The fighting rages on in the Middle East. Violence is escalating in Iraq and Afghanistan. It sometimes seems as if every demon of hell has suddenly and furiously been released from the abyss to wreak havoc on an unprepared and unsuspecting world.
In addition to the hostilities brewing in the traditional world hot spots, our personal lives seem to lack true peace. We get up every morning and we face whatever the day throws at us with as much courage as we can muster, but at the end of the day it always seems like we have more day than courage. Peace is longed for, sought after, and clamored for, but rarely is it ever achieved.
Why? I mean, after all, didn't the Prince of Peace promise He would leave His peace behind? The problem with the modern-day peace seeker is he misses the message of the ancient peace speaker. Peace is not the lack of conflict in the physical world. It is the presence of God dwelling in the heart of His people.
In his letter to the church at Philippi, the Apostle Paul captured the true meaning of the peace Jesus promised we would experience. "Don't worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).
Cognitive theory speaks of the relationship between activating events (things which occur that have an impact on our emotional health), beliefs (the values we hold which allow us to deal with the activating events), and consequences (the result of activating events).
Where most of us lose our peace is between the activating event and the consequences. If we want to head down the path of peace, we have to change the way we think about the circumstances that arise from activating events. That is where our beliefs come into the picture. Activating events are not the cause of our emotional pain. Our pain comes from what we tell ourselves about the event.
God's word teaches that you win victories in your brain, cutting off the lies the enemy tries to tell you about your circumstances and replacing those lies with the truth. I believe Paul gives us four steps to peace in Philippians 4:6-9.
- The first step is to pray. Thankful prayer brings release from fear and worry because it affirms God's sovereign control over every circumstance that is generated by an activating event. Paul says we should be "anxious for nothing," but rather we should "pray about everything." Unfortunately, too many believers reverse this process being anxious for everything and praying for nothing.
- The second step is found in verses 6 and 7. Paul says "the peace of God... will guard our hearts and minds" when we pray "with thanksgiving." Satan cannot win a victory over our minds if our minds are fixed with thanksgiving on the blessings and the promises of God. For example, think about the last time you entered a worship service weighed down by circumstances that flow out of an activating event. If you entered into a genuine state of worship with your focus on God, your thinking about your circumstances was transformed.
- Step three is the command to "think on these things," which means we need to strive for pure thinking. The things we are to think on are those things which are true, honorable, just, pure, commendable, and moral. The key word is the word 'dwell,' which is the English form of the Greek word logizomai. It means to habitually and consistently practice the art of pure thinking. There are literally millions of thoughts which vie for domination of the mind. We must become gatekeepers, choosing which thoughts we will dwell on and which ones we will reject.
- Finally, verse 9 tells us we have to put into practice what we know to be true. Think of it this way... if I couldn't swim but I watched a video about swimming, and then, without actually practicing any of the techniques I saw on the tape, I jumped into the deep end of the pool, I shouldn't be surprised if someone has to throw me a lifeline to keep me from drowning. Most believers have heard hundreds - perhaps thousands - of sermons, but for any truth to take hold we must put that truth into practice. There are many things we have heard, seen modeled, and received from the lives of others, but these things will not bring the peace that passes understanding for us until they become our habit.
Let me encourage you today to pray, praise, focus on pure thinking, and discipline yourself to practice what you know to be true. The world will still rage with conflict but you will find the peace of God will guard your heart, guide your thinking, and bring comfort to your soul.
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Dr. Tony Beam is Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville College in Tigerville, South Carolina. He also serves as Interim Pastor at Whitefield Baptist Church in Anderson, S.C. and as host of Christian Worldview Today heard Monday through Friday mornings from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. on Christian Talk 660.