Thursday, 23 September 2010
Near every person I know would like to see peace throughout earth. There are many ideas on how to reach that goal. Some seek a life of loving enemies, some use legislation, others employ violence. No matter the means, most people would probably say they desire peace all over the earth. That's a positive we can embrace. At least we're all hoping for the same thing. That's important! That is a reason to have hope. We all know we are in need! We know something is wrong and we want it fixed!
Tuesday was Word Peace Day. Many nations declare a cease fire on this day to reflect on our global pursuit for peace. How this day affects the day after on a global scale is difficult to say. It may not be noticeable to the average person. I don't truly know. I do have hope that days like this can have a tremendous impact on individuals. Knowing that national and global change requires individual change brings me to the anchor of this article.
The late Michael Jackson once sang, "If you want to make the world a better place you've got to take a look at yourself and make a change. You've got to get it right while you've got the time cause when you close your heart you close your mind... I'm starting with the man in the mirror. I'm asking if he'll change his ways." This song reflects the wise words of Leo Tolstoy, "Everyone thinks of changing the world but no one thinks of changing himself." Today, let us not only hope for global peace (no matter how probable it may be) but let us pursue peace within ourselves.
It is incredibly easy to call others out and demand change from those around us. It's even easier to do that to people in the public eye such as presidents or celebrities. The same is true for various organizations and governments. It's great to challenge those powers to change for good and to pursue peace but the problem with it is this: It's too easy. It is much harder to change ourselves and how we interact in this world. If we truly want peace we must be peaceful people.Psalm 34:14 Turn from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.
Scripture makes it clear that we must change. Jesus shows up on Earth and says "Repent [change] for the kingdom of God is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). St. Paul instructs us to be "transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:1-2) Without a doubt, Gandhi was correct in saying that we must be the change we wish to see in the world. Are you getting the picture yet? Peace starts at home. It starts in your heart. It must grow from the bottom up and not come from the top down. It's a lot like a plant that breaks out of a small seed, works it's little way through the dirt, emerges into the sunlight and flourishes inch by inch. It may be unnoticeable at first but it eventually becomes a nourishing beauty that is hard to ignore.
In his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7), Jesus teaches us to be careful about removing the speck out of a neighbors eye. Odds are we have a tree trunk in our own eye! Before we can be of use in helping our neighbor with the delicate process of removing their speck we have to do some hard work and pull the trunk from our own eye. This is true for peace as well. Now that's all well and good. I mean, we've all heard this before. So what does it look like to not just call others out but to actually start being peaceful people?Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God
Recently I wrote about The Peace of Christ. I firmly believe that if we want to see less violence and hate in this world then we must rid ourselves of hate and all forms of wickedness so we may embrace the peace of Christ that he has offered us. He left us his peace as a gift (John 14:27). In Jesus Christ the Lord we find hope and power. The first step is to seek Christ (we can't imitate him if we can't see his example).
We must not simply seek the absence of violence or conflict. That would be shortsighted. True peace is not an absence of anything but the presence the kingdom of God. It is things being as they ought to be. When we pray "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done here on earth just as it is in heave" we evoke the peace of God and dedicate ourselves to bringing that element of heaven to where we are. Jesus says we must be peacemakers. We must create peace. That implies constructing something and not simply tearing down something. To do this we have to engage in conflict. Let me repeat that. To create peace we must engage in conflict! We have to work hard and be creative in bringing about reconciliation. On a personal level this means we change our attitudes, our thinking patterns, our active vocabulary, our perception of others, and finally our deeds. I'll break these down quickly.
If we are to embrace holistic peace within ourselves then our character must change. How we approach difficult situations is important. We must train ourselves to take our thoughts and feelings captive and submit them to Christ and his way. When we get a sour attitude, the urge to verbally tear down a person, or we have violent thoughts towards others (not just thoughts about violence itself but thoughts that violate) we must battle them and win. We must overcome these thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions with love. When someone upsets us or does wrong to us we must take a moment and remind ourselves who that person is. That person is always a child of God, created in his image, and in need of love. There are no exceptions to this. None.
But prevention isn't enough! Defense isn't sufficient. We have to practice peace by thinking well of others, focusing our attitudes, speaking well of others and blessing people when we are upset or wronged, give people the benefit of the doubt when we can, and intentionally do good to others. That's hard stuff. It's easier said than done. Remember, it's like a seed breaking open, and then crawling through dirt. It gets harder before it gets easier. But that's the way of love. It is self sacrificing. Only when we embrace a Christ-like love are we fully capable of true peacemaking. Only then will we meet conflict with peaceful means and achieve peaceful ends. Here's a hard to swallow hint: It's going to involve a lot of forgiveness.
What we must attempt to do is be transformed into people of peace. We must make choices day by day and moment by moment that end up forming our character. We do this already. We're always forming ourselves into certain types of people. Our thoughts, attitudes, words, patterns, and actions make up our character. If we harness these aspects of ourselves and make decisions that create peace and bless others then we will eventually become peaceful people who instinctively pursue peace and blessings. After much struggle and discipline we will reach a point where our default response to conflict will be peace! That's the beginning to global peace. Working ourselves into people who not only hope for peace but create it. This will force us to become more creative in our methods of conflict resolution. Engage your imagination.
This will look different for everyone. For some people it may mean blessing someone who cuts them off in traffic after already cussing them out. For others it may mean meditating on the truth that their boss is a child of God who is going through a difficult situation and realizing they aren't a tyrannical monster, or it could mean they need to discover the peace of Jesus Christ. We'll all end up fighting ourselves no matter what is demanded of us. Not only that but we'll all fail. We'll all mess up after we've made progress. That's okay. Nobody is saying "be perfect." We're trying to be realistic. For now, today, let's just say "start changing." First, figure out how you can start defending against temptations to destroy or tear down. Second, learn where you need to spend time becoming more bent towards peace in your character (remember the categories from earlier?). Third, pursue small daily changes with various disciplines. Fourth, celebrate the small victories and forgive the slip-ups of others and yourself.
Peace is possible. Holistic peace (shalom) is possible. It's available in Jesus Christ and it starts in your heart. From there it spreads like yeast in flour. Now go and be a seed, planted in the soil of love, sprouting through brokenness, trudging through the dirt of this difficult life, seeking peace, and finding nourishment and growth for yourself and eventually others. Achieve the peace that is possible because you can and we all need you to.Romans 14:19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 1Peter 3:8-12Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
The God of peace be with you all. Amen.
What have you done to create peace? What would you like to do to make peace a reality?