Conflict. Disagreements. Differences of Opinion. Assumptions about people’s motives. Grudges. Turf wars.
Well, I’ve written one line and am thoroughly depressed, uncomfortable, anxious, afraid, and flummoxed. Only sort of, but you get the point. Truth is, that’s where most of us end up when the opinions are different, emotions are strong, and the stakes are high. It’s especially uncomfortable if you are a peaceable people pleaser, and I am guilty as charged.
Handling conflict in a way that is healthy and honors God starts with understanding that conflict is inevitable if you are in close proximity and moving. Kinda like the time Jordan had an encounter with a wakeboard wipeout that resulted in 19 staples and the loss of some football playing time. Had he been on the shore, nothing happens – but that’s kinda the point. Who wants to live a life where nothing happens? Fortunately, the Bible gives us a lot of instruction on what helps – and what clearly doesn’t – when conflict comes around. There is way more to say about that than one blog, sermon, or book for that matter can hold. But here is a picture of a seven-mile journey to handle these things well.
First, look up. God is our very present help in all things troubling. (Psalm 46:1) Start by asking God to guide you along the way. If it could easily be done alone, we would not live in the world we are in.
Then, look in. Hard thing to do when our instinct is to assign blame and banishment. But I do believe that within even the most unwarranted criticism, there is at least a kernel of truth. Let’s start with our own shortcomings before we try to take on that of others. (Matthew 7:3-5) It’s more than pithy to say that if we don’t look up and look in, look out!
Third, make up your mind that you want the conflict resolved, not just that you want to prevail. As a big-time executive told me once, “You gotta wanna.” And you do. (Romans 12:18) Notice that at a mile marker three, there hasn’t even been a conversation.
Jesus tells us that relationships matter so much, we should go first. (Matthew 18:15) Doing so takes humility and a desire to see things resolved. Sadly, we live in a society that hardly values either.
Don’t just go first, go fast. (Matthew 5:23-24) This flies against our prevailing instinct to insist the other person to come to us. But with that tack, we run the risk of letting things fester; going from bad to worst to irreparable. As old Mark Twain famously said, snow and adolescence are the only things that will take care of themselves if left alone long enough. Personal differences never do.
Two more stops; hardest one first. Check your anger! There are lots of biblical reminders that anger doesn’t accomplish God’s purposes and often thwarts it. (James 1:19-20) Be quick to listen, slow to speak and even slower to anger. (James again) Paul instructs the folks in the early church to get rid of rage and bitterness and forgive others just as Christ has done for us. (Ephesians 4:31-32) And it doesn’t take the weight of biblical wisdom to know that harsh words make things worse and gentle answers stand a lot better chance of being heard. (Proverbs 15:1)
Lastly, lead with love. To be Christlike means that love is to be our prevailing motive, means, and method. Was for Christ. Should be for Christians. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
There you have it. The path the Bible lays out is our best chance at reconciliation and a venue to vividly demonstrate God’s honor and our own integrity. Is it foolproof and guaranteed? No. Doing it His way doesn’t mean it will always work out the way you want. But failing to do so pretty much ensures that it never will.