it is based on a picture of Christian character that is grossly distorted.

Godly Anxiety

Paul writes to the Corinthians that, after sending them a severe letter, he “had no peace of mind”; despite a God-given opportunity, he couldn’t preach. Yet he doesn’t view this as a lapse in faith; on the contrary, God led him in triumph, as he “manifested” Christ without words (2 Corinthians 2:12-14). This presents a rather different image of Christian equanimity. It also suggests that people are drawn to Jesus, not when they see believers who are carefree and happy, but when they encounter suffering, sacrificial love.

As we read the Scriptures, Paul’s is not an isolated case. Nehemiah prays for four months, and then makes a bold request of a pagan king, because the walls are down in faraway Jerusalem; his opening comes when the king observes that his face is sad (Nehemiah 2:1-2). Boaz becomes a Kinsman-Redeemer when love causes him to lose his composure; he cannot rest (Ruth 3:18) until he establishes rest for those who need it (1:9; 3:1).

I am still very far from sharing or understanding the emotional life of the Lord Jesus, but I believe we oversimplify when we imagine Him as ever calm and smiling, free from agitation. In the Gospels He is exquisitely sensitive. He weeps easily (Luke 19:41; John 11:35), and is moved to grief (Mark 3:5) and indignation (Mark 10:14). Often, He seems driven (Mark 10:32; Luke 12:50; 22:15). His peace and joy are hard-won, and they don’t banish a wide range of emotions.

All through the Bible, we see a tension. Jesus invites His followers to rest (Matthew 11:28-29; Mark 6:31), but rebukes them for resting at the wrong time (Matthew 26:45). We are told to work hard to be at peace (Romans 14:19; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 3:11), and to strive to enter into rest (Hebrews 4:11). The same Paul who says to rejoice always (Philippians 4:4) also declares that he has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” because so many Jews do not know Christ (Romans 9:2). He also desires his converts to be free from anxiety (1 Corinthians 7:32; Philippians 4:6), and yet remarks that he carries “the daily inescapable pressure of my care and anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).

Perfect Peace

This is not a new observation. John Patrick noted in 1902 that the rest promised by Jesus “is not a rest from toil but in toil (John 5:17), not the rest of inactivity but of the harmonious working of all faculties and affections.” Thus, when Jesus invites the disciples to come aside and rest (Mark 6:31), and a crowd follows them, He does rest, actively, even though the twelve are surprised and frazzled.

William Barclay devotes a chapter of New Testament Words (1964) to the Greek word merimna — to “right and wrong care.” He identifies worry about worldly cares, the future, opposition, and pleasing people as wrong, while care for others and the church is right and honorable: “what is forbidden is disabling worry and not enabling foresight.”

This formulation is too rational and tidy; Paul’s worry did disable him from preaching. The Biblical picture is paradoxical. Just as Paul is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10), so he appears to be both anxious and at peace. For Biblical peace is not a condition of blissed-out tranquility or placid repose. It is a wholeness not yet fully realized, and a connectedness that may begin as we share in the cares of God Himself. It is a fruitful garden, a ministry of reconciliation, a holy community, an arsenal of weapons repurposed as earthmovers, a river that sweeps away lies. It is dynamic, richer and broader and deeper at the end of a well-lived life. It stands very far from the “personal peace” that Francis Schaeffer defined as the desire to be safe from the world’s problems, and that he called an idol.

Though we work intentionally toward peaceful relations with others, the peace of God doesn’t descend upon us as we seek it. Rather, it “passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7), in part, because it comes when we aren’t thinking about it at all — when we are focused on God Himself: “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You” (Isaiah 26:3).

There is a faith that prays once and stops, assured that the Father has heard. And there is a faith, no less rooted and grounded, that keeps on praying: “You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give Him no rest till He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth” (Isaiah 62:6-7). It would be a great loss if we were to discourage such intercession in the name of “having peace.”

I need to relinquish control and to stop being “anxious about many things” (Luke 10:41). But I also need to lose some sleep over the condition of my city, and of hurting people far away. I need to care, and even to carry some of the burdens of some of my brothers and sisters. Rest lies in the work; joy, I know by faith, “comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). And peace? I won’t always be aware of it, but the God of peace will be with me (Philippians 4:9).