A Practical Path to Peace
Would you be surprised if I told you that the most practical thing you can do to increase your sense of peace is to pray and read the Bible?
We find the peace God promises when we realize the Father is the only source of peace, his Son gives us access to that peace, and his Spirit enables and empowers that peace. In other words, peace comes from embracing a relationship with all three persons of our triune God. But if that seems esoteric, just remember that the most important path to peace consists of being united to Christ in a vital way. One of the easiest but most overlooked ways of nourishing that relationship is through daily prayer and Bible reading. Why? Because prayer and Bible reading is simply a way of communicating with God, of talking and listening to him.
Most of my own devotional times are ineloquent and uncomplicated. I usually begin by reading through a portion of Scripture, trying to be sensitive to ways in which God may want to speak to me. That primes the pump, putting my mind and heart in the right disposition for prayer.
Reading Scripture is a little like immersing yourself in the language, history, and culture of a foreign country. The more time you spend in that land, becoming familiar with its values, its language, and its stories, the better you understand it. Reading the Bible is like entering a spiritual country. At first it's confusing. You can't keep track of all the kings and kingdoms, the ritual laws, the perplexing customs, the timeline of biblical history. But the more you persist, the more you begin to experience God revealing himself. Its stories become your stories, its values your values. Gradually, you and God come to share a common language and a common history. You find that you can recognize his voice more easily.
Becoming conversant with the Bible so that God can speak to you through its pages takes time and effort. It requires a decision to read Scripture regularly, whether or not you feel like it. Imagine a restaurant whose chefs cook only when the inspiration strikes. If the chefs feels inspired on Monday but not on Tuesday, tough luck for anyone who shows up hungry on Tuesday. The restaurant would soon go out of business because most of the time there wouldn't be enough to eat. It's the same with Bible reading. If you only read the Bible when you feel like it, you will lose the steady spiritual nourishment God wants to provide. Scripture is meant to be our bread and butter, building us up by drawing us closer to God and sustaining our communication with him.
So I begin my prayers by reading a portion of the Bible, listening carefully to what God might be saying to me. Then I speak to him, thanking and praising him. Sometimes I pray the Scriptures back to him, using the worlds of a psalm to proclaim his goodness. Or I may simply enumerate all the ways I have experienced God's faithfulness.
If I sense any sin in my life, I simply repent and ask for forgiveness. Sometimes I take a few moments to recall the events of the last 24 hours in order to examine my heart. It helps to look carefully at times when I felt upset, probing to discover what was at the root of my emotional response. Did I sin or were other dynamics at work? Examining those in God's presence, asking the help of his Spirit, will help me sort things out with greater wisdom and peace. Again, the Psalms are great for putting words to our sorrow.
After that I simply lay out my needs and the needs of others in intercessory prayer. At times I pray without words, simply holding a person in God's presence, believing he knows what they need. If you want to experience more of God's peace, take Paul's counsel to heart:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Praying, I have learned, is a lot like eating. Skipping a meal or two makes me ravenous. Likewise, skipping prayer causes my faith to wither, making me feel anxious and empty. Fortunately, regaining the habit of regular prayer restores my sense that God is with me. Even fifteen or twenty minutes given to God in this way can produce a life of much greater peace.