#5 - Coping with Conflict
It is no wonder that conflict issues are on the list because conflict is all we read about and see in the news and witness all around us. Whether it is conflict between nations, races or political factions, or the day to day conflicts we experience at home, work or school, all conflict has an effect on us.
We've seen examples, we know conflict when we see it, but can we define it?
The dictionary defines conflict as:
- A struggle between opposing principles or aims.
- A clash of feelings or interests.
Isn't it interesting that the #10 sin or struggle named in our survey was "struggle" itself? The definition in the dictionary sheds light on the cause of most conflicts whether they be countries, or partners in a marriage, or two people working in the same office.
In its simplest form we can say that conflict is caused by how we react or handle differences. If we lived alone on islands there might be struggle to survive in finding food and shelter, but there would be no conflict because everything would be done "our way." But we don't live on islands and our way of thinking or doing things bumps up against other people in our homes, family, community and the world at large who think and do things "their way."
Now when our way and their way are similar in approach and objective there is harmony, however when their way and our way are very different or have different goals the possibility for conflict arises. Of course, it's not just that their way and our way are different, there are other factors that contribute to conflict:
The problem between our way and their way is often one of perception. We do not always perceive things in the way they really are. This happens because we do not take the time to listen properly or we do not make an effort to understand. Sometimes we have been given wrong information so our opinion has been prejudiced. In cases like these we react negatively to "their way" because we perceive their way to be:
- Not good, weak, not true, etc.
- Against our way somehow
- Not able to achieve the goal
In the end, if our perception of their way is negative (for whatever reason) we will enter into a conflict to replace their way with our way.
We think "our way" in whatever context is always the "best way." So long as everyone else goes along with our way there is no conflict. There are many reasons for this type of attitude, but the most common one is having a false estimate of our true worth. Some people suffer from low self-esteem and falsely think they are not worthy; others suffer from an overly high esteem of themselves and believe that they are more than worthy. It is this type of attitude that often leads to conflict with others.
Pride over culture leads to war and mass murder. Pride for "our way" destroys couples in marriage, partners in business, friends at school and brethren in the church.
When we assume that our way is best we will always be in conflict, it will be the defining experience of our lives.
When I say politics I am not referring to government or political parties. Politics is the word used to refer to the games people play in order to get "their way." Governments play politics so they can hold on to power in order to exercise their way in running the country. I'm referring to strategies and methods that groups and individuals use in order to impose their will.
Some are brutal, like in many countries where the government uses force to impose their will on the people. Some are subtle, like a young child manipulating one parent against another in order to get a new toy.
Politics (the way we get our way) has an effect on the intensity of conflict we will experience. For example, government brutality often gives rise to resistance movements and civil wars as one group pushes back against another thus creating social conflict. A domineering boss who insists on her way without considering feedback from co-workers may unintentionally foster employees who become passive aggressive in their behavior in order to block her plans out of spite. The husband who thinks his opinion on everything is correct may create a wife who challenges him on every matter just to prove him wrong. The resulting situation in all of these scenarios is conflict.
And so the list goes on in the various ways conflict can arise based on how we impose "our way" over "their way." Our politics are formed by our ethics (our sense of what is right and wrong) and so how we impose our way will be guided by what we believe is right and wrong.
This is true for governments as well as married couples, people at work, family and friends. How and when we choose to get "our way" will play a large factor in how much conflict we experience.
The Bible and Conflict
Of course the subject of conflict is a very wide and complicated one, but not impossible. We can make some general observations as to the causes of conflict.
- Perception - my way is better
- Pride - my way is best
- Politics - my way by any means.
In the same way, I think we can make some suggestions from the Bible as to how we can avoid or at least lower the frequency and intensity of the conflict in our lives.
1. Examine "our way"
Let's face it, the reason for most of the conflicts in our lives is that we are not able to get "our way" somehow.
1What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
- James 4:1-3
When we don't get "our way" in our personal relationships, jobs, family, etc. we begin to examine the person or the situation blocking our way. Conflicts are rarely resolved without a change of some kind, but they persist because we always expect the change to come from someone else! We want them to change "their way" in order to accommodate "our way" because our way is right, better, more comfortable, or just - our way.
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgement, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
- Romans 12:3
God tells us through Paul to be honest in how we are to evaluate ourselves (includes "our way"). Don't measure yourself by yourself, but rather by the faith God has given you. The "faith" is the body of teaching provided by God in His word. In other words, Christians don't have "their way" they have "God's way" of dealing with things dictated by His word.
Paul says to measure your way against His way in order to be sure that they are compatible. A person's estimate of himself is too high if he insists that his own way is better than God's way. This type of attitude smacks of pride and leads to conflict. Usually conflict is avoided or greatly reduced when we seek to follow God's way in our dealings with others. Examples of God's way replacing our way when in conflict situations include, but are certainly not limited to:
A gentle answer deflects anger but harsh words make tempers flare.
- Proverbs 15:1
Instead of, fight fire with fire.
Love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honoring one another.
- Romans 12:10
Instead of, my way or the highway.
We always need to be aware of what we are contributing to the conflict that we are experiencing:
- Is it our pride, misunderstanding, prejudice or approach that may be pouring gasoline on the fire?
- Am I dealing with their way using God's way or my way?
- How much of this conflict am I responsible for?
An honest (meaning a judgment based on God's word) estimate of ourselves is always the beginning of the end of conflict.
2. Expect conflict
There will always be conflict. As Christians we need to minimize what we do to create, intensify or prolong conflict, but we also need to be realistic and accept that we cannot eliminate all conflict. We've not been called by God to stop all conflict in the world; this isn't the purpose of Christianity. Jesus said that there would always be conflict of some kind in the world.
4And Jesus answered and said to them, "See to it that no one misleads you. 5For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many. 6You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
- Matthew 24:4-8
He even warned His disciples that because of their faith in Him they would be drawn into conflict.
34Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and a man's enemies will be the members of his household.
- Matthew 10:34-36
The only conflict we engage in is the one that involves disbelief and belief in Jesus Christ. This conflict/struggle will always be present within ourselves as we strive to live by the Spirit and not by the flesh. In addition to this we will be constantly challenged to stand up for the faith in the presence of a disbelieving world.
There is always conflict of some kind, but Christians focus on the conflict involved in establishing the spiritual kingdom and try to minimize others. Obviously, conflict in the world is largely due to sin of some kind, and in the world there is great effort to resolve or win conflicts using a variety of man-made approaches such as force, social activism, diplomacy, mediation, etc.
As Christians we don't deny that these conflicts do and will continue to exist, and that these methods or resolutions work to a certain extent. However, we also believe that the ultimate solution to conflict whether it be between two countries or a mother and her daughter, is peace through faith and submission to Jesus Christ by both parties. This may seem foolish to the world, but it always succeeds when attempted.
We accept that there will always be conflict but we choose the conflict that we will engage in as Christians, and how we will fight.
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,15and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
- Ephesians 6:10-17
3. Engage God in prayer
I know that going to God in prayer is a pretty standard answer for all of life's issues, but it is especially important in times of conflict. If there is ever a time for fervent prayer it is when we are in conflict. Usually the conflict is painful, or threatening, creating all kinds of upheaval and change in our lives. Many cannot sleep, think straight, lose their sense of humor, joy and ability to focus.
Many times conflict is simply a diversion by Satan to prepare us for a fall of some kind. For example:
- Cain was in conflict with Abel over the appropriateness of his sacrifice and his anger and resentment led him to kill his brother.
- Paul and Barnabas were in conflict over Mark's conduct during their first missionary journey and their conflict could have threatened the future of Paul's important mission work.
When we are in conflict we are vulnerable, so we must take extra care and time to lay our case, our thoughts, our frustrations and our pain before God in prayer. The goal is to see "His way" forward, His solution and His insight to guide us.
Many times when we are in conflict we will pray about the situation, but neglect to do the second and more difficult part of prayer which is waiting for an answer and waiting for God to act.
Be still and know that I am God.
- Psalms 46:10
The Word tells us that God will direct us, teach us and show us the right way.
Show me the right path O Lord, point out the road for me to follow.
- Psalms 25:4
When we are in conflict, too often we try to resolve it ourselves without waiting for God to guide our actions or act on our behalf. Whether it is a conflict with a friend, a conflict inwardly, a conflict in living the right way as a Christian, or conflicts with our spouse - engage the Lord in prayer and wait for His leading out of conflict.
God knows the root and solution to all conflicts in our lives. Prayer helps us to not only see what God sees, it also helps us to do what is necessary in order to reduce the conflict and have peace. This peace is not the peace that the world offers with truces and treaties - but the peace that can only come through Jesus Christ and surpasses human understanding.
We are in conflict with God and each other because of sin, and Jesus makes peace with God on our behalf through His death on the cross. Each of us can now have peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins when we believe in Christ, repent of our sins and are baptized in His name. Once we have this blessed peace with God we have the Spirit's power within us to be at peace with all men.