A Peaceful Presence

We live in times when the volume is loud and emotions are raw. As followers of Jesus, 

we can’t remove all turmoil. But what we can do is bring the peace of Jesus as we walk in this tumultuous world.

In the past few years, I have often told the congregation I pastor, “If Christians can’t model grace and kindness while honestly disagreeing, no one can.” Conflicted times can become sacred moments when believers in Jesus stand out in a good way. 

Our witness to the world matters. If we want to bear the gospel and share the story of God’s redemptive plan, we must show kindness in heated moments. If we hope to point to the God of grace, we need to reflect his heart and patience with people who are hostile, out of line, and even radically anti-God.

How do we do this? Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

1. Listen Well and Be Available.

As a local church pastor, I have had people from across the political spectrum running for office reach out to meet with me. I always say yes, no matter their party or tribe. When they come to my office, I don’t preach, but I ask questions, such as:

• How is your marriage and family? 

• If you win or retain office, how might your work and travel impact your children? 

• What good would you like to do for the people in our community? 

• How can I pray for you? 

• Can you tell me about your faith journey?

• May I share some of my faith journey?

Every one of these conversations has been unique, insightful and ended in a time of prayer together. I also offer pastoral and biblical counsel for them that I feel will be helpful if they win the office they are seeking. 

In all of these times, our focus has been on them (not primarily on politics). I concentrate on their life, family, faith, needs. It has never been contentious or combative. In some of these meetings, I know that we are worlds apart in what we believe, but a listening ear, availability and time focused on things that really matter has often led to a rich human connection.

Listening well transcends meetings with community leaders. In this time when people are highly fragmented and feelings often run hot, I find listening and asking good questions really takes some of the tension out of the air. I don’t have to convince them how wrong they are and how right and righteous I am. If I ask probing questions and listen well, most people will reciprocate.

• Wow, you seem to feel really passionate about that. Could you tell me more? 

• How have you come to your conclusions? 

• Do you have any friends or people you respect who are on the other side of that issue? 

• How do you navigate having differing perspectives and still care about others? 

• Can you see things through the eyes of others and understand how they came to their convictions? 

Every conversation is distinct, and each person is different. There is no script. But when you ask deep questions and listen well, you get glimpses into a person’s mind, motives, heart and even their soul. God uses these sacred moments to build relational bridges that could one day be a pathway to gospel conversations. When we refuse to listen, we build walls. When we bark, vent or dive into endless lectures about what we believe and how we have the corner on the truth market, we just might end up slamming the door on the real hope that people need and long for: Jesus.  

2. Bless and Encourage People.

It is amazing how many people go through a day, week, month or longer without having anyone look directly in their eyes and speak words of blessing to them. Along with listening well, we need to speak with kindness and be generous with words of blessing as often as we can.

I remember an afternoon when I was reviewing my sermon notes at lunch. I went to the front of the restaurant to pay my bill and the woman at the register welcomed me with a smile and a warm, “Hi, did you enjoy your lunch?” She noticed the Bible under my arm and quickly added, “Are you some kind of a pastor or something like that?” I said yes, and she asked, “Will you bless me?” It was a strange and delightful question. I responded back with a heartfelt yes.

She closed her eyes and leaned forward over the counter as far as she could. It was clear she wanted me to place my hand on her head, so I obliged. Feeling the weight and honor of the biblical words, I declared the Aaronic blessing given by God in Numbers 6:22–26: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

She was beaming with joy as I finished, and thanked me. As I walked out, I wondered how many people I encounter in a normal week long for a blessing but never dare to ask.

In our tense and conflicted day and age, followers of Jesus need to look for ways to speak blessings. Our words have power and we are often too quick to criticize and slow to affirm. Jesus never lied, and he was not given to false flattery, but he did speak words of grace to the broken, lost, confused, tormented and oppressed. We should do the same. 

3. Pray for People

Another way to invite the peace of Jesus into our polarized world is by praying—a lot. When we pray in the flow of our day, God shows up. When we ask the Prince of Peace to go before us and shine through us, he gladly answers yes. When we invite the Holy Spirit to help us behave in ways that bring peace rather than conflict, our heart softens, our words change and Jesus shows up. The more things seem to heat up and the greater the friction, the more Christians should be crying out to God.

If you know people who seem to be a lightning rod for conflict, and who love stirring the pot every chance they get, pray for them to settle down and not make every encounter a battle. If you are “that person” and tend to bring tension to most interactions, pray for yourself. This is not an invitation to compromise or a call to never have serious and important conversations. It is an exhortation to pray for wisdom, discernment and grace as you interact with others.

Finally, heaven comes to earth and the Holy Spirit of the Living God shows up when we pray with people who don’t know Jesus (or who seem to love conflict). It is very hard to fight in the middle of a prayer. When the Prince of Peace is invited in, he often breathes peace into tense situations.

• Can I pray for you?

• Would you mind if I say a little prayer for God’s peace and presence?

• I would be so honored if I could lift up a prayer right now.

Never force prayer on anyone, but ask others if you may pray. If they say yes, don’t be hyperspiritual and do not use insider language that makes no sense to nonbelievers. Just talk to Jesus. Don’t preach a sermon. In a conversational tone, invite God to be near, bring peace, show his face and reveal his love. Always pray in Jesus’ name because there is power in the glorious name. You will be amazed at how often people will tell you that they felt something or sensed something as you prayed. Some people will shed a tear and not know why. Almost always a sense of peace hangs over the moment.

As we walk into a time of certain tension and polarization, ask God to make you a bearer of peace. Look for ways to listen and ask great questions, bless and encourage others, and pray for and with people. As God shows up and brings his peace, take a deep breath, drink in his presence, and do what you can to point others to Jesus.

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