If you are generally an anxious person or struggle to feel peace in this world, do not despair. This is actually normal! In a world corrupted by sin, tyrannized by the Devil, and under God’s curse, should we expect peace and joy to be commonplace? We know we were made to experience blessing, but it is so hard to come by in the world. Even what we find is like sand running through our fingers. Here we have no lasting city. Yet the Lord of peace has given us comfort and the promise of peace in the world to come. Until we reach it, here are some ways we can avoid what doesn’t give us peace and joy.
Do not love your life
The collective wisdom of our fathers in the faith suggests we should be thinking much more often and deeply of our death. For example, 19th century Lutheran Pastor William Loehe prayed, “O God, rule and remind me by your Holy Spirit that I may daily and frequently meditate upon the hour of my death and be momentarily prepared, while I pray sincerely for a blessed departure hence. Amen.” He’s not unique in praying or writing like this. It is rare to find an older book on the life of faith that does not call us to meditate on our mortality. These were not morbid men or hopeless, joyless men stirred by depression or suicidal thoughts. They were, however, men who often faced severe persecution, jail, illness, death (especially of young children), plague, war, and difficult pastoral considerations. They were men who knew the godly wisdom of preparing for these dangers rather than avoiding them. They knew well the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 7:2-4:
It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
Certainly a wedding is more fun than a funeral. No one of a healthy mind prefers sorrow over joy. The point is that attending a house of mourning has the potential to make you wise in that it forces you to confront the truth everyone wishes to avoid: you are going to die someday, and it may be soon. The house of mourning reminds and invites us to confront it. The house of mirth exists for the exact opposite reason. People visit the bar, the club, the party, the festival, the concert, the theater, or whatever, to love life, and sometimes to forestall the creeping fear that the party will end.
Our generation has many ‘houses of mirth,’ far more than any previous generation. We keep them in our pockets, so that we can access them instantly without having to travel. Yet with such an abundance of distraction are we any better for it? Are we less depressed, less anxious, more joyful than previous generations? Hardly. The world and the Devil’s prescription turns out to be deadly, causing us to drift closer to our graves with eyes closed, so afraid to meet death that when it finally confronts us, we are completely unprepared and terrified.
The Christian isn’t to hate his or her life, but to hold it loosely, with a preference for the life to come. Have no fear of death, nor excessive love of this life. Consider your own mortality often, not with fascination or resignation or fear, but sober-mindedness. You have life everlasting. Though your body dies or is killed, it will rise again far better than you left it. And he who has your soul will not surrender it to any enemy, but holds you fast and forever. Do not love your life or fear its loss. As Christ willingly laid down his life for you, be willing to lose it by living or dying for him. And remember the testimony of the saints, hoping to join them: “They triumphed over him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death,” (Rev. 12:11).
Do not love this present world
You were made for paradise. You were created to experience joy in part by the beauty, unity, peace, and fruitfulness of your surroundings. “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food,” (Gen. 2:8-9a). After the entrance of sin came the curse, and together they have made this world a place of marred beauty, futility, disunity, frustration, and conflict. The world is no longer safe. It fails to produce the lasting peace and joy you were made for. Until Christ returns, the curse remains. Things fall apart. Nothing is secure. Everything is temporary. You don’t feel at peace in part because you aren’t in paradise. You’re in the wilderness. You’re in Babylon. You’re in the kingdom of this world, which lies in the hand of the evil one (1 Jn. 5:19). Therefore, it is futile to see lasting joy, peace, and security from anything the world offers. Still, as sinners, we are attached to this world and hold out hope that what it offers will finally make us happy, or at least has the potential to if everything goes right.
In his first epistle, the Apostle John gives us several reasons why we must not love the world (1 Jn. 2:15-17). First, it crowds out our love for God. Second, the things the world delights in are not the delight of the Father. Third, the world is passing away. Its pleasures are fleeting; they are not worth investing in. Likewise, its pains are temporary, so it should not be unduly feared. Much of the anxiety you experience in this life may be due to an unhealthy love for or fear of this present world.
So is peace possible? Of course. It is a promise of Christ (Jn. 14:27) and a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 6:22-23). But if you want to have peace in the world, you have to stop trying to find peace from the world. You must not love the world: your place, power, or possessions within it. None of these give you what you’re looking for; they all fade away. Here we have no lasting peace. There is a better country (Heb. 11:16), a promised land, a kingdom without end, with fullness of joy, pleasures forevermore, and glories untold. Peace will always be found there–not here.