How to find peace when life is in chaos


For a long time I had a 'when' approach to peace. I've thought, "when this conference is done, when that book is written, when the media attention dies down...". When, when, when. Then I realised: a quiet day isn't going to come. I've got four kids under the age of 12 and run a charity, so I should have figured this out sooner! Peace doesn't magically appear when everything around you is calm; we have to find it in the chaos of everyday life.

The Bible talks a lot about peace and some of the most famous verses on this subject come from Philippians. The writer, Paul, was one of those people whose life became much more challenging after he met Jesus. Before that he had position, authority, status, and respect. He undoubtedly believed he was right to persecute the early Christians to the extreme, but that came to an abrupt end on the road to Damascus. After that encounter and becoming a follower of Christ, he endured beatings, arrest, imprisonment, and shipwrecks; he faced hunger and cold, and carried the emotional weight of the early church (see 2 Corinthians 11:24-29). Unsurprisingly, Paul never preached that anyone who came to Jesus would see all their problems, challenges, and frustrations disappear! So how could Paul, in the face of all of this, find peace, contentment, and even joy, rather than being consumed by anxiety and fear?

Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians, which explores this question, from inside a prison cell in Ephesus. He knew that the Philippian Christians were suffering persecution for their faith; he knew that fear and anxiety were very real experiences for them, and that they had a lot to be afraid of in the first-century Roman empire. Yet he also knew that peace was possible, because he had found it in the hardest of circumstances himself. I go one of two ways when reading these passages from Philippians. Either I feel defeated because I think that Paul must have been superhuman, with a unique gift for persevering through things that no one else could have endured, and I have absolutely no hope of being like him in any way. Or I start beating myself up, remembering how much harder life is for other people, especially those who are persecuted, and I feel guilty for not trusting God more. Either way I end up feeling bad, and I'm certain that wasn't Paul's intention.

Tim Keller helpfully points out in his book Walking with God through pain and suffering, that Paul says he has learned to be content. He wasn't born content; it didn't come naturally to him, but he learned it. He also points out that peace is not merely an absence, it's a presence. It is not just an absence of fear; it's a sense of being protected by God's nearness. Paul tells the Philippians they can be free from anxiety. Why? Because "the Lord is near". That's vitally important for us to know when things are hard: God has not left us, no matter how it may feel or appear. But Paul sees us as partners in grace with God and we have a role to play in our relationship with him if we are to receive his peace into our lives. Paul does not ask us to play mental gymnastics, or bend logic to the extremes, to find a way of extracting divine peace. He tells us that we are called to pray to God with our requests and thanksgiving. As Tom Wright says in Paul for Everyone –The Prison Letters, "Prayer like that means that God's peace – not just a lack of concern for what's going on, but a deep peace in the middle of life's problems and storms – will keep guard around your hearts and mind." To pray like this, to develop the spiritual discipline of prayer that can reveal God's peace, takes time before God and grows (if we allow it to) over a lifetime of relationship with a loving Father.

Patrick Regan is the chief executive of youth charity XLP. His book, When Faith Gets Shaken (Lion Hudson), is out now.