I have a peace about it

“I feel a peace about it…”  This is a common phrase that people use in decision making… or at least that a lot of people who call themselves Christians use it…  Is a feeling of peace a scriptural way of making a decision?

Some passages:

2 Thess 3:16

“Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!” (NASUpdated)

Phil 4:6-8

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

Col 3:14-15

“Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.”

1 Thess 5:2-3

“For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.”

Sometimes when people are making a tough decision, they use a phrase that is intriguing to me.  I know that we sometimes face decisions that are incredibly tough.  At times we have to select one of two things that are both good! Last year I got to hire an assistant.  A few different people applied – all good.  I could have chosen one of them blindfolded and not been disappointed.  I actually prayed for someone to apply that I could easily say “no” to.  That is a tough decision, when you have to choose between two or more options that are all good.

Also, we live in a fallen world and there are conditions in which it seems that we are facing a choice between two or more bad options.  At other times, I am convinced that it doesn’t just seem that way; it is that way.  I have seen too many people who have to make a choice between a divorce or staying in an abusive relationship.  Stay in a marriage that clearly does not fulfill God’s purposes for marriage or get a divorce; and God hates divorce.  That is no fun, but it is real life.

So, how do we make that kind of decision?  I will include some thoughts below, but I want to comment on that phrase I mentioned earlier.  “I have a peace about it…”

 

Analyzing our feeling of peace

Let me start with this.  I think a sense of peace is a common internal sensation that comes with doing what we believe God is calling us to do.  Often, I think when followers of Christ do what they know He would have them do, they experience a peace.  But this peace is not a mere feeling and to treat it or label it as such is to diminish its true value.  I read of a martyr who, as he was bring tied to the stake, asked for a moment before the tied him.  For whatever reason, his tormentors gave him a minute.  After a moment of prayer, he walked back up onto the stack of wood and began to tie himself to be burned alive.  He said that he had needed to have his heart truly prepared.   I cannot for a second believe this meant that he had a warm (no pun or disrespect intended) and fuzzy or positive feeling in his gut.  What he had was true peace.  Peace that zips past our understanding of it.  I know that often we are called to make gut-wrenching, painful, sickening decisions that hurt and torment and plague us, and we are right to do them.  Right now, a very close friend of mine is struggling greatly in her role as a mission to a lost people.  She faces frustration on all sides, physical ailments, loneliness and even depression… all in response to what God has called her to do.  Stop the presses, ‘cause here is a news headline:

Doing what is right does not always feel good.

Here is another one – doing what is wrong sometimes does feel good.  An internal sense of calm is not proof that what we “feel peace” about is what God wants.  We, as humans, tend to fret until we make a decision and then we work hard internally to convince ourselves that we have made the right decision.  This is part of the “cognitive dissonance” issue. So, we can expect to feel some sense if what is probably rightly called “relief” at having made a decision – but addicts feel relief when they give into their addiction (it is a vital part of the addiction cycle!), and I imagine that serial killers feel relief at choosing their victims.  Since it is very hard to tell some kind of normal relief from internal peace, I think the peace feeling is a dangerous stand-alone for making any kind of decision.  I will tell you that I have seen the relief (called “peace about it”) on the faces of people who have finally decided to divorce their spouse for selfish reasons.  Especially when breaking some kind of agreement, I think when it is used as the main argument, I think it is often a sign of spiritual immaturity.

I don’t think it is wrong to feel it, and I think it is often part of God’s reassurance to us about getting started in what He has for us.  As a measurement of God’s will, I think it is at best untrustworthy and at worst, self delusional.  The kind of peace that God talks about comes with knowing Him, trusting foundationally in Him, counting on His promises to us… there is a sense of spiritual rest we, as followers of Christ, have that others cannot have.  Check out the whole passage that is so often quoted:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:4-7, NASU)

What most people seem to be saying about “I feel a peace about it,” is that they feel less anxious about it.  It seems to me that we have the responsibility to “feel anxious about nothing”, but pray instead – then God’s peace keeps watch over our hearts and minds.  My friend, the missionary, can have this kind of peace even in the midst of depressed frustrations, lack of sleep and even illness!  She may not “feel” it all of the time, but knowing it is a part of her inheritance as a daughter of the King, she can rest in Him and let His peace – not hers – keep watch over her heart and mind.

 

Is this peace from God?

Finally, I want to make two notes… one is information from Matt  Lantz – Forge Director sent me in regards to this question.  But first is this:

Making decisions can be very tough at times.  Let me give you a short list to look at as you make a tough call:

  1. Biblical or Spiritual leadership – does the Bible speak to this issue?  Is this a “yes be yes” situation?  Is it about a commitment or is there a command referencing it?  Stealing, committing adultery, divorce, cheating, etc?  Anyone ever experienced a feeling of “rightness” in the midst of sexual sin with someone you really love?  Amazing how similar to a feeling of “peace” that is, isn’t it?  Also, the Spirit can and does lead His people in supernatural ways.  A person can get special insight from the Spirit about a decision.  These two trump all else.  For this reason, pray, pray, pray and read, read, read to get the insight and wisdom that you seek – (James 1:5)

Please note that biblical teaching and Holy Spiritual insight will NEVER contradict each other.  The Spirit will NOT tell you to commit murder, nor can I imagine the Spirit telling someone to divorce their wife – though I have known of men who “feel a peace about it.”

  1. Moral/ethical understanding – how does this impact others, are there rules, debt, laws standards of right and wrong that aren’t clear biblically that still come into play?  Numbers 1 and 2 can be put together usually, but I like to clarify that cultural ethics are subservient to the Bible too.  These two are about “what is right” rather than “what is wise.”
  2. Wisdom from wise people.  What do people who know and love you as well as know and love the truth say?  The wisest man in the Bible, Solomon, recommended more than anything else that people seek wisdom from wise people – if anyone didn’t need wise counsel, it was him!
  3. What are the consequences to you and your own future, as best you can understand them?
  4. Do you feel good about this decision?

Consider these something of an order of decision making.  If the Bible is clear on the subject, follow the teachings of scripture.  Numbers 2-5 are irrelevant.  If the Bible is not clear, but other ethics are, then you must choose the right thing.  However, if everything else is unclear, then you go to wisdom and if wisdom in the eyes of others and yourself are not clear, then you might go with a feeling.

 Here are the notes that Matt sent me too:

 Paul understood Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6.  Do you?

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice!  Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.  The Lord is near.  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

 The ‘peace’ Paul describes is NOT a barometer for discerning God’s will!!!  The peace of God is an existing reality that calms our hearts when we are faced with anxiety that allows us to make kingdom-minded decisions.  When we pray, we are reminded of this reality and we walk into it – and it calms our hearts.  What is the peace?  The warmth of knowing that all things will be added unto us because our Father knows what we need before we ask Him (Matthew 6).  How incomprehensible!!  How wonderful!!  Such a reality reminds us that our perspective needs to be a kingdom perspective – and that keeps our hearts from being swallowed up by fear and worry.  When we transfer our anxiety to the King of our kingdom, we live peacefully in his provision – whatever it may be.

Most people use this passage exclusively in their decision-making and in little else – which is unfortunate.  (Ever thought about using this passage in conflict management, for example?)  To say, ‘God has given me a peace about this decision’ is an upside-down (and shallow!) way of applying this passage that utterly disregards all that Jesus teaches us in Matthew 6.  It should not be used as a cliché that gives us a ‘spiritual’ way out of things that ail us.  It is a reminder of Jesus’ teaching:  “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”

Peace is knowing your Father cares and provides for you.  Peace is not the relief that comes from talking yourself into or out of a decision.

Thanks, Matt.