When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
I think most of us in church circles have, at some point, sung “It Is Well with My Soul.” It’s been my favorite hymn since I was a junior in high school. I was in band, and we were practicing “On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss” for our spring concert. Mid-song, my father walked into the band room, stood along the back wall, caught my eye, and slowly shook his head. I knew immediately my maternal grandfather had just passed away, had just lost his battle with cancer. With the band still playing around me, I stood up, told the band director what had happened, asked one of my friends to tend to my instrument for me, and left with my father. Had the words of that song not been echoing in my mind and heart as we played, I don’t think I would’ve been able to keep it together like I did. Somehow, it’s just easier to deal with things when the melody behind you proclaims “it is well with my soul.”
The first phrase of that song, “When peace like a river attendeth my way,” speaks volumes to me. I consider it a personal mark of being in God’s will to have peace about me. If a decision throws me into panic or chaos, I search for the option that brings peace when I prayerfully consider it, and that’s the option I choose. It’s not always the easiest option, nor the safest, but it has never failed to be the best. When I’m in the wrong, peace is nowhere to be found, and I know I need to do a bit of self-examination and repenting in order to restore that divine sense of ease. Peace has become my barometer, one of my chief tools of discernment. It’s my way of doing as Paul writes in Colossians 3:15: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”
The Bible has a lot to say about peace. It’s one of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), a hallmark of those who are called by the name of Christ. If we are truly new creations through water and the Holy Spirit, we are given the peace of Christ. In most liturgical worship services, there’s even a specific time to “pass the peace.” (I mean, nothing wrong with an old-fashioned handshake line, but deliberately telling the other person “Peace of Christ” when you do it carries just a bit more theological content.) As believers, we are to be at peace with one another and with our neighbors.
The world . . . well, the world doesn’t make that easy most days. If there are four things the world greatly lacks, they’re love, hope, faith, and peace. Because it lacks the first three, it lacks the fourth. If love, hope, and faith prevailed, think of what the world would look like. Peace would abound as war ended, as crime ceased. That would be the legacy of peace. And, to be fair, we do try to promote peace, don’t we? We even have a prize for people who make a difference in establishing peace around the world. Whether or not we listen to those people is another story entirely.
With the lack of peace around us, it can be difficult to establish peace for ourselves. Fortunately for us, peace doesn’t come from ourselves; it comes from God. Philippians 4:7 assures us “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” What a beautiful promise! But how do we live into it? The answer is just before, in verses 4-6: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” If we do these things — rejoice, be gentle, stop worrying, and pray about all things while giving thanks — we are promised a divine peace, a peace so boundless and wonderful we cannot comprehend it. And there are some things we shouldn’t try to comprehend; we’re meant to simply enjoy the benefits.
As the holidays end and life gets back to normal, I invite you to a season of peace. Don’t be so quick to jump from one thing to another. Rest. If you’re faced with a major decision, seek the peace from God that comes with the right choice. The Holy Spirit will guide you in the way you should go if only you’ll stop to listen. And even when things go wrong, when nothing is right in the world, you can cry out to God and say, “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.'” And in that moment, you will receive peace.