Peace in the Year of Conflict
Friction in relationships has been a hallmark of 2020. We are enduring a global pandemic, social unrest, homeschooling the new reality, and everything fun being canceled. This has led to stress being heightened not only in the public square but within our homes. If we are honest, strife hits us in three places. Our relationships. Our circumstances. Our thinking. Everything we struggle with fits within one of these categories. Think about it. The relationships at work and at home cause us to lose our peace. Our circumstances concerning the state of our health, finances, and future cause us to lose our peace. Our thinking about our relationships and our circumstances causes us to lose our peace.
Paul writing to the Philippian church addressed these three specific issues in his letter. He first called on two ladies, Euodia and Syntche to reconcile. He even called on another to arbitrate the argument as their friction had become a point of contention within the church. The way that Paul called on these two to reconcile was to agree in the Lord. What happens in most arguments is we focused on where we differ. Of course we would as that is why there is conflict. However, remembering all that we agree on is helpful for us to maintain peace. And it’s interesting when you really break down what we agree on. All Christians who have orthodox thinking believe that everyone is a sinner. We all believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. We believe he rose from the dead and gave us the Holy Spirit.
Here is what that means. Euodia is that bad. Syntche is that bad. They were so bad that Jesus had to die on a cross to redeem them. And although he made them new creatures, Jesus did not eradicate their sinful nature. Rather there is a battle going on. The only good that either Euodia or Syntche bring to the table is from the Holy Spirit. The part that wants to get it’s own way over the other, that is the sinful nature. The part that wants to love one another that is of God. But how do we discern what the righteous anger is that leads to action for justice and where we should be slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
Approach for Clarification
Let me put this into a first person context. If I remember that whomever I am angry with is a sinner and they are doing sinful things, I must also remember that I am a sinner saved by grace. That although that person’s action seems selfish, uncaring, or disrespectful their intention may have never been to do any of those things. That’s why I must approach for clarification. My first inclination is to say things like, “That was rude,” or “You clearly don’t care.”
When I do that I am assigning a motive to action. That’s Mind Reading and that inflames tense situations. Instead, I should approach for clarification by stating the things that I know to be true for sure. By saying something like, “I feel disrespected when you said that,” it changes the conversation. It allows the other person to make a repair on something they may have unintentionally (or even intentionally) done. Usually, the person says, “I’m so sorry. That wasn’t my intention. I was trying to help.”
Now I can either accept the apology or escalate the situation. By saying, “Thanks for understanding, I’m sensitive on this issue,” I’m allowed me to own my own struggle, sensitivity or issue and allows that person to adjust the way they are treating me without first putting them on defense with a direct attack.
Most of us need to adjust the way we speak to one another and move away from passive aggressive comments and to direct conversation revealing our vulnerability and our desire for a solution.
Agree in the Lord
When we agree in the Lord, one of the most important things to agree on is the power God has to resolve conflict. We can sometime extrapolate our situation. We can make definite statements about our partner, spouse, or children that are not true, but can be incredibly damaging. So no matter how bad a person may be, when we give up on them, when our thinking of them takes us down the path that they are the problem and they are the enemy. We are doing two things. One we are saying that God is not that good. This person that I am married to or partnered with is so bad that the God who created the world, sent his Son to die on the cross to redeem mankind, the one who gave us the Holy Spirit and has conquered death has been defeated by this person. That lie can fuel our anger and give us a sort of self-righteousness that cheers for the demise of someone whom Christ died for.
Battle not Against Flesh and Blood
Second is that we believe the lie that our battle is against flesh and blood. Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
When we get emotionally flooded by the situation our primal survival skills kick in and we only see the enemy, we don’t see the enemy behind the person who is helping to further our strife.
Third we forget that the Lord is sovereign. Isn’t it possible that God is allowing us to go through this argument, struggle, friction for our good? Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Whether that is a boss, employees, spouse, child, or parent, this struggle is designed for my good and God’s purpose.
This takes us to circumstances.
Isn’t it true that most of our anxiety stems from things that haven’t happened and may actually never happen? We have become a people preoccupied with hypothetical worst case scenarios. But even in the midst of a worst case scenario that isn’t hypothetical, God gives us a remedy that works for all circumstances. Philippians 4:4-7 tells us to rejoice in the Lord and be reasonable, because the Lord is near. He is with us. Do not be anxious about anything, but instead go to God in prayer. Ask Him for help and be thankful that He is so near and so powerful and so wants the best for us.
I remember when I was in the military I was preparing to go to ranger school. I was so nervous that I had this anxiety physically manifest in the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t do anything. My remedy was to go into my closet. (Like among hanging things: coats, pants, etc). I got on my knees and just shared my anxiety with God. I told him how I doubted my ability. I told him I was afraid to fail. I told him how I was scared of the whole experience. I just let it out. God started to work on me and within an hour (or what seemed like an hour) the pit of my stomach went from pain to peace.
But prayer isn’t just about output of requests, it is also about what we allow in.
Over and over we are flooded with thoughts. Many of us are imprisoned in our mind because of the high degree of stress and struggle we face daily. We think in terms of Murphy Law. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. That mindset keeps people alive when bullets are flying and contingency plans need to be worked out with immediacy. The trouble with a mind that is still in combat connected to a body that is in no real danger is you do things that don’t warrant the amount urgency. You end up at the emergency room a lot with a doctor telling you that they can’t find anything wrong. You end up in an argument that you can’t remember it’s genesis.
Taking Thoughts Captive
Paul wrote that we should take our thoughts captive. That we should be in control of them. In Philippians 4:8-9 he lays out some specific things to fill your head with. Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent or praiseworthy. Think on those things. Especially since we just gave God all of our anxiety. No need to cycle through and bring back more anxiety. That seems difficult without any practicality.
In Christian circles, many people have heard of praying the ACTS prayer. It starts off with worship of God, then confessing sin, then thanking God, then supplication: asking God for stuff. But as I read Philippians 4:4-9 I see a different manner of prayer. Pray for your anxiety first. Thank God next. Then think about all the things that are true, pure, just, lovely, and commendable (all attributes of God). Fill your head with the right things after purging your mind of all the anxiety and need that you feel God may have forgotten. And then once it is off your shoulders and on his, pray for your mind to filled with His goodness. Worship him for his truth, purity, justice, beauty, and great things He has done.
Meditating on the Lord
One of the things that flows through my mind as I think about His goodness is a combination of Matthew 3:17 and John 17. In Matthew 3:17, Jesus is baptized by John and God says from Heaven, this is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased. I always see God saying to Jesus three things. “I love you, I’m proud of you, and you’re mine.”
Now combined with John 17:23, Jesus prayed, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
I can’t get that last part of verse 23 out of my head. I pray you loved them even as you loved me. You could substitute even for equal, or perhaps in the same manner. I just meditate on that, and I can hear my Heavenly Father speak to me, “I love you, I’m proud of you, and you’re mine.”
I need to hear that. I need to be reminded of that. I need to learn that. That’s why I fill my mind with that.
As this year continues to unfold, join me in seeking peace in relationship, circumstance, and thinking. I would love to hear from you on what is working and what is continue to give you struggle.