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The Peace Promise
Jesus promised us life’s greatest reward: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27). But there is a catch. “I do not give to you as the world gives.” A friend once said to me, “That’s exactly the part that troubles me!” In this book, you will see how radically true that is. It takes courage to receive the peace of the Lord because his ways are not our ways. Only by personal experience will you discover that his ways are also better than our ways.
Jesus encouraged us further by saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Sigh. If only it were that easy.
Consider for a moment what is troubling you. Why does it bother you? Perhaps you feel stuck and unsure what to do. Or you did what you had to do and now you are playing the waiting game; the outcome you want has not happened. Until then, you are not at peace. The finances, the job, the marriage, the children, the divorce, the estranged relationship with your sibling or parent—one of these is stealing your peace.
To reap the peace of Christ, you must face the thief itself: anxiety. Anxiety is an inescapable dilemma that seems unresolvable, not only for you but for all human beings. It is a classic rock and a hard place that leaves you feeling damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
Let’s look at a peace-robbing situation involving a troubled marriage, in which the ideas of leaving and not leaving both led to a loving wife’s deep anxiety.
A reader of one of my previous books, The Non-Judgmental Christian, wrote to say she was struggling with how to respond to her husband’s infidelity. She wanted to be loving and nonjudgmental, yet every time she forgave him, he would return to and even increase his hurtful ways. She wrote:
Be it a curse or a blessing, I have a very forgiving heart, and each time I discovered porn sites or communication with someone on a dating site, we would go through the same process: anger that I had been “spying” on him, confession (admittance) of only what I had discovered, declaration that he loved me and didn’t want to hurt me, and a promise to never do it again. At first it happened once every six months, then every three months, until he was going out to local bars and not coming home twice a week.
This wife’s unhappy situation illustrates a different dilemma that blocks our path to peace: that of the hammer and the doormat. If she stands up for what she believes, she comes across as if she is wielding a hammer, pressuring her husband to change his ways. If she pushes hard enough, he might change—or he might walk out of their marriage. Yet if she doesn’t stand up to his wandering ways, she becomes a doormat, putting up with behavior that is unacceptable to her. Each time she forgave her husband, he acted even more disrespectfully toward her and toward his commitment to her. Indeed, her approach only led him to increase the very behavior she did not want. She ended her letter by asking me:
How can I stay in this marriage and stay nonjudgmental when clearly he continues to make bad decisions that are playing with fire and hurting me so much? I am still crazy in love with this man and he is pretty much a perfect husband with the exception of this deal-breaking behavior.
The dilemma of the hammer and the doormat causes divorces, job terminations, and even wars. Each side wants the other to change. When one refuses, the other either enforces punitive consequences or sweeps the issue under the rug, hoping it goes away by itself. One approach invites immediate conflict, while the other gnaws unhappily at our insides, often for years.
To cope with the angst, we put up thick walls to protect ourselves from criticism or indifference to our needs by those who matter to us. Walls are the reason we fall out of love. They suppress our true thoughts and emotions, eating away at us whether we realize it or not. This ticking time bomb shows up in ill health, cold relationships, and profound unhappiness.
A year later, my reader friend wrote to say she had decided to leave her husband and was at peace with her decision. She had done her best, and that is the most any of us can do. The Bible supports her decision, giving adultery as the only justification for leaving a marriage.
Her life unfolded as it does for many of us. If the people who drive us crazy won’t change, we move on. We leave the marriage, quit the job, kick out the adult child still living at home, or find a new best friend. We feel our only other choice is to be treated in ways we find intolerable and unacceptable.
Jesus gave us a powerful escape from this soul-ripping dilemma. It is a path to the promise of his healing, nourishing peace on any given issue. He offered up a teaching about how we can actually cause a change in the person stealing our peace if we are first willing to change something in ourselves. I call it the Peace Promise:
“First take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5, NIV)
I have been practicing the Peace Promise for more than twenty years. In plain English, this is what it actually means to take the plank from your eye in order to remove the speck from the eye of another:
First get neutral about outcomes, and then you will see clearly what to do.
The plank in our eye blinds us from seeing clearly how to make a right response about outcomes we want from others. As a result, we try and we fail. When we have failed for the umpteenth time, we become utterly convinced that there is no hope. Our spouse will never change. Our job will never get better. Our child will never get on track. Our family of origin will always get under our skin. The plank in our eye becomes petrified wood. We are dead certain that no one can change this person. To think otherwise frightens us. Could we have been wrong for so long?
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and you will. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:23–25)
My experience is that you will receive what you ask in prayer if you are at peace that you may never receive it. Being at peace first removes your fears and doubts. Now you become capable of believing that you will receive it. Anxiety and doubt are the enemies of deep faith and trust.
Furthermore, you need to forgive and seek forgiveness from those who most upset you—two actions our prideful ego loathes. When we do as Jesus taught, we become instantly neutral. The plank in our eye is gone. We see clearly what the Lord wants us to do. We are at peace if we do not get what we want and we can fully expect to receive it. Both of these opposing truths become valid for us. An unknown wise person wrote, “The definition of a genius is someone who can hold two opposing thoughts at the same moment in time.” Peace is a paradox.
What would have happened if this wife had stopped trying so hard to save her marriage? What if she had focused instead on becoming neutral about whether her marriage held together or fell apart? What if in so doing, she trusted that God would lead her to wisely respond to her husband’s hurtful ways? She would have been a spiritual genius but only in weakness and surrender. For her to do this would have been a leap few of us can make quickly, yet all of us are capable of it.
One reason getting neutral works is that we set others free to make their own choices. Rather than pressuring them to please us or causing them to react defensively against what we want them to do, our unbiased stance causes them to take ownership of their choices and the resulting risks and consequences. They see more clearly the right thing to do when they cannot blame us for their choices.
Setting them free does not mean we offer no opinions! Instead, we couch our opinions with words that make it clear they are free to make their own choices. In so doing, we also set ourselves free to take whatever stand is right for us. This is what unnerves us—to think that we were free all along to respond differently and didn’t know it. We often feel trapped in dysfunctional relationships in which the only escape seems hurtful. In reality, the fear of “hurting” someone is often the biggest plank in our eye.
One happy client showed me text messages he received from his wife, apologizing for her cranky attitude that morning. For him, this was a miracle he had wanted for years but had always failed to get. Once he started being calm, centered, and neutral in his response to her moods, she began to change of her own free will. Miracles happen if we are willing to do things Jesus’ way. To get them, we must set aside our ego and trust the Spirit within to lead us. This is personal leadership at its highest level. We learn to master our inner self.
Our neutrality builds trust. For relationships with a history of dysfunctional interactions, making this shift can be a turbulent challenge. Long-standing codependencies around deeply ingrained habits need to be broken. But with God, all things are possible, even in the most damaged of relationships. All it takes is two hearts to soften, beginning with your own.
The dilemma of the hammer and the doormat robs us of our peace because we have inner conflict. We want to be true to ourselves. We also want to be accepted by others. The cheated wife faced this inner conflict. She knew that accepting adulterous behavior from her wayward husband was betraying herself. Yet she also feared that if she were too tough with him, he would leave her. She loved him and understandably wanted to save her marriage. In reality, he may have been sabotaging the relationship to get her to be the “bad guy” who initiated the separation—a common and cowardly choice. Thus, her biased desire to save her marriage blinded her from clearly seeing what his true motives were and alternative ways of responding. In the meantime, the bleeding gash in their marriage became deep and irreparable.
Divorce counselor Homer McDonald wrote an intriguing e-book called Stop Your Divorce. In it, he advocates living by the principle of neutrality without saying it directly. He says we should act quickly. We should not defend ourselves. We should agree with our divorce-seeking partners that separating is an understandable idea. Agree with their negative feelings about us. Avoid heavy talk. Never act depressed. Remain positive and don’t think, “Oh, she’ll never change her mind.” McDonald points out that because the wife changed her mind about remaining married, she is certainly capable of changing her mind about getting divorced. He understands that setting people free to make their own choices without pressure from us is a powerful way to influence them.
The problem is that if we use these tactics without actually being at peace, we are manipulating people. If the tactic doesn’t work, we get upset, proving it was insincere in the first place. We need to have real peace about wrongdoings and negative behaviors we don’t like. Having this depth of inner peace requires faith, surrender, forgiveness, and humility. We need to get neutral about what we believe is right. Until we do, we are unable to take wise action, even if it is explicitly pointed out to us. As a coach, I found this to be one of the hardest things to conquer within myself. I needed to get neutral about whether my clients succeeded or failed while still giving them my very best.
Conflict triggers anxiety, and anxiety is the evidence of life’s greatest dilemma. German-American theologian Paul Tillich described this dilemma brilliantly in his famous 1952 book, The Courage to Be. He outlined how anxiety is caused by the tension between having the courage to “be me” and having the courage to “be-long.” If we please ourselves, we risk not fitting in with others and incurring their wrath. If we please others, we risk abandoning our own needs and becoming angry with ourselves. Either way, someone is unhappy. We cannot win; thus, we are always experiencing a certain level of anxiety. Tillich captures a brilliant solution to this relentless struggle: “One could say that the courage to be is the courage to accept oneself as accepted in spite of being unacceptable.”
Tillich’s conclusion offers us the greatest relief known to mankind. We are imperfect and God loves us anyway, even when other people reject us or when we are mad at ourselves. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are the historical proof. Our own practical proof comes from seeing the active presence of the Holy Spirit in our daily life. When we are at peace about the possibility of losing our marriage, failing as a parent, making errors at work, and hundreds of other outcomes we may otherwise fear, we open ourselves to experiencing God’s presence in our life. I have had dozens of experiences in which things have worked out in unexpected and beautiful ways when I first let go of trying to control the result I wanted. We do our part and then God does his part. The outcome we get is in his hands, not ours. When this is true for us, the bravest part of our soul is revealed and inner peace is our reward. It is not our job to control the destiny of the universe, let alone what others think of us.
The obstacle to this joy comes when we try to make things right by our own definition. When things don’t work out, it is our ego-based nature to want to blame someone and feel unhappy about it along the way. Sometimes we blame ourselves, sometimes others, and sometimes God himself. Ultimately, we always blame ourselves. Even when we think we are not at fault, deep down we accuse ourselves of foolishly trusting the wrong person or being born under the wrong star. We are angry with ourselves, no matter what others have done.
Matthew 7:5 ends this blame game. When we are neutral about outcomes, we stop taking things personally. Paradoxically, we also stop blaming others. Because of this soul-changing spiritual approach, we become reconciled to our own faults and inadequacies. A merciful God loves us anyway. The apostle John described love like this: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
In order to have peace, we need to drive out fear. Let’s explore how Matthew 7:5 spiritually opens our eyes to seeing new ways to resolve old troubles when we first seek his peace.
1. Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1952).
by John Kuypers
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Broken marriages, troublesome bosses, estranged parents and children—for many, these problems can seem unsolvable. But John Kuypers reminds us there is hope. God will solve the unsolvable hurts, wounds, and anxieties in your life if you practice one key teaching of Jesus Christ: “First take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly” (Matthew 7:5). In this book, Kuypers shows how this teaching can fundamentally change our relationships and our approach to the issues that trouble us, whether those issues are big or small. If we stop and get rid of the log in our own eye first, we will reach a place of peace even before we know how to deal with the speck in our neighbor's eye. And in that place of peace, the Holy Spirit can reveal what needs to be done to resolve things.
Whether you're a spouse, a parent, a teacher, an employee, or an employer, this book is full of practical, real-world advice you can apply in tough situations. You’ll discover that peace is something you can choose, and that God can resolve your troubles in ways beyond your imagination.
Back to The Peace Promise (Hardcover)
Author description goes here...
Alternative Headline Trusting God to Solve the Unsolvable
Product Type Media Books
Author John Kuypers
Book Format Hardcover
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