My husband and I had just returned home from a hectic shopping trip. As Erik pulled into the driveway, switching off the engine, we were suddenly surrounded by the silence of the night. We sat in the darkness, reluctant to give up the first quiet moment we'd experienced that entire day. I sighed, tired from the day's activities and the thoughts of the responsibilities tomorrow already held.
A question formed on my lips, but I hesitated to speak it aloud. It was a question that had been increasingly occupying my mind, but it didn't seem like one a "good" Christian should ask.
"Where's the peace?" I finally whispered. Erik glanced quizzically in my direction. "I mean, is this all there is to the Christian life?" I continued. "Doesn't the Bible promise something about 'peace that transcends all understanding?'" Erik didn't reply.
This question continued to haunt me long after that evening. Worn down by each day's responsibilities and worries, I longed to be enveloped in the "peace of God"that deep serenity of soul where calm and joy grow. But I had to admit, in the many years I'd been a Christian, I couldn't say that peace had characterized my life. Was this "peace" the Bible spoke of just some cold, distant theological doctrine, or something I could actually experience now?
Several days later, I read Philippians 4:4-7. I was surprised to notice for the first time that this passage that speaks of the "peace of God" also states clearly how to obtain it: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. 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" (italics added).
While I was familiar with these concepts, I had to be honestI wasn't actually practicing them. Did I really rejoice in the Lord always? Was my life characterized by gentleness? What about being anxious? Wasn't I the one who lay awake at night worrying about how I was going to get everything done the next day? Was it really possible for a person to live as the Scripture described? Since my heart longed for peace, I decided to test this "recipe" to see what would happen.
During the next few weeks, I was amazed at the impact those verses had on my life. As I tried to obey the commands of Philippians 4, I experienced a calm that transformed my perspective and gave me new vitality. To help remember these steps to peace, I created the acronym TLC.
TThank God in everything.
"Rejoicing always" means being grateful to Godno matter what. We must choose to believe God's good, and choose to rejoice in that goodness.
When I began attempting this, the best I could muster was remembering to at least be thankful for the "good" things. I started building a habit of saying two-second "thanks prayers" throughout the day. "Thanks for the cool breeze." "Thanks for that encouraging call from a friend." As I practiced this, I began to see more for which to be thankful.
This finally led to my being able to give thanks for those difficult things in my lifesomething I hadn't been able to do before. That forced me to acknowledge that no matter how bad things look, God would work all things together for good just as he promises (Romans 8:28).
I remember one night in particular, when God gave me an opportunity to test thanking him in all things. I was facing an impossible work deadline, and home responsibilities kept piling up. Every night I crawled into bed exhausted, trying to figure out how to squeeze just a little more into each day.
At 2 a.m., I heard my 10-month-old son's cry. When Zephan awoke in the night, it always meant the same thinganother ear infection. "No!" I protested. "This can't happennot now."
I felt guilty for selfishly thinking of how this inconvenienced me, when I should have been thinking of my son. But that didn't change the facts: Zephan wouldn't be able to go to the babysitter's for the rest of the week. I might as well kiss good-bye the thought of sleeping for the next several nights. I had no idea how I'd get my project done.
Rocking Zephan in his room, I felt my emotions rage. How could this happen? Didn't God realize this was the absolute worst time? Then I remembered the thanksgiving command. It took me some time to find the words, but as I stroked Zephan's feverish face and consciously decided to be thankful for being able to care for him, the room around me seemed to become a sanctuary. I felt the comforting presence of God's peace allowing me to actually savor this moment.
LLove those around you.
The second command in Philippians 4 is to "let your gentleness be evident to all." When I first read this, I wondered, What does this have to do with personal peace? But when I attempted this step, I was surprised by its power.
Concentrating on showing gentleness to those with whom I came into contact cast my life in a new light. It took my focus from myself and put it on others. And it kept me relying on God, because loving responses invariably didn't come naturallyespecially when I was running late with a hungry one year old who was trying to eat through the yo-gurt containers in my shopping cart, while the slowest clerk in history made mistake after mistake in ringing up the groceries. Let your gentleness be evident to all. Let your gentleness be evident
One day my sister and I had an argument, and I felt certain I was right. However, even as I silently rehearsed a sharp rebuttal, God reminded me of this principle. How can I show gentleness in this situation? I wondered. The answer to this question totally changed my response to her and brought an inner peace that was now becoming more familiar to me.
Allowing God's love to flow through us gives us joy and purpose despite our circumstances. And these first two steps work together. When we get the first step downhaving an attitude of thankfulnessit's much easier for us to react to others in love.
CCommit worries to God.
We've all heard we shouldn't worry. Often my silent response to this concept is something similar to a teenager's remark, Yeah, right! Worrying seems to come as naturally to the human race as getting the hiccupsand about as difficult to cure.
But, fortunately, God's Word doesn't just tell us not to worry. It gives us practical instruction on how not to worry. "Do not be anxious about anything," it says, "but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."
I found I struggled with just deciding not to worry. But at least I could decide to prayespecially when this verse tells me exactly howwith thanksgiving.
When I was pregnant with Zephan, my physician told us our baby might have a mentally debilitating disease. Although he assured us this was just a possibility, I was heartsick. All my dreams for my child's future seemed to hang in jeopardy, and I had trouble concentrating on anything else. But I needed to commit this worry to God.
Doing that, I found, was a process, not a quick fix. But as I progressed in the process, true to God's Word, I felt an un-explainable peace. I wasn't sure God would spare our baby, but I became increasingly convinced that even if he didn't, he'd use the circumstance for good. A few months later, Zephan was born without any health problems.
Of course, the only thing that makes all these steps possible is being convinced of our heavenly Father's tender loving care. We can only be thankful in everything because we know he loves us. We can only truly love because he's shown us his unconditional love. And we can only commit our cares to him because we know he tenderly cares for us in every detail of our lives.
Some time after taking on the challenge of Philippians 4, I was traveling to help someone move when it suddenly struck me what a difference this Scripture passage had made in my life. I was still busy. I still had family, work, and church responsibilities. But somehow life was differentI was different. While it's happened subtly, I know now how it feels to be enveloped in God's peaceand I thank him for it.
Teresa Turner Vining, a freelance writer and speaker, lives in the Kansas City area.
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