A person of peace

How does the busy pastor experience peace amidst the hustle and bustle of life?

Randall L. Roberts, DMin, is the senior pastor of the Loma Linda University Seventh-day Adventist Church, Loma Linda, California, United States.

I’ve got a problem. I’ve been asked to speak on “A Person of Peace.” As a Christian, I’m called to be a person of peace, to speak on peace, and to live in peace. And my life is anything but peaceful.

The reason I struggle with peace can be summed up in two simple words. The first word is hurry. One statistic tells us that 36 percent of Americans say that they are rushed all the time. One writer says that this is historically unprecedented, anytime, anywhere.

I wonder how many of those 36 percent are pastors. Do you wonder if you’re one of them? Then take this little test:

No doubt you have pulled up to a stoplight just recently, right? Now let me ask you, What happened immediately before and while you were there at the stoplight waiting? First of all, while you were still approaching the stoplight, you raced another car to even get to the stoplight just so you could be first in line when the light turned green! Then, if you lost that race, while you sat there fuming, you surveyed the car in front of you, asking yourself some questions. Who is the driver? How old is the driver? Is the driver male or female? What kind of car is it? What are the chances that that driver is going to take two extra seconds to put the pedal to the metal when the light turns green?

Have you ever done that? Then join the onethird. And I’m happy to welcome you, because that means that I’m not the only one with a problem.

But it’s not just the word hurry that threatens to define our lives and rob our peace. It is also the word worry. There is just so much to do. Will it never end? Will the phone never stop ringing?

There is just so much to do and so many people for whom to do it. Did you know that the average office worker in this country has 36 hours of work on their desk at any given time? Thirty-six hours! That means that at any given time, you are approximately one week behind just in terms of office work.

And rest doesn’t always help. In fact, the average American gets two and one-half hours less sleep than Americans did one hundred years ago.

So there’s my problem. I am to be a person of peace. I am to speak on peace. And yet, hurry and worry frequently crowd the forefront of my life.

Now, please don’t misunderstand. It’s not that I don’t want peace. I very much do. I am deeply drawn to it. My life may be filled with hustle and bustle, hurry and worry, but I want peace. The question is, How do I get it?

Have you heard Chuck Swindoll tell this story? It seems that a pastor left the pastorate after 20 years. He decided to become a funeral director. Somebody asked him, “Why did you do that?”

“Well,” he said, “the answer is pretty simple. You see, in the pastorate, I spent about 12 years trying to straighten out John, and I never did get him straightened out. And then I spent about 14 months trying to straighten out the marriage of the Smiths, and I couldn’t get it straightened out. And then I spent three years trying to straighten out Susan, and she never did get straightened out. But now? Let me tell you something—now when I straighten them out, they stay straight.”

I suppose that’s one of the problems of working with the living—they just won’t stay straight. And since they won’t, being a person of peace is a challenge.

How can we become persons of peace?

One way is to escape. Escape to the islands. Escape to the movies. Escape with a good book. Escape, our culture says, because in escape there is peace.

Escape is certainly one option, though, quite frankly, it’s not a very good one, because as soon as the escape ends, all life’s problems are still sitting right there, right where we left them.

Another option is to depend on the circumstances around us to provide us with peace. If the circumstances are right—if they are slow and unhurried—then we can be at peace, right?

There was a time when that option worked reasonably well.

One of my all-time favorite TV programs is The Andy Griffith Show. I remember an episode where Sheriff Andy Griffith and his deputy, Barney Fife, played by Don Knotts, are sitting out on the front porch after dinner. The evening is quiet. Andy is slowly strumming and picking on his guitar. Barney is just sitting there, listening and thinking. Finally, Barney speaks slowly and says, “Think I’ll go over to the diner and get me some ice cream.”

There is silence for a few seconds, with neither of them speaking. Andy continues to strum the guitar. And finally Andy says, “Well, why don’t you go on over to the diner and get yourself some ice cream, then?”

Again there is silence for a few seconds. And finally Barney says, “You know, I believe I will go over to the diner and get me some ice cream.” And then, what seemed to be about three years later, Andy finally says, “Well, go ahead on over to the diner and get yourself some ice cream then.”

By that time, my twenty-first century, Southern California, overly stimulated insides are screaming, “Just get the ice cream!”

There was a time when, if you were dependent on circumstances to make you into a person of peace, it might have worked and even worked reasonably well.

But such times have long since disappeared from the rearview mirror.

The biblical perspective

Turn to John 16 and then John 14.

Consider two verses together, one from each of these two chapters. But first, we must remember the setting.

In both of these texts, Jesus is speaking the night before His crucifixion. The cross looms right ahead. Life has grown dangerous, deadly. In fact, it would be hard to imagine a more turbulent time. The storm is preparing to unleash its fury upon Him. Even now, the thunder rolls. The emotional climate is heavy. Trouble is on its way. It’s a good time for hurry and worry—“Let’s hurry up and get out of here because there are plenty of reasons to worry.”

And yet, it is in the midst of this turbulent time that Jesus talks about peace.

About peace! Can you imagine? Could there be a worse time to be talking about peace? This is the most troubled time of Jesus’ life. And yet listen to what He says, just as the storm is about to break.

Read John 14:27 and 16:33.

This is a new promise. John 14:27 is the first time the word eirene— peace—occurs in the fourth Gospel. It’s a strange time to start talking about peace right when the storm gathers. It would have made much more sense to talk about peace back in the early days of preaching, before the crowds grew so large, before the conflict set in, before the days of threat arrived. It would have made much more sense to speak of peace then. The circumstances would have been much better. But no, not until here, not until the lightning flashes and the thunder rolls does Jesus speak of peace.

I don’t know what you make of that, but at least one thing must be clear—the peace of which Jesus here speaks cannot mean the absence of conflict. After all, He is merely hours away from crucifixion. He has just recently—just a couple of chapters before this—said that He is “troubled” (John 12:27) by what lies ahead of Him. And yet here He speaks of peace.

So whatever else peace may or may not be, of one thing we can be sure—the peace which Jesus offers us is not something that comes from the cessation of trouble, difficulty, or stress.

One New Testament theologian states it in a very simple way. Listen: “The peace that Jesus gives is grounded in God and not in circumstances.”1

And that’s a point we must understand, because in the world around us, absence of conflict is often the meaning of peace. Make sure the circumstances are right, and you will be at peace. Make sure there’s no hurry and no worry, and you will be at peace.

And here Jesus, in the midst of conflict, surrounded by reasons for hurry and worry, speaks of peace.

If we draw together these two verses, we can make two simple statements about Jesus’ brand of peace.

In the world, trouble

First, we can say this: in the world, trouble. What we can expect in life, as one country song says, is T-R-O-U-B-L-E! And yet, that certainty, that verity, that promise on the part of Jesus is oddly comforting, for it tells us that when we do face trouble in the world, it doesn’t mean that something has gone wrong. In fact, it may mean that something has gone right.

Back in the early ’90s in the United States, large numbers of upscale professional people began moving from the cities to the country. Well, when wealthy people—people accustomed to all the conveniences of suburban and city living— arrived in rural areas, you can imagine what happened. There were quite a few surprises in store.

Patrick O’Driscoll, writing in USA Today (August 8, 1997), said, “Your neighbor’s cattle may stink. You may have to haul your own trash to the dump. The mail carrier might not deliver daily, or perhaps not at all. Power or phone lines may not reach your property. The fire department or ambulance may not come quickly enough in an emergency. And, yes, your remote mountain road may not get plowed—or paved, for that matter.”

Apparently many were not ready for such realities, so they called to complain. They were upset that they weren’t provided with all the amenities to which they were accustomed and which they now expected. Their complaining didn’t go down too well. In fact, one county commissioner—a man named John Clarke of Larimer County, Colorado—got so many cranky calls that he finally wrote a 13-page booklet titled, “The Code of the West: The Realities of Rural Living.” Listen to some of his warnings:

“Animals and their manure can cause objectionable odors. What else can we say?”

“If your road is gravel, it is highly unlikely that Larimer County will pave it in the foreseeable future.”

“The topography of the land can tell you where the water will go in case of heavy precipitation. When property owners fill in ravines, they have found that the water that drained through that ravine now drains through their house.”

Clarke says he wasn’t trying to keep newcomers away. “No,” he said. “We just want them to know what to expect.”

And just so, Jesus. He says to His disciples, He says to you and me, “In the world, T-R-O-U-B-L-E.” But that fact, that reality—and the hurry and worry that come with it—need not deter us from the reality of His second statement.

In Jesus, peace

The second statement we can make about what Jesus says in these verses is this: In Jesus, peace. In other words, though you can count on the fact this “world [is] with devils filled,” those who are in Jesus are with peace filled. They are given the grace to rise above the fray to a place of serenity.

Eugene Peterson, author of The Contemplative Pastor, writes about a seminal scene in the classic book Moby Dick by Herman Melville. It is in this scene that we see a whaleboat thudding across the frothing, turbulent ocean in pursuit of that great, white whale, Moby Dick. The sailors labor intensely, with every muscle taut, focusing all their attention and energy on the task at hand. It is the cosmic conflict we see, the battle between good and evil. There is the chaotic sea and the demonic sea monster versus Captain Ahab, the morally outraged man.

But what catches our eye is that in this boat there is one man who does nothing. He is not holding an oar; he isn’t sweating; he doesn’t shout. He is deliberate and languid amidst all the crashing and the cursing. Who is he? He is the harpooner—the one who will launch the harpoon toward the whale. And as the harpooner, he waits quiet and poised. And then, in Moby Dick, comes this sentence: “To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil.”

Did you catch that? You may not have heard it with the wind roaring in your ears and the waves crashing into the boat and the oarsmen fighting the sea and the great white whale just beyond reach. So, just in case the spray dimmed your hearing; just in case in the midst of all the frothing commotion, you missed it, listen to it again: “To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil.”

Now listen to what Eugene Peterson has to say about Melville’s images and words: “Melville’s sentence is a text to set alongside the psalmist’s ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Ps. 46:10), and alongside Isaiah’s ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength’” (Isa. 30:15, RSV).

Peterson continues:

“Pastors know there is something radically wrong with the world. . . . The white whale, symbol of evil, and the crippled captain, personification of violated righteousness, are joined in battle. In such a world, noise is inevitable, and immense energy is expended. But if there is no harpooner in the boat, there will be no proper finish to the chase. Or if the harpooner is exhausted, having abandoned his assignment and become an oarsman, he will not be ready and accurate when it is time to throw his javelin.

“Somehow it always seems more compelling to assume the work of the oarsman, laboring mightily in a moral cause, throwing our energy into a fray we know has immortal consequence. And it always seems more dramatic to take on the outrage of a Captain Ahab, obsessed with a vision of vengeance and retaliation, brooding over the ancient injury done by the Enemy. There is, though, important work to do. Someone must throw the dart. Some must be harpooners.”2

It is so tempting to allow all of the hurry and worry of life to crowd out that for which every Christian and, more closely, for which every pastor has been appointed—the duty of simply being with Jesus. When the storm of life’s demands pounds into the boat in which we ride, we are tempted to abandon the harpooner’s post and throw our weight into rowing. But it is then that we must remember that certainly every Christian, but more specifically, every pastor is called, first of all, to simply be with Jesus.

That’s what He says here in John: “In me you will have peace.” In the world, trouble, but in Me, peace.

That means, then, that we must be with Him, we must abide—as He says in these closing chapters of John’s Gospel— in Him.

When was the last time you were with Him? When was the last time you lingered long in His presence? When was the last time you huddled in the eye of the storm, huddled in that one still, silent pocket of peace while the fury raged around you, huddled alone with Him? When was the last time?

The songwriter said it well:

“Still, still with Thee, when purple morning breaketh,

“When the bird waketh, and the shadows flee;

“Fairer than morning, lovelier than daylight,

“Dawns the sweet consciousness, I am with Thee.”

Have you heard the story of the elderly lady in World War II London? The city was being bombed to pieces all around her, and she seemed strangely at peace. “How can you be at peace?” her friends asked. “How can you rest when it seems the city will be blown apart?”

“Well,” she said, “it’s like this: every night before I go to bed, I kneel and ask God to be with me through the night. And then I figure there’s no point in both of us staying up, so I go to sleep.”

You know, the real problem is not hurry and worry. The real problem is whether I dwell mainly in the world or mainly in Jesus.

In the world, trouble. In Jesus, peace.

1 Rodney A. Whitacre, The IVP NT Commentary Series: John (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: University Press, 1999), 365.

2 Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1993), 33, 34.

 

 

 

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Randall L. Roberts, DMin, is the senior pastor of the Loma Linda University Seventh-day Adventist Church, Loma Linda, California, United States.

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