Conflict in inevitable. Put a bunch of sinners together in one place (like in a church building), add a few grumpy old people and not a few know-it-alls and sit back and watch the fireworks happen. I think every church is about one or two good fights away from being non-existent. It’s a miracle that more congregations don’t call it quits every year, especially after their annual congregational meetings! I myself have a long resume of handling ornery folks, family squabbles, and cantankerous curmudgeons that could make your head swim – or just get you down right angry.
When we peek into the bible, the Apostle James is blunt about where the heart of conflict comes: What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
All people have things they want and desire. When those desires go unmet it can begin to be a burr in our saddle that leads to a lack of satisfaction. The focus then becomes not my own heart but another person or people that are standing in the way of my desire. Within the church we have expectations, whether they are reasonable or not. If those expectations are not fulfilled, we ourselves feel unfulfilled. Someone has to pay. Thus, passive-aggressive behavior, sins of the tongue, and bitterness begin to consume us.
Let me entertain a question: Are your desires and expectations so important to you that they have become your idols? In other words, is your happiness dependent upon what another person does or does not do? If so, you have crossed over into that arena of idolatry and conflict is not far behind. In his fine book on conflict, The Peacemaker, Ken Sande describes the progression of an idol. Conflict, he says, begins with some kind of desire, and if it is unmet, moves to being a demand. Our idolatrous demands usually lead to judging other people. After all, if you really care about me you will meet my desires. Finally, the progression ends in punishment, typically by simply withdrawing from a relationship with the intent of hurting another.
The only legitimate and biblical answer to all this crud is grace. Finding our true and lasting satisfaction in God alone is the only way to deal with the idols that we hanker to bow down to. John Piper has said that “sin is what you do when you are not fully satisfied in God.” Returning to the foot of the cross and receiving the grace of God’s forgiveness helps us to not only experience personal contentment, but frees us to give grace to the people for whom we think stand in the way of how we think things ought to be done.
So, before we point the finger at another person let’s first take a good look at our own hearts.
Before we jump to interpreting and misinterpreting another’s motives, let’s examine what is going on with our own desires. A good place to start is looking in the mirror. Maybe today is the day that you need to leave your religious offering on the altar and go reconcile with that person you have a problem with. Or perhaps it has been too long since you cracked open your bible, and you need to be reminded again that it is the person who looks intently into God’s Word that experiences freedom and is blessed in what they do.
May the peace of Christ overshadow us all as we seek grace in all things.