Galatians 5:22-23, John 14:27
In the fall of 1991 I had a couple of episodes with chest pains. I didn’t do anything about them at first, because they didn’t seem to be overly serious, but one day when I was mowing the yard the pain became much more pronounced. My first thought was it surely can’t be a heart attack, but wondering if you are having a heart attack is a real attention getter. I decided I should visit my doctor. He ran a few tests, stepped out of the office, came back in and said I have you scheduled for a stress test first thing in the morning. If you promise to go home and do nothing but relax the rest of the day I won’t call an ambulance. That’s a real attention-getting moment. I ended up in the hospital as other tests were taken. A cardiologist kindly sat down with me and talked about learning to relax and to learn to manage stress. I asked what I thought to be a very simple question – how do you manage stress. His answer was equally simple – I don’t know, he said. Well, that was incredibly helpful.
I still don’t know how to answer the question of how to manage stress, but that episode did start me on a path of realizing the importance of taking care of my heart.
This morning we begin a new series of messages based on the fruits of the Spirit, as found in Galatians 5:22-23. Titled Nurturing a Healthy Heart, the messages are based on the idea that what Paul is telling us in these two short, but very powerful verses – how to keep the heart of our faith strong and healthy. The heart is important not just because of its physical function, but because of its spiritual function as well. As the heart is the center of our physical lives, it is also the center of our spiritual and emotional lives.
Listen to what Paul has to say in those verses from Galatians –
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Although Paul begins his list with love I am saving that topic for the final message of the series. I will begin with the third word in the list – peace. Notice that all of the fruits of the spirit are things that we do. Except for peace I begin with peace because I believe it to be foundational to all of the fruits of the Spirit and because it is a byproduct of practicing the other fruits.
If one does not have peace in their life, it is going to be difficult to allow the other fruits of the Spirit to prosper and come to completion, so for this morning we also have this verse from John’s gospel, chapter 14, verse 27 –
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
As I thought about what to say about peace, my mind went to a time in my life that was very difficult. I was really struggling to find a sense of peace. I don’t want to go into the details, but suffice it to say that it was not at all an easy time. I couldn’t relax, I was having a difficult time sleeping, and I felt anxious all the time. It went on for a time and I realized I had locked myself in this terrible state of anxiety. I remember a night when I awoke and couldn’t sleep for hours, as I wrestled with the same sense of worry and anxiety. I remember wishing that I could find some sense of peace. In the morning I got up and went out by myself and really struggled as I asked God what was wrong with me.
There were a couple of things I learned from that time, and I want to share them with you this morning.
1. A healthy perspective in life can bring peace.
There’s an old story of a man sitting on the front porch of his house, located on the main street just as you came into the small town where he lived. A car pulled over and a man got out and began asking about the town and the people who lived there. What are the people like where you’re from, the man asked. Well, they’re very friendly, kind, and helpful. Very nice folks, really. And it’s a nice town. It’s a wonderful place to raise a family. Well, said the man on his porch, that’s what you’ll find here as well. A little while later another car pulled up and a man got out and asked the same questions. What is the town like, and what are the people like? What are they like where you’re from, asked the man on the porch. It’s a terrible little town, really. Nothing to do there, and not much good to say about it. And the people! The people aren’t friendly at all and wouldn’t bother to help anyone. Well, said the man on his porch, that’s what you’ll find here.
Part of finding personal peace is in our perspective. Some people find bad in everything. No matter how good life may be, they only see the negative. Others find good, no matter how bad their circumstances.
Paul is a great example of perspective. In Philippians 4:11-13 he writes I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Paul penned those words as he was locked in a Roman prison awaiting his execution. Now that’s perspective! Far too often, we allow our circumstances to dictate how we feel about ourselves and our lives.
2. Learning to distinguish what is important in life can bring peace.
Another part of finding personal peace is in learning to distinguish what is important in life. There are some things that are simply not worthy of the time and effort that is expended when we worry. There are a few foundational matters to life, and they are worthy of not only our time and effort, but also the investment of our emotions. It is not worth getting upset over the outcome of a ball game, but I am going to worry about the well being of my family. Working to secure the health and well being of our family is a far more worthy concern than the score of a ball game.
3. Avoid the trap of comparisons.
There is also what I call the trap of comparisons. I find many people comparing their life to the lives of others. The danger in comparing is that, from the outside at least, the lives of others seem so much better than ours. This is, however, rarely the case. I have found that a good many of the people who seem to have lives that are ideal are, in reality, far less than ideal.
When Jesus said peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid, he is making a lot of implications, and one of them is to have the spiritual discernment to stop basing your life upon comparisons to other people.
Comparisons make people believe they are not good enough or that there is something wrong with them. They find no peace in who they are. Obviously, if you’re an identity thief you shouldn’t have a sense of peace. But I’m talking about who God created you to be.
Some years ago a man sought the perfect picture of peace. Not finding one that satisfied him, he announced a contest to produce one. The challenge stirred the imagination of artists everywhere, and paintings arrived from numerous artists. The judges uncovered one peaceful scene after another, while the gathered crowd applauded each one. Only two pictures remained, and as a judge pulled the cover from one of the two the crowd grew very quiet. A mirror-smooth lake reflected the branches of surrounding trees and a beautiful evening sky. Along the grassy shore, a flock of sheep grazed undisturbed. Many thought this would surely be the winner. The final painting was uncovered and the crowd gasped in surprise. How could this picture represent peace? A waterfall crashed down a rocky cliff. Dark clouds threatened ominously, with lightning crashing in the background. In the midst of the noisy waterfall and threatening skies a small tree clung to the rocks at the edge of the water. One of its branches reached out almost too close for safety toward the rushing water. Tucked into the branch was a small bird’s nest. Seemingly undisturbed was a bird, resting on her little ones, with wings outstretched for protection, and very much at peace in the midst of her circumstances.
(A Wardrobe From the King, Berit Kjos, pp. 45-46).
Allow God to bring his peace into your life today, knowing that whatever your circumstances, he is with you.