Respond to conflict in Christ-like manner

You can respond to adversity in a God-honouring way. “You cannot marry him, he is married with a great responsibility to look after his wife and children.

Moreover it is against biblical teachings for a Christian to get somebody’s husband” I advised Brenda (not real name). But Brenda raised her voice, retorted and banged on the table, “If I don’t are you going to marry me?”
Seated by a window in a charming and well-furnished home, I felt the heat rise to the top of my head. I glanced around, grateful there were no children around in the house when she burst into uncontrolled anger. I was completely surprised by Brenda’s spiteful words, so I quickly prayed for guidance.
Remain quiet, I felt some inner voice whispering – God encouraged me. So I didn’t say anything in response to Brenda’s ranting. Brenda’s eyes flashed fire. “Your reaction isn’t normal. I’m attacking you and you’re not even fighting back.”
“How would it help if I did?” I asked, as I thought of Jesus’ example. Scripture tells us that Jesus “did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered” (1 Peter 2:23).
Brenda was right. Refusing to respond to hostility in kind is not a normal response. But it is Christ like. I swallowed hard and prayed for grace. How could I glorify God in this situation where the hostility was thick enough to slice?
Conflict is unavoidable. In our fallen world, we all face conflict. It simmers between spouses and erupts in family relationships. It festers in long-term friendships. It seethes in the workplace.
Conflict – I hate it! And too many times many of us have responded poorly when faced with it. We’d much rather avoid it. But in life there are times when we simply can’t. So what do we do when we have to face conflict? How do we handle it with courage and a God-honouring attitude? The apostle Paul challenges us this way:
“Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Romans 12:17-18).
There will be times when we need to confront conflict head-on. For example, if my child is being bullied or a friend is being abused, I need to act. A direct confrontation could involve talking to school authorities or calling the police. Jesus was no stranger to direct confrontation; we can see his willingness to address conflict head-on when he turned over the money changers’ tables in the temple (Matthew 21:12-13). Jesus also directly confronted the hypocrisy of religious leaders who spoke against Jesus for healing on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6; Luke 13:10-17). But in contrast to these direct confrontations, when Jesus was personally attacked he remained silent.
However, an effort is needed to be Christ like even in conflict. So what should we do when we find ourselves in the middle of a painful or heated conflict? Here are some principles I’m learning along the way as a pastor, father and husband.
Foremost, don’t allow bitterness to take root in my heart. “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you” (Hebrews 12:15). If I don’t actively eradicate it, bitterness will damage both me and those around me. Letting go of resentment is an ongoing prayer of mine. I’ve found I need to eradicate bitterness repeatedly.
Occasionally something will trigger my discouragement, hurt, and anger. Each time I have to deal with my feelings all over again, confessing my anger and asking God for new grace – but especially asking God to keep my heart from hardening toward those who’ve hurt me.
Secondly, I examine my own heart before addressing another’s faults. Jesus challenges us: “Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). Before focusing on another’s faults, I need to perform a “surgery” on myself. I know that while God is working in their lives, he’s just as concerned about my responsibility and responses to situations. I need to own those before God so that he can continue to shape me to be more like Jesus – that means praying even the most difficult prayers about my resentment toward my adversaries.
Thirdly, I recognise what is mine to change. I am not responsible for others’ reactions to me. But I do own my attitude and behaviour. So I’ve begun to ask myself, where do I need to take responsibility for my contribution to this conflict? Have I done all I can to achieve reconciliation?
This is about being brutally honest with myself. Let’s face it, we look at ourselves subjectively – so it’s easy for us to believe, I’m completely innocent in this situation. I am simply reacting to them. They are the ones who have the problem! But when we become vulnerable before God and ask him to hold up the mirror to us, we see that rarely do we handle situations perfectly. We can always learn something about our behaviour to help us grow.
Fourth, I pray that my response to conflict reflects God’s grace. When we honestly ask for God’s guidance, he will always give it. Our job and our success come after he gives it. Do we listen to God’s guidance or do we ignore it? When the Holy Spirit prompts us, we can be obedient, trusting that God has everyone’s best interest in mind.
Fifth, I find common ground. Can I discover anything in common with the person with whom I’m in conflict? What values do we share (family, friendships, pets, hobbies)?
Sixth, I Love and pray for my “enemies.” Even if my adversary never changes his/her attitude toward me, I’m only responsible for how I respond to him/her and God calls me to continue praying for him/her, praying about the situation, and praying that I would constantly yearn to grow to be like Jesus in the midst of the most difficult adversity.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). Understanding God’s love better helps me learn to really love others. When I look at another individual as someone who’s figuratively at the foot of the cross right beside me, needing God’s grace just as much as I do, then I am better able to pray for that person. Sometimes we don’t want to think that God loves that person as much as he loves us, but he does! God delights in all of his creation. It helps me pray for my enemy when I recognise that Jesus died for them too.
Because I am called to obey, I pray that God will soften my sometimes crusted-over heart. I also pray for God’s blessing and guidance in the lives of those with whom I have unresolved conflict. Does it still crush me when others don’t respond to my efforts? Yes, sometimes deeply.
So when we face adversity, many of us wrestle with anger until we confess and allow God to provide grace to reflect his love, regardless of our circumstances. He is faithful to grant the grace I need for each situation. I need only to humble myself and pray, Yes, Lord, here we are again. Change my heart. And with God’s help I can choose to behave with grace in any situation. Blessings!
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