How to respond to conflict

Posted: June 3, 2014 in Thoughts on God
Tags: , ,

fruitA springbok – from which South Africa’s rugby team gets its nickname – is a gazelle-like antelope. Normally they are very alert to predators. However, the BBC’s Wildlife on One programme showed a different side. They filmed two springboks fighting in the Kalahari Desert. As they became absorbed in the fight, they were less alert and more vulnerable to a lion prowling around them, waiting for his opportunity to attack.

When God calls you to follow him, he does not call you to a life of ease. Life on earth involves many battles, in all of which God promises you victory through Jesus Christ. There is never going to be a moment in your earthly life when everything is perfect. There are always going to be challenges, difficulties and problems to solve. However, there are times when these intensify and we seem to be coming under attack.

Martin Luther King said that the ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in ‘moments of convenience’, but where they stand in ‘moments of challenge, moments of great crisis and controversy’. How should you respond to conflict?

1. Persevere through disappointment

Proverbs 13:10-19The writer of Proverbs contrasts the wise (‘wisdom is found in those who take advice’ (v.10b)) and fools (‘fools detest turning from evil’ (v.19b)). It is not surprising that we experience conflict. In particular, in this passage we see two examples:

  • Quarrels
    ‘Pride only breeds quarrels’ (v.10a). One of the most draining experiences of life is quarrelling – whether in a marriage, among friends, with colleagues or in the church. Here we see that one of the causes of quarrels can be pride. If you are willing to admit your mistakes and wrongs with humility, you can avoid a lot of quarrels.

Another key is listening carefully to one another: ‘Arrogant know-it-alls stir up discord, but wise men and women listen to each other’s counsel’ (v.10, MSG).

  • Disappointments
    ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick’ (v.12a). Or as the message puts it, ‘unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick’ (v.12a, MSG).

This is another kind of attack that is sickening. When a vision we have had for something is held up or our plans are delayed because of some attack or let down, disappointment makes the heart sick. We do battle with our own plans and our circumstances.

On the other hand, there is nothing more satisfying than persevering and seeing some part of your vision fulfilled: ‘A longing fulfilled is a tree of life’ (v.12a). ‘A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul’ (v.19a).

In the midst of all the attacks of life there are moments of great joy, fulfilment and satisfaction. The writer of Hebrews says, ‘Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus … who for the joy set before him endured the cross … Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so you will not grow weary and lose heart’ (Hebrews 12:1–3).

Lord, thank you for the times when I see ‘a longing fulfilled’. Thank you that these moments are sweet to the soul and a tree of life. Give me wisdom to avoid pride that leads to quarrels and to turn from evil. Help me to run the race with perseverance with my eyes fixed on Jesus.

2. Trust that God can bring good out of evil

John 18:1-24Sometimes, when conflict comes in our lives, we only have ourselves to blame. However, this is not necessarily always the case. The attacks on Jesus did not come about as a result of his own sin or failure. Rather, they were the result of evil. Yet God used it for good (v.14).

  • Betrayal
    This was a terrible moment in the life of Jesus. His friend and disciple Judas, with whom he had spent three years, led a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees to arrest Jesus (vv.1–12).

There is nothing more painful than when an attack comes from a friend or colleague.

  • Ill-treatment
    The very authorities that should have been protecting the innocent joined in the attack on Jesus. They arrested Jesus. ‘They bound him’ (v.12). They took him first to Annas and then to Caiaphas. Standing before the high priest, still bound, Jesus is struck in the face (vv.12–14,19–24).

If Jesus was treated in this way we should not be surprised if, from time to time, we come under attack from those in authority – whether religious or secular.

  • Denial
    Peter’s denial did not come from an evil heart but simply from human weakness. When asked whether he was one of Jesus’ disciples he replied, ‘I am not’ (v.17).

I totally understand how Peter could have got himself into a position of denying Jesus in spite of all his best intentions. I have sometimes said or done things which in hindsight were sheer cowardice.

The reality is that Jesus is in full control of the situation. He knew ‘all that was going to happen to him’ (v.4). He acted to fulfil his own prayer in the previous chapter (v.9, see 17:12). Jesus went to his death ‘to drink the cup the Father has given’ him, paying the penalty for our sin and wrongdoing (18:11).

He paid the penalty for us. ‘It would be good if one person died for the people’ (v.14). Jesus’ death is on behalf of Peter and each one of us. He faces the attack of death and judgment so that we do not have to. Jesus allows himself to be bound (vv.12,24) so that we can be unbound and set free.

Father, thank you for the extraordinary dignity of Jesus in the face of betrayal and sadistic attack. Give me courage and wisdom to know how to respond with dignity and grace when I come under attack. Thank you that you brought good out of evil. Thank you that Jesus died in my place so that I could be set free. Help me to trust that in everything you work together for the good of those who love you and are called according to your purpose (Romans 8:28).

3. Strengthen one another

1 Samuel 21:1-23:29This was a period of intense conflict for David.

Jealousy, as we see here with Saul, never seems to ease off once it gets a grip of a person. It gets worse and worse and drives Saul to more and more cold-blooded evil acts. He thinks nothing of destroying a town full of priests (22:19).

David had to resort to every ruse in order to avoid the attacks. He ate the holy Bread of the Presence (21:1–9, MSG); he pretended to go crazy (v.13) and gathered a motley crew of ‘losers and vagrants and misfits of all sorts’ (22:1, MSG). Yet we see in this passage the qualities of David that emerged even when he was under attack.

  • Loyalty
    David had a reputation for loyalty (v.14) and was highly respected. David and Jonathan were utterly loyal to each other. ‘Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him to find strength in God’ (23:16).

Considering that he could have seen himself as heir to the throne, Jonathan’s attitude to David was extraordinary: ‘You shall be king over Israel, and I will be second to you’ (v.17). They were utterly committed to each other: ‘The two of them made a covenant before the Lord’ (v.18).

There is nothing that helps us more in times when we are under attack than the loyalty of our friends and family. When they are under attack you can help them by your loyalty and support to find strength in God.

  • Prayer
    What is your first port of call when conflict comes in your life? As Joyce Meyer puts it, when trouble comes do you ‘run to the phone’ or do you ‘run to the throne’? David had learnt at this stage of his life the vital importance of enquiring of the Lord before making decisions. When he was under attack again and again ‘David went in prayer to God’ (vv.2,4, MSG). In this way, attacks can actually draw us closer to God.

One of the tragedies of this story is that instead of fighting the real enemy (v.27), God’s people were fighting one another. This gave the Philistines the opportunity to attack. Still today the church is in danger of doing this.

God can take something Satan means for evil and division and turn it into something good. God used the attack by the Philistines to rescue David. ‘Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines’ (v.28). It would be wonderful if the church would break off its infighting and go to face the real enemies that threaten to destroy our world such as injustice, human trafficking, disease and poverty.

Father, help us to be loyal to one another, to stop the in-fighting in the church and to unite to face the real attacks from outside.

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