A sense of peace

A sense of peace

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It sounds like a holy, Christian way to make decisions. And many appeal to Phil 4:7 for justification for it:

7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7 ESV)

Is this right? Well, let’s think about the context first. It is easy to take a single verse and make it mean something different to what the writer intended. Phil 4:4-7 are an encouragement to rejoice in God, whatever the circumstances of life are. Life is often very difficult. On those difficult days, the Philippians were to remember that “the Lord is at hand”, which means that God is always nearby and available to talk to. Instead of being anxious about what difficulties they might have been facing, these Christians were to pray to God about whatever it was. And a direct result of this praying would be the peace that surpasses all understanding.

What is this ‘peace’ exactly? It does seem to be a subjective thing, an internal feeling. Christians always have peace with God due to what Jesus has done for them in an objective sense. However, prayer in tough and stressful times can lead to a sense of peace from God. This means that although the situation we face might not be resolved, we have spoken to God about it, and we know that God is in control and cares for us deeply. We can be at peace, knowing that it is not due to us to fix the broken world, but we are to trust God who can do it.

Notice the end of v7. This peace will “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. To guard something is a military term, so this peace will in some way protect us from something that will impact our hearts and minds. I think this is saying something similar to Jesus’ famous direction to not worry in the sermon on the mount. When we pray instead of being anxious about our situation, we are not tempted to feel overwhelmed or to feel like the whole world is on our shoulders. Our Father is in control, not us. We are guarded against self-sufficiency and anxiety through prayer.

I have experienced that myself. After having a conversation with someone in a difficult situation, it would be easy for me to then lose sleep about what I could do and overanalyse what I said to them. Instead, it is much healthier for me spiritually to pray about it and understand that I cannot fix other people’s problems, but God can. That brings peace (and sleep!) instead of anxiety.

Back to the sense of peace issue. This passage is not about decision making at all. We cannot use v7 to back up the sense of peace logic I referred to at the start of this blog. The point here is that whatever happens, we can rest on God’s control and love for us. It is not that God will give us a sense of which way to go next.

Let’s briefly examine the sense of peace logic again. What might it mean when we feel a sense of peace after praying about some decision we need to make? It just means we feel comfortable with that decision. Feeling comfortable about a decision doesn’t make it right! We are sinful people, and a lot of things we feel comfortable with are things God hates! Conversely, many decisions we might make will be difficult for us and troubling, but we feel we should make them to serve God better.

For example, does the decision to speak to my co-worker about Jesus fill me with a sense of peace? Usually not! I feel some fear and nervousness, but I know it is a matter of life and death, so I pray about it, plan for it, and say the words. This is a right decision but not one that fills me with peace. If we measured all our decisions like that, we would just live comfortable lives and not always live in ways God calls us to.

Christians need to be more than simply mystical or depending on an internal sense to make good decisions. We need to know our Bibles, to use our minds, and to consult wisely with those in our church family whom we trust. Don’t make Phil 4:7 carry some application Paul never intended and was never in the context.