How can we bring “shalom,” the wholeness and completeness of God, into our relationships and into the brokenness of this world?
Jesus brought peace and healing into the lives of those around Him. He understands human nature. The truth is, as humans living in this world of sin, we are so accustomed to conflict and all the other implications of sin that we find it counterintuitive to do the things that bring peace and healing.
We need to find ways to fundamentally alter the equation. So what makes it possible to be a real peacemaker or a real healer in any situation where God’s peace is needed? How can we mediate this peace to our own selves?
First, we need to face the fact that we cannot do this on our own. We are sinful men and women, and our condition is terminal. Only God can transform us, and He does it by our spending time with Him, “beholding” His sacrificial love for us. The apostle Paul described this process in some clarity when he wrote: “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5).1
Then, peacemaking grows deeper with an acceptance of God’s peace in our own hearts. We cannot give what’s not real to us. We can be peacemakers or agents for healing only when we’ve placed ourselves in a position to experience God’s gracious peace in our hearts. “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1).
But there’s a challenge to this whole peace process. Most of us find it difficult to initiate peace with others because we’re not at peace with the person who lives in our own skin. Often we’re harder on ourselves than on anyone else. We find it difficult to forgive ourselves, even after we’ve accepted the forgiveness of God.
What are the things that keep you from being at peace with yourself? Is it unresolved guilt? Unconfessed sin? Is it blockage in the spiritual plumbing caused by some pain or hurt in the past that you’ve never dealt with or let go? Is it a picture of God that portrays God as one who keeps track of your failures and holds them against you, one who likes you only when you do well, one who’s impossible to please?
If it’s any of these things—along with many others—then you and I need to ask God to help us love ourselves as unreservedly as He loves us. That is the power of confession and acknowledgement of sin and failure. We confess it and acknowledge it in order to let it go. We give it to God and God wipes the guilt away. God refuses to hold our sins and failures against us. That’s called grace. He gives us love unreservedly with no strings attached. When we take that step, we experience a powerful internal liberation and deliverance.
Sometimes, to be able to take these significant steps, we may need to visit with a trusted person who can help us resolve whatever hurts or pains are still there, someone who can help free us from our self-condemnation. Being in a small caring group where we’re loved and accepted for who we are, not for what we should be, can mediate God’s peace to our hearts. And in that context, little by little we can find ourselves feeling the “shalom” that comes from being at peace with God and with ourselves. A caring and compassionate counselor can be of inestimable help, too, in many situations.
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. . . . To be spiritually minded is life and peace” (8:1, 6). So first, accept God’s peace for yourself.
Finally, the natural overflow of that inner peace will be a transformed attitude toward the people around us. Here’s how this works: because God’s peace is active in our hearts, we no longer see people as competitors or enemies or threats. We are more readily able to identify ourselves with others, recognizing our common humanity. The word “sympathy” comes from a Greek word that means “together with” and “to experience or to suffer.” Sympathy means “suffering together.” It is an identification with the suffering of another by the willingness to enter into the other’s pain.
Joseph Damien was a missionary in the 19th century who ministered to people with leprosy on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. Those suffering lepers grew to love him and revered the sacrificial life he lived out before them day in and day out. But no matter how much he loved them, they still knew he was fundamentally different. He could go to bed every night feeling whole and complete and wake up totally intact. He could love them but he really couldn’t identify with them.
Then one morning before he was to lead out in their daily worship, he was pouring some hot water into a cup when the water swirled out and fell onto his bare feet. It took him a moment to realize that he hadn’t felt any sensation. Gripped by sudden fear of what this could mean, he poured more boiling water on the same spot. No feeling whatsoever. Damien immediately knew what had happened. As he stood up tearfully to deliver his sermon, everyone instantly noticed the difference in his opening line. He normally began every sermon with “My fellow believers.” But this time he began with “My fellow lepers.” For the first time, he was able truly to sympathize with these lepers because he was now suffering with them as one of them.
This is why the story of Jesus is so significant to the whole experience of peace. The Bible presents Jesus as the God who became one with humanity by taking on the entirety of human life, by becoming completely human with all the pain and suffering of being human. Jesus showed a God who could truly sympathize in every way with humanity because he became one with us and felt everything we feel.
When we see our common humanity with all others, when we experience God’s peace through Jesus and come to peace with ourselves (sympathizing with our own selves), we are more empowered to be peacemakers, people willing to initiate reconciliation and wholeness wherever it’s needed, people with the courage to take the first steps because our hearts are feeling the common pain and suffering of others.
So take an inventory right now; think of the relationships in your life. Are there any that are broken? Are you at odds with anyone? Are you continuing to hold grudges or memories of hurts that you need to resolve? Who have you harmed or distressed whose forgiveness you need to seek? Is there any situation you’re aware of, whether you’re specifically involved or not, to which you can bring God’s peace, wholeness, and reconciliation? What is one action step you can take to mediate peace?2