How to Respond to Conflict
How to Respond to Conflict
A springbok is a gazelle-like antelope. Normally they are very alert to predators. However, I remember watching a BBC wildlife programme that filmed two springboks fighting each other in the Kalahari Desert. As they became absorbed in the fight, they did not notice the lion prowling around them, waiting for his opportunity to attack.
As I watched, it struck me as a warning especially for the church. When, in the church, we fight one another, we become very vulnerable to attack. ‘The devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’ (1 Peter 5:8).
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’.
Avoid unnecessarily quarrellingProverbs 13:10-19
The 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:
‘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).
‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick’ (v.12a). Or as The Message puts it, ‘unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick’.
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 conflicts of life there are moments of great joy, fulfilment and satisfaction.
Lord, in the midst of the challenges, help me to run the race with perseverance with my eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1–3).
Trust that God will bring good out of evilJohn 18:1-24
Sometimes, 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 wrongdoing by other people. Yet God used it for good (v.14).
Having prayed for unity, Jesus now enters the world of conflict. Alone and vulnerable, filled with love and kindness, Jesus is arrested and condemned to death. He lays down his life in order to give life.
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.1–3).
There is nothing more painful than when an attack comes from a friend or colleague. Jesus’ dignified response is exemplary. He stayed calm, refused violence and exercised extraordinary self-restraint (vv.4–12).
In order to protect his disciples, Jesus confronts the group of powerful armed men, brought by Judas. He restrains Peter’s attempt to resort to violence to defend Jesus. He does not want to engage in conflict using the ways of the world.
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.
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 that, 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 you do not have to. Jesus allows himself to be bound (vv.12,24) so that you can be unbound and set free.
Father, give me courage and wisdom to know how to respond with dignity and grace when I come under attack. 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).
Strengthen one another1 Samuel 21:1-23:29
This 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 drove Saul to more and more cold-blooded evil acts. He thought 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.
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 more in times of conflict than the loyalty of our friends and family. They can help you in difficult times. And, when they are under attack, you can help them by your loyalty and support to find strength in God.
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 you closer to God.
One of the tragedies of this story is that instead of fighting the real enemy (v.27), God’s people, like those two springboks, 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 in unity 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 infighting in the church and to unite to face the real attacks from outside.
‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.’
Disappointment really can make you ill. If you let it fester, it will eat away at you. I am not sure what the answer is except to take it to God, try to let go and trust in the sovereignty of God – it’s not always easy.
Verse of the Day
‘Arrogant know-it-alls stir up discord,
but wise men and women listen to each other’s counsel’ (Proverbs 13:10, MSG).
Joyce Meyer, New Day, New You (Faithwords, 2007), p.365
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.