• Rich Scheenstra

Giving Up Our Shalom

Yesterday a member of BRC emailed me a question about something I said on Sunday. I remarked that in order to be peacemakers, i.e. contribute to the shalom of others, we may have to sacrifice our own peace or shalom. Keep in mind that shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, includes prosperity, good health, abundance, flourishing, growth and well-being. So what would be some examples of someone giving up some of their own shalom for the shalom of others?

The clearest example is Jesus leaving the shalom of heaven to enter into the relative poverty of an earthly life, even landing in a manger at his birth. In Philippians 2 Paul encourages us to assume the posture of Christ Jesus, “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be held on to, but emptied himself, taking on the very nature of a servant.” Of course, Jesus' ultimate letting go of his shalom occurred on the cross – that excruciating physical, emotional and spiritual suffering he underwent for the shalom of the world.

It’s not difficult to find examples in ordinary life. A mother may have to let go of the shalom of deep, restorative sleep for the shalom of a colicky baby. A relatively healthy, stable family may choose to sacrifice some of their shalom to offer their home to a troubled foster child. The apostle Paul sacrificed the shalom of a respected profession within his religious tradition, with all its perks, to bring the shalom of the gospel to the world – resulting in repeated beatings and long stretches in prison.

Mary and Joseph had to sacrifice the shalom of being respected members of their community when Mary became pregnant before their wedding. After Jesus’ birth they had to abandon the shalom of living in their own country and become immigrants in a foreign land, having been warned that Herod was coming for their son.

I think it was this sacrificing our shalom for the shalom of others that Jesus was referring to when he talked about our taking up our cross to follow him. This is how Jesus defined love -- loving as he had loved us. We’ve all had experiences of sacrificing temporary shalom for the shalom of those we love, and even for our own shalom. For example, yesterday I left the shalom of my warm house in order to run in the bitter cold in order to have the greater and longer lasting shalom of better health and more energy for ministry. Our attempt to relax during a night off was disturbed by an hour long phone call from a granddaughter in distress. Now we know better how to pray for her shalom at this critical juncture in her life.

Giving up our own shalom for the shalom of others is something we all likely do in at least some area of our lives. Because we trust Jesus for our immediate and long-term future, we can hopefully let go of our shalom a little more willingly, and even “peacefully.” There are blessings and gifts for those who hold their outer shalom lightly for the cause of the kingdom. There is also an inner, “beyond understanding” shalom available to those who cast their cares on God: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

When I explained this to the person who emailed me the question, she responded, “Then I will gladly sacrifice my shalom for the good of others.” May we all.

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