Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.2 Thessalonians 3:16 (ESV)
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.Psalms 85:8 (ESV)
About a week after the unexpected invitation to help people see Jesus more clearly, as I was praying, I once again found myself standing outside the workshop. As I stepped through the open door, my Pops took me by the hand and immediately led me back out. Together, hand-in-hand, we followed a path up a hill into the heavy woods, eventually coming out of the trees at the top of the mountain. Below me, as far as I could see, were trees—an unending sea of trees. As I stood looking out over them and wondering, Pops said, “Speak peace over all of these.” That one simple command, seemingly nonsensical, was jam-packed with meaning for me.
First, there are the trees. As I stood there with my Pops, surveying the vastness of the forest, I knew at once that the trees were people, just like the beautiful wood that Jesus was lovingly perfecting was a person and just like the wood my Pops was shaping in his workshop was a person. The sea of trees was a sea of people. The limitlessness of the trees, spread out before me in all directions, was my Pops’ way of indicating the universality of his command. Where I had been thinking of a particular ministry of meeting one-on-one with people seeking to know the Lord more fully, he clearly had a more expansive idea. Given the vastness of the forest, it could not be possible to “speak peace over all of these” one “person” at a time. My ministry could not be limited to one-on-one encounters. I did not understand how I might speak peace to large numbers of people, but that was the command.
“Speak peace.” What does it mean to speak peace? Peace is a simple word. Webster’s dictionary tells us that peace is tranquility or quiet, as in a peaceful scene. It can also mean an absence of strife or conflict or freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts and emotions. I knew that my Pops had something more than that meaning in mind.
I had long been drawn to the Hebrew word “shalom,” which is usually translated as “peace.” When I say that I had been drawn to the word shalom, I mean that often, when reading the Bible, the word “peace” would stand out, causing me to stop and wonder what exactly was meant. It was an odd thing for such a common word to have that effect. I had spent considerable time reading about, thinking about, and praying about the significance of this simple word.
In Hebrew, shalom has a much broader meaning than the single English word “peace.” Mounce’s Dictionary says shalom “is one of the most important words in the OT [Old Testament]. In addition to ‘peace,’ this word can be translated as ‘prosperity, well-being, health, completeness, safety.’” This sense of completeness and well-being is what Luke has in mind when the angels proclaim Jesus’s birth, “Peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased” (Luke 2:14b, NLT). The angles were announcing the coming of Jesus, who would set to rights all that had been marred by man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. He brings us inner peace; he manifests wholeness and completeness. The angels were also proclaiming the peace between rebellious mankind and a loving, forgiving God.
Shalom can also be taken to mean spiritual as well as physical completeness and well-being. Considering that, we also get a better view of what Jesus likely had in mind when in John 14:27, he tells his followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (ESV). God is not offering simple freedom from conflict. The lives of the first Christians were decidedly not free from conflict. He told his followers to expect trouble (John 16:33). What he does offer is spiritual and emotional wellness and completeness. He is giving his followers the reconciliation of God and man, the only path to real spiritual completeness. That is the peace I am to speak.
Power in Speaking
Even the simple verb “speak” is significant. In Genesis, God’s creative activity is carried out by the act of speaking:
God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. . . And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters. . . And it was so. . . . And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. . . . And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. . . . And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. . . .” And it was so. . . . And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” . . . And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. . . . . Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . .” So God created man in his own image.”Genesis 1:3–27 (ESV)
God says, and it is so.
Over and over again, in both the Old and New Testaments, blessings (and sometimes curses) are spoken over people and nations. In the New Testament, when Jesus declares words of peace, healing, or forgiveness, the thing he declares is accomplished as he speaks it. The old testament prophet Isaiah, speaking for God, reminded us that as snow and rain, when they come down from heaven, do not simply return back to the heavens – they water the earth, bringing growth and life. So it is with God’s word: it does not return to him empty — it accomplishes everything he intends for it (see Isaiah 55:10-11).
Speaking God’s word is not an empty exercise. A Roman centurion who encountered Jesus knew this well:
Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”Luke 7:2-8 ESV
The centurion understood the meaning of Jesus’ authority. Jesus’s followers today have the authority to proclaim him and to be his ambassadors (2 Cor. 5: 20-21). Speaking his peace over multitudes will not be an empty exercise.
Are You Sure You’ve Got the Right Guy?
The idea that I might have something to say was not new. Over several years I have had many people, at many times, speak prophetically into my life, telling me that I have important words to share: prophetic words and knowledge and insight. People have had visions of me teaching, visions of me carrying a scroll, visions of me carrying a book. They have had impressions of me telling people just what they need to hear, just when they need to hear it. They have indicated that I should write, I should teach, the words the Lord has put in me are important and life-giving and carry spiritual authority.
The Lord’s persistence in telling me that I have something important to say was matched by my steadfast refusal to obey. I would discount those voices, assuming they were making much ado about nothing. Even when I did believe the truth of what they said, I found excuses to stay quiet.
Prominent in my excuses to stay quiet was the fear of no one listening. What if I “speak” and no one listens? I stayed quiet to protect a too fragile ego; if I spoke and no one listened, that would reflect poorly on my ability to communicate. That line of “reasoning” keeps many of us on the sidelines and not fulfilling our kingdom purposes. The reality is that we are called to obedience; we must be content to leave the effects of our obedience to God. When we are called, we should do our best, but the results are not up to us. Knowing something and acting on it are two very different things. At the time my Pops was calling me to speak, my vanity and fragile ego were still ruling the day.
But the Father is patient – he has all the time there is. Now that I had come earnestly seeking him, had come to his Workshop, he once again, and very directly, reminded me of my call to speak. My Pops was reminding me of what I should have already known: part of my ministry calling is to be writing and speaking his truth, his shalom to many people.
Taken all together I was being called into a three-fold ministry: helping people uncover the beauty that God created in them; helping people, whose vision may be obscured, to see Jesus and his presence in their lives; and speaking God’s peace – his shalom – to everyone I can. I am thankful that these are overlapping! In becoming a spiritual director and offering direction one-on-one, I can accomplish the first two purposes. In preaching and accepting offers to speak and in writing (this book even!) I can accomplish the second and third calls my Pops was placing on me. But all of that was still to come. I had barely begun my workshop journey. There was still much my Pops wanted to show me, and though I didn’t know it then, he wanted to heal many wounds I did not know I had. I was being called, but I was not yet ready, not yet equipped to answer the call.