I once read an article by an atheist describing the serenity he felt as he overlooked a beautiful valley while drinking a cup of coffee. The point he was trying to make was that Christians do not have a monopoly on peace. He was irritated with the claim that religion is somehow necessary for a person to have a sense of tranquility. His way of refuting this was to recount the many times he had experienced an internal quiet and harmony with others without any acknowledgement of the divine. His conclusion was that a belief in God is not necessary to feel peacefully calm. And after reading all that he had to say, I had to agree with him. But is there more to it than what he was experiencing?
Jesus followers often talk about the peace that comes over us after surrendering our lives to Him. It’s often part of what we felt was missing in our lives. And it makes sense. Afterall, Jesus the Messiah is called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6); one of the fruits of the Spirit is peace (Galatians 5:22): and peacemakers will be called the children of God (Matthew 5:9). But what exactly is this quality that is promised all throughout the Bible?
The biblical Hebrew word is still used by many modern Israelis as a greeting. Its general sense is that of holistic goodness. The Old Testament presents shalom as a multidimensional quality that includes physical, psychological, social, and spiritual wellbeing. God’s shalom thus adds up to an overall sense of inner security for the person who experiences it, which imparts many benefits. One example is stated in Psalm 4:8. “In peace [shalom] I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (ESV). Biblical peace appears to be something that is not created by the individual but comes from God. It also appears that trusting Him is what activates His shalom in our lives.
The New Testament (Greek) use of the word seems to take on the meaning and connotations similar to the Hebrew. Jesus tells those to whom He ministers to “Go in peace” (Luke 7:50). He speaks of the peace He gives as something unique, different than what the world offers: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27, ESV). And He even refers to this peace as something His followers can pass on to others (Luke 10:5-6).
A Different Kind of Calm
What distinguishes the peace Jesus imparts to His followers from the peace everyone else, including atheists, access? Most people can experience a sense of tranquility when circumstances feel manageable and line up favorably. But the peace talked about, particularly in the New Testament, appears to transcend situations and the actions of people that we have no control over. Many see peace as merely the absence of conflict. It’s easy to view what’s going on around us in our relationships and in the world as either allowing an internal sense of wellbeing or preventing it. Jesus, on the other hand, presents peace as a substance (actually Himself) that is present and active regardless external events and the choices of others.
“Do not be anxious 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” (Philippians 4:6-7, ESV).
Peace here is presented as something that keeps watch over our hearts and minds. It’s a protection against all the ways the world and spiritual darkness seek to ravage our souls with anxiety, fear, and sadness. And according to the above passage, we access it through prayer, thanksgiving, and trust, not through analysis, logical problem solving, or apathy. There have been times I have experienced peace from God that makes no sense according to my circumstances. I have even been tempted by my logical brain to reject the sense of calm and wellbeing because I did not understand it. It wasn’t of me, afterall.
Can Jesus followers always carry such a peace within them? I see no biblical reason why we can’t. We were intended to be people of peace, in what we experience and in what we impart to others.
Even in the Storms
It doesn’t mean, however, that we won’t ever feel concerned, angry, or sad by what transpires around us. Jesus doesn’t cut us off from real life; He walks through it with us. Possessing this peace, because the Prince of Peace indwells us, provides the ability to endure what initially seems like unendurable circumstances, injustices, or grief. It is one of the Fruits of the Spirit and proof that the Holy Spirit has been allowed to make a home within. The more we submit to the work and guidance of the Spirit, the more space there is within for the results of His presence to be felt and seen. Have you sought Him for His peace rather than trying to make your own?
Even atheists can experience moments and series of moments when everything aligns favorably to provide a sense of tranquility. But the peace Jesus offers His followers is of a different quality. It is Himself. He is the One, remember, that slept during a violent gale that rocked His boat (Mark 4:35-41). That restful confidence is something He offers to all of His followers. He invites each of us to lay beside Him through every storm that brews around us. For it is His peace, not ours, that He fills us with.
May you know the shalom of Jesus this day.