On Monday evening, I went to see 1917 a new film about the horrors of the First World War. The images on the screen brought home, again, the illogical nature of warfare as a means of settling disputes, yet it keeps on happening. Conflict is as old as humanity. Families fight, political parties fight, nations go to war!
Ever had a “difference of opinion” with someone that escalated beyond annoyance into a prolonged fight? It shades life a kind of gray, steals joy, and makes one weary, doesn’t it? Yesterday I found myself with a broken heart as I remembered a friend who, for his own reasons, severed our long-time relationship, deciding apparently that what divided us was greater than what we shared for 10 years. I longed to sit and ask him if the issue actually demanded ending a friendship that brought so much joy to both of us in the past?
My reading in Matthew today included this challenging sentence – “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9, NLT)
It is true that we will find things over which we differ – some of real consequence. If we are passionate about the issue, finding a way forward can seem an impossibility. Differences often escalate into an argument. Arguments turn into attacks, attacks end relationships. Couples who were once deeply in love find themselves in a lawyer’s office planning a divorce. Christians who were allies for the Kingdom of Christ no longer even speak. Neighbors move away, never speaking again. Nations raise armies for war.
When the war is over, when reason has returned, often we wonder, “how did it come to this?”
Let’s back up for a moment. Too many times the things over which we fight are not really about principles or even convictions. We get angry because someone steps on our toes. For the Christian, the real failure is not having different ideas, but refusing to work at understanding and reconciliation. Followers of Christ are called to resolve conflict, to seek peace. We approach those inevitable disagreements differently. Most of the time, there is some exercise of power that is used to make the other guy see things ‘my way.’ But, the Kingdom of God never advances on the strength of guns or fists or even bellicose words!
Scripture directs us to approach others, even those with whom we differ, this way: “Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace. We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future.” (Ephesians 4:1-4, NLT) What a practical passage, but full of challenging concepts: humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance!
Never under-estimate the power of prayer when working through a conflict, be it in your marriage, at work, with a neighbor, in your family, or in the world! What kind of prayers do we pray? The natural tendency is to ask the Lord to change the other person. Have you ever prayed something like this? “Lord, change him. Help him to see how wrong he is.” Or, maybe you have even thought to pray, “Lord, help him to see he is an idiot!” Perhaps not with those words, but was the sentiment similar?
Our prayers need to mature beyond “help them to see how right I am” to “Lord, open my ears and my heart. Help me to listen. Be our peace.” Jesus taught us that resolution begins with kind of prayer: “Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” (Luke 6:28, KJV) The Message says, “When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person.”
Conflict makes us angry and anger is not generally the field in which reconciliation grows, is it? “Angry?” the Bible asks, “Then, don’t sin!” Instead bring your true emotions to the Lord. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you through the process of understanding and patience. Confession of our own sins and failures is the foundation of forgiveness that leads to peace. Peace-making does not mean that we give up on the truth or wave the flag of surrender to purchase peace at any price.
God asks us to keep pursuing active love, to do good to those who oppose us, while we patiently allow the truth to mature. An amazing thing happens when we wait on the Lord in this way. We change! Humility is a key. Dying to self means we give up our desire to be comfortable – either by walking off or exercising power to win! In constant prayer, we lay ourselves down before Him. When we surrender to Him, the Spirit comes with new life, new love, new peace.
Never forget that just as we can ‘wage war,’ we can ‘make peace!’
Here’s a word from the Word. “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” (Matthew 5:9, The Message)
The Paradoxical Commandments
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.
© Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001