How blissful life would be without conflict. But then again, how ignorant, how infantile, how haughty and how spineless would we remain? Conflicts are the calisthenics of faith. And life on planet earth seems to be one long string of conflicts knotted together, some unravelling in this lifetime, some not. In fact, this is nothing new; man is born to trouble, Eliphaz observed, as the sparks fly upward (Job 5:7). Through conflict many “sparks” will fly upward from our lives as we cross swords with other people.
All conflicts are generally fought on three fronts: conflict with others, conflict within ourselves as we battle fear, anxiety or change, and ultimately conflict with God and doing His will. This article will focus on conflict with others and that conflict can be redeemed for good and can be a source of blessing in our walk with Christ. To have an upper hand in all our conflicts we need perspective. We need a higher vantage point.
I’m Guilty Too
Almost a year ago I read an essay by C.S. Lewis that really humbled me. The name of the essay was “The Problem with X.” As usual, Lewis was saying something I had known for years but clarified it for me in a way that punctured my pride-stuffed heart. He argued that the same annoying problem we discover in another – i.e. their laziness, moodiness, gruffness, disorganization, insensitivity, lateness, etc. – is the same annoying trait they find in us. The thought that people might find me annoying too came as a shock to me.
I know I have my flaws but it never occurred to me that I might actually disappoint people who work with me or rely on me. It may not be that I possess all the character flaws or vices that we see in society, but I certainly possess one or two that cause others to have that same “sinking feeling” I have of them. This should produce humility in our hearts which should also produce empathy and forbearance. As we “put up” with others we need to realize that they are also “putting up” with us.
Exposing What Lies Beneath
In a church we see all types of clashes: personality, methodology, theological, ideological, musical preference, wardrobe – whatever it may be. It is good to have such differences and to clash. Conflict exposes what lies beneath. God chooses to use our conflicts to reveal to us our horns, claws and fangs, i.e. our pride, anger and fear. Once they are exposed, they can be dealt with – but not before.
Exposure is not the solution, however; mortification is. “Put to death the misdeeds of the body,” says the Apostle Paul (Col.3:5). The problem is not that our characteristic sin rears its ugly head, but that we continue to let it live. Therefore, let us graciously put up with the sin of others, but let us obstinately, violently and immediately put to death the sin we find in ourselves.
Marriage is great for unearthing one’s shortcomings. I never knew I was such a sinner until I became married and revealed what a lazy, arrogant, insensitive and selfish person I can be. Becoming a father only continued the unveiling. To share my time and energy every day on others rather than on myself has shown me that I am not as generous and patient as I imagined myself to be. Church life is like that.
My wife pointed out that just as the first few years of marriage are an adjustment, so are the first few years of working together with others in church ministry or leadership. You soon realize that not everybody agrees that your way is the “right” way. Surprise, surprise, the way you’ve always done it may not be the best way to do it, and even if it is, compromise, consensus, communication and collaboration are an important part of the process as well, for God likes to see His children work together. God wants to expose us to ourselves, to our own inherent weaknesses, in order to humble and to cleanse. Conflict is mandatory in the school of sanctification.
We all have blind spots. I can see one perspective and you can see another. If we drive along together maybe we’ll cause less crashes.
We might even prevent other accidents. But we must value one another’s perspectives. One brings a perspective of expertise and professionalism; another, of expedience and practicality. One brings a perspective of not “rocking the boat;” another, of not “walking on eggshells”; yet another of not being satisfied with the status quo. One is a visionary; one is a realist. One is concerned about core members; another is concerned about the “least of these,” the marginal, the overlooked, the weak. Together we have more eyes. Together we have more legs. Together we lift more burdens. It takes humility, requires listening and begs for wisdom that is from above, first pure, then peaceable, gentle and easy to be intreated…” (Jas.3:17, italics mine).
Conflict is good because it forces the toxins out. It causes scum to rise to the top so we can scoop it out of our lives and dispose of it. We confess we are sinners, we sing we are sinners, we read that we are sinners, week in, week out, as we gather together at church, yet when someone points out one of our “faults” we find it a bitter pill to swallow. Sin in our lives should not come as a shock to us. Nor should the exposure of it offend us. We should discover sinful attitudes, traits or characteristics about ourselves from time to time. Praise God, long after our eyes have become blind, he sends others who see it clearly to tell us about it! (Matt.7:5) Instead of being offended, we should be like David who valued rebuke and welcomed the reproof of the godly. For he said, “let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness; and let him reprove me, it shall be an excellent oil” (Psalm 141:5).
We desperately need the mind of Christ. Let this mind be in [us] which was also in Christ Jesus…He humbled Himself and… took on the form of a servant (Phil.2:5). If the King of kings became subject to His subjects the least we can do is become subject to one another (Eph.5:21). If one of the telltale signs of being filled with the Spirit is being subject one to another, that is to say, being yielding, approachable, reasonable and willing to listen, then let us plead with God to make us so. Pray He would remove the “proud look” which He so hates (Prov.6:16,17) and replace it with a broken and contrite heart which He will not despise (Ps.51:17). We are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, and this happens on a yearly, monthly and weekly basis – through conflict.