‘There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray’ (Thomas Dorsey 1937)
The peace of God is supposed to be beyond our understanding – well, that’s what Paul says in his note to the church at Philippi. Maybe he should’ve said ‘if you want the peace that God gives, good luck trying to keep it…’ Does this peace, which Paul writes about, go not just beyond our understanding, but also beyond our reach? Is it like that branch you couldn’t quite reach in the tree? Is it the words you couldn’t find when faced with bad news? Is it the time you needed the last time you were angry? How can peace form part of our Christian mission?
Paul loved to use the most common Biblical word for peace (eiréné) as part of a greeting or in the final flourish of his letters. For Paul, greetings and endings were important. Perhaps the challenge for us as a church is to put this peace at the beginning and end of everything we do too. With peace as our bookends, our mission will be more effective. It will be more measured. It will be more on target. It will enrich our communities. It will build up the church. It will honour God as the focus of our mission.
How do we greet our mission opportunities? Do we blunder in, blindfolded and bursting with excitement? It’s good for us to be energised, but like a horse that needs to be broken, we need to allow God’s peace to be at the forefront of our opportunities. That first conversation about mission should be focused and determined, but it should also be driven by the health and wholeness of the Holy Spirit. Our mission begins with our desire to pass on what God first shows to us. We ought to be a peace-giving presence in our community. We need to listen. We need to be sensitive. We need to carry with us the peace that God gives to us. Mission shouldn’t be divisive. It shouldn’t cause our friends frustration. It shouldn’t do more harm than good.
How do we end our mission opportunities? Do we count people? Do we count money? Do we measure how tired we are? Or rejoice in how happy it made us? Do we grasp at holy straws? Do we attempt to work out what exactly what we have done? Often, at the end of a mission opportunity, whether it be a quick chat at the shops, or a long-planned event, we get busy. We fill ourselves with the activity of working out how successful it was. We write reports. We have a debrief meeting. We start planning the next one. How about we take a leaf from Paul’s book and try a bit of peaceful prayer? We could rest a while and ask God to give us his peace. We could wait and listen to what God has to say about our missional effort. He might have something helpful for us.
How do we make sure that in our lives, and in our part in Christian mission, peace is at the greeting and ending of our efforts? We do this by supporting each other. By giving encouragement to one another. By praying that God will give us the resources we need to be people of peace in our mission. By building faith in the church. Let us pause to send messages of God’s peace to one another; at the beginning of mission and at the end.