Try to remember the last time you felt calm, content, control or peace. All too often it seems we are at the mercy of an out-of-control world. Often my friends and I seem to find ourselves talking about the broken appliance, the child screaming while we are talking on the phone, the nagging headache or the litany of responsibilities that make our lives too busy.
Maybe you have had similar conversations with your friends. Healthy friendships are important to our emotional well-being, and talking with friends about these everyday stresses is not a bad thing. But the content of these conversations sometimes leaves me wondering if important spiritual priorities are being ignored.
It seems too easy to embrace speed and distractions in this world, which can cause us to lose sight of healthy priorities, resulting in feelings of helplessness and anxiety.
Have you heard of "Hurry Sickness"? In his book Hurry: Spiritual Strategies for Slowing Down, Kirk Byron Jones says, "When hurry becomes a chronic condition, when we run even when there is no reason to, when we rush while performing even the most mundane tasks, it may be said that we have become addicted to hurry."
Jones questions who we are running from with our compulsion to do everything quickly. Ourselves? God? He asks if one can find peace in such a frantic world of avoidance. Interestingly, among several recommendations for dealing with hurry sickness, Jones mentions one we should all be familiar with—Sabbath observance. Remembering the seventh day and keeping it holy acts as a wonderful counterbalance to the other six days that can throw us off balance. When life's speed and stress increase, it requires us to utilize every tool at our disposal to break this cycle.
Investing time in such activities as relaxing, meditating and praying improve both mental and physical health. Moments of quiet give us an opportunity to prioritize and have quality time to spend on improving our spiritual health. Quiet times should strengthen us but not become another method of avoidance. "I was at peace until my family came home or until my roommate walked through the door." "The Sabbath was great, so peaceful until I went to Church services. The choir was loud, the building too hot, no one smiled at me." If we truly want peace in our lives we have to actively pursue it. It requires self-discipline and seeking help from God.
Fame, Fortune—or Contentment?
When I was a teenager, my father was our congregation's teen coordinator. He had been thinking about a topic for a Bible study. I still remember clearly when one day, out of the blue, he asked, "If you could have anything you want, what would it be?" My answer was to be content. Contentment was more important to me than the more obvious choices of fortune or fame. I still think about my response to that question so many years ago.
Contentment is not an escape from life's trials but an abiding peace and confidence in the midst of those trials. Contentment is a choice. It is from within and not due to external circumstances. It is part of happiness, but it isn't the pursuit of happiness. Achieving this state of being is a powerful testament to God and what His Holy Spirit can do in our lives.
The apostle Paul learned to be content: "Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am to be content" (Philippians 4:11 Philippians 4:11Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.
American King James Version×). It didn't just happen. Learning to change what we can change and accept what we can't is a challenge for us all, but meeting this challenge can give us peace of mind.
All too often we can become convinced that something more has to take place for us to be satisfied. Do we buy into the world of marketing that tells us life will be better when we own a bigger house, have a nicer car, wear a size 2 or overspend on credit? Do we tell ourselves we will be happier if our husbands treat us better, our children are out of diapers/in school/out of the house? The truth is there will always be challenges to face. No life is without trials.
What Is Your Level of Contentment?
Here are three questions that we can ask ourselves regarding our level of contentment:
Am I continually trying to reach a problem-free state of being? Life is not trouble-free. Psalms 34:19 Psalms 34:19Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
American King James Version×tells us, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all."
Do I feel shortchanged or thankful for what God has given me? Feelings of depravation often go hand in hand with making comparisons, which Paul warns is destructive (2 Corinthians 10:12 2 Corinthians 10:12For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
American King James Version×). An attitude of gratitude brings with it contentment and peace of mind.
Am I looking in the right place for peace of mind? Often people turn to alcohol, drugs, unhealthy relationships, false religion or maybe just hurry through life embracing one distraction after another in avoidance.
Dan Story in his book Defending Your Faith mentions three basic needs that people seek to fulfill in order to have peace of mind. Story writes, "These three basic needs are physical, emotional and spiritual."
He goes on to eloquently state that just fulfilling physical and emotional needs does not lead to peace of mind. He writes that regardless of how satisfying one's life is, there exists a longing for something that this earth or human relationships cannot provide: spiritual peace of mind. Philippians 4:7 Philippians 4:7And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
American King James Version×tells us that "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard [our] hearts and minds." Ultimate peace of mind comes from God.
Five Keys to Winning the Battle for Peace
It has been over a decade since I read the book Winning Life's Toughest Battles by Julius Segal. It came to mind because the author shared vivid and very moving stories of personal survival. After recently reviewing the book, I realized that Dr. Segal's five keys to emerging as a victor instead of a victim give insight to the topic of peace. His five keys are communication, control, conviction, clear conscience and compassion. As a Christian, I put it in terms of where our focus needs to be in good times as well as difficult times.
Focus on our relationship with God. Communication is important to survival in difficult times. How can we expect to know the peace of God if we don't know God? The Bible, God's Word, is filled with beautiful promises of peace. We share our thoughts of anxiety, our fears and our hurts when we pray. We also ask Him to strengthen us and give us peace of mind through the power of His Holy Spirit.
Focus on what we can do in difficult times. The author states that our emotional well-being requires dependable themes. We have to combat feelings of helplessness or wanting to give up. We must find what we can control with God's help and leave the rest in His hands. If nothing else, each of us can control our attitude. Often isn't that the only thing we can control? And yet it is the biggest challenge of all.
Focus on the big picture. Dr. Segal mentions that we must have an anchoring purpose for our existence in times of crushing stress. In Nazi death camps the person who no longer had a goal was less likely to survive. Over the years I have drawn comfort and a deeper level of conviction from seeing God was there for me during my toughest battles. I hold those memories close for the next battle to be faced.
Focus on being right with God. The author mentions that it is next to impossible to feel guilty and hopeful at the same time. Do any of us feel at peace when we know we aren't right with God? Guilt is certainly destructive to peace of mind. When we are feeling conflicted, we have no peace—no matter how much avoidance we engage in. Is our conscience clear?
Focus on serving others. Self-absorption is not our friend in times of crisis. Looking out for number one doesn't lead to peace of mind or true happiness. Over the years I have learned that focusing on others and their needs (showing compassion) changes me in a good way and helps bring a sense of perspective and peace.
There are times in life when we face trials that seem overwhelming. It's important to prepare for those times and be able to survive them. Consider Isaiah 32:17 Isaiah 32:17And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.
American King James Version×: "The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever" (New International Version).
God expects us to pursue the peace He wants us to have. He promises us the comfort and help we need via His Holy Spirit. Let's be proactive and choose not to succumb to an out-of-control world. UN