We all live in grand scenes of choices. From one act to the next, from one set of decisions to another. Some of these are not ours by nature, and we are often left with the residual affects of others’ failures and success. But for the most part, these series of choices are ours to bear the burden, navigate with excellence and claim responsibility. I recently experienced a season of life where I was vacillating between emotional extremes.
I felt completely overcome, engulfed in the anxiety and fear of tomorrow if I faced the decisions I knew I needed to make today. I wrestled with myself over what the “right choice” could be and attempted to create a million different versions away from what I knew needed to become the reality that I was responsible for putting into play. The terror of being wrong surrounded my thoughts and left me paralyzed.
So I began to sit and wait for a new feeling.
A feeling that would give me permission to move forward. I masked this time in words like “being patient in prayer” or that I was “in process,” but what I was really doing was waiting for peace of mind when I knew in my heart what I really needed was courage to set things into motion. I thought I was waiting for peace to give me permission to move, but instead I was using that as an excuse to avoid obedience.
I was sitting, waiting for a good feeling instead of doing what was good.
Philippians 4:8-9 charges us with something different, to “fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
In my current scene of choices, I’m reading this verse differently than ever before…
Fix your thoughts on what is honorable and right.
Think about things that are excellent.
Keep putting into practice all you learned and received.
Then, and only THEN, the God of peace will be with you.
Paul did not say, fix your thoughts on what is honorable and right when the God of Peace is with you. NO! He said to put all that you’ve learned into practice so that then, the God of peace will be with you. Peace is not a passive, waiting feeling, but an active pursuit of obedience to the Lord.
Often, we stand before decisions of great consequence… shaking with fear of the wrong choice, second guessing the choice we think could be right, while striving with every effort to please in the process when in reality we know God has already spoken in his word and in our hearts.
He has spoken! In his word. And in our hearts.
But, I think the real problem in the pursuit of making the right choice is that we’ve forgotten two crucial things…
We’ve forgotten that the Holy Spirit promises to speak to all of us, no matter how spiritual we think we are or not. When Jesus ascended into Heaven he left us with a helping partner who regularly works out the use of discernment in our lives. As we continue to say, “Yes Jesus, you are Lord!”, we are given a sense of knowing what is right from wrong in our spirit, at the very core of our being. Often we know what is good or bad, we just don’t necessarily want to do what is right. It’s usually the harder choice of the two. And the more terrifying truth is that when we continue to say, “No, Jesus. You are not my Lord” that voice grows fainter and harder to identify amongst our own emotions.
Secondly, and most importantly, we’ve forgotten the gospel. If we believe that we must always and only ever make the right choice, and if we don’t, we’re done for…we’ve forgotten that it’s by His grace that we are saved. So we can very quickly move to making unhealthy decisions out of the fear of shame instead of within the freedom of his mercy.
In real conversations with myself and with others, I’m realizing how vividly I’m living in the midst of this tension of choices. We are asking for peace like it’s an avalanche of feelings that will suddenly come over us giving us the confidence and courage for what is to come. While that would be a blissful experience, and sometimes can be the reality, peace in its truest form is actually what comes when we pursue what is right. When we choose to be obedient despite the cost.
Peace is more often an affirmation of action rather than a feeling of permission.
And, friends! The best news is that joy is the beautiful partner that accompanies peace. Like Goober Grape PB&J, they come together. We experience the joy of peace when we choose to walk in the freedom of his mercy, making choices of obedience instead of avoiding fear of the consequence. I can tell you, now walking out of an old scene, I’m experiencing the affirmation to my obedience which has given me a new momentum and fresh perspective for the next series of choices.
So, I want to challenge you to choose.
Choose to fix your thoughts on what is honorable.
Choose to pursue what is excellent.
Choose to put into practice what the Lord has spoken in his word and in your heart.
And as you choose, ask the God of Peace to affirm your actions; letting joy be the mark of walking in obedience closer and closer towards him.
Reflection Questions (Written by Pastor Dan Crowley)
- To what extent are you waiting for the presence of peace instead of pursuing it through your obedience to the Lord?
- Meditate on Philippians 4:8-9. Now, make a list of the things in your life that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and worthy of praise. What would it look like for you to regularly follow Paul’s instructions here in your pursuit of peace?
- What would it look like for you to change your view on obedience to the Lord, to see it as a freedom instead of a burden or duty?
- Eat a Goober Grape sandwich, tasting the flavor of the peanut butter and grape jelly, allowing them to fill your mouth with peace and joy (jk… kind of).