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I’ve been thinking a lot about peace lately.  I suppose that’s because it’s been in short supply.  At least in my own heart.  So I’d like to share my thoughts with you. They are a result of conversations with wise and trusted friends.  And time has proven them to be true.

God really has very little to say about our happiness.  It would seem that it’s not a big concern of His.  Now that may seem a bit harsh, but when you think about it, it’s really peace we’re after.  We are a pretty tough people, and I think if we just have peace, we can handle just about anything.

Here’s the good news:  God has a lot to say about peace. He offers it repeatedly.  This topic was even among Jesus’ last words:  ”My peace I leave with you.”

Well, that’s all fine and good.  And I believe it.  But how do I get from here to there, from a place of unrest to rest?  I think it lies somewhere in the principle of “not thinking our way into a new way of acting (feeling) but acting our way into a new way of feeling.”.  In other words, imagine how you would act if you were at peace. In the doing of it, the feelings will follow.

This is not pretending.  It’s not denying truth or wearing a mask.  Instead, it’s putting on the truth, as putting on a jacket when you’re cold.  You are not denying that you’re cold; you are doing something about it.   The Bible says that we are to “strive to enter into His peace.”  Now there’s a contradiction in terms. But I think this may be what the writer is talking about. There is an element of choice and determination involved.

But there’s more.  I don’t believe peace is possible because it’s a nice thought or wishful thinking.  I believe what God said about it.  So as I live my day-to-day life as if it’s true, it’s really God that I’m actively trusting.  And I can truthfully (and happily) report that, so far, it’s working.  And here’s something else:  I’ve found myself smiling a lot lately.  Yeah.  It seems that once I was at peace, happiness naturally followed.

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Our final words, when we know they are such, are the most profound, the ones we want to be remembered by, the things we want our loved ones to always know and hold on to.  No one ever reminds someone to brush their teeth or add something to the shopping list when they’re on their death bed.  “Oh, by the way, we’re out of bread.”  Doesn’t happen.

There are a few chapters devoted to Jesus’ last words to His disciples.  Among them is a curious little passage about the possibility of them falling away, of not continuing their life of faith and devotion to God.  Come on!  They had just witnessed miracles, heard Jesus’ revolutionary teachings, seen the unlovable loved, the hopeless satisfied.  Their world was rocked, and they were part of it.  Fall away?  Never!  Never.  Never?

Here’s the thing.  Jesus knew they had expectations of what God should do, of how the world should look now that Jesus had come and changed everything.  And He knew of the confusion and disappointment that was about to ensue when their expectations would be unmet.  And who could blame them?  The Man who came to save the world would be killed and things would go back to how they once were, or worse.  Where’s the sense and hope in that?  And so He told them to hang on, the story was not over.

I see this even today.  “If I pray hard enough God will do what I think He should.”  Or, “I will devote all my time/money/energy to charity and God will provide for my family.”  Oh, really?  Here’s how I see it:  He put a lot in His book about wisdom.  Yes, faith is involved, most definitely.  But faith is reliance and trust in Him, not our methods.  And if we trust Him, we will trust in what He says.  If He says we are to use wisdom, then that becomes an act of faith.

Back to the falling away.  Too many have expectations of God that are simply unfounded.  And so it’s no wonder there is a disconnect between their belief and their reality.  When they finally are willing to admit it, a decision must be made:  either continue in the frustration of unmet expectations, walk away from God altogether (wondering if there even is a God), or come to an understanding of who He really is and what living out our faith is really all about.  But let’s stop pretending.  Oh, and don’t forget wisdom.  Then see what God does.

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We’ve all seen the slogans on bumper stickers, billboards, t-shirts, and even from the lips of its advocates:  “Prayer Works,” or “Prayer Changes Things,” or any number of other catchy phrases designed to get our attention and prompt us toward this spiritual, contemplative lifestyle.

But does it really?  I mean, is it really prayer that works?

What I’m wondering is, shouldn’t it make a difference whether we pray to one god or another, or whether we “keep good thoughts” or chant a mantra or wait for karma to kick in?

I was reading this passage in the Book of John about Mary & Martha’s brother Lazarus dying.  They had gotten word to their friend Jesus while Lazarus was still just ill, asking Him to come take care of things.  Jesus decided to tarry awhile and didn’t arrive until four days after his death.  Not a big faith builder there.  Not the kind of thing you’d expect a friend to do.

Jesus intentionally delayed His arrival so there could be an object lesson for them.  (And by this time, some Jews from a neighboring city had arrived, too, to console the sisters, so there was an even larger crowd of disappointed people.)  Everyone said to Him, “If You’d been here, this would not have happened.”

Jesus talked to them about who He is and asked if they believed it.  They did.  So He commanded Lazarus to come out of the tomb, which he did, and he told some of the people standing around to unwrap him and let him go free, which they did.  After that, many of the Jews believed in Him and some told the Pharisees, which fueled their resolve to kill Him, which always happened.

So I think about prayer.  Was not their prayer, “Lord, please come heal our brother.  We know You can do it, and we know You love him”?  They were greatly disappointed that He had not done that.  Because they knew what Jesus could do, they had expectations about what He should do.

Here’s what I’m thinking:  Prayer has got to be about more than putting faith in our words, or in our noble desires, or even in God’s ability to answer.  Prayer has got to be about putting our trust in God’s character, His intentions, and His good purposes.  It’s never just about His power.

Too often we trust our prayers and not God Himself.

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I was in a play recently.  I’d been wanting to do it for a  number of years, always with an eye out for a venue that would have me.  I saw a play listed in a local calendar of events, and the fine print indicated that it was community theater.  I sent off an email, and I was on my way.

I confess to more stress than was appropriate.  I let it overtake my life for the five weeks of rehearsal.  What if I mess up my lines?  What if I miss my cues?  What if I’m paralyzed by stage fright?  I’m quite sure it shortened my life.  There was not a thing I could do to get my heart to calm down.

The production went quite well.   None of my fears came to fruition.  And by closing night, I was actually a bit too relaxed.  I felt like each audience member was a guest in my house, and I wanted them to feel welcome and taken care of.  I sat on stage and looked out into each face, just enjoying the moment.  I didn’t miss any of my cues – but almost!  So there’s a lesson in this.  I could have believed what the director said all along, that as we knew our part, the whole thing would come together.  Just like life.

Since then, I’ve seen a DVD of the whole production.  My first thought was, “Why couldn’t we have seen this before we went on stage?  It would have helped to know better what we should have been doing.”  Then I thought of the director.  It was his job to see the whole picture.  It was my job to follow his direction.  Simple.  All I had to do was trust that the director knew what he was doing, that he was mindful of the finished product, that he was skilled in his ability to bring the story to life.  I didn’t need to see how I looked or hear how I sounded, I just needed to believe what he said.  It involved listening and following directions.

You see my point, don’t you?  If we could listen to God like that, we could stop worrying, stop wondering how we’re doing, and relax.  He’ll tell us when we’re off script, when we’re out of character, when we’re upstaging others in the cast.  He’s got the big picture in mind, and we’re part of it.

But there is the matter of the script.  Sometimes we want to write our own, or change the one He has given us.  Sometimes we even want to be in a different play.  But there is no other play, and there is no other director.  So I will play my part as best I can, under His skillful direction.  And in this play, my heart can be at peace.

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