Conflicts take many forms, from children shouting and punching on the playground to the most sophisticated international intrigue in times of war. Your “hot spot” for not getting along with others could be at home in your family or on the job with a co-worker whose personality isn’t the best fit.
Whatever the case, you encounter various kinds of conflict in many areas of life, even as one who belongs to Christ. Some Christians mistakenly believe that since Jesus lives in and through them, guiding them with the Holy Spirit, that they will be able to avoid confrontations with others. Because God loves us so much and works continually to conform us to His image, Jesus does not prevent every argument from happening. Those He allows, He provides a way through them with grace.
He never intended for you to spend your energy seeking for ways to avoid all tension. That is impossible in this life. Jesus wants us to know what to be prepared for: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV).
Imagine this scene in a typical home. The sister works hard all day doing what her mother asked—scrubbing the tile floors, cleaning the windows, folding the laundry. Her brother, however, spends his Saturday out with friends instead of doing his chores. To make matters worse, when her brother does come home, he succeeds in tromping mud down the entrance hall and doesn’t even help to wipe it up.
Then suddenly, she blows her top. She tells him how thoughtless he is, among other things, and does not stop until she’s vented her frustration. A few minutes later, as she sees his dejected, surprised face, she feels horrible. Now it will take much talking and forgiving to work through their disagreement.
That is the way it is with conflict. When a difference is not resolved within a reasonable amount of time, and within the boundaries of scriptural principles, more pain is the result.
In his book “Christian Counseling,” Gary Collins talks about why anger is a natural part of conflict.
When a person is rejected, “put down,” humiliated, unjustly criticized, or otherwise threatened, anger is often aroused. Threats challenge our self-esteem and make us feel so vulnerable that anger and aggression become ways to fight back. Sometimes when we are threatened and made aware of our own imperfections we respond in anger toward those who fail to meet our expectations of them. This directs attention away from ourselves, hides the fact that we are hurt or threatened, and lets us feel better at someone else’s expense.
According to one psychologist, hurt and anger almost always go together. “Seconds after the event which arouses the hurt feeling, another feeling skyrockets into awareness—anger.” The anger comes so quickly and is so apparent that it is easy to miss the hurt which comes first.
So how do you defuse the emotional bomb once you sense the countdown has begun? The power of Jesus Christ is the answer (Philippians 4:13). He is the only one who can control your emotions and channel them in the right directions. It is also crucial to remember that anger is not intrinsically wrong (Matthew 21:12-17). Anger in response to sin and its ill effects is a form of righteous anger, but when it crosses the line into nursing a grudge, or retaliation, or mean-spirited vengeance, it is not honoring to God.
A key principle for handling anger is found in Ephesians 4:26-27: “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” Have you ever gone to bed at night with an argument unsettled? How did you feel the next morning? More than likely, the sensation of weight on your heart had grown, and you might have felt physically ill.
Your own health and well-being are not the only reasons for quick resolution; the deeper principle at work is one of avoiding bitterness. When a hurt is not addressed, it works its way down into your inmost parts. Bitterness is a lack of forgiveness multiplied many times over, taking root and spreading into every segment of life.
A typical argument may operate in this fashion. You hear the accusations start to fly. Everything within you wants to just “tell it like it is” and make the person be silent, even at the expense of future communication. But this time, you are prepared. You understand how the Bible puts disagreements into eternal perspective, and you let Jesus take control of the situation.
1) Don’t be concerned about making yourself heard. Be a good listener first. You cannot hope to defuse the intensity of both sets of emotions until you can calmly listen to the other person’s point of view (James 1:19-20).
This is the biblical principle of “counting to ten” before you speak. Of course, the Lord wants you to do far more than engage in an empty, mental exercise. He wants you to pray, think about what Scripture applies to the situation, and ask Him to demonstrate His love to the other person in spite of your confused and uptight feelings.
2) Be truthful, as much as is loving under the circumstances, and don’t seek to avoid the heart of the matter. It is always better to deal with the issue directly, rather than sidestepping or burying it. Colossians 3:9 explains the reason why you should speak honestly: “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices.”
3) Speak in love with words that build up the other person. The classic problem most people experience is that the very moment when gracious words are most required is also the moment that kindness is the most difficult. Again, the grace of the Lord must operate through you, and you can prepare to let Him work in advance of an argument (Ephesians 4:29).
Norman Wright gives a picture of how Jesus demonstrated these qualities with difficult people in trying situations:
A basic characteristic of Jesus’ approach was His compassion for others . . . His concern was to alleviate suffering and meet the needs of people.
When Jesus first met others, He accepted them as they were. In other words, He believed in them and what they would become. The characteristic of acceptance is seen in John 4, John 8, and Luke 19. When Jesus met the woman at the well, He accepted her as she was without judging her. He accepted the woman caught in adultery and Zacchaeus, the dishonest tax collector, as well.
Individuals were Jesus’ top priority. He established this priority and gave them worth by putting their needs before the rules and regulations . . . He involved Himself in the lives of people who were considered the worst of sinners, and He met them where they had a need.
In any conflict, you should know that the outcome is not in your hands. You cannot force someone to listen or forgive or change. Only God can work in his or her heart, the same way that He works with you in patience and unconditional love (Philippians 2:13). You can only be responsible for yourself and your relationship with Christ.
In certain cases, you may be left with great hurts. You may be someone’s emotional victim. God understands this pain, but He counsels you to let Him handle the offender (Romans 12:19).
Penelope Stokes shares a principle for facing such hurt in her book “Grace Under Pressure“: “When we face a crisis of misunderstanding—no minor disagreement, but a major, life-shattering accusation—we are placed in a position to receive an abundant measure of the grace of God.”
Whether you face conflict that redefines your spiritual existence or whether you deal with the routine disagreements of everyday living, the reality of Jesus’ healing love is the same—and it belongs to you.