In 1938, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain was trying desperately to end the looming conflict between his country and Hitler’s Germany. His policy, one of appeasement, was to give Hitler what he wanted in order to avoid war. In reality, Chamberlain’s appeasement policy made war more likely because Hitler thought he could get away with anything. Could he have prevented the war if he took a different course of action? History suggests war was inevitable. But it does prove what each of us instinctively know; that resolving conflict is not simple and running away or ignoring it is never the answer.
The word conflict often stirs up negative emotions in us. Our comfortable, compartmentalized little world where we just get along in total harmony with those around us is suddenly littered with a pothole or two. A great day at the office or home suddenly becomes a day full of fear, pain or anger as conflict interrupts our perfectly self-designed environment and plans.
Neville Chamberlain must likely realized that whatever position he took, the conflict was inevitable. So should we fear conflict? Should we avoid conflict at all costs? Common sense suggests that there are some conflicts we should avoid if at all possible. For example, if you are driving your car and suddenly someone cuts you off, it is best to avoid the conflict especially if it involves retaliation. Tempers and egos may flare, accelerating an emotional situation out of control and jeopardizing your safety and the safety of others. Also, it is probably a good idea to avoid conflict and argument when a gun is pointed in your direction. In most cases, discretion is surely the better part of valor in those instances.
But what about conflict between husbands and wives or in other relationships. Should we avoid conflict at all costs in those instances at the risk of a short-term peace that might fester and cause serious damage in the future? Or should we embrace conflict in hopes of resolving the issue?
Jesus was often in conflict with the Pharisees. He was also often in conflict with His disciples, who had a hard time understanding His teachings and why He came to earth. Jesus always had not only the perfect answer, but being God, He knew the perfect way to deliver His message of love and truth. Unfortunately we as humans are not the Son of God. So we must move forward as best we can in facing conflict and seeking a resolution that honors God and those we are in conflict with whether it be husband, wife, brother, daughter, neighbor, Northstar Group member, etc. .
During this week we will be talking about conflict. Let’s start with what I consider the basics. First, when a conflict arises, we first need to gauge its importance. Christians have arguments over when Jesus will come again. Yes, Jesus coming again is a very big deal. Matthew 25:13 tells us: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” That verse tells us this is not conflict worthy. There are little annoyances in every relationship that is not worth jeopardizing the relationship by starting a conflict. In those cases, we should let it go.
But if the issue rises above the insignificant, we must determine if our motive is improving the relationship or just getting our way. In other words, is the discussion one where both parties in the relationship are open to gaining knowledge, understanding and wisdom? Or are we simply out to prove how smart and right we are? These conflicts where we want our way or want to prove we were right don’t often end well.
To end well, humility needs to be present. We must state our case with grace, realizing that communication is more art than science. If you disagree with something you hear from your spouse, sibling, neighbor etc., approach the conflict with an open mind and heart. Tell them what you heard and give them the opportunity to explain what they meant to say—it may differ from what you think you heard. Go in with an attitude seeking clarification, not justification.
Lastly, is your motivation in the conflict one where both parties can benefit from the discussion and one where God is glorified? Are you open to an exchange of ideas and interpretations that will build each other up? Or is your goal to prove your “superiority” in spiritual or practical matters?
We shouldn’t always shy away from conflict. Rather let us pursue it with wisdom, humility and grace—along with a willingness to learn. Every conflict is an opportunity to strengthen or weaken our relationships.
1. Have you ever been in seemingly intractable conflict and didn’t know what to do or how to get out of it? If so, what happened? What went well, if anything? What would you have done differently, if anything?
2. When two parties are in conflict, which one should take the first step to initiate the peacemaking process? Why?
3. Pray and ask God for wisdom to handle conflict in a way that glorifies Him.