How does God guide His children? Many have used the principle of “heart peace” as an indication of God’s will saying, “I have [or do not have] peace” about a decision or direction in life. This is a subjective, emotional guidance principle that has some problems with its foundation.
This concept is commonly expressed and becomes the basis of virtually every major decision in the lives of many Christians. Almost everyone seeks the peace of God for decisions ranging from whom to marry, to where to invest your life’s ministry, to what car or house to purchase. It is thought that if you do not have peace about it, it cannot be the will of God.
The basis of this common practice is derived from an interpretation of Col 3:15, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”
Many today do not know the origin of this practice, nor the biblical basis from which it is derived. The practice of praying for peace to know the will of God seems so spiritual and is so common today that anything less seems carnal. First, we will look at the origin of this teaching, then examine the biblical basis and finally, propose an approach for living in the will of God.
Origin of the peace formula for discerning God’s will
During the late 1800’s George Mueller, who trusted God to provide for thousands of orphans in England, developed a sequence of steps for discerning the future will of God for decision-making. Other writers exaggerated some of his steps to sense a discernible peaceful spirit or doubting spirit as the clear indicators from God for being assured of His will.
Mr. Mueller taught that the first step was to develop a heart attitude without any will of its own; that is, to be totally open to whatever God would indicate. Then he would seek the will of the Spirit in connection with the Word of God (though it is not exactly clear how this was done). He recognized the danger of possible “delusions” from simple impressions.
Specific prayer was made to perceive either a sense of peace in his spirit if it was His will, or a sense of doubt or uncertainty if it were not His will. He stated that after praying two or three times over a period of time a sense of one or the other would reveal His will. If there was a sense of peace, then the decision was assumed to be God’s will and to be pursued.
Does God promise peace as an indicator of His will? The basis of this teaching was derived from Colosenses 3:15, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts.” The word for “rule” is the word for “umpire or arbiter in the public Greek games.” It is said that if one perceives a sense of peace, then God is ruling in the matter; therefore, it must be God’s will. It is assumed that no one can sense a doubting spirit if it were the will of God.
Multiple sources of peace in the believer
In the NT there are a multitude of different levels of peace that the believer enjoys and experiences, some all the time. There is the “peace with God” (Rom 5:1); the “peace of God” (Phil 4:7); we are “fill[ed] with all joy and peace in believing” (Rom 15:13); God has “called us to peace” (1 Cor 7:15); the “fruit of the Spirit is … peace” (Gal 5:22); if you are praying with thanksgiving “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds” (Phil 4:7); and Peter said “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Pet 1:2).
With all this experience of “peace” how can we be expected to discern the lack of peace if the decision is not His will? What if the peace we sense is merely the peace of our gracious relationship with God through Christ our Savior?
Correct understanding of Col 3:15
What does it mean for the “peace of God” to rule in our hearts? The number one rule for understanding the Scripture is to examine the context before jumping to a conclusion.
Context deals with peaceful relationships
In this context Paul is describing the new nature that all the believers in Colossi had received: “a new nature” which was constantly “being renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him” (3:10 NLT); “as the elect of God, holy and beloved, [they were to ] put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering [toward one another in the church]; bearing with one another , and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another [in the church], even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (3:12-13); “But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (3:14).
If the body of Christ of Christ practices what the Word of God commands, then it will experience a bond of peace and harmony that is a foretaste of heaven. This is a relationship that is to be protected and enjoyed by all participants in the church.
One peace for all believers in church together
Peace is to rule in the congregation (each reference to “you” or “your” is in the plural). Paul is not commanding an individual “you.” This is a mandate for the church as a body to make sure that peace and harmony dominate all the relationships in the church. Anything that disrupts this peace is to be dealt with immediately so as to return to a state of peace among the brethren in the church.
Nowhere is there any hint in the context or the passage that “peace” is to be used as a sign or means of indicating the future will of God for an individual.
Only by this understanding does the remainder of the verse make sense: with reference to all “your [plural] hearts, to which also you [plural] were [all] called in one body.” This body of believers is to be characterized by peaceful relationships. Then all of you all “be continually being thankful.” If believers practiced this principle we would all be thankful. Who would not want to be part of a church like this?
Follow a model
A major key to living out the will of God is to have leaders and mentors who live out the passion of the Apostle Paul for winning the lost to the Savior. “Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me– everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” (Phi 4:9 NLT) Peace comes to the believer when he is putting into practice all the instructions that Christ and the NT writers gave us to live by and to live for. No where is there a hint in the Word of God that peace is used for determining the will of God for future decisions.
Is there a way to know specifically what God wants us to do?
“What” He wants us to do is detailed in Scripture, but “when” and “where” are left to be decided by each believer. My next blog will deal with the “promptings” or “leadings” of the Spirit, which tend to answer these questions after we are obedient to the clear instructions in the Word.