Facing north at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Peace doesn’t just happen

What does peace mean to you? To me, it’s a quiet evening at home, sitting on my back porch step with a cup of coffee and watching the sun set over acres and acres of wheat, listening to the wind in the tree limbs and marveling at the depth of the sky. Peace is having things right. Peace is not worrying. Peace is being where I need to be, doing what I’m supposed to do, and being able to face God with a clear conscience.

But peace is one of those achievements that doesn’t just happen. You have to work at it. Everyone wants it, but it doesn’t come naturally to us. And I think it’s something that matters to God, otherwise He wouldn’t talk about it through Scripture so much.

Facing north at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Facing north at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:9.

God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.

In this study of what matters to God, we’re still in the Beatitudes, which are found in Matthew 5, the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I always want to make sure I’m understanding the word meaning as close as I can without knowing Greek, so I also checked the Amplified Version for this verse too:

Blessed (enjoying enviable happiness, spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the makers and maintainers of peace, for they shall be called the sons of God!

What does it mean to work for peace? To make peace? To maintain peace? This verse is saying those people who strive for peace will be happy because they’ll discover their place in God’s family (according to the Message, which is how it puts it). But what does it mean?

I guess, before we can understand what it means to strive for peace, we really need to understand what peace is to begin with. If you go by the dictionary definition, it’s going to say peace is either a nonwarring state between nations or a general state of mutual harmony between people or groups of people. And that’s great. Both of those are great. But I want to go even further than those generic definitions.

Some people would say that peace is a lack of conflict. And on one hand, I would agree with that. Conflict is the opposite of peace. Conflict, whether it be war or disagreement or dislike or any sort of negative emotion, will keep you up at night worrying or fretting or fighting. But I think peace is more than just a lack of conflict, because conflict is never going to go away–not as long as we live on earth.

The only relationship in our lives that lacks conflict is our relationship with God through Jesus Christ–on God’s part. God has no conflict with us if we have accepted Christ, although there are times when we will have conflict with God because we refuse to do what He tells us, because we think we know better than He does, because we want what we want in spite of what He says is best.

But as long as we live on earth, we will experience conflict. So how can we have peace while we’re here?

To me, peace is reconciliation. And maybe that’s trading a ten-cent word for a fifty-cent word, but think about it. The word reconcile actually originates from a word that means “to make friendly again.” Reconciliation is the act of returning harmony between two people. Reconciliation is making peace where there wasn’t peace before.

Like I said at the start, peace doesn’t just happen. Human nature precludes peace from being a natural state for us. We’re always going to be fighting each other. We’re always going to be in conflict with each other unless someone is actively making and maintaining peace in your relationships. So how do we do that? If the key to being blessed and grasping what God says is important is to make and maintain peace, how do we do it?

Many people have said it but most people attribute the statement to Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice.”

There’s a lot going on in that statement. So many times people get the idea that peace will come about just because we are not actively at war with someone, that is will just happen if we’re not fighting with anybody. But here’s the deal, folks. We will always be fighting with someone. We will always have conflict with others. Why? Because someone is always selfish. Because someone is always looking out for number one. Because someone is always going to do what they want to do no matter how much it might hurt someone else.

Welcome to life on planet Earth. Nothing has changed since we were created.

And the way to make and maintain peace in any relationship is to ensure that justice has a place in it. We have to do what’s right. Someone has to take that stand, someone has to point out truth. If we don’t, the relationship will fall apart. Relationships based on lies never work. A relationship is only going to work if both sides are truthful, if both sides do the right thing, if both sides understand what justice is–and that is true for people, for governments, for nations.

We will always face conflict. It’s not going away until Christ comes back for us, but peace matters to God. He wants us to return to that place of real relationship that we shared before Adam and Eve fell. When it comes to our relationship with Him, the only way to make peace there is through Christ. But when it comes to our relationships with each other, making and maintaining peace comes down to doing what’s right. And unfortunately, sometimes doing the right thing will cause more trouble between people than it solves, but true peace isn’t the absence of conflict. True peace is knowing what’s right and doing it.

Pincushion flower (I think) - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

It takes two to stay angry.

We live in an angry world. Have you noticed that? Everyone is angry. Everyone has a short temper. We all lose patience with each other far more easily than we should, and there’s always someone to blame.

Anger isn’t wrong on its own, of course. Anger itself isn’t a sin. On the contrary, anger is useful in some instances to spur action. There are times when anger is necessary. Even Jesus got angry. But anger is one of those emotions you have to guard very carefully because what we tend to do as a result of our anger is often sinful. So, yes, anger can be useful in small doses, but who wants to live that way?

How do we survive in an angry world full of angry people? Do you answer anger with anger?

Most of the anger people in our world are feeling right now isn’t useful anger. It’s self-absorbed indignation. It’s hatred or rage because they feel they’ve been mistreated. Or they feel like life isn’t treating them fairly. Or its directed at a person or a people group. Or it’s anger for the sake of anger.

Some people just like to fight. And I’m not talking about cheerful debate. I mean out-and-out quarrelling. And they’re not happy until they can have a good old-fashioned knock-down, drag-out fight.

I try to stay away from people like that. But what happens when avoidance doesn’t work? What happens when you work with someone who likes to fight? What happens when you live with someone who likes to fight? What do you do then?

Centurea flower - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Centurea flower – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Proverbs 15:1.

A gentle answer deflects anger,
    but harsh words make tempers flare.

This is one of those verses that doesn’t really make sense straight off the bat. Frankly, from our perspective, if you answer an angry person with kind words, you’re going to be steamrolled. They will just roll you over and keep going, and all you will have accomplished is to provide them with a target.

Right? Has anyone else ever thought that about this verse?

But here’s the thing about human relationships: it takes two.

Relationships, whether they are romantic or friendships or familial or whatever, require that at least two people interact with each other. That’s what a relationship is. If you’re just by yourself, that’s not a relationship. You have to have someone else with you. Kind of like you can’t have a real conversation by yourself (unless you’re an author, and you’re just talking to yourself … but even then you likely are creating a conversation between two characters).

If you start a conversation with someone, the tone of that conversation doesn’t just depend on one person. It depends on both of you.

If both of you are saying kind things to each other, the tone will remain kind (and probably very mushy). If both of you are yelling at each other in anger, you both will continue to be angry. But if one person is angry, and the other remains calm and kind, eventually the anger will run out.

A speaker at a conference I attended said that the limit that one person can yell at another person without response is two minutes. Granted, that two minutes will feel like an eternity, but that’s as long as they can go without having someone yell back.

Anger is exhausting, emotionally and physically. And if there’s no anger in response, it starves. If someone pushes you and you push back, you will feed each others’ motion indefinitely. But if only one of you is pushing, eventually they’ll run out of steam. And they’ll stop.

And it’s the same thing with anger.

So if someone yells at you, don’t yell back. If someone pushes you (emotionally or physically), don’t push back, although if they physically push you, you might want to consider calling the police. Obviously I’m not talking about issues of domestic violence. That’s another topic altogether.

But in normal interpersonal relationships, answer angry words with kind words. It’s difficult. It’s not instinctive. Instinct is to snap back. But instincts are usually sinful because we are sinful people. Don’t run away from it. Yes, step back from it, but always answer, always give a reason for why you’re stepping back and be kind about it. And if see how long that anger lasts.