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Conflict is a God Thing

Ask someone their picture of the good life and you'll probably hear about long walks on the beach or fishing on the bay.  Perhaps you will hear about a comfortable retirement full of travel and grandkids.  You may also hear stories of a happy marriage full of love, fun, and romance.  We all have a perfect picture of the good life in mind.

But what if the perfect picture of the good life is not only impossible to reach but impractical to expect?  What if the good life isn't lived just on the good days but also on the rough days - even days with conflict?

Here's what I know.  It's possible to live the good life even when there is conflict and crisis because Jesus is the giver of our good life, not our circumstances.  I am also confident that the good life comes through dealing with conflict the right way so that relationships aren't strained or divided, but grow with intimacy and Godliness.

In fact, I'm convinced that conflict can be a God thing.   Because conflict can be a God thing, the question isn't will I have conflict in my life, but how can I honor God and see Him work in me and others through the conflict?

#1  My Response is My Responsibility.
To get good instead of bad from conflict, we must first realize that no one can make us do anything and that our response is our responsibility.  That's why the Bible teaches us in Ephesians 4:26 to not let our anger result in sin and to not wait to deal with whatever is causing the anger.   Know this:  we all get angry.  But, our anger is no excuse to sin.  Just because we are mad, we don't have to react.   We can choose our response.

What is your natural response to conflict?  Some are ready to engage too quickly.  They need to slow down and not seek out the fight.  Others run from it and have no lasting relationships.  They need to learn how to fight for relationships by having healthy conflict in relationships.  Some stuff their feelings of frustration.  I call them Conflict Hoarders.  They don't deal with what they are feeling.  Things build up until they can't not respond.

No matter your first reaction to conflict.  Choose your response and begin to see how conflict can be healthy.

#2  Check My Heart to Improve My Relationships
Here's an uncomfortable truth.  Whatever is happening in your heart will eventually be expressed with your words and lived with your life. That's why we must check our hearts to see if we are bringing harm or good to our relationships.  Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 4:31-32:  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  If your heart is full of bitterness, all sorts of bad things will flow from it.  Bitterness is a condition of the heart that results in rage, anger, fighting, slander, and more.  But, thank God, grace is a game-changer for our hearts.  When we have been forgiven by God, His grace changes our hearts and gives us the capacity to be kind and compassionate even when it is undeserved.

We must check our hearts for bitterness regularly.  Because when conflict hits, all sorts of things surface.  Things we don't want to feel.  Things we don't want to say.  Things we don't want to do.  Things surface in conflict because whatever is in our hearts will expose itself and express itself when we are under pressure.   Our hearts will expose and express bitterness or they expose and express compassion and kindness.

What can you do to guard your heart against bitterness so that grace, kindness, and compassion become your first response?

  1. Own It:  Keep short accounts with people.  If you can’t overlook it, then talk about it.
  2. Release It:  If you overlook it and work through it, let it go.  Don't let it live in your head and don't circle back when conflict arises
  3. Forgive It:  Release because the grace of God has released you. Forgiveness isn't just you give.  It's something that you live.  So, forgive freely and quickly just as you have been forgiven.

#3 Choose My Words and My Tone
With a healthy heart, choose your words and your tone to bring the relationship back together instead of driving a wedge between the two of you.  James 1 teaches us how to do this:  be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.  Remember why anger is such an issue.

Anger will never, ever produce what you want.  Anger won’t produce obedient kids.  Anger won’t produce an intimate marriage.  Anger won’t produce united, hardworking teammates.  Anger never produces what you or God desires.  What works better than anger?  Proverbs 15:1 teaches us:  1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  How do you get what you want in reconciled relationships?  It's not about giving full vent to your anger, but giving a gentle answer.

What does this look like?

  • Be QUICK to LISTEN:  Listen for and communicate feelings instead of getting defensive and fighting over facts.  Classic conflict training teaches us not to use words like ALWAYS and NEVER.  Why?  Those are “facts words.”  If you can show that you aren’t ALWAYS a jerk and that you SOMETIMES do what is right then the argument should be won.  But that’s not how it works.  Relationships aren't about facts.  They are about feelings.
  • SLOW to SPEAK:   Don’t talk until you can bring GOOD to the conversation.  Wait for the right word before speaking the wrong words.   If you need to call a time out to check your heart and choose your words, that's 100% OK.  Just make a plan for when you will be ready to talk. 
  • SLOW to BECOME ANGRY:   Remember, sinful anger only HURTS.  It never helps.  If you find yourself becoming defensive or going on the attack because you are ANGRY.  Be quick to listen and slow to speak.  Don’t let ANGRY WORDS or ACTIONS compound problems.  

Because sinful anger only divides, I will choose my words and tone to bring reconciliation to my relationships.

#4  Surprise with My Response
No matter your natural response to conflict, you can choose a surprising grace-based response.  The grace and goodness of God surprise us and we can surprise others with our response.   You can't always make people happy.  You aren't responsible for them.  But your grace-based response is what you can control.   The writer of Hebrews teaches us to live at peace with others as far as it is possible with us.   We do what we do to live grace and we trust God with the rest.  

When we surprise someone with our response, we show that the relationship has value and we are willing to do the work that is required of us.  We won't blow things up by fighting too soon or too ferociously.  We won't cut and run when the first fight arises.  We won't stuff things.  

No, we seek to see the God thing and the good things that can come with conflict.