A peaceful presence in the real world

A peaceful presence in the real world

An excerpt from “A Non-Anxious Life”

God created an Eden-like world for us to live in. It’s not very Eden-like today though, is it? There are so many ways in which the world around us isn’t nearly as good, beautiful and true as God intended. There is a lot of human error, human brokenness and human evil on display. In such a world, peace seems unnatural. We live in a world full of troubles.

Jesus understands troubling times. In the upper room, Jesus spoke words to his inner circle that he knew they would need in the hours to come. They would face the most disorienting, anxious moments of their lives when Jesus was arrested, beaten, crucified and killed. And so Jesus said to them, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). What things has he just told them that might help them find peace?

Jesus said what he said so his disciples “will not fall away” (John 16:1). He let them know that his words were meant to help them realize that the world does not know the Father, nor does the world understand Jesus (John 16:3). He told them that there was more he’d like to say to them, but they didn’t have the capacity to bear it yet (John 16:12). Mostly in this passage, he was preparing them for the arrest and crucifixion that would soon stun them all.

Now, Jesus reminded them that he spoke to them in a way that would help them find peace in a situation where there would be no peace to be found. This is the genius of Jesus. He does not promise us a life full of easy, happy experiences. He promises his peaceful presence in the real world in which we live. He promises peace to us in conflict and troubles. He promises peace to us when we are opposed or even attacked.

We live in a world full of trouble. We need a peace that is more powerful than trouble. It is a mistake to promise people that if they follow Jesus, their lives will be trouble free and full of outward blessings. The peace Jesus promises is better than that because it is durable. It is a peace found in him. It is union with Christ that produces settled peace in our hearts and minds. This peace stays when trouble comes. And this peace is something we can bring into the midst of trouble and conflict.

Jesus wants us to realize that it is no surprise when the world brings us trouble. We live in a world that is out of alignment with its divine purpose and origin. There is no peace in opposition to God; it is in God that we find peace. Peace like this is like the roots of a tree rather than like the fresh sprouts of spring that fade and wither when summer heat comes.

But when trouble comes, I am often overwhelmed by it. I can agree with the truth of what Jesus says here, but I may find I don’t yet have the capacity to trust him as much as I wish. Why do I struggle like this? One reason is that I listen to the wrong voice. When I feel heavy, worried, or overwhelmed, I tend to give attention to the voices fostering these feelings. But these voices aren’t usually seeking my good.

The voice of anxiety or overwhelm—when I trust its message—has a way of diminishing me, draining me, and distancing my mind and heart from God’s real presence. What helps me is to practice contemplative attentiveness to the voice of God in my life.

God has never forsaken me when I feel forsaken. He has never abandoned me when I feel his apparent absence. God remains a God of peace in moments when anxiety threatens to overwhelm me. I’ve been learning to attend to God’s gracious and peaceful voice in the face of the noisy voice of anxiety. God wants me to let his voice be louder in my heart and mind than the voice of anxiety. In this way, I become more securely connected to the true vine.

But I’ve sometimes had the habit of responding to unwelcome surprises and painful experiences with a non-abiding rather than an abiding posture. I attach myself to the vine of worry; it sucks life from me. I attach myself to the vine of spiritual apathy; it leads me to procrastinate and put off my life rather than living it. I attach myself to the vine of “What do others think?” and my sense of value rides the roller coaster of others’ changing opinions. It’s so much better when I learn to practice the habit of abiding in God when I feel uneasy or overwhelmed or frustrated.

At home with Jesus

Jesus invites us to make ourselves more and more at home with him. My anxiety harbors assumptions about Jesus that don’t fit and don’t work. When I let anxiety reign, I tend to assume that he has less patience with me than he actually does. Jesus wants us to let him be patient, kind, compassionate, and gentle with us. Jesus wants us to refurnish our vision of him with images that are rich with goodness, beauty, truth, and peace. That’s an inviting place to make myself at home.

There is nothing Jesus loves more in friendship with me than that connection. In that place of confident relationship, he is a master to whom I am an apprentice. I’m learning how to live like the Prince of Peace I follow. I’m learning to express his peace in the anxious, angry, and troubling environments in which I sometimes find myself. I need a potent peace to be able to live this way. Such peace overcomes trouble rather than being overwhelmed by it.

Learning to practice peace this way in my inner life involves noticing when unwelcome feelings arise: insecurity, anxiety, apathy, depression, weariness, or despair. I notice them. I acknowledge them. I don’t fight with them, but rather I pivot my attention to God-with-me in that moment. I don’t pretend I’m not feeling low, edgy, angry, or heart weary.

I learn to turn my gaze toward God in the midst of these real emotions. When I find myself in the sphere of trouble, I remind myself that the sphere of God’s gracious and peaceful presence is a far greater one. I am in the presence of One who protects me, secures me, encourages me, refreshes me, energizes me, stirs me. This reality may not immediately change my mood, but a refreshed perspective often enables me to step into whatever good lies before me and engage it with God.

Inner peace is not just a self-serving good. I can bring it into my encounters and interactions with others. Being a peaceful, non-anxious presence to others blesses them.

Adapted from “A Non-Anxious Life” by Alan Fadling. ©2024 by Alan Fadling. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com.

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