Most people love having days off and holidays. Whether it be the opportunity to laze about in pyjamas having a leisurely breakfast or the chance to enjoy the great outdoors, having good time off should refresh and renew us. On Sunday at a special all age service I asked the congregation to consider what things they do to get into a place of rest, relaxation and peace. The answers they gave me varied wildly. Responses included staying in bed and eating chocolate cake to climbing mountains and exploring the beauty of nature. I also asked people about their top three things that cause them to be fearful, worried, anxious and stressed. The answers this time included exams, work, motorways and conflict. People are often very good at knowing what helps them relax and be at peace but they are usually not good at staying in that place of relaxation and peace. How many times have you returned from a great holiday determined to keep hold of that sense of being relaxed and refreshed only to find it vanish almost the moment you re-enter normal life?
How can we keep hold of a sense of peace and vitality in our everyday life? People try all kinds of techniques to gain peace but holding onto it is elusive. We may find that we can get to a place of calmness and stillness but when stressful or upsetting things happen to us or to others around us the peace evaporates as fear, worry, stress and anxiety take over.
The Christian faith offers many rich resources for people to learn to rest and relax as well as keep hold on a sense of peace, vitality and life. If we feel that we are too busy to rest, knowing that God values rest so much that he included it in the 10 commandments can give us the encouragement we need to rest. Jesus invites the weary and heavy laden to come to him for rest and refreshment. In Psalm 23 King David recognises that as a “sheep” at times he needs God the Good Shepherd to “make him lie down.” Sheep apparently will not lay down unless they feel safe. But with God we are safe and we can afford the time to rest with him.
Stress, anxiety, fear and worry often seem to pursue and torment people. They can become the background music to our life always niggling away and occasionally overwhelming us. St Paul and other writers encourage people not to allow this to be the case. We are told not to worry or fear some 365 times in the Bible. In his letter to the Philippians he tells the believers instead of worrying and fearing they are to rejoice in God and then offer up to God the situation that is causing concern they will then receive peace. This peace is not simply a feeling of being relaxed and free from fear and stress it is also a sense of God’s presence and goodness being with you. When you focus upon God’s power, his kindness, his faithfulness and his love we recognise that God is bigger than our situation and is willing and able to help. Praying about this situation in this way means that our prayers are prayers of faith and we then receive the gift of peace. The moment one recognises that peace has vanished the cycle of rejoicing in God, praying and receiving peace can be repeated. It is then possible to carry a sense of peace with us wherever we go and whatever we are doing. Paul finishes his teaching by encouraging people not to focus on the worries and fear but to focus on whatever is true, lovely, excellent and praiseworthy (i.e. God!)
We cannot always be on holiday and we will always be coming up against things that concern us and would naturally cause us to fear. Yet it is possible to carry a sense of peace and life into every day and every situation that we face if we keep following St Paul’s advice. God gives people a wonderful gift of peace that is too good to be neglected.