I originally wrote this blog post in December of 2011.
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I don’t know if it’s the weather turning cold or the fact that the Cleveland Browns are terrible again this year, but lately I’ve been particularly sensitive to negativity. Conflict seems to stand out in a way I can’t remember it ever standing out before. I’ve had my fair share of people I’ve been angry with in the past, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who have been angry with me.
Conflict is a natural part of life. Anytime you put two people with different personalities or thoughts about a particular subject or situation into the same relative location, you’re going to have conflict on one level or another. People say things that sting, do things that hurt, and whether it’s intentional or not, betray friendships in ways that often leave lasting scars.
This is particular painful in the church. I have felt deeply hurt by things that people I’ve considered to be friends have said or done, often behind my back, but sometimes boldly to my face. I’m sure you’ve felt the same way at one point or another. In the context of the church, where we’d expect (and in a perfect world this would be true) that we would care for and love each other, it’s especially hard when people let us down or hurt us.
Jesus knew this is the way people work and interact, and He knew that conflict would come, so He gave instructions for how we should handle conflict. So here are three steps to take to resolve conflict Biblically.
(By the way, these steps are simple, but I’m not saying they’re easy. I’m not pretending that forgiveness is easy or quick, but if we truly seek to glorify God, He can heal any wound and change our hearts to make forgiveness more than possible.)
Step 1 – Pray for strength, courage and compassion. Ask God, simple, to give you those characteristics. If you’re a Christian, those characteristics are already in you because the Holy Spirit is in you.
“For in Christ the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. And you have been given the fullness of Christ, who is head over every power and authority.” (Colossians 2:9-10)
That verse tells us that as Christians we have the fullness of God present in our lives through the Holy Spirit. So you already have the strength, courage and compassion of God himself…not just ask Him to produce those characteristics in a greater way in your life.
Ask Him for the strength and courage to show compassion, to approach and grant forgiveness to the person who has wronged or hurt you, and to trust that He will make it possible.
Step 2 – Pray for the person who hurt you. First of all, don’t try to act all tough here. If you know me well at all, you know I’m not a touchy-feely kind of guy. And guys, men, we especially don’t like to admit when we’re hurt. John Wayne didn’t carry tissues around in a purse. Clint Eastwood didn’t either. (The jury is still out on Tom Cruise.) If someone hurt Rambo’s feelings, they’d have been dead before they could have apologized. But listen, it’s ok to admit that we’re hurt by people. There’s nothing wrong with that.
So now that we’ve agreed to admit that we’re hurt, this is the hardest part. Step 3 will be easy compared to this. Before you approach someone, you should pray for them. And I’ll be the first to admit, this hurts bad. It’s really, really difficult to pray for someone without slipping in something like, “And by the way, God, if they happen to be standing near a steep cliff at the moment, send a holy, powerful wind…”
Really, pray for them. Thank God for something that person has done for you in the past that’s been meaningful or generous or kind. Ask God to help you focus on those things. Ask Him to remind you that they matter to Him, that they’re made in His image, and that He loves them. Ask Him to help you do the same. Jesus modeled this for us in the Lord’s prayer when He said, “…forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” (Matthew 6:12 NLT)
We read over that passage a lot. You might have even memorized it, but have you ever really thought about that verse? By asking God to help you forgive someone else, you’re also reminding yourself that God does the same thing for you all the time. We’re just paying it forward.
Step 3 – Approach the person with compassion and love. If you were able to genuinely pray for the person, this will be a whole lot easier. See, the thing is, this part goes completely against our human nature. Think about it. When someone hurts us, what do we instinctively want to do? We (a) start hoarding our angry feelings and harboring a grudge and/or (b) go tell someone else about it. But that response is sin. (Romans 1:29; Proverbs 20:19, 11:12-13, 16:28)
Instead, Jesus says to go to that person with all the compassion you can muster and just lay the cards out on the table.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (Matthew 18:15-17 ESV)
That’s pretty self-explanatory, so rather than unpack that, let me mention one other important thing. Check your anger and speak carefully. Read these verses:
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19 ESV)
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1 ESV)
Remember that you’ve already prayed for God’s courage and compassion, so you’ve got it. Now just do your best to be honest but level-headed, and remember that your goal is a peaceful resolution, not an angry argument. Work toward that.
Just this past Sunday, I had someone approach me after church. He told me that he had been mad at me for some time and I didn’t even know. And then he told me he had forgiven me. Even though I was unaware of the entire situation, that meant a lot to me, and I believe God healed a wound. He can do that for you.
FINALLY, let me remind you of one thing: you have probably hurt just as many people as you’ve been hurt by. Remember to be approachable. If we want people to be able to come to you to apologize and seek healing rather than gossip to everyone else, we need to make it possible. We need to be the kind of people that we would feel comfortable approaching if the tables were turned.
I hope that I’m available and approachable to anyone that might have felt hurt by me or that might be upset with me. As a leader in the church, it’s inevitable that I’ll offend or upset someone at one time or another, and I honestly hate it and often lose sleep when I know that has happened. So I pray that I’ll be able to more closely follow this Biblical advice daily, and I hope you will too.