Real and permanent peace is possible. Written for those struggling with the pains and trials of life, this book will help Christians find and share lasting peace and reconciliation with the world.
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About the Author
Andy Farmer (MABC, Westminster Theological Seminary) has been serving as a pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, for 20 years. He is also on the council board of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and assists Sovereign Grace Ministries in strategic planning and training for church planting and care. Farmer is the author of The Rich Single Life and Real Peace. He is never bored, endlessly distractable, and is always looking for new things to turn into hobbies. Farmer and his wife, Jill, have four children and a growing number of grandchildren.
Read an Excerpt
Peace, and the Problem with It
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DO YOU EVER HAVE moments in life when everything seems right? I experienced one of those moments, sitting alone on a virtually deserted beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was the end of the afternoon on a cloudless day — my favorite time to be on the beach. I gazed out toward sets of curling waves coming in from an endless horizon. Rays from the late summer sun bouncing off the ocean cast the water in a metallic blue sheen. There was just enough breeze to fill my senses with the aroma of the ocean, which is to me always the aroma of vacation. I had nowhere to go, no one to talk to, nothing to do but sit and enjoy the solitude. And let my mind drift on the gentle tide of peace.
Somewhere in my tranquil mental meanderings the thought came: "This is almost perfect. But what if I were in Maui?" Now, I've never been to Maui, but I have to think it's just a little better than the barrier islands of North Carolina. I've been told that there are no bugs on the beach in Maui — which reminded me that in a little while hordes of mosquitoes would be descending on me. Tiki huts with refreshing fruit drinks (which I suppose dot the Maui beach) were nowhere to be seen. I imagined that the sand in Maui didn't stick to your feet like it does on the Atlantic Coast. Somewhere in the mist of the surf I began to detect the distinct aroma of dead fish. Bummer.
As a rising tide of grumbling began to engulf me, I was hit by a wave of guilt. What kind of pampered American am I that I can sit here and complain about this almost perfect moment, when most of the world can't even afford to be here? Someday this is going to be nothing more than a toxic wasteland because people like me go on vacation and don't separate their trash. I'm a lousy person. Of course, being a Christian, I had to factor in the God element. Here I sit by myself with the God of the universe, the Creator of all that I'm enjoying, and he is willing to open his heart to me. Yet the only thing on my mind is the lack of a convenient Tiki bar. I'm not just a lousy human, I'm a lousy Christian too.
There was nothing left to do at that point but pick up my chair and trudge back to the house murmuring, "Man, peace is hard find."
Is peace hard to find in your world? Can you mark even a single moment in your life and say, "That was peaceful"? My guess is that a lot of people can identify with my brief encounter with peace. We have those fleeting experiences when the circumstances around us and our inner state come into an almost mystical alignment and we experience that sense of "Ah, so this is what it's meant to be." It could be fifteen minutes when the kids are actually playing nicely and we can sit and catch our breath because nothing needs to be done right now. Or maybe it's those glorious times at the end of school finals when the pressure is off and the next semester is still a week away. What brings peace to you? There are thousands of little moments in our lives where we taste peace. But they don't last, do they? How many times have we been in that peaceful place but couldn't enjoy it because we were preoccupied with to-dos, or frustrated by something that happened earlier that day? It seems really hard to get our moods in line with our moments. Try as we might to get things just right, we don't control the things that make for peace. We don't control the weather, the traffic, flu season, sibling rivalry, lost wallets, cancelled flights, bosses that need "one more thing before you take off." Life seems to work against any sustained sense of order and tranquility. Peace is hard to find.
That's why I'm writing this book. I believe we have a peace problem. But the problem is felt much deeper than simply the limits of vacations to deliver as hoped. As a pastor I am dealing daily with people in profound life struggles. Marriages can become pitched battles of bitterness. Families are in chaos as teens and parents push each other to the brink of open hostility, and beyond. Men and women fall into gaping wells of depression. Some live in the hopeless grip of grief. Fears torment people in the sleepless shadows of night. As I have counseled and talked to people over the years, every struggle I've seen seems to contain one common problem: the absence, or loss, of peace.
That peace is hard to find shouldn't be a surprise. Peace is the elusive human goal. Isn't that what religion is for? To believe and practice religion faithfully is to pursue and hope to achieve whatever form of peace a particular religious tradition holds out — whether it be an inner tranquility, a oneness with the universe, a higher state, or a divine reward. But religion doesn't hold the patent on peace. Every secular utopia has had as its end goal a society of peace. People say that what the world needs is love. But why do we need love? Because if we love each other, we can all have peace. As important as love is, the end goal is peace.
Maybe the great futility of the human condition is that the thing that has been most sought after has been least experienced. In fact, the common denominator of all cultures throughout time is not the experience of peace but the reality of war. It would be safe to say there has never been a day in human history where world peace has truly been found. Somewhere in the world, there is conflict going on; it's always been that way. It has been well observed: Peace is that brief glorious moment when everybody stands around reloading.
What can be said of societies and cultures can be said of individuals as well. No person has made it through life fully at peace with himself or others. I'll talk about why later. Even those we generally cede to have found peace, the Francis of Assisis and Gandhis and Mother Theresas of the world, have been acutely aware of the inner turmoil of their souls. They viewed themselves as pursuers of peace, not possessors of it. There is a universal human quest for peace and a universal human failure to find it. And this begs the question, what really is peace? And why is it so hard to find?
Peace, and the Problem with It
If you check out the dictionary, you'll see that peace is generally defined as an absence of conflict, more specifically an absence of war. In other words, it is known by what it isn't. So, dictionarially speaking, if you are not currently in an Apache helicopter dodging RPGs, you're supposedly at peace. Enjoy!
But the absence of active war in our immediate surroundings doesn't mean we have found peace. Life is full of relational conflicts, racial and ethnic tensions, hurtful misunderstandings, and injustices against us. Then there are just the day-to-day irritations of living around other people who don't understand that their greatest joy in life should be valuing our personal space. Even if we get some momentary cooperation with our fellow man, there is enough chaos within us to make life feel like war.
Try this experiment. Google "psychological peace." Then Google "mental peace." Now, "psychological" and "mental" are generally synonymous in our language. Psychological health and mental health are two ways of talking about the same thing. But if you Google psychological peace and then mental peace, you'll find few, if any, common hits. "Psychological peace" will put you into the world of peace psychology, an academic discipline that has to do with how people cope with violence and war. Your search on mental peace will drop you into New Age and all manner of Eastern and quasimystical life paths. The definition of peace even defies the Internet.
What is peace, practically speaking? Let me give you some contrasts that seem to make up the common range of what we mean when we say the word peace.
Harmony rather than hostility. One of the most common words used to describe the positive aspect of peace is harmony. It's a great word, because harmony implies that there are different things that could function separately, but all are made better because they are together. Musical harmony is multiple notes played together in a chord. Harmony values the individual contribution to a greater whole. There is something about things working together for the benefit of all that seems like peace.
But harmony isn't the norm in life. We live in a hostile world. Things tend to grind against each other. Schedules work against spontaneity. Plaids work against stripes. Progress works against nature. Diversity works against unity. Power works against justice.
The American Deep South of the early nineteenth century was a remarkably stable culture. There was a simple reason for it. There were slaves and nonslaves. But that is not social harmony. There is no peace in stability imposed by racial or ethnic tyranny. I grew up in the Deep South during the civil rights era as a dominant culture white kid. On the surface we were not racists. But we lived in the dying throes of legal racial segregation. In many ways I was oblivious to the deep hostility that racial subjugation had produced. White people had peace with black people because we had our place and our stuff and they had their place and their stuff. But I gradually learned that segregation was not peace producing — especially if our place and stuff were nicer, and better maintained and more accessible than black people's stuff. What I learned to appreciate about Dr. Martin Luther King was his extraordinary vision of peace. He knew that simply changing the status quo wouldn't produce peace. He saw the moral need for justice for the oppressed. He called the country to account for its own laws and documents that guaranteed equality and opportunity for all people. But his vision of peace moved beyond the righting of wrongs to a society where hostility itself would crumble under the hammering of justice. King fought for justice and equality, but his dream was for a unity amid diversity that justice and equality could achieve.
Something in us loves harmony and wants to strive for it. Harmony defies the great barriers to peace: hostility, isolation, and subjugation. Harmony values the individual contribution and the unity of the whole at the same time. Harmony happens when members of a team make their highest goal the success of the team, whether that's on the field or in the factory. We taste harmony when our families all pitch in to clean out the garage and no one complains. Harmony is the resonant chord of peace in our souls.
Order rather than chaos. Keeping with the musical metaphor, my wife and I went to the orchestra a while back. The concert hall in Philadelphia, the city where we live, has an affordable section of seats behind the orchestra. So that's where we sat. I ended up really enjoying the seats because we got to see things that the normal concert goers don't see. For example, we got to see the conductor's face as he led the orchestra. I couldn't hear any mistakes in the playing, but I could tell when they happened because of the evil-eye stare the conductor would shoot at an unfortunate musician from time to time. Using opera glasses enabled me to look at the actual scores on the music stands. Sometimes I could even follow the notes as a musician was playing them.
The orchestra debuted a new concerto by a contemporary composer that could generously be called "dissonant." I don't mind some tension in music, but this piece sounded like a twenty-minute slow-motion car wreck. I got bored, so I began to survey the stage with my binoculars. I noticed one music stand with what seemed to be a blank page of music. (I've learned that this means that it's break time for the musician until the next movement.) At the top of the page was printed, "page intentionally left blank." Scribbled onto the page by the musician was the comment "like the composer's brain." I now like classical music much better.
It turns out that this piece was not really bad. It was intentionally chaotic. It was the composer's intent to create something that disrupted the sensibilities of the audience and the orchestra — to disturb the peace. Appreciating any unfamiliar art will require the disturbance of our comfortable perspective. Some art is intentionally chaotic. In this sense it portrays unsettling realities and provokes uncomfortable emotions. That doesn't mean it has to be pornographic or vulgar in its content. In fact, the art that best unsettles our sense of order usually does it in ways we can't describe. It gets under our skin, or in our ears and eyes, and pries open the Tupperware lids of our airtight worldview. It confronts us with chaos.
But we can't live like that. We're not wired for chaos. Those who seek to live for chaos flame out in it. They lose their moral and relational bearings. We survive in life by ordering it. Even artists who depict chaos consider order. They take images, materials, and ideas and arrange them in an order with the intent of upsetting our order. But art couldn't do that to us if we didn't value order in the first place. Order in the best sense of the word means security and continuity. It allows us to place trust in something today that we can be confident will be trustworthy tomorrow. Not all of us pursue order the same way. Some folks have a place for everything and everything in its place. Others get along fine with, "If I need it, I know how to find it." But look closely at anyone's life, and you'll find habits, routines, and systems that bring order out of chaos and provide a sense of peace.
Fullness rather than emptiness. What interrupted my sense of peace in the Outer Banks was an awareness that I lacked something. I lacked Maui. To have peace means that we can't have a sense of lack. To put it positively, it means we have to be full. Not full as in "stuffed," but full as in, "I'm not aware of anything that I don't have that would improve what I do have."
Think about this for a second. What would a truly full life, in the best sense of the word, mean for you? Let me take a stab at it for myself. A full life would mean that I have things in balance. It would mean that I have a house that is big enough and nice enough to really enjoy, but that I don't have to spend all my time and money trying to keep it nice. In my relationships fullness would mean that I have enough close friends that I never feel lonely or misunderstood, but not so many relationships that I feel guilty because I can't keep up with everybody. A full day would include waking up after a great night's sleep and looking ahead to being busy, but never being stressed out. I would be productive with my time, but also enjoy what I was doing. At the end of the day I would feel a sense of satisfaction that what I did that day counted for something beyond just toil. I could rest that night happy with myself. And I would look into the future with confidence that the days to come wouldn't just be same old, same old. There would be new adventures to experience, new sensations to be felt, new knowledge to obtain. I would be growing like a tree grows, never weak, always getting stronger.
But fullness is elusive. In one sense I wake up every morning wanting to be full, but having a chronic awareness of emptiness. I have a good house, but it needs work, and I am not particularly good at the work it needs. I have lots of friends, but they don't always understand me the way I want to be understood; and I have a sneaking suspicion that they don't appreciate me the way I want to be appreciated. I wake up in the morning earlier than I'd like because I tend to stay up longer than I should. I have the greatest job in the world, but stress is a daily part of it. Life is busy and complicated, and I'm running way behind. The future? The only thing I know is that I'm growing older, slower, less attractive, and less able to do things that I used to do without thinking, stretching, or medicating beforehand.
Now, I would put myself in the "more full than empty" category. But I know that isn't the experience of most people. The world is filled with emptiness. Most people around the globe have no hope of ever attaining the basic food, freedom, health, and opportunity that I take for granted. I know this. Even in my affluent culture there is alarming physical poverty. Among the haves like me, there is still pervasive poverty of hope, of meaning, and of soul.
True peace can't be compatible with a sense of emptiness. You won't be able to say, "I have peace, but what I really need is ..." With peace comes fullness.
Settling for Peace Substitutes
In words like harmony,order, and fullness I've tried to capture what most people want when they say they want peace. If somebody offered you a free week of harmony, order, and fullness, would you take it? Would there be anything else you would need during that week? Chances are you can't picture what a week like that would feel like. Peace is something we've learned not to expect in life. So we learn to settle for substitutes, knock-off versions that give us the illusion that we have the real thing.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Real Peace"
Copyright © 2013 Andy Farmer.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Peace, and the Problem with It 17
2 Is True Peace Possible? 31
3 The Prince of Peace 47
4 Peace and Stress 63
5 Peace and Anxiety 79
6 Peace and Grief 95
7 Peace and Depression 111
8 Peace and Conflict 127
9 Peace and God's People 143
10 Peace and My World 161
Appendix: Peace and …177
Scripture Index 190
What People are Saying About This
"Peace, if it comes at all, tends to come in little piecesthe job is stable for now, the kids are healthy today, friends still hang out with youand sometimes I can settle for those scraps. Thanks, Andy, for showing me how I can honor God by aiming for peace that is much deeper. You let those words of Jesus linger in my soul, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.’”
Edward T. Welch, Counselor and Faculty Member, Christian Counseling & Education Foundation
“There are many books I can recommend on finding peace with God. There are far fewer I can recommend on experiencing the peace of God. Real Peace is a book I highly recommend for real people facing real trouble in a really messed up world. It paints gospel-centered portraits, explaining how to apply John 16:33 in the midst of our struggles with stress, anxiety, grief, depression, and conflict. Reading Real Peace pointed me not to a system, but to a personThe Prince of Peace.”
Robert W. Kelleman, Vice President of Strategic Development and Academic Dean, Faith Bible Seminary; author, God’s Healing for Life’s Losses and Grief: Walking with Jesus
“We all long for peace in our hostile, chaotic, and seemingly meaningless world. Why? Our souls were created for peacenot mere emotion or experience, but through an abiding relationship with the Prince of Peace. My friend Andy Farmer serves the church and the world well through his deeply thoughtful, winsome, and gospel-orienting work. Through its sociological and soul-revealing insights drawn from the wells of Scripture, Real Peace offers us hope that ‘draws the poison of self and despair’ out of our peace-robbing struggles. Such hope is found only through our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Real Peace is a must read for everyone as we are called into the radical mission of the gospel.”
Robert K. Cheong, Pastor of Care, Sojourn Community Church, Louisville, Kentucky; Council Board Member, Biblical Counseling Coalition; author, God Redeeming His Bride