Peace: Wholeness and Shalom A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

 

Peace: Wholeness and Shalom

What is peace?

I think our minds normally drift toward the semantic domain of safety when we try to answer this question.  Peace is the freedom from conflict.  Peace is security.  Peace is an absence of strife, we think to ourselves.

But is it?  It doesn’t seem that peace is only a want of quarreling.

I think at other times when we try to identify peace we might think of it as a glib salutation before we leave the presence of a friend.  “Peace out!  I’ll see you later,” we may say.

Another way we often define peace is with various notions that orbit the idea of tranquility (like the picture at the top of this blog!).  So peace would be something like a nice, calm quiet space or period of time.

As followers of Jesus we sometimes define peace in a quirky way.  We say things like “I have a peace about dating John” or “I don’t have a peace about quitting my job.”  So, in these contexts, it appears that “peace” means something like an agreeable inner-spirit (“peace of mind” so to speak).

But when we read Galatians 5 and the Apostle Paul says that a Spirit-synced way of life results in peace, does he have our modern notions of peace in mind?  Or does he think of something else?

Most surely the Apostle Paul, aka Rabbi Saul, had in mind Hebrew notions of peace.  Unfortunately, the Hebrew idea of peace is wrapped up in one beautiful word — shalom — that’s nearly impossible to translate well into English.

Here are a few sample ideas relating to shalom that are floating around out there:

  • Rabbi Joseph (c. 280-350  B.C.), a major figure in the Talmud (a commentary of a commentary on the Hebrew Bible) said this is Gittin 59b: “the whole of the Law is also for the purpose of promoting shalom, as it is written, Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are shalom [Proverbs 3.17].”
  • Aviezer Ravitzky, a professor at Hebrew University, writes the following about what shalom meant in the rabbinic writings (namely, the Mishnah, the Talmud, and the Midrash): “In the rabbinic texts, shalom primarily signifies a value, an ethical category–it denotes the overcoming of strife, quarrel, and social tension, the prevention of enmity and war.  It is still, to be sure, depicted as a blessing, a manifestation of divine grace, but in a great many sayings it appears in a normative context: The pursuit of peace is the obligation of the individual and the goal of various social regulations and structures.  The majority of passages on the subject of peace are concerned with family or communal life, that is, with internal peace among people, and only a minority are concerned with relations between Israel and other peoples. between nations and states…The Sages [i.e., ancient rabbis] went to great lengths in their praise of peace, to the point of viewing it as a meta-value, the summit of other values…Peace was the ultimate purpose of the whole Torah…”  (20th Century Jewish Religious Thought, “Peace” by Ravitzky, pg. 686)
  • Lastly, former president of Calvin College, Cornelius Plantinga, wrote the following about shalom: “The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom He delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.” (Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, pg. 10)

I hope it is clear that the word that Rabbi Saul (the Apostle Paul) was using in Galatians 5 had the Hebrew word shalom standing behind it.  And this word, shalom, is a word rich with meaning.  Shalom, and therefore “peace” in Galatians 5, means universal flourishing, wholeness, and things being the way they ought to be.

 

Shalom, but How?

How do we find shalom then, as followers of Jesus?

Do we do it by taking courses on conflict resolution?  Well, that will only get us so far.

Do we engage in peace walks and non-violent demonstrations?  Sure, when the issues being brought to light are in line with God’s justice as seen in the Bible; but this won’t create the shalom we’re looking for.

Do we work endless hours efforting to bring about wholeness and flourishing for others?  There aren’t many things that would be more noble to pursue, but we’ll fail.  Guaranteed.

Do we pool all our resources in order to seek the shalom of our communities?  Sure!  But, unfortunately, we’re all people and invariably we’ll miss some people, we’ll seek shalom for some in unhelpful ways, etc.

So, we’re doomed in our efforts to find shalom then, right?

Wrong.

There’s a way.  In Galatians 5 Rabbi Saul spells it out pretty clearly: walk by the Spirit (16), be led by the Spirit (18), and stay in step with the Spirit (25).  Why is this idea of the Spirit’s leading important?  Because we’re human!

Rabbi Saul says it better than I ever could:

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. (Galatians 5.16-17a)

Do you see it?  If we try to do things in our own power, in the flesh, then what we’ll accomplish will be contrary to the Spirit.  And if our goal is follow Jesus, that is, to live a Spirit-synced way of life, then we certainly don’t want to accomplish things that go against what the Spirit desires!

So, instead, we must walk by the Spirit!

How?  Here are a few pointers to get us started:

  1. Read the Bible — More specifically, discover the ways that the Spirit works, speaks, moves, and guides by reading the Bible.  A great place to start would be the book of Acts.  In fact, a great practice would be to write in a journal all the things that you see the Spirit doing in the book of Acts.  When you are finished, look them over.  What do you notice?  What did you expect to see but didn’t find there?  And, most importantly, how can the truths of how the Spirit operates in the Bible impact your life and the life of your family, your Christian community, and your church?  Then, and here’s the hardest part, begin listening for the Spirit yourself, and when you think you hear him, work through the next three steps, and then obey!  Note: it’s easy to read what we want into the Bible.  So what we learn from the Scriptures should be viewed very highly, but we should also run it through #s 2, 3, and 4 below for the purpose of having checks and balances.
  2. Worship and Pray — A prime way to walk with the Spirit is to experience him through worship and prayer.  And by worship I mean two things primarily: 1) The life-as-worship idea in which you offer all that you do, from scrubbing toilets to creating works of art, as worship to God; and 2) Gathered worship in which you learn, sing, pray, and congregate with other followers of Jesus.  And the notion of prayer here is not complicated!  All I mean is that you converse with God, meaning that you talk to him and that you give him space to answer you back.  (Is it just me or do most American Christians do a poor job of allowing God to get a word in edgewise?)  And it has been my experience (and the experience of followers of Jesus for 2000 years!) that you will experience the Spirit through worship and prayer.  And when you do, it’s always important to make sure that your experience of the Spirit is sifted through the sieve of the Scriptures (#1 above), Christian community, and Church history (#s 3 and 4 below)!
  3. Christian Community — There’s a theological truth that I don’t really think we all believe.  Here it is: everyone who has been saved by grace through faith in Jesus is filled with the Spirit.  Why do I say we don’t really believe this?  Well, because we so rarely interact with one another in a way that indicates that we believe we are indwelt by the Spirit!  Many of us would prefer a just-Jesus-and-me Christianity to what we learn in the New Testament about following Jesus.  Jesus never meant us to do this thing alone!  We were meant for community.  And by community I don’t mean sitting in rows next to one another while listening to people sing and speak at the front of the room (though, of course, there’s great value in gathered worship!  See #2 above.)  Instead, what I mean is a smaller group of followers of Jesus with whom you can be on mission, with whom you can be vulnerable, and with whom you can experience love (giving and receiving).  In so doing, you will very likely hear from the Spirit of God in ways you never could have imagined on your own!  Of course, run whatever you learn through #s 1, 2, and 4 before going all in!
  4. Church History — This sounds boring, I know.  But it’s not!  If we want to walk by the Spirit, we must look back at the history of the Church and see how the Spirit moved in the past.  Now, to be sure, the Spirit of God can do new things.  That’s one of his hallmarks!  But he also works in patterns, or so it seems to our simple human brains.  As we look back into the annals of the Church, we’ll begin to pick up on how it seems that the Spirit leads.  Then we can be on the look out for him leading us in similar ways.  So pick up some biographies of Christians from the past whom you respect and read them.  Find the writings of Church people from the past.  And, just like with the others, this one needs to be tempered against #s 1, 2, and 3.

To summarize this bit: There are four ways we can learn about how to be led by the Spirit…from the Bible, through our experiences of prayer and worship, through Christian community, and by looking at Church history.

These four things are not equal though.  What we find in God’s Word comes first.  The other three can vary in their order of importance from situation to situation and from person to person.  But what the Bible seems to say clearly about how the Spirit leads should always be given the highest respect!

 

Now to apply this to shalom: If we want to experience shalom in our lives, our families, and our communities, then we must live Spirit-synced ways of life and we must do so together.  The only way to do this is by seeking the Spirit out, seeing where he is going, and following him, all while using the advice above as best we can.

When we do these things, it is likely that we’ll experience the wholeness, the security, the rest, and the fulfillment that we’ve been longing for.

We’ll experience shalom!

 

What do you think?  What is peace and how is it a result of being synced with the Spirit?

Goodness and Micah 6.8 A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

 

I love the quote from the picture above: “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”  This is one of those aphorisms that just sounds right when you read it, hear it, or say it.

But it begs some questions.  First, what is goodness?  Second, how can we be more good?  And lastly is demonstrating goodness in our lives truly a foolproof investment?

 

What Is Goodness?

Biblically speaking, goodness is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit mentioned by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5.  It’s often paired with kindness, probably because many people find that the two of them are difficult to differentiate.  The argument goes something like this: a kind person is good and a good person is kind.  True all the way around.  But that still doesn’t mean that the two concepts are the same.

As I’ve written about before, kindness is the ability to care for all people, whoever they may be.  But what is goodness?  Here’s my working definition: Goodness is demonstrated in our lives when we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.  Obviously within that definition kindness can and should be found.  But kindness is more about generally demonstrating compassion, while goodness is more about generally demonstrating righteousness and justice.

I come to this conclusion because of the way the Bible presents goodness.  When Jesus is called “good teacher” and is asked about what “good deed” must be done in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus gives some insight to this notion of goodness (Luke 18.18 and Matthew 19.16).  To both Jesus responds by saying that there is only one who is good — God himself.  Therefore, it is God and God alone who can define goodness.

But this is a major rub for us.  We want to define what is good.  We want to be able to say, “I’ve accomplished it…I’m good now!”  But our definitions of goodness will be faulty for any number of reasons, chiefly because we are selfish.  At the end of the day, we’ll define as good that which benefits us as individuals, family units, or communities.

But how does God define goodness?  You may have already gotten a hint of where I’m about to go. Perhaps the best place in all of the Bible to learn how God defines goodness is Micah 6.8:

 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

So based on this passage it seems clear that goodness looks like acting justly (fighting for what’s right and against oppression), loving mercy (putting the interests of others before our own), and walking humbly with God (having a devoted and intimate relationship with God).

Thus goodness seems to have to do with right relationships with others, whether other humans or God.

This may not sound earth-shattering but it is. When many of us think about goodness with think about personal piety.  We think about things that we do and things that we don’t do…probably more the things we don’t do!

 

“…Or with Girls Who Do!”

There was a funny saying in Christians circles where I grew up.  I went like this: “I don’t drink, smoke, or chew and I don’t go with girls who do!”

And while this little rhyme is funny, it’s also quite sad.  Here’s why: it highlights a sobering reality…followers of Jesus tend to be more identified with the things we don’t do and the things we oppose than with the things we actually do and the things we wholeheartedly support.

A quick perusal of the news or Google results will confirm this.  Christians tend to get the most attention by abstaining from sex, alcohol (or at least drunkenness), gambling, etc. and from being anti-LBBTQ, -abortion, -premarital sex, etc.

Here’s an honest question in response: Wouldn’t it be better to be know by the things that we do and the things we support?  Wouldn’t we rather the world know that we care for the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the immigrant?  Wouldn’t we rather the world know that we support protecting the rights of the fragile and forgotten?

Wouldn’t we rather the world know about the goodness that we demonstrate through our actions rather than the personal piety we attempt to build up privately?

Obviously the answers to all of those rhetorical questions is “yes.”  It would be amazing if the world could begin to see us differently.

 

It’s Time for a PR Campaign

So we have a public relations problem and we need to work to solve it.  Why?  Not because it’s nice or politically correct.  No.

We need to launch a fully-fledged PR campaign because we want people to come to know Christ and his transformative power.

We need to launch a fully-fledged PR campaign because we long for our cities, towns, and villages to be made better thanks to the presence of those who claim Christ.

We need to launch a fully-fledged PR campaign because the Great Commission (Matthew 28.19-20) demands we do so.

But how?  One word: GOODNESS!

If we became the kind of people who were so deeply connected to the Spirit that his Micah-6.8 goodness oozed out of us everywhere we went, our reputation in the world would change for the better!

People would begin to see and experience the love of God through us, his ambassadors here on earth.

Friends, this is our duty.

Only one thing remains: Obedience.  Will we do it?!?

 

What do you think?  What does goodness mean and how can goodness change the world?  Let me know in the comments below!

Grow Your Capacity Starting Today

Do you feel stuck?  Does it seem like you have hit a limit to what you are able to accomplish?  Does it feel like you have done your best and yet there’s still so much more that you’d like to do?

These questions, and others like them, can apply to our lives in lots of different areas — relationships, business, spirituality, personal achievement, education, etc., etc.  There are certainly times in each of our lives when we don’t imagine that there aren’t many more ways we can grow.

We’ve exhausted all our known paths and options and we’ve advanced as far as our current situation would seem to allow.

And that’s when we stop.  That’s when it seems like our capacity for growth has totally dried up.

But is this true?  Is it generally true that folks have an upper capacity above which they can’t grow?  And what about for followers of Jesus…what is our capacity like?

capacity

How full is your glass? To the top? Or have you set a limit for yourself that is below your full capacity?
By: Claire Cessford

 

Capacity Without Measure

As I’ve mentioned before, the Gospel of John is full of “sent” language.  It’s all over the place!  The implication is that those who follow Jesus are sent; we’re not to be lazy or passive!

And one of the places where this sent language shows up prominently is in John 3.34.  Here’s what it says:

For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.

Now, to be clear, the “one whom God has sent” in this passage is referring to Jesus.  Jesus’ testimony about himself is legitimate because he speaks God’s words in a completely unadulterated fashion.  And, furthermore, Jesus was given the Spirit without limit or measure, meaning that while others in human history prior to Jesus experienced the Spirit of God, it was only for a time.  Jesus, however, had total and complete access to the Spirit when he was on earth.  All that God sent Jesus to do could be accomplished because Jesus had total access to the Spirit.  His capacity was only limited by his human-ness (he could get sleepy and hungry and the like, he could only be in one place at a time, he experienced time sequentially the way all humans do, etc.).

You may be thinking at this point something like this: Matt, I thought you were going to talk about how we could have a growing capacity, not that Jesus did!

Well, there are several things to think about.  In John 14.17 Jesus promises to send the Spirit to his followers and he says that the Spirit will be with them and live in them.  Later in the same chapter, Jesus says that the Spirit will teach them “all things” (14.26).  Two chapters later Jesus tells his followers that the Spirit whom he will send will guide them into all truth (16.13).  Then in John 16.14-15 Jesus says that what the Spirit says he got from Jesus and what Jesus says he got from God.  Lastly, in John 20.21 Jesus says that he is sending his followers in the same way he as sent, which, among many things, implies that they too will be sent with the Spirit.

In other words, the Spirit that Jesus had access to without limit is the same Spirit that indwells his followers!

Friends, this is great news indeed!  We have been granted the greatest gift that we could possibly receive on this side of eternity: the Spirit of God will live in us!  He will inspire us, move us, teach us, guide us, convict us, and empower us.

He will allow our capacity to only be limited by our human-ness as well.  Like Jesus when he was on earth, we get tired and hungry, we are only able to be in one place at a time, etc., etc.  But in the same way, just as Jesus was filled to capacity with the Spirit as he walked and talked on earth, we too are filled to the brim!  The Spirit of God is with us!

 

Grow Your Capacity!

So our capacity is much higher than we probably imagined.  How do we tap this uncharted capacity?  Here are a few ideas:

  1. Pray.  Ask God to help you submit more and more to the Spirit.  Why?  Well, if it is the Spirit who can grant us all that we need (thus growing our capacity), then we must learn to trust him and lean on him more than we currently do.  So we need to ask God to show us how to trust the Spirit!
  2. Seek community.  There’s little that will help you increase your capacity more than being in a Christ-centered, Spirit-filled community of folks who long to live out God’s mission in this world.  You will be encouraged, pushed, and guided.  You will learn that growing your capacity isn’t something to accomplished alone; you need others!
  3. Change your inputs.  Be honest, what are your daily inputs?  Mine look like this: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, podcasts, television programs, Youtube videos, conversations with friends, and, if I feel especially compelled, the Bible.  What if I flipped my input priorities, placing more importance on hearing from God within the Bible and from my community?  Would my life change?  I’m totally convinced that it would!

 

So friends, when you get down and think there’s no way out — that’s okay.  Feeling depressed, sad, and stuck are real emotions and you feeling them is not a bad thing.  But in just the way you need him to, the Spirit of God can provide you love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Don’t you need those things?  I know I do!

 

What do you think?  As a follower of Jesus, why do we sometimes buy the lie that our capacity is very limited?  And what would change in your life if you really lived like the Spirit of God lived inside of you?  Let me know in the comments below!