Finding Peace in a Chaotic World
By Sharon Fleming
I recently remarked to some fellow missionaries that I have a friend living in a Middle Eastern country whom I would love to visit. “But,” I concluded, “I'm not sure I want to go there right now!”
“Sharon,” one of them protested, “You live in Colombia.”
Chuckling inwardly, I reflected on our 17 years in two of the most violent countries in this hemisphere. During our eight years in Peru, The Shining Path, a Maoist guerrilla group, regularly set off car bombs within hearing distance of our home. Twice bombs shook our home.
The country I have called home for the past nine years has the highest per capita murder rate in the world; the most kidnappings in the world; and in the first 44 days of this year, there were 500 traffic fatalities in Bogotá, where I live. In parts of the country, the people live in civil war conditions.
After September 11, 2001, someone suggested I might be safer “back home” in the United States. I e-mailed back, “I am home. We have peace being here.” Admittedly, I should have added, “most of the time.” Can being a Christian help us deal with our fears? What will give us inward calmness when, outwardly, circumstances seem out of control?
Stand in God's Will
I live here because God has told us to. Generally, He said, “Go into all the world,” not just the pretty, comfortable, safe places. Specifically, in the way that God reveals His particular will, He has shown us that He wants our family here as missionaries. Until God moves our “cloud” on, we believe that the safest place to be is right where we are. That does not inoculate us against harm, but it does demonstrate faith in God's perfect plan.
How can we know God's will? Thousands of pages have been written to answer that question, but the definitive book is the Bible. As we read it daily, we are told what to do. Meditating on God's Word will point out when we are out of His will. God has told us it “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Our obligation is to present ourselves to be different from the world and useful to God. (See Rom. 12:1, 2.)
Among my mentors are a couple who experienced peace in God's will during more than 50 years on the mission field. Rebellions, uprisings, and civil war punctuated their years of ministry as the Belgian Congo became Zaire in the sixties. Upheaval continued through the nineties when The Democratic Republic of Congo emerged in a bloody struggle. As the violence and fighting escalated, they wrote to assure concerned friends: “Safety does not exist in the absence of danger, but in the presence of God.” While tens of thousands fled, they could stay because God gave them peace in His will by reminding them of His presence.
As I write this, I am waiting for the results of a breast biopsy. Yesterday I sat in the doctor's waiting room fidgeting and near tears until I began reviewing my memory verses, most of which deal with God's character. As I meditated on what I know about God, I realized again that I could trust Him with this too. God will carry me through.
When the doctor told me that the results weren't ready yet, I laughed. Walking out of his office, I felt greater peace than I had all day.
Some people have left Colombia because of the stress they feel living here-stress because we are not safe, stress because life is not easy here. But Colombia is not the only insecure place in the world. Those who look for a carefree life in a different geographic location will continue to allow desperate situations to make them desperate. God is Jehovah-Shalom. He is peace. We need to be ruled by the God of Peace.
I'm not claiming this is the norm for me. I often struggle and let my worries take on a life of their own. While I wait for the biopsy results, my pessimistic imagination runs to scenes of me gently explaining to my young children that just because their uncle died of cancer, it is not always a death sentence; I also envision awkwardly learning how to cook with the use of one arm while the other recovers from a mastectomy or impulsively buying a variety of wigs to cover my bald head. To stop replaying these images, I go back to God, thanking Him for who He is and what He has done. When I contemplate God, perfect peace takes control.
To think about God, I need to know Him. Following the example of my friend, Mimi Wilson, I study one attribute of God each year. My quiet times, the books I read, and the Bible studies I teach all focus on that aspect of God's nature. Prayerfully, as I learn to know my God, I have divine facts to ponder when things seem to be against me. God has made His word in Isaiah 26:3 real to me, “You will keep him in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You.”
Control Your Thoughts
Because of His promises, I have peace staying in Colombia. He tenderly and persistently urges, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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” (Phil. 4:6-7). Rather than following my troubled daydreaming to its logical conclusions of fear and stress, I can invite God into my every thought and experience a peace that is beyond rational comprehension.
Paul went on to give us parameters for controlling our thoughts. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworth - think about such things.” This is a test for our thoughts. Is what I am worrying about true? Is this program I'm filling my mind with pure? These plans of vengeance, are they lovely? Is there anything praiseworthy in this novel? Controlling my mind is not something I can do on my own. Daily, I ask God for His help. Almost moment by moment, I confess wayward thoughts. I choose my memory verses based on my personal battlefields. As I replace my own thoughts with his Word, victory floods in.
When my very “gringo” looking teenage son takes a city bus to a friend's house, I commit him to the Lord and ask God to reign in my overactive imagination. One time, I had such peace while he was on his way home after dark that I forgot to save dinner for him! Every day as I wave goodbye to my children on their school van, I ask God to protect them in the heavy, unruly traffic. Ambulances wailing past a few minutes later drive me to consciously pray, request and give thanks. Wonderfully, I experience God calming my heart and mind. He never fails.
Sometimes, life isn't what we want it to be. It's not tidy, comfortable and controlled. But God has a sovereign plan. Knowing and trusting Him, we will gain true peace in this world.