“Peace I leave with you,” Jesus told his friends at the Last Supper. “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)
Our day and age is characterized by activity, energy, and action. Peace is not an attribute of our times. When magazines and television broadcasts highlight the lives of celebrities, peace is not mentioned as one of the advantages of “the good life.”
Jesus, however, offered his disciples the yoke of discipleship, and under his instruction they would experience rest and peace. He spoke about peace often: peace is among the fruit of the Spirit. Peace is an attribute of believers even when they face persecution or violence. Peace is the fingerprint of Jesus upon the lives he has crafted. He can teach us how to live a life of peace.
The Apostle Paul, writing to a healthy group of believers in Philippi, gave these words as his final command:
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)These are famous verses. Perhaps you have heard of this incredible promise of “the peace which transcends understanding.” But has anyone taught us how to receive the gift of God, this perfect peace? We can be free from fear and anxiety through prayer and thanksgiving.
For many followers of Jesus, prayer is more a source of frustration than peace. We know that we are supposed to pray, but who has instructed us how to pray? For some of us, our prayers are driven by need or fear. For others prayer is a duty and a mystery. One reason we do not experience the peace that passes understanding after we pray is that we have not learned how to pray as Jesus taught.
The passage in Philippians also reveals the key ingredient in prayer: thanksgiving. A thankful heart is the foundation for peace in God’s Kingdom. As we “present our requests to God,” we are instructed to do so with thanksgiving. It’s OK to have requests, we simply need to do so with thanksgiving. These need not be opposed to each other. Thanksgiving changes the atmosphere. Thanksgiving orders our world properly.
A heart thankful toward him is a heart in right relationship with him. Do we need to petition God? Absolutely! But the life-giving way to bring our requests before him is with a genuinely thankful heart. Many of us pray from a place of worry and fear, and so we emerge from prayer even more anxious than when we started! We can learn to be thankful, and we must pursue this heart-quality if we are to follow him.
Finally, we need to see the connection between our understanding and peace. Many Christians are driven by the need to control our circumstances. Part of that control is the driving need to “understand” what is going on in our lives. We believe that if we can understand what is happening, we will somehow have the power to affect our situation. This is largely an illusion. We rarely are capable of the perspective needed to understand our complicated lives. Until we give up our right to understand we can't have the peace that passes understanding.
We worry about so many things! We want to know: why have we been treated unfairly? Why did our loved one make such a foolish choices? The “why” questions reveal our inner desire to be in control, and when we are not in control we are filled with worry, grief, and care. God gives understanding, but it is a gift to the heart at rest in him.
Good news: we can learn the things that make for peace. We can learn to pray the Jesus way. We can cultivate thankfulness that springs from the heart. We can experience transcendent peace. He calls us to learn from him. We can start here.