I got to go tubing on the Puntledge this last weekend. It was a total blast. What I didn’t realize, though, was how much work it would be. I thought this would be lazy drifting, mostly chatting with the other adults we were with, pausing while the kids get up to some swimming or jumping and then continuing on while enjoying beverages and snacks along the ride.
Nope. There was much more involvement from me than I realized. I needed to steer, and direct this vessel fairly regularly in order to keep along the best path in the river. Failure to do so, as I experienced repeatedly, meant getting hung up on rocks (a person’s backside sits below the centre of the tube and will at times come into contact with rocks), or splashed (which isn’t good for drinks or snacks), or scraped along branches on the waters edge. To succeed well, you had to read the currents. What forces at work in the water, want to direct my watercraft towards less smooth travel? What currents want to direct my sacred tube along the deepest and most enjoyable path? If you read the currents right, you can find eddies that take you back against the flow, which is great for pauses while the kids swing from ropes and launch themselves carelessly into the air before screaming into the water. Fun fun.
You need to read the currents, to see what forces are at play. If we want to be people of unity and peace, I think it is essential that we read the currents which work within us individually and corporately away from peace. Currents which promote disunity. Currents which shape desires in our hearts towards something that feels like peace, but is in fact, false peace.
Psalm 122 that we read on Sunday speaks about unity of the tribes of the people of God, a unity shaped by diversity not conformity, and characterized by peace. Shalom. Meaning, not just the absence of conflict, but much more. Peace in the bible looks like economic justice, social justice, flourishing and thriving for all people. The prophets were adamant on this – if there is no war or conflict but the ruling class is oppressing, dominating or subjugating the lower classes, then the nation is not at peace.
What currents or forces in our world shape us, direct us towards ways that are not within or from the peace of God? Naming and identifying these currents, I believe, helps us to be peacemakers within the church and without.
The currents I see are as follows, if you see others, or see other nuances to these please let us know either in the comments below, or email me your thoughts. I think our desire for peace can be disrupted, resisted, or sabotaged internally, socially, and spiritually.
Internally, we are directed away from peace through the currents of competition and comparison. It is hard to be at peace within ourselves if we are convinced that we are either not living up to the expectation of where we should be at this point in our lives, or if we become smug because we have “made it.” Comparison and competition disrupts our view of peace internally. Peace looks like having achieved the good life through materialism, careerism, or personal enjoyment.
Externally or socially, we are directed away from peace through the current of division or separation. Right now there are powerful currents at work on all levels of life that are disrupting our social peace and even making us desire life that is NOT in keeping with the peace of God. Our differences are being amplified, intensified, and exaggerated so that people groups are becoming more antagonistic to one another. It’s us, or them. They want what we have, and are a threat to our peace. There is a strong desire right now among many people for peace that comes through separation. If you are an outsider, stay away, stay out, or go away. These division can be racial, ethnic, or along other social lines of economic class, personal preferences, or other identity categories. Our social divisions are being hardened, and pushed to extreme expressions.
Lastly, we are directed spiritually away from the peace of God through the currents at work in our world that press us into seeing life in relationship to God as either ecstatic or as empty. It seems we’re being pushed to see extremes here, as well. Often it seems that we are expecting God to behave as we would like him to, to give us pleasurable ecstatic experiences when we want them. Or, to always be the same and never surprise us in the other extreme. Both of these perspectives direct us to desire a ‘peace’ of spirituality that is not from God but is of our own making for our own control.
For all three of these, I think naming and recognizing the currents at work among us and within us is helpful to being able to work so that these currents do not shape our hearts or our actions. Instead, we need to train up our desires for God’s shalom, his peace. And training our desires towards his peace will allow our actions to follow so that we would be witnesses, telling others and showing others about the peace of God.
What practices in your life, contribute to these currents having too much influence on you and shaping your desire for peace away from God’s peace? This could be the way you consume media or news, it could be how you interact with people groups, or how you seek power and authority, or how you prioritize your calendar. Take a moment and reflect on how you might be floating in one of these currents and be shaped by it.
What practices in your life, would take you out of these currents, and shape your heart and desires towards the peace of God? Perhaps finding a devotional track, or a spiritual guide, mentor or director to help you form your prayer life. Our prayer life shapes our identity in Jesus, and is essential to feeling the peace of God internally. Or, perhaps, finding some way of serving others in the church community in small, unrewarding or even anonymous ways. Serving where you get no glory is so helpful in shaping our desires towards God’s peace instead of a peace that benefits us at the expense of others. Feel free to share some practices in your life that train you away from the currents of division, and towards the unity marked by the peace of God.