I've been thinking a lot about peace lately. It seems to be elusive to me at the moment. I've heard that peace, or a lack thereof, can confirm God's will in one's life. I'm not so sure.
Peace = God's Will
This belief tends to reinforce what the believer already wants to believe. It usually sounds like this: "If this is God's will I'll have peace about it." It assumes that if one has peace, or a lack of conflict, then the action one is taking is God's will. Conversely, if one doesn't have peace, or if one has conflict, that action is not God's will. It is the equivalent of saying, "God told me to do this, or not do this, based on my feelings." Living by this doctrine one can then conclude that God is saying to do whatever one's feelings are telling them. The added benefit is that no one can contradict the holder of this belief because to do so would be to disagree with God. Essentially, the belief is that peace = God's will. Here are some unfortunate real world examples of people using peace to determine God's will:
"Lord, if You want me to become a missionary in a third world country, please give me peace. Hmmm, I don't have peace about it. Thank You Lord for not wanting me to do that!"
"Lord, if You want me to have sex with my boyfriend, please give me peace about it. Hmmm, I don't feel conflicted about it. Thank you Lord for giving me peace about this decision!"
I think within a Christian context one could look at the above examples and conclude "peace" should not be the deciding factor. In fact "peace" could lead to the exact opposite of God's will. I believe that in the Christian context, peace is not a lack of conflict. Peace is confidence in God, regardless of circumstances.
When I decided to go to bible college I had never left home before. I still suffered from social anxiety and I was scared. I didn't know where the money would come from and I felt that going to a bible college instead of a "real school" would only delay my "real life" and would hurt my future earning potential. However, I felt God leading me to this school. I prayed about it and thought about my options. Despite the things I saw as negatives and the fact that I would be leaving home I was overcome with a feeling I described to my friends as a "Peace that passed all understanding." I knew that this was where God was leading me, and despite all the reasons I could think of to not go, I had confidence in God that everything would be ok. Looking back on it, I didn't merely have "peace," I had absolute confidence that this was where God wanted me to go and God would provide a way to make it happen. That settled it for me. So yes, I did have peace, but my peace came from an overwhelming confidence in God. I wish I could say all life's decisions were accompanied by this "peace" or confidence but they weren't. That doesn't mean other decisions I made were not God's will.
When I moved back to the city two years ago I felt a desire to get plugged in to some sort of faith community. I had been alone for such a long time and wasn't really surrounded by other faithful Christians. My spiritual life was dry. I needed something. After searching for a while I came across a college and career group that seemed to be what I was looking for. I have been a part of this C&C group for almost 2 years now and I know that it was a God thing. When I see the changes in my life over that time I know that C&C was very integral to my growth. However, if I was going solely on whether or not I had peace about attending C&C, I would not have gone. I was extremely nervous and shy and did not have peace whatsoever. I knew that what I read in the bible seemed to encourage me to seek out the company of fellow Christians, and a few people in my life at the time were encouraging me to do the same thing. I had been praying about it, however, I still didn't have peace. I would not have grown personally or spiritually or socially like I have these last two years if I felt my lack of peace was God telling me that C&C was not His will. I am so glad my lack of peace did not determine my decision on whether or not to attend. I could have avoided my internal conflict but I would have missed out on everything God had in store for me simply because I wanted "peace" instead.
I can't see peace being synonymous with God's will in the bible. Jonah, Elijah, David and Abram (Abraham) all did some pretty big lifting in their time and they all went through bouts where they did not have "peace" even though they knew exactly what God's will was. Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, did not have peace. If even Jesus did not have peace about doing God's will then perhaps a lack of peace doesn't mean we aren't in God's will. I would also say the opposite is true. Having peace doesn't mean we are in God's will.
Problems With Peace (or lack of peace)
There may be reasons for a lack of peace other than a situation not being God's will. I mentioned I did not have peace when I started going to C&C. That was not supernatural guidance by the Holy Spirit. I was afraid of rejection. I was still working through my issues with social anxiety. I would have had "peace" (or a lack of conflict) if I stopped going to C&C, but I would not have addressed my real issue. If I merely settled for peace I would have missed out on everything God has done in my life through C&C. I would not have confronted my issues with social anxiety. I would not have worked through my fear of rejection. I would not have built the friendships I have. I would have missed out on all of those things because I didn't have "peace." Just because a situation brings a particular issue to the surface, and that issue creates a lack of peace, it does not mean that situation is not God's will. Perhaps God is using that situation to reveal an issue that needs healing. Perhaps God is healing that issue through the situation.
I believe in a supernatural providence of peace, but there are a lot of other stimuli out there in the world. What one may experience as peace (or lack of peace) may be circumstantial. There can be a lot of other factors besides God determining whether we have peace or not. Culture, peer pressure, pain from the past, bad advice, incorrect information, fear (like I was working through), and overconfidence can all play a role. None of those things should be used to find peace or determine God's will and yet they all get rolled into the mix. Decisions may be the result of environment, not God's direction. There may be other reasons for a lack of peace that need to be addressed but are ignored because one believes God is saying, "It's not my will." Avoiding the issue creates a false sense of peace because one no longer has to deal with the source of the conflict. This new sense of peace falsely confirms that they are now back in God's will. Unfortunately all they have done is avoided dealing with a very real issue that may need to be addressed.
Should we disregard "peace" or "lack of peace" completely then? No. After everything I just said, I do believe God can confirm decisions through peace (a supernatural confidence in Him) or cause us to question situations (my Spidey senses are tingling) when something is not God's will. However, we should not make decisions or attempt to determine God's will based solely on our "peace" or lack thereof. I will elaborate on this in a future post about determining God's will.
-Peace does not mean one is in God's will.
-Lack of peace does not mean one is out of God's will.
-Peace may come from sources contrary to God.
-Lack of peace may come from sources contrary to God.
-Peace is not a lack of conflict.
-Peace is a confidence in God, regardless of circumstances.