Do not let your hearts be troubled.
How many of the rich and famous, the powerful and the beautiful, have destroyed their own lives—for a season, with addictions or destructive behavior; or permanently, through suicide? We piously hope that in death they have found the peace that eluded them in life, but it may well be too late by then. How much better to have “peace in our day.”
The more I experience how fundamental a sense of peace is to the quality of my life, the better I understand why Jesus comforted his disciples with the words, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) More than love, more than happiness, more than riches, more than friendship, more than success, more than health, more than wisdom, our souls need peace.
This book was written to try and help you find peace, whatever your circumstances. In one way it’s a self-help book, because there are many things we can do to manage our affairs in ways that reduce unnecessary frictions and bring a degree of peace. But in another way it’s an un-self-help book about letting go of all our ambitions, and letting God infuse our life with the peace that passes all understanding. God alone can grant that ultimate gift, and to receive it, our biggest job may be to stop doing and simply to be … at peace.
The kingdom of heaven is a heart at peace
Perhaps, as I used to, you think of the kingdom of heaven as a large, probably very pretty, but remote place. Perhaps you believe that the people lucky enough to enter are happy there, but the concept of a heavenly kingdom doesn’t seem relevant amid the vicissitudes of your everyday life. Jesus tried to explain to people that this kingdom was not a far-away place, or a remote chance of happiness, but was as close and life-giving as their breath.
What is the kingdom of heaven? Jesus explained it often, by means of some puzzling parables. For example, he said that the kingdom of heaven is like:
- a mustard seed
- treasure hidden in a field
- a merchant looking for fine pearls.
In these examples, Jesus was teaching that the kingdom of heaven was something that could fill our lives utterly, even though it seemed very small or hidden. Why a mustard seed? “Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” Why yeast? Because a small amount can be worked in to a large quantity of flour to leaven the whole dough. And when we find the treasure hidden in the field, or the pearl of great value, we will want to sell everything we have in order to possess it.
Jesus also said the kingdom of heaven is like:
- a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish, good and bad
- the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old
- a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat.
In the ending of all these parables, in the fullness of time, good is separated from the bad, and only the good is kept. This tells us that the kingdom of heaven is not a mixed-up place full of good and evil, as life on earth tends to be. It is a pure state that has been purged of bad things. That is one reason we think the kingdom of heaven is unattainable on earth, because we don’t see any examples of this around us. Yet even without attaining perfection we can be tending our inner and outer gardens to bring ourselves ever nearer to living without weeds, worry and woe. It is a process, and there are ample rewards along the way.
“The kingdom of heaven is within you,” Jesus used to say. How can a fishing net, a sower of seeds, and a pearl all be found within us? They can be, if the kingdom of heaven represents peace—a state of being that is the gift of the Spirit. It is not an external accomplishment like a college degree or a two-story house in the suburbs, as nice as those things are. It is a gift, and one that has been promised to us by Jesus himself.
What does peace look like?
Have you ever experienced a sense of profound peace? Were you sitting quietly when it came upon you, or were you engaged in an activity? Try to recapture one your peaceful moments right now, and relive the sensations. It may not come to you completely or right away, but if you have ever experienced peace then at least you know it can be done!
I won’t presume to suggest what God’s peace would feel like to anyone else, because God relates to each us in unique ways that gently honor our individual personalities and mental traits. But I can describe my experiences.
Peace can be a wave of contentment that comes over me suddenly while walking down the street or washing dishes—or doing any kind of mundane chore. This type of experience is usually combined with an overwhelming and completely uncritical feeling of love for other human beings, either a specific group, like my family, or the whole world at once. Sometimes I can almost feel myself embracing all the other people within eyesight.
At other times I simply notice, in the course of my day, that I am at peace. I experience this simple pleasure so often now that I would characterize my whole life as being “peaceful.” (Note, I didn’t say “perfect.”)
One New Year’s eve I started a list of goals for the following year. I prefer to make goals rather than resolutions as goals seem more positive and powerful. I had in mind to write down several financial and business goals, since the economy was still in a downturn and my income had been sorely affected. But this sheet only had one entry:
I have total peace about my finances.
Other than that, I came up empty. Not because my life is perfect or I’ve achieved everything I want to yet, but simply because I felt so peaceful with myself already that setting goals was unnecessary and superfluous at that moment.
A third type of experience I have had of peace was given to me while asleep. In a class on the Old Testament, the teacher had described God as a nuclear power core. I was uneasy with the metaphor, as it didn’t sound like the approachable and loving God I was familiar with. But I respected the person who had made the suggestion and invested quite some thought about how God could be like a nuclear reactor.
The answer came to me in a dream. I dreamt I was drawing close to God, and as I touched Him, my heart detonated in a white hot, radiantly expanding nuclear explosion of divine love. Wow! What a surprise to receive an answer to my question in this way, and what a glorious experience to have had. Now you may be thinking that a nuclear explosion doesn’t sound very peaceful, but as anomalous as it sounds, this “explosion” was the result of my heart uniting with the heart of God. I saw my spirit expanding to a huge size in the universe as I momentarily gained the ability to love the world as God does. I was one with the peace that passes understanding.
Waking or sleeping, God is able to reach us, deal with us, and change us.
What does peace look like to you? You may already know, or you may be able to imagine how it would feel. If your life seems so troubled just now that you can’t even imagine peace, then take heart, because you’re about to learn lots of things you can do to achieve a greater closeness to God and to the kingdom of heaven within you. I only ask that you keep an open mind, and allow God to show you where his treasure is buried in the field of your heart.
Dear Father in Heaven,
Knowing how brokenhearted his disciples would be after he left the earthly plane, your son Jesus promised to leave them the greatest gift of all—his peace. We too are often cast down by the cares of this world, and we long for peace, in our minds and emotions, in our family relationships, at work, in our communities, and around the world. Please show us how to uproot the weeds that are growing in our own spirits, and give us the courage to throw them on your purifying fire. Teach us when to speak and act and when to be still, allowing your peace to flow into our hearts. We pray for all people on earth to find the peace which passes understanding now, and forever.