Two artists were asked to paint a scene which would depict their concept of peace. The first artist produced a painting of a beautiful mountain lake. Everything about the picture suggested peace and quiet. The sky was clear and not a ripple disturbed the calm waters. There were no boats on the lake, no cabins on the shore, and not even an animal or a bird to disturb this perfect tranquility. To the first artist, this was the truest picture of peace.
The second artist painted a picture of a thundering waterfall. At the base of the falls he painted a tree, with its long branches hanging out over the turbulent waters. In one of those branches, the artist painted a tiny sparrow sitting calmly on her little nest. In the midst of the mighty roar, surrounded by what looked like great danger, the sparrow sat unperturbed and peaceful. Her cozy little nest was snug and secure in the limbs of the mighty oak tree. Though everything else about this picture suggested noise and commotion and peril, this little bird was safe and sound on a solid branch that the waters could not reach. Both artists agreed that the second painting was the truest portrayal of peace.
If we are to have any peace at all in this world, it will have to be a peace that can be found in the midst of the troubles that we will always be facing and the dangers that will always be all around us. We can find perfect peace only in Jesus, because the promises of Jesus are not limited to this troubled world. Rather, we are promised a time and a place and a life beyond this world. We can be at peace, then, because even if we lose everything here, even life itself, we are still not without hope. Jesus promises us that just as he rose from the dead, we too shall live again.
On the night before Jesus died, facing a day that was to be anything but peaceful for any of them, Jesus said to his disciples, “In me you may have peace.” He went right on to readily acknowledge that, “In this world you will have trouble,” but then he quickly added, ‘Take heart, for I have overcome the world.” The second artist portrayed perfectly this kind of peace. Just as the little sparrow was safe in the limbs of a mighty oak, we are safe in the arms of Jesus, even though there is turbulence, noise, and danger all around us.
Tom Dooley was a medical missionary in Southeast Asia. He died of cancer in 1961 at the age of 34, but his short life was filled with incredible accomplishment and service. He not only worked as a doctor, he also started and staffed and raised money for several hospitals. His Christian faith motivated him to abandon a much easier career in the United States for this very difficult overseas ministry. His life was filled with difficulty, danger, toil, and then for several years, illness, as he battled cancer. Yet, he had that peace in the midst of trouble that was promised by Jesus in John 16. This peace is evident in a letter written on December 1, 1960 to the president of Notre Dame, the school where Dooley had received his education:
Dear Father Hesburgh,
They’ve got me down, flat on my back, with plaster, sandbags, and hot water bottles. I’ve contrived a way of pumping the bed up a bit so that with a long reach, I can get to my typewriter… Whenever my cancer acts up a bit, and it is certainly acting up now, I turn inward. Less do I think of my hospitals around the world, or of 94 doctors, fundraisers, and the like. More do I think of one divine Doctor and my personal fund of grace.
It has become pretty definite that the cancer has spread to the lumbar vertebrae, accounting for the back problems over the last two months. I have monstrous phantoms. All men do. Inside and outside the wind blows. But when times like this come, the storm around me does not matter. The winds within me do not matter. Nothing human or earthly can touch me. A peace gathers in my heart. What seems unpossessable, I can possess. What seems unfathomable, I can fathom. What is unutterable, I can utter. Because I can pray. I can communicate. How do people on earth endure anything if they do not have God?”
Tom Dooley was in a bad storm. He was in his early thirties, thousands of people were depending on him, he was suffering illness and in great pain, and, he knew he would not get out of the storm alive. He could have objected. He could have been angry with God. But instead, it was to God that he turned for hope, and in that hope he found peace.
John 16:33 — Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Philippians 4:7 — And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
John 14:27 — (Jesus said), “I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn’t like the peace that this world can give. So don’t be worried or afraid. ”
O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed; and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer