September 14, 2016

Decision Making & “I Have a Peace About It”

by Eric Davis
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A professing Christian was in a rough marriage for many years. It came to the point where they felt as if they could not take it anymore. Divorce entered the thoughts. They sought counsel from other Christians. Some opened Scripture, some didn’t, and some prayed. Though no biblical grounds for divorce, it came to the point where they could not see how God would want them to be unhappy in marriage. The marriage did not bring feelings of peace and comfort. So, they went through with the divorce on the grounds that both they and their close Christian friends “had a peace about it.”

Perhaps you’ve said it. “I have a peace about it.” Sometimes it takes on a different form. “I have prayed about it, so it’s God’s will.” Or, “I have a peace about it, so God is calling me to…” Those words are often-assumed gateways to what God wants me to do in the throes of life. But, is my “peace” God’s enthusiastic permission slip for my “it”? Is my prayer and peace heaven’s approval for whatever “it” may be in my life?

That process of making the decision usually goes something like this. I am facing a difficult issue in my life, requiring some wise decision-making. However, I approach the decision with a pre-existing bent towards my own comfort. Instead of an objective approach to the decision, I have a subjective bent towards getting my own way. I have some desire for God to weigh in on the decision. I may pray about it, look up a few verses, and ask a few friends, but I am hoping to discover some Christian key to unlock my wants. I likely run into counsel either from godly friends, leadership, or Scripture which hinders getting my way. I subsequently feel more drawn towards my decision. I find a few verses (which I do not rigorously study with a proper hermeneutic and help from church leadership) that, though taken out of context, seem to support what I already want. This fuels my existing idolatrous pursuit. I run across some friends and verses which assure me that God wants me to feel happy and joyful about what I do. Since it does not seem joyful to make the more difficult decision, I am further established in my own way. I run across some verses which discuss personal peace. I perceive a feeling of personal peace as I meditate on my pre-desired decision and the consequent ease it will bring in my life. Therefore, since I experience feelings of increasing pleasure, I conclude that I am at peace. Thus, since I presume that God wants me to be at peace, I conclude that my feeling of peace is God assuring me, “This is the decision you should make.” Finally, I declare, “I have a peace about making this decision. I have prayed about it. God is calling me to ____.” And I go through with the decision. But all is not well.

Here are a few thoughts to consider before we use our personal peace as determinative of God’s will.

  1. Scripture alone is God’s means of communicating his will for us.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

open-bibleMuch of this issue boils down to the sufficiency of Scripture. Is the Bible alone sufficient to guide me in decision-making with matters pertaining to life and godliness? Has God adequately outfitted humanity to know and do his will?

Leaning on feelings of peace, in effect, says, “No.” Though Bible verses may be consulted, what tilts the decision scale is subjective to the individual; what is subjectively comfortable. Thus, to use “I have a peace about it” as the determinative factor says, “Though the sovereign God of the universe has spoken in his word, God has simply failed to provide humanity with what we need for life and godliness.”

And, leaning on feelings of peace and the Bible also may deny the sufficiency of Scripture. Bible verses can be ripped out of context. I can operate with a hermeneutic of happiness: since I should be joyful always, I will make whatever decision helps me to maintain feelings of joy.

Bottom line: the “I-have-a-peace-about-it” method of decision-making denies the sufficiency of Scripture.

  1. Our “peace” could be putting ourselves in the place of God.  

Overall, the “I-have-a-peace-about-it” approach to life can be dangerous. I may “have a peace” and “have prayed about” a decision, but if my decision is in contrary to the word of God, then my peace or prayer is likely a self-permitted license of self-

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sovereignty. I am placing myself in authority over God, while ensuring that others cannot question me because of my supposed “peace” or “prayer.”

I wonder if sometimes we use our “peace about it” as a self-issued cosmic fortune cookie for our idolatrous pursuits. Perhaps our peace is not God’s will at all. Instead, our peace is simply our feelings. So, our feelings become determinative. Thus, our feelings are functionally authoritative. Our feelings are a functional god, which is to say, we have made ourselves god.

   3. God does not tell us that an internal peace is his means of communicating his will.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105).

There is no Bible verse which says, “Ok, the decision which causes you to experience peaceful feelings is the decision you should make.” And God never said, “The way in which I will signal to you what I want you to do in big decisions is by causing you to feel a peace.”

When God communicated to us, it was a revealing, hence the reason Scripture is called “special revelation.” He did so because fallen humanity is in such a damaged condition that we are incapable of determining his will and desirous of self-sovereignty. In his mercy, he spoke in the 66 books of Scripture. We need a lamp for our feet and light for our path because we willfully and naturally are in complete darkness. Thus, God’s will is something that is determined by resources outside of us, not inside; by Scripture, not hunches.

   4. Often we will have an internal war when coming to terms with God’s will.

Before coming to faith in Christ we are only able and willing to do all things against the glory of God. That is the essence of sin (Rom. 1:21). Sin’s DNA is contrary to the will of God. When we are reborn by the Spirit, that is the moment our sin begins to be put to death. We are a new creature, but our old nature is not yet entirely inoperable (Rom. 8:5-8). Areas of godliness are still difficult as Christians (cf. Rom. 7:14-24). We still sin.

This means that doing things God’s way is still going to be a battle as a Christian. God’s word directly confronts the self-favoring, comfort worshiper in all of us. Hence the reason that we need nothing less than the Holy Spirit to exercise faith in striving against sin’s self-focus (cf. Gal. 5:16-17).

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The “I-have-a-peace-about-it” person has either forgotten or failed to embrace this central truth of biblical Christianity. The Christian life is often hard. God tells us that it will involve things like self-denial. Self-denial means going against my personal feelings of peace. This means that decisions which feel good are often going to be the wrong ones. The personal peace decision-making assumes that either there should not be an internal war or refused to engage in the war.

The “I-have-a-peace-about-it” person has come to temptation’s frequent fork in the road. They were faced with what is biblical and what is peaceful. There was a conflict. It’s that common place to which temptation brings us. Will I go with what feels comfortable or with what requires faith? Will I trust in myself or will I trust God? Will I live in a way that I can see or requires the conviction of things not seen?

  1. An internal war often means that we are doing things right in the Christian life.

Consider a sampling of NT texts which describe the Christian life.

“And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me’” (Luke 9:23).

“Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:26-27).

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:16-17).

“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).

The terminology is telling: “he must deny himself,” “I discipline my body and make it my slave” (referring to walking in holiness), “the flesh sets its desires against the Spirit,” and “lusts which wage war.” The common thread in these passages is the inner-conflict which is both normal and good as the Christian strives to align his/her heart and deeds with God’s will.

The New Testament writers described the daily Christian life in battle terminology. Therefore, having a peace about decisions in life could be a bad thing. When it comes to biblical decision-making, you may need to have a war about it. Biblically speaking, we are likely more in line with God’s will if we say, “I’m having a fight about it,” rather than, “I’m having a peace about it.”

Also, consider Jesus. What did he do when faced with decisions pertaining to life and godliness? In the various episodes, Satan tempted Jesus, in effect, with ideas like, “Turn the rocks into bread,” “Do a showy, neat supernatural stunt,” and “Bypass that painful, dark, and difficult cross work.” Jesus responded by trusting in the word of God, not by saying, “I’m going to go with what gives me a peace” (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10).

Further, we might ask, “Did Jesus appear to have a subjective happy peace about his redemptive cross work while in the Garden of Gethsemane?” “And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me’” (Matt. 26:37-38).

  1. Trusting in oneself is considered foolish.

Leaning on my peace is to lean on myself. It is a form of self-trust which is contrary to faith and trusting God.

Scripture warns us against such things. First, our hearts are untrustworthy: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? ‘I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds’” (Jer. 17:9-10). Notice the warning. The heart (the control center of man’s desires and emotions) surpasses all things in unreliability. That alerts us, then, to the danger of feelings. Subjective feelings, whether peaceful or not, come from our untrustworthy hearts. Second, self-trust is hazardous. “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Prov. 28:26). Trusting in a feeling of peace is trusting one’s heart par excellence.

  1. God delegates certain people to guide us in decision-making.

shepherd_and_flockWhen making big decisions, in addition to digging into the word, it is wise to consult those who spend much time in the word, will be the least likely to cater to our feelings and flattery, and have God-given authority over our souls. In other words, it is wise to consult the biblically-qualified elders/pastors in our local church. These are God’s delegated resources to help guide us in his will (cf. Heb. 13:17).

Often we will approach our decision-making like this. “Pastor, I’ve sought a lot of counsel on this. I’ve gotten some advice from godly people. They confirm my decision, so it’s God’s will for me to ____.”  In an attempt to appease our conscience, we will request counsel from others around us. Of course, the irony is that I’ve failed to heed the counsel of my immediate shepherds; the ones whose counsel I should likely be heeding the most (Heb. 13:17). We can use the “I-have-a-peace-about-it” as a tactic to deviously detour the real means for biblical decision-making.

Christians, we need to stop saying, “Because I have a peace about X, X is God’s will.” Instead, let’s say something like, “I have prayed about X, attempted to study X with sound hermeneutics, approached my spiritual shepherds, who will not flatter me but love me with the truth, about X for advice. And, though it’s a battle inside and this is the harder decision, I think that I need to submit to Scripture on this issue so as to submit to God. And may my good God help me do so in faith.”

In his goodness, God has outfitted humanity with his word with the result that we have everything needed for life and godliness. In loving sovereignty, there is no life situation in which God has failed to sufficiently supply what we need from Scripture. The Christian life is one lived in faith; trusting in God’s opinions and desires over my own. Though this will often mean an internal battle, as we surrender to Scripture, we can be assured that we are in God’s blessed will.

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • Jeremy Edgar

    When most people say they have peace about a decision I think they are referring to their conscience. If an action is in direct violation of Scripture it is obviously not God’s will and any peace that person may have is not from God. But in the case of something not directly addressed in Scripture, a Christian should (after prayer and counsel) do exactly what their conscience is telling them to do. In that sense, doing what will give you peace (aka a clean conscience) is exactly the right way to make a decision.

    • Archepoimen follower

      Jeremy, the dichotomy that you raise is false. While scripture may not ‘directly’ address every situation, scripture always has principles that address every situation. Therefore, we can rely on scripture and it’s sufficiency in every decision. Our conscience on it’s own, because we continue to live in a world ravaged by sin, is never clean.

      Tim

      • Phillip

        Tim, while I agree that Scripture has principles that
        apply, by the grace of God, to every situation, not every situation has a
        direct command or a clear biblical vs. unbiblical path. Scripture
        leaves open some areas of adiaphora to the believer, things that are
        neither commanded nor forbidden. There are many difficult decisions
        that 2 believers can study the scriptures, pray, get council, and still
        come to different, yet both biblically sound decisions. Who to vote for
        this election, whether or not to eat meat sacrificed to idols, or
        whether to bake a cake for a gay wedding; all have biblical principles
        that need to be applied, but none have only a single right biblical
        answer. These are the decisions where we need to do everything advised
        in the article, but we still need to engage our conscious, and thus two
        people could come to different conclusions; and neither of them would be
        wrong.

        I agree wholeheartedly with this article, it states more
        beautifully and elegantly my thoughts than I’ve ever been able to.
        However, when we apply this, we must remember the love of speaking the
        truth in love, and also that while God graciously gives us principles
        that apply to every area of life and His revelation that is fully
        sufficient for all good works, He also equally graciously leaves open
        areas of adiaphora.

        • Archepoimen follower

          Philip,
          Of course there are situations where multiple paths may be within biblical principles. These situations are times to seek the counsel of mature believers and to rely on prayer. Even here, the I am at peace mantra is only appropriate if you have leaned on His Word.
          I would contend that your examples might need some nuancing, particularly the voting and meat-eating. Adiaphora, things indifferent, still must be within the bounds of Biblical principles.

          Tim

      • Jeremy Edgar

        Philip’s response to you is accurate. We are supposed to obey our conscience on matters not directly addressed by Scripture (and keep in mind any biblical principles that might apply). Romans 14 directly addresses the subject of obeying our conscience and how we should relate to other believers who have a conscience that differs from our own.

        Baking a cake for a gay wedding is a great example. No command in the Bible directly addresses this issue. It is a matter of conscience. One person may think, “If I do bake the cake, I am subtly supporting their marriage which I see as morally wrong”. Another person may think, “I can offer my services to whomever and are not responsible for their own actions. I don’t want to put up an unnecessary dividing wall, even though I don’t support gay marriage.” Both are valid positions. There are no biblical commands or principles that give the exact route one should take. In such an instance, the believer should pray, ask other Christians for counsel, and ultimately go with their conscience. And other believers can disagree and might do it differently but should not condemn them. Again, Romans 14 deals with this at length. In such cases the exact RIGHT way to make the decision is to do what sits well with you, what decision would give you inner peace and the feeling that you did the right thing.

        • Archepoimen follower

          Jeremy,
          Romans 14 actually deals with items that are addressed by scriptural principles and teachings. The issue with meat eating and freedoms in Christ Paul was addressing had to do with using my freedom when it impinges on other’s freedoms. Paul’s answer, give up my freedom to maintain unity.
          Nothing at all about inner peace nor feelings.
          Tim

          • Jeremy Edgar

            Nothing about inner peace or feelings? In that passage a person has “beliefs”, “opinions”, and “esteem” for certain views. In other words, they have convictions. These people are told to act in accordance with their personal convictions. When you act according to your convictions, you have peace.

            Say what you will but the Bible is full of teaching on the importance of obeying one’s conscience. All I am suggesting is that when a person says “I have peace about my decision” they are saying, “what I have done sits well with my conscience”. That is a totally biblical thing to say, at least when it comes to issues that are a matter of conviction and not clear commands in the Bible.

            I shall leave it at that and have inner peace doing so 🙂

  • Lisi15

    I agree with Eric. I’ve recently been invited to a study which in my view teaches that we should make decisions based on feelings or extra biblical revelations from God. Trusting your own feelings is dangerous, selfish and puts you in the driver’s seat not God. I know feelings are subjective and can’t be trusted. God gave us His Word and we disrespect Him by failing to line up our decisions with it.

  • Steve Bradley

    Best thing I have read in a while, thanks.

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  • Thomas_A

    Christians should be at peace regardless of their circumstances, so feelings of peace make poor indicators. However, it seems clear that God not only communicates his will through the Word, but through circumstances as well. Not every situation has a clear-cut answer waiting in the scriptures.

  • Jane Hildebrand

    In those situations where there is no clear biblical command or path, we will usually pray for God to either allow us to go forward or to stop us (while acknowledging His sovereignty and goodness). I cannot count the number of doors that have been slammed, and for that we are always grateful despite it being something we thought would be good or something we wanted. This gives us peace each time.

    • Ira Pistos

      I am so grateful for slammed doors.

      • Jane Hildebrand

        Me too! There is great peace in knowing that God directs my paths when I lay my plans before Him. 🙂

    • 4Commencefiring4

      Here’s a test: Is a particular “slammed door” a sign that God doesn’t want you to go forward with that–or is He allowing the Enemy to test your faith to see if you’ll “break on through to the other side”?

      I know a missionary family that, years ago, sensed a calling from the Lord to minister specifically to those of Southeast Asia. So, being obedient to the leading they were sure was from God, they joined an evangelical organization, raised support for a year, sold their home and went abroad where they held forth for about three years trying to evangelize the locals…to no results. Nothing. They couldn’t gather enough of them to fill a VW bug. They’d learned the difficult language, but it didn’t help.

      Finally deciding God wasn’t blessing their efforts, they returned home. And almost like magic, Southeast Asians that lived stateside in their community were open to the Gospel. And they’ve ministered to them successfully ever since.

      I always think of them when I hear someone say that “I feel God is leading me to….” and I wonder, “Uh, perhaps. But perhaps not.” And ever since, I’ve imagined God, when I see Him one day, saying to me, “You recall that day when you were considering [fill in the blank]? Well, I was trying to move you in that direction, but you chose another path and ended up on a trajectory that was quite different than the one I had for you. ‘My will’ was left way back there. But…never mind that now. Welcome anyhow.”

      Is it just me?

      • Jane Hildebrand

        But what if that missionary family ‘was’ led by God to go to Southeast Asia because that experience was exactly what they needed in order to equip them to minister stateside? Just a thought.

        But to be honest, I’m not a big fan of ever saying, “God is leading me to…” because I understand the power of emotions in decision making. I have a lot of big ideas after a cup of coffee or two. That doesn’t mean I start packing for Africa.

        But at the same time I don’t ever envision God ringing his hands, frustrated that I can’t discern His leading in my life. I just trust that when I lay my plans before Him and seek His direction, He will guide me. At least that’s what I take away as an overriding principle in His Word.

  • Chris Wofford

    In part, I read this article as challenging Christians to be more precise in our language. An explanation of how in wise, biblical decision making we reached our conclusion is much better than saying we have peace about a decision.

    Saying we have peace about a decision can lead to weaker believers or non-christians to think that it is ok to make a decision that clearly conflicts with biblical principles but that makes them feel good.

    Let’s not be so protective of our jargon that we are lax in our language and open the door for others to stray.

  • Louis Faustino

    Dear Eric,
    Great blog post. Biblically and practically spot on. I have had to counsel against this “peace” issue more times than I would like to say. Thank you for talking the time to pray, study, think, & write on this issue. I only wish I wrote it first 😉 I’ll be printing it to share with others. Grace & Peace.
    Lou Faustino

  • Kofi Adu-Boahen

    My new go-to piece when seeking to explain the Bible’s teaching on guidance. Thank you, sir!

  • Conrad Hertzler

    “I’ve attempted to study X with sound hermeneutics”. If this MUST be part of a Christian’s decision making, then brand new Christians and unschooled Christians have no hope in making a sound decision. I believe that you very much underestimate peace being a significant factor in the Christian’s decision making. And i think you misrepresent the statement “I have peace about it”. I can think of two life-altering decisions that I have made where peace played a significant role. In one situation, I did not have peace about a certain path which i was taking involving foreign mission service. As soon as we prayerfully closed the door on that path, a new and obviously God-ordained path opened up which still involved foreign mission service. We were privileged to serve years in that capacity and our work was blessed by Him. In the second decision, after much prayer and counsel, we knew that God was leading us, and in that sense we had peace. However, the thought of what He was asking us to do was so frightening that I often felt sick to my stomach. But He proved to us over and over that His hand was in it.

    • Jane Hildebrand

      Conrad, the two examples you gave were regarding missionary service, which is a God honoring path regardless. Other decisions however are often not as clear. For example, a wife wanting to separate from a verbally abusive husband, or parents struggling over the decision to kick out their wayward teenager, or whether or not you should take a job that makes you work on Sunday. These are all decisions that should be weighed carefully by scripture and pastoral counsel. Even new Christians would be wise to seek that out vs. relying on a feeling of peace, which can be deceiving. I think that’s what the article was trying to warn against.

    • alexguggenheim

      In the second example, you stated, “after much prayer and counsel”. Perhaps this peace was the result of “counsel” which likely involved principles from God’s Word which is just what the article suggests.

      As to your first case, the article does not deny divine providence which is far more what you describe.

      As to the claim this article does not give the young Christian much of a chance, I ask how so? He or she has God’s Word and more mature fellow believers for guidance.

      Now if you are referring to very special circumstances where a believer is removed any resources soon after being saved then yes, it will be difficult to make many principled decisions.

      However, before anyone claims God’s blessing as proof of vindication, remember, God blesses many ministry that practice and teach error at various levels. Until we reach the Bema Seat and have all revealed, we need to focus on what we have been told to do which repeatedly is to have our minds renewed with Scripture that we may know the will of God.

      I’m the mean time, the normative process of being a disciple and growing in God’s Word so that we may know the good, the pleasing and complete will of God is what is being forwarded here which is just what the Bible teaches.

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  • Johnny

    But… the Disney princess movies tell me to “listen to my heart”. I’m so conflicted!

    • Jason

      So does the Arthur theme song!

      • Jane Hildebrand

        You guys need to get a babysitter and get out more often. 🙂

        • Jason

          I know 🙁

  • Jason

    There’s been a lot of comments about how peace can be an important determining factor. I can see two distinct parts to the discussion.

    Scripture is full of references of people being encouraged not to violate their conscience (do what they feel is morally wrong). In that sense, “peace” can be a good indicator.

    However, we aren’t completely at peace when we’re anxious or uncomfortable for other reasons either. In that sense, being “at peace” is contrary to discernment. Our desires and convictions are not perfectly pure (Jeremiah 17:9). If you’ve never had what you feel certain is the will of God make you uncomfortable than you’re not very good at discernment or you’re perfectly righteous (hint: you’re not perfectly righteous).

    I had heard of a case where a woman had asked a group to pray for her because she was going to be going through a divorce. She told them she had rejected the idea for many years but finally felt that God was telling her to go through with it (in spite of herself).

    Well, the woman who prayed for her asked God to work in the situation to bring about whatever he desires in a manner that best glorifies him (pretty safe prayer when you don’t know all the circumstances). As soon as she finished praying, the woman who had asked for prayer got defensive and told everyone that there was no way she was going to stick it out with her husband, no matter what.

    This, to me, is a perfect example of why being “at peace” is such a dangerous thing. We can easily “feel” that God’s will is whatever would make us comfortable when we’re ultimately more concerned with our comfort than with discerning the will of God. Our hearts are deceitful.

    • Ira Pistos

      A nice summation Jason.
      I especially liked this:
      “If you’ve never had what you feel certain is the will of God make you
      uncomfortable than you’re not very good at discernment or you’re
      perfectly righteous (hint: you’re not perfectly righteous).”

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  • Excellent.

  • Maggie

    I totally agree with this article about seeking the Scripture for decision making; however, Scripture does teach that God gives us peace. I believe what this article fails to point out is the difference between God’s peace and the world’s peace. And I think the peace that this article is warning against, and rightly so, is the world’s peace. The majority of people probably talk about and try to seek this kind of “peace.” However, this article made no mention of God’s peace, which is quite different.

    John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

    Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with Thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

    In the example in the article, such as having “peace” to leave a difficult marriage with no biblical grounds is the world’s peace. The world is going to need outside circumstances to be as comfortable as possible to have “peace.” A believer who stays in a difficult marriage out of obedience to Scripture, praying to God, and trusting in Him can experience God’s peace in his or her soul because they are placing their hope in God, not in pleasant external circumstances. This is a supernatural peace (peace that “transcends all understanding”) that the world can’t understand or experience.

    And I believe that Jesus, despite being in agony, did have peace in the garden of Gethsemane. How else could He have ultimately said in such distress,”Yet not as I will, but as you will.” He knew God’s will was best. Submitting to God brings internal peace. This scene does not look like peace or joy to the world, but Scripture teaches that He endured the cross for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). Thus, He had peace that enduring the cross was the best decision. So even in times of agony, Christians can experience God’s peace, although it looks nothing like the world’s peace of comfort and ease and unending happiness. God’s peace is God’s gift to us to help us obey when that internal war the article mentioned is going on inside of us. The world will have “peace” in times of comfort. The Christian can have true peace in any circumstance if he/she is obeying God’s Word and abiding in Him. Obedience to Scripture and true peace are not mutually exclusive; they are actually very intertwined.