Monday, December 28, 2015

Cultivating the Fruit of Peace

There are two kinds of peace we may experience here on earth.  One form of peace is an internal peace.  This kind of peace is experiencing calmness, tranquility, and inner harmony that is much linked to the fruit of joy and contentment.  It is this form of internal peace that enabled Horatio Spafford, after tragically losing all four of his daughters in a sinking ship, to compose the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.”  Even though he suffered immense grief due to his tragic loss, he had an internal sense of spiritual well being and a connection to God that enabled him to have peace in the midst of severe adversity.

The second form of peace is an outward relational peace where we are at harmony with those around us.  It is the kind of peace that has no relational adversaries and proactively pursues reconciliation and relational harmony whenever conflict arises.  When it comes to cultivating the fruit of peace it is this pursuit of maintaining relational peace that we are talking about.  Other words that describe this form of peace are: harmony, unity, agreement, and friendship.

Consider these verses:

“If it’s possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9

Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. James 3:18

“Love and faithfulness meet to together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”  Psalm 85:10

“When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.” Proverbs 16:7

God is a God of peace and relational harmony.  The very nature of who God is depicts peace and brotherly affection.  I would go as far to say that God hates relational strife, dissention, and discord amongst his people.  Proverbs 6:16-19 states, “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissention among brothers.”

The fact that God’s very nature calls for relational peace can be clearly seen in the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ specifically came to earth to die and pay the penalty for our sin that we might be able to have a restored relationship and be at peace with God.  In Romans 5:1 we read, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”  Because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross we who accept Christ have a relational peace with God and may confidently approach his throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).  As those who have faith in Christ as our Lord and Savior enjoy the benefits of being at peace with God, so we are called to wholeheartedly pursue peace and relational harmony with those around us.

When it comes to pursuing peace there are at least three kinds of people:

Firstly there are the peace breakers.  These are the people who refuse to seek reconciliation when conflict arises, or they tend to make matters worse by blowing up and attacking those who confront them with wrongful doing.  They will intimidate others through words and actions, thus keeping them at arm’s length to avoid facing the real issues.  It is often self-righteousness, pride, fear, and self-protection that are at the root of the peace breaker.  In Proverbs 29:11 we read, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”  Also, Proverbs 29:22 states, “An angry man stirs up dissention, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins.”

Secondly there are the peace keepers.  These are the people who attempt to appease everyone and keep tensions from rising, but they do not attempt to resolve anything or face the issues at hand.  They are typically conflict avoiders who want everyone to be happy and get along, but would rather sweep the conflict under the rug and hope it simply goes away.  The peace keeper is often ridden with a fear of failure and rejection that motivates them to avoid conflict of any kind.  As Jeremiah 6:14 states, “They dress the wound (sinful offenses) of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say when there is no peace.”

Thirdly are the peace makers.  These are the people who pursue peace and relational harmony at all costs.  They are the Nathan’s in life who will stick their neck out to seek reconciliation and restoration between themselves and others as conflict arises.  Even though they may not enjoy conflict (very few people actually enjoy conflict) they realize the importance of maintaining relational peace and harmony.  They are the ones who will genuinely make every effort to make even their enemies live at peace with them (Proverbs 16:7).

So how do we cultivate this fruit of peace?

Firstly, we would need to cultivate a true heartfelt desire to live at peace with those around us.  If we do not genuinely care about living at peace with others we will not pursue it.  In Colossians 3:15 we read that we are to, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.”  The prophet Zechariah calls us to, “Love truth and peace.” (Zechariah 8:19)  If our hearts are filled with a love for peace and relational harmony we will make efforts to live at peace with others.  This quest for peace requires looking at life through the eyes of God, living for his glory (not self gain), and a genuine desire to preserve the community of believers, as opposed to protecting self.

Secondly, we would need to proactively face and throw off everything that hinders us from pursuing peace with others.  Whether it is fear, pride, indifference, or whatever the issue, we must face the skeletons in our closet that keep us from living at peace with those around us.  When I was in my teens and twenties I would say that I was a classic peace keeper.  I hated conflict and would avoid it like the plague.  If I was frustrated about something or someone I would simply keep it to myself.  If I knew someone else was frustrated with me I would avoid them to avoid dealing with the issue.  I no longer live as I did in my teens and twenties.  Today I would consider myself a peace maker.  The reason is that I dealt with the underlying issues that drove me to be a conflict avoider.  I had fear of man and fear of rejection issues that caused me to live in a world of self-protection and self-preservation.  Until I dealt with my underlying issues I would continue to live as a peace keeper.

Thirdly, we would need to begin to look at life from an eternal as opposed to a temporal perspective.  When people have a temporal perspective on life they tend to simply live for the here and now.  They gaze their focus more on this life than the life to come.  This mindset is what often thrusts people into living for self-protection, self-elevation, and self-pleasure.  Pursuing peace with others may jeopardize their comfort and pleasures here on earth.  Therefore they will not ‘rock the boat’ by pursuing peace.  People who have a more eternal perspective tend to live for the ‘big picture’ of life.  They are not so focused on the here and now, but on the life to come.  As Jesus urges us in Matthew 6:19-21, they are storing up treasures in heaven that have eternal value.  This eternal focus motivates people to live for eternity as opposed to the here and now.  As a result, they are more apt to risk discomfort here on earth for the sake of both temporal and eternal peace and reward.

I would encourage you to take an honest look at your life and determine where you are at.  Are you a peace breaker, peace keeper, or a peace maker?  If you are not a peace maker then why is that the case?  What is going on in your inner world that influences you to thwart pursuing relational peace and harmony?  Is it fear, pride, indifference?  Ask yourself the soul searching question, “What must I honestly face to grow in becoming more of a peace maker?”  I assure you that in the end you will be glad that you did as living in genuine peace is much preferable to dissention, relational strife, and inner turmoil.

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