In many conflicts, there is a power struggle, one person is committed to changing another person and the other is committed to not wanting to be changed. We get locked in, for me to win you must lose, and if you win, I lose. Our desires turn to demands, our hurts turn into rage or passive aggression.
When wounded, we turn in ourselves. We are quick to name our pain and the other person's sin. We are unable to name our sin and the other persons’ pain. Worst of all, we act like there are only two people in this conflict. Faced with conflict we react to what is in front of us, the bible will encourage us in the midst of conflict to go higher ground and to think God thoughts.
We can’t make wise decisions when we are in the heat of a battle. In the conflict of war Generals always went to the highest point to see the battle from with the widest lens. When they invented airships and planes they took to the sky. When they invented satellites, they took to space.
The best way to understand conflict is to stand back and go up; to think God thoughts. It's never just you and the other person. It's you, them and the Lord Jesus, He redefines every relationship for a Christian.
So what does it mean to go to higher ground? First, it means we understand that we are raised with Christ, so set your minds on the things above.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. ~Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)
So why meditate on heaven when I live below on earth? Two reasons. The first is, that is where Christ is who is ruling the church! Set your heart and mind on the risen Lord Jesus. He is now seated at the right hand of God, from there he rules the universe, he rules the church. He is firstborn of the creation, firstborn of the dead so that in everything he might be first. And that includes being first in every conflict relationship you’re in. In other words, I win if Christ is first.
Second, we set our minds on the things above, that is where we are, we are caught up in Christ’s victory. Our life is hidden with Christ. We are expected to engage in conflict from a different point of view to the world.
Let's ponder the idea of union with Christ.
We are alive in Christ and we are with Christ, we will appear with Christ in glory. The second coming is every Christian's coming out party. Once you get that you cant be the same. From that vantage point we put sin to death, we put away old me, we put off our earthly sinful nature. We may fall into sin but we don't walk in those sins.
But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. ~Colossians 3:8-10 (NIV)
Raised with Christ and set your minds on the things above, we will not engage with the old weapons, Anger, Malice, Slander or Swearing. Nor do we pretend and lie but speak the truth in love, all with gentleness and respect. The good news as we are being renewed and transformed is that we are not on you are own, God is at work in us
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. ~2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV)
From the moment you said “I Do” to Jesus, God made a commitment to transform you into the likeness of his son, to shape you to be more like Jesus. That growth is described as an ever-increasing glory that happens as we live for Gods glory.
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. ~1 Corinthians 10:31 (NIV)
Every moment of every day, amidst every relationship good or bad, we get the privilege to put a smile on the face of God. That includes how you engage with conflict.
I once ran a bible study for teenagers/young adults who were new Christians. There was one girl who was 15 maybe 16 at the time, she came from a broken and dysfunctional home. One day as the group was going home she said, “Ray I think I understand what life is all about.” What’s that Julie? She said,
“Its about Giving God the glory in everything.”
That insight changed everything, it shaped how she responded in her relationships, especially the ones that were dysfunctional. She instinctively went to higher ground, she has gone on to make an enormous impact in the lives of so many.
So how do I glorify God in the midst of my conflict? In short, you keep to two great commands front and centre, Love God and Love others. That is how you glorify God, to love God is to engage in conflict in such a way that brings honour to him.
What motivates you is that He sees your attempt to be at peace, He is honoured when you raise a difficult issue, He is pleased by your desire to forgive, He is lifted up when you love the one who wounded you, He is glorified that you’re satisfied with his approval. He smiles when you keep loving the person who is slandering you. This is higher ground, it's never just you and the other person. There is you, them and the Lord Jesus.
Have you not noticed that when God directs how we ought to live our relationship, whether to husbands, wives, parents, children, servant, masters or each other, the church. It's always in Christ and as to the Lord, in every relationship you have, whether Christian or not, work, home, study or church is redefined by your relationship with Christ. We serve and love others for Jesus sake.
It's as if Jesus is saying I “If you can't do it for their sake, I know you can do for my sake.” It's what breaks the hold of a power struggle. This truth saved my marriage.
Sandy and I fought a lot in the first 6 months of our marriage. From my end, I was counting who is doing more and I counted in my favour. Then one day I was reading:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. ~Ephesians 5:25 (NIV)
Jesus was telling me, Ray, get your eyes off Sandy and get your eyes on me and when you think you have gone as far as me on the cross then you draw a line in the sand but until then keep loving and keep laying down your life. Love for God extends to Love for the enemy. As Jesus said anyone can love those who love them back. If you do that Jesus says, big deal, even the pagans do that. We love the enemy.
There is a Scottish proverb that says ‘The worst thing in life is to die without enemies. The worst thing in life is to not love your enemies.’ In times of conflict, our loved ones can become our enemy.
The Bible is very realistic, God knows that you will be in a difficult relationship, we live outside the garden and after the fall. Do not be idealistic about the church, we are Saints who still Sin. The church is like a suitcase of porcupines, hence the command to forgive one another, and bear one another.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. ~Romans 12:18 (NIV)
Love means we are committed to reconciliation, think of a difficult relationship you’re in right now. God, if possible, because it may not be that they died, or won’t talk or admit, as much as it depends on you, from your side. Strive for peace.
Your Lord knows that it takes one to forgive but two to make peace. You are responsible to do whatever it takes to make peace. You are not responsible for the other person behaviour.
Here is a lesson I learnt 36 years ago that has kept me sane and it's in the verse. In a nutshell, know what you have control over and what you don’t. Know what you are responsible for and what you are not.
Dr. Larry Crabb put it this way:
Goals are those things that you have control over and are responsible for.
Desire is something you would like to happen but don’t have control over.
You work toward your goals, you pray for your desires.
Wanting my friend to apologise; Goal or Desire?
Forgiving my friend; Goal or Desire?
Wanting my cousin to be saved; Goal or Desire?
Taking up opportunities to share my faith; Goal or Desire?
In this verse a desire is to be at peace with all people, you pray for it but you cant control the outcome. A goal is to make sure that everything that leaves my mouth is driven by the good of the other person.
You see this principle in the Serenity Prayer - Reinhard Neihbuhr, prayed in AA meetings
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
When I am stressed in a relationship, I ask myself the question what is my desire that I have no control over? I want to be heard, I want the person to own their sin against me, I want to hear an apology, I want to be loved, I want them to acknowledge the damage they have done, I want their approval and respect. None of which I can control.
What I can control, what I am responsible for, what God requires me to do is to speak a word of encouragement with gentleness and respect, to raise a hurt, to be patient, to listen to another person’s pain, to own my sin, to apologize, to forgive, to set boundaries. So, winning is not about being loved, it's about being like God and striving for peace as much as you can do.
My goal is to glorify God in all situations and not let Satan have a win. My goal is to go to higher ground and make Jesus look good. My goal is to be satisfied with my heavenly Father's approval. My goal is to think God thoughts. My goal is to speak in a way that seeks peace. My goal is to let the Spirit do his work in my life.
On my better days when I go to higher ground, I think of Jesus at the cross being nailed by the hands that he created, knowing he could invent billions of ways of making them suffer a slow death, but all you hear is Father forgive them for they know not what they do.
I spoke to a woman at church this week, her father left her mother and 8 children, abandoning them into poverty, their life was so hard. He never owned his sin. Many years later he tried to re-entry their lives, which they welcomed, only to find out it was only for money. Years after that she heard that her Dad was in the hospital, and she called him to see how he was. She asked for the opportunity to talk about matters and make peace. His response was clear “I don’t want to talk to you” and then he hung up. The next day he died.
I said to the woman, ‘You don’t come across embittered.’ She said two things, God's grace to her and knowing that while her father on earth abandoned her, her Father in heaven said
“Never will I leave you, never will forsake you.” She went to higher ground and it set her free.