All of us have a little bit of crazy in us that leads to conflict in our lives. How we deal with conflict is one of the greatest determining factors of the health of our relationships and the health of church. Dealing with conflict well starts with viewing conflict as the constant opportunity for good that it is.
Gods Plan to Restore
The Heat of the Moment
Dealing With Our Crazy Problem
If you hadn't noticed the temperature outside, it is summertime. So welcome to the summer. It's also vacation season. I haven't had a vacation yet but have one coming up. I also took one about two months ago. It was a great time. There are some buddies of mine I hang out with quite often around here known as the Campus Shepherd team. They're good guys. Every once in a while we like to get away, have some fun together. Usually that involves being around some type of body of water, catching some type of fish.
My parents live in East Texas on Toledo Bend Lake. It's a great time. If you're wondering who won the fishing competition, I did, as always. Problem solved. It was great. It's a great place to hang out together. Also, it was fun to introduce these guys to my parents. So we went down there. We stayed with them for about three days, and it was an amazing time. It was a great trip, but I realized on the last day of the trip that I made one mistake. That one mistake was to trust the man I thought was my friend. His name is Graham Robbins, and he's sitting right there.
Just let me tell you what happened. The mistake I made was I let Graham stay in the guest bedroom, which is upstairs at my parents' house. When you're at my parents' house and you go up the stairwell, that entire wall of the stairwell is plastered with pictures of my two brothers' and my childhood. Everywhere. All the way from little bitty kid to the high school senior portraits when you're wondering, "What was I thinking when I took that picture?" They're all there.
He's staying in the room my wife Lindsay and I usually stay in. What happens is on the last morning we're getting ready to leave, and Graham comes up to me with a smile on his face that I can only describe as pure evil. He puts his arm around me and holds up his phone, and he starts scrolling through all of my childhood photos he has captured and is mischievously planning to leak out over the course of time to all of you, whenever he sees fit, in order to get a leg up on me.
So as not to give my brother any pleasure in doing so, I'm just going to go ahead and show you the photos. But let me warn you. You may not believe it by looking at me now, but I may have been the cutest little kid you've ever seen in your entire life. You be the judge of it. I'm going to show you a few of these. The first one I like to call "In the garden." Take a look at this. Look at that guy. Sidenote: my daughter is 2-1/2 years old, and the resemblance is striking. So pray for her. Hopefully it doesn't go this direction.
Another one I'll show you I like to call "T-man in the tank top." Boom. There it is. Get a load of that. This was like a year later, and we still had the same background, like at JCPenney where we went and took these or something. Things have changed since then. Then one more I'll show you I like to call the "Crayon cool guy." Look at that. I'm telling you, cuteness overload. There will be a few more you'll see in just a little bit.
What those pictures don't show you in all that cuteness is that I had a crazy problem. I literally mean a crazy problem. What you can't tell from those photos is from a very young age I had a temper that was out of this world. Anytime something did not go my way or I felt offended or was insecure about something, the way I would deal with the conflict when it crept into my life was through aggression. I would just blow up. That was how I dealt with anything.
As I began to get older, the cuteness wore off and the crazy showed a little bit stronger, both in how I behaved and also in my photos. I'll show you the next picture. This was probably around fifth grade. I call this one the "Crazy cardinal." What happened? When I was on this team playing little league baseball, I got a sticker. It was a "No Fear" sticker. If you were a child of the 80s, do you remember all of the "No Fear" tee shirts with the slogans and everything?
One of them I got because I thought it was funny, but it really was tragic because it described how I dealt with people. It had a pair of angry-looking eyes, and it said, "Does not play well with others." I put that on my baseball helmet. I thought it was funny, but what wasn't funny was as I continued to grow up, I was no longer a kid but now a teenager who didn't know how to deal with conflict, who dealt with it through anger and was constantly terrorizing all of the relationships that were present in my life.
You can see a couple more as it happens. I'll show you my seventh-grade football photo. Look at that guy. That was back in the days when you had a long, long top but the undercut on the side. Do you remember that? Then freshman football year. The craziness showed through. What you see on my face was really my attitude all the time. I just didn't deal well with people.
Then one that doesn't maybe relate to all this, but because I don't want Graham to send it out I'm going to go ahead and show you, is one of my high school senior photos. Hey! It ain't easy to get that hair to look that good. That was like half a bottle of gel right there. I went from being a little kid who didn't know how to deal with conflict to being a teenager to being in college, still not knowing how to handle it well, to being a young adult.
There was a moment when I was 25 years old that I remember very, very clearly, because it was a defining statement of what the state of my life was at that time. I was managing a health club and had about 50 employees or so who I oversaw. One thing was certain. I could get the job done as it related to producing outcomes, but I could not get the job done as it related to healthy relationships.
I had an employee walk into my office and look me square in the eyes, and she said, "Tyler, you are the most unapproachable person I've ever met in my entire life." It was a sobering moment for me. What that moment caused me to do was take an inventory of the relationships that existed in my life at that time. As I looked around, just from what I was doing as a vocation at the time I had hundreds of acquaintances, but I did not have a single quality, healthy relationship that existed in my life for more than a year.
It all came down to my inability to handle conflict well. My pride got in the way. My insecurity got in the way. Fill in the blank. I did not know how to handle conflict when it came into my life, and it destroyed relationships around me. Here's why I tell you that this morning. If we're honest, every single one of us has a little bit of crazy. None of us is perfect, and all of us have pride and insecurities that drive us.
When it comes to conflict, how we deal with that pride and those insecurities, how we view conflict will determine the health of our relationships, whether or not we have relationships in our lives that are thriving and healthy and we're a blessing to others and giving life to them or if we don't know how to do it well and we are a burden and suck the life out of people because we're just a pain. We respond with anger. Conflict we see as an opportunity to take control, so we deal with it with force, or we see it as something we don't want to deal with at all, so we run.
In both cases, unity and peace do not exist. Not only in how it affects us as individuals; it affects us as a church. If we don't know how to have a right perspective on the opportunity conflict presents, and if we don't know how to respond to it well, it will be the one thing that causes the world to look at us and to look at our God and to look at the gospel and say, "What a joke. You guys say there's this good God who comes and forgives you and brings about unity and peace, yet you can't even get along.
Why would I come? Why would I listen to you? Why would I listen to the message of the gospel? It has no change in your life. You look no different than anybody else I know. Your relationships are no healthier than anybody else I know, and sometimes they look worse." Bitterness, strife, and dissension divide us and lead to a church that is unappealing and ineffective if we don't know how to handle conflict well.
At the same time, if we do, if we have a right perspective on conflict, if we know how to deal with it biblically, then it will be the single greatest opportunity we have to live out the gospel in such a way that makes people want to know, "Who is this God you claim to know and have a relationship with?" It would be the single greatest thing to bring about health in your marriage, to increase your ability to be a blessing to people in your workplace, and our opportunity to be a witness for God in the kingdom and come alongside people to serve and help them grow to more reflect the character of Christ in their own lives.
Because of this, we feel like it is imperative that we spend time specifically diving into this issue, talking about conflict. So for the next three weeks we're going to be talking about conflict. This week, we're going to talk specifically about what a right perspective on conflict is and how to respond to that opportunity, and the next two weeks we're going to dive into the details, into the weeds of…When you find yourself in conflict, what do you actually do?
How would God's Word inform how we respond as we seek to seek peace and make peace with those who are around us instead of tolerating one another, faking peace so we don't have to do the hard work, or just blowing relationships up because of our own pride and insecurities? This week, specifically, we're going to look at three things. We're going to look at how conflict is our constant opportunity to glorify God, to serve others, and to grow ourselves.
I want to start with this. The common perception of conflict is that it's bad. "Conflict can't be good. Conflict is bad. It's hard. There are hurt feelings involved. Many, many times it's the outcome of sin that's present. Conflict in and of itself is not sin, but it can be the result of sin, and it's just bad." So we either blow it up or avoid it, but I want to tell you that is a misconception about what conflict is. Conflict is morally neutral. It is not good or bad in and of itself.
What you need to know is conflict is merely an opportunity, and how you respond to it will either determine if you are going to be a blessing to other people and be life-giving to them in such a way that glorifies God and attracts people to the gospel or you're going to be a burden to others and take life from people and are not going to be someone people want to spend time with, and it's going to be a life that's in direct contradiction to the gospel.
Conflict is not bad. Conflict is normal. None of us is perfect. As such, we're going to do this thing called life, and every once in a while we're going to step on each other's toes in small ways and in big ways. Conflict is going to be here, so we can either say, "Okay, how do we really deal with this in such a way that we're fighting for peace and unity?" or we can just throw in the towel and never experience that life Jesus came for us to experience.
1._ Conflict is an opportunity to glorify God_. So how is conflict an opportunity to glorify God? We're going to look at Ephesians 5:1-2. We're going to be bouncing around all over the place, but we'll dive in here first. In Ephesians, chapter 5, Paul writes to the church, to those who have received the message of the gospel, and this is what he says: "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma."
He says, "Hey, as those who claim to know God, be imitators of him." You have to step back and ask yourself the question…When it comes to conflict, what did God do that we are supposed to imitate? Well, it starts here. When we sinned, it created a separation between God and us, and God did not leave that separation there. It was 100 percent our own doing. God did nothing wrong, but we wronged him in an uncountable number of ways.
What he decided to do was not brush us off, was not leave us where we are, but he decided to initiate and engage in the reconciling of our relationship with him, to repair it, to mend it, to bring it back together. How he did that was he took the responsibility fully upon himself to come and die to show us that we're loved, to show us he will do anything for us to show we can be forgiven, and then he gives us the opportunity to respond to that and be reconciled back into a relationship with him.
He did everything to pursue the restoration of our relationship with him, to deal with the conflict himself. Because of that, there are things we'll say sometimes when we're in conflict with people that you've never heard Jesus say before but we'll say either literally from our mouths or with the attitude of our hearts. Here are the things we say that Jesus never would.
"I'll forgive them once they clean themselves up. I'll choose to go and deal with that conflict and resolve this issue with them whenever they get their stuff straight. That's when I'll go." That can be our attitude at times. It's never the attitude of Christ toward us. The second thing you would never hear him say is, "I'm not willing to go to them. I'll work this thing out, but, by golly, they'd better come to me. When they choose to humble themselves and come to me, then I'll go to them."
Scripture says there is no one who does good, that there are none who seek God. If this was God's attitude toward us, we would all be up a creek without a paddle. We'd be left in our sin. We'd be left with a division, but God didn't wait for us. He came to us. Therefore, when we say to somebody or have the attitude in our heart that, "Hey, I'll work on this whenever they choose to come to me," it's a contradiction to the gospel.
The other thing you would never hear Jesus say is, "Hey, that's too much to ask of me in order to pursue reconciling this relationship. I'm willing to do some things, but I'm not willing to do that in order to see this marriage be restored, in order to see my relationship with somebody who used to be my best friend brought back together. I'll do some things, but I'm not willing to do that. That's too much."
If that was Jesus' attitude toward us, toward you, there would be no way of salvation. There would be no offer of forgiveness. Because of that, the words "I am not willing to forgive that person" or "I am not willing to reconcile with that person" are found nowhere in the Christian vocabulary. Those words have absolutely no place in our lives, and when they do, what we're telling people is, "Hey, God is not that good. He doesn't really make that big of a difference, and he's not powerful enough to do this. He's not powerful enough to change my life."
When we choose, instead, to acknowledge, "Those attitudes and actions may exist in my life, but I'm going to deal with them and look at this in such a way that I am one who has received grace; therefore, can extend grace. I have received forgiveness; therefore, I can extend forgiveness no matter what," then it makes the world stop and consider, "Who is this Jesus? How were you able to do that?"
To make that point, a couple of months ago I got a message from someone I care about very, very deeply, and it simply said, "Hey, I just found out from a letter that was put in my mailbox that my husband is in the middle of a three-year affair." It broke my heart, but at the same time there was another part of the message that gave me a lot of hope. It was when she responded and said, "Everybody around me is telling me to kick him to the curb, divorce him, be done with it."
She said, "If I'm honest, I feel the desire to do that, but also, I just want to know how God would have me respond here." That gave me hope. What we did then is we met up and opened up God's Word. I said, "Look, I don't want to tell you anything. I want you to hear directly from God through his Word how he would have you respond in this situation." So we went to passages like Romans 5:6-10. We read these verses together and then talked about it.
"For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life."
I just said, "As you look at this passage, what are the descriptors God uses to identify us, our state when he came, having chosen to forgive us? Helpless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies." It was when we were in this position of being hostile toward God, of not deserving any grace whatsoever, that he still chose to come to us and forgive us, to come to you and forgive you. So to live a life where you are unwilling in any relationship to forgive or reconcile is a life lived in direct contradiction to the gospel.
It makes God look not appealing at all to a watching world. It makes us ineffective as a church, and it keeps us in a place where our relationships are disunified and destroyed. The good news is when we choose to respond like she did, where she said, "You know what? He doesn't deserve forgiveness, but I'm going to forgive him…" Not only that, but he has chosen, thankfully, to humbly walk in repentance. They're making an effort to restore their marriage.
The very same people who were telling her, "You should just go get a divorce; you should just punt him out" are saying, "What's going on here? How did you have the strength and ability to forgive this way?" She is given the opportunity to say, "Let me tell you. The strength doesn't come from me; the strength comes from Christ. I am one who knows I am not perfect, but I have a perfect Savior who loves me and forgives me, and because of that, I am able, through the power of Christ, to forgive others and move toward reconciling."
I want you to know this morning there is no relationship too far gone for Jesus Christ to restore. What he's asking of you is for you to do your part. You can't control how the other person responds, but you can control whether or not you choose to move toward them with an attitude to reflect the gospel, to glorify God by living out the gospel and extending forgiveness where it doesn't make sense to do so, and then trusting God with the other person and the restoration of that relationship.
When we live in such a way and forgive people in such a way and pursue reconciliation in such a way that it reflects the message of the gospel, it gives us an opportunity to point to Jesus and glorify him. So conflict is an opportunity to glorify God.
2._ Conflict is an opportunity to serve others_. How do we do that? We serve others in two ways. We serve others by removing burdens they might be carrying and also by lovingly pointing out blind spots. I'm going to need a little help with this point. Fred, come on up here. Help me out just a little bit. As you look at Fred, you can immediately tell he has never worked out for a day in his entire life. Go ahead and pick these up. Just hold them there.
Anytime my wife and I get in conflict (I know it's hard to believe, but, yes, we do get in conflict)… Say something happens in the morning and our interaction just doesn't go well and I leave the house while that's unresolved, I just can't function very well. I literally feel an emotional weight. There is a division in a relationship in my life that exists, and I do not do well. It affects every other relationship I have. There is a burden I carry.
Similar to the fact that we have some weights here, and there's the strongest man I probably know up here onstage… It should be easy for him to carry these little bitty old weights. It's easy. Right, Fred? Hold them up. Try to carry this burden out. There we go. I'll be right back to you in a minute.
Here's what it means. Whenever we see another brother or sister in Christ carrying a burden, Scripture tells us to do something about it. It tells us to come alongside them in a way that's helpful to them. Specifically, in Galatians 6:1-2 it says, " [Brothers and sisters] , even if anyone is caught in any trespass…" Or if anyone is caught in a conflict or in a sin pattern that's producing conflict in their life.
"…you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness [with the right attitude] ; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ." Here's what it's saying: there is no burden any person is able to carry on their own. It doesn't matter how strong you are. You are not going to be able to carry a burden indefinitely.
Some of you may be able to carry it longer than others. He can carry it longer than I can, which is why I had him hold that, but you can't carry it forever. Whenever you see someone who's struggling in a burden, the most loving thing to do is not for me to keep teaching through my third point and let Fred struggle. The most loving thing I can do is say, "Hey, man. Let me help you with this." You're welcome. Thanks, Fred.
There are a number of ways in which we could come along somebody who's trying to bear a burden on their own. We can't fully take that burden on ourselves, but we can help them with it so they can get to a point where they are set free from it, be it a sin that exists in their life that's a key contributor to conflict or just a conflict that maybe they only had a small part in but is weighing on them.
When Fred is up here holding dumbbells out, it's pretty easy to see when he starts to struggle. We could think, "Well, maybe it's not as hard to see when someone is bearing the burden of conflict," but it really is. We all think we do a good job of faking it. We don't. It affects us. When we see a sister or a brother bearing this burden of unresolved conflict in their life, the most loving thing we can do is move in, put an arm around them, and say, "Hey, tell me about what's going on. How can I help you?"
You may either be coming alongside them as an observer of conflict that exists in their life or maybe you're a participant in the actual conflict, but you know something is not as it should be. The way we can help remove burdens for one another and come alongside to serve each other is when something is not right… This would be a real-life example.
Whenever Lindsay and I have an interaction in the morning…I'm trying to get out the door, and I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed and am short, harsh, unkind, and invalidating in my communication with her…the number-one way how we serve each other in that moment is, first, acknowledging conflict exists, and then when we engage back in a conversation…
I serve Lindsay from the woundedness she feels, but when I come and very specifically say, "The way I talked to you this morning was harsh, was insensitive, was impatient, and was ungodly. Will you forgive me?" and I acknowledge the wound I've caused, it goes a long way in serving my wife. In the same way, when she turns back around and says, "Hey, you are sorry for doing that, but I forgive you," and she releases me and frees me from this debt of this wrong I've incurred against her, we are serving one another.
That's if I'm a participant in it. Another way it could play out is if I see a friend in conflict or even maybe someone comes to me and starts sharing with me about a conflict that exists in their life, the first question I'm going to ask them is, "Well, have you told them how you're hurt? Have you told them how you felt wronged?" or "Have you told them you are sorrowful for what you've done?"
Almost always the answer is "No." So I say, "Let me stop you right there, because here's the deal. We don't want to gossip. We don't want to spread this around. We want to deal with the conflict that exists right here so it doesn't become a big conflict." We do something around here called the 24-hour rule, which is simply this:
If someone comes to me and shares with me something about someone else and I ask them if they've told them and they say, "No," I say, "Well, look. I'll give you 24 hours to go to that person to share with them what you have shared with me, because I care about you and I care about them. I know they would want to seek your forgiveness and see this relationship restored.
So once 24 hours goes by, I'm going to reach out to you, and if you haven't done it I just want you to know I love you so much I'm going to move in and initiate that conversation and share with that person what you shared with me so we can get in the same room and deal with this conflict, because it is that important."
Unity and peace will not exist apart from us taking those steps. When we do that, we serve each other really, really well. Initially, that may not sound fun, but over time you will see that's the most loving thing someone could do, and that person will come back and thank you for doing that.
The other way we would remove a burden is by lovingly addressing blind spots that would exist in someone's life. I met my wife back in November of 2003, the day before Thanksgiving, at Dixie Dance Hall in Beaumont, Texas. Just a little tidbit information. BC Days. Disclaimer there. I wouldn't recommend the dance hall as a place to go look for your future spouse.
Anyway, I saw Lindsay there, a beautiful brown-eyed girl. I walk up and soon engage in a conversation with her. I say, "So, do you come here often?" I don't think I said that. We started talking and engaging in a conversation. I'm like, "Hey, what are you doing for Thanksgiving?" She says, "Well, I'm leaving tomorrow morning to go deer hunting with my dad." I got down on one knee and said, "Will you marry me?" Not right then, but shortly thereafter I did.
We were full steam ahead, moving toward marriage, and then she comes to me with another big revelation. She had decided she was going to become a vegetarian. If you've never heard of a real-life bait and switch, that was a bait and switch. It was okay, because I didn't marry her because of what she ate, because she's a lovely, God-fearing woman.
Lindsay was a vegetarian for 11 years. She has since come back to the land of meat. Praise the Lord. Hallelujah. Amen. Over the course of 11 years, she ate a lot of different kinds of salad, different kinds of leafy greens. There was one particular kind of salad I learned a lot about, and that's a spinach salad. It was probably her favorite. What I learned about spinach is that more than any other leafy green it has a unique quality of sticking itself to one's teeth.
This would happen quite often to my wife. What would happen early on in our relationship was she would be eating a salad and she'd get some spinach stuck there, and I'd see it. Her beautiful smile. We're talking, and she eats, and then I'm like, "Whoa, something is there," but I didn't want to embarrass her.
We're still trying to figure this thing out, and I didn't want to embarrass her or hurt her feelings, so I made the wisest decision any man could make in this circumstance. I ignored it. But then I quickly found out that was not a wise decision, because at some point, either when we got home or later in the evening, she would walk in front of a mirror and realize something had been in her teeth.
So she would come to me and say, "Tyler! Why didn't you tell me I had spinach in my teeth? When you tell me I have spinach you tell me you love me, because you don't let me walk around with something in my mouth that causes people to shrink back when I smile." So I very quickly learned that whenever that happens I'm to casually and as inconspicuously as possible just give her the old…
Most of the time she would check the wrong side, so I'd have to go to the other side of my mouth and give her a little bit here, and she'd eventually get it out. It may have been mildly embarrassing if we were in a group of people, so I'd try to do it where others couldn't see, but it is not kind to let people walk around when something is going on with them that causes others to repulse back a little bit whenever they see it.
What we're talking about as it relates to conflict is not spinach. That story is funny, but it's not funny when you see anger or bitterness or resentment or apathy or pride or insecurity or any other number of things affecting someone's life that causes everyone around them to shrink back from them. It's not loving.
You will be telling them you love them by coming in with gentleness and kindness, addressing the thing that's going on in their life that is causing destruction in their relationships. In doing so, you are serving them in a way that will help them grow and become more like Christ. So, conflict is an opportunity for us to serve others by both removing burdens from them or carrying burdens with them, and then lovingly addressing blind spots.
3._ Conflict is an opportunity to grow yourself_. Conflict is an opportunity for you to personally grow to become more like Christ, because what can be certain is in almost every single circumstance, because we are all not yet perfect, there is something for us to learn and something for us to grow from in every single situation of conflict. Every single time, there is an opportunity for us to grow.
For the longest time, I didn't grow at all. I continued to deal with conflict in such a way that was destructive to every relationship around me, because I was prideful and insecure and unwilling to admit my own faults. I'm an achiever by nature, which means, to a fault, I try to do a lot of things and accomplish a lot of things because it fuels my self-worth of who I am as a person.
When it came to conflict, if I acknowledged that I had failed or that I was imperfect, it was a direct threat to how I viewed myself and valued myself as a person. I would suspect that in certain ways your own insecurities and faulty senses of who you are, of where you draw your worth from, affect a little bit of your crazy that causes you to deal with conflict in a way that is destructive and not helpful.
Here's how it changed for me and is still changing for me: understanding the gospel. Saying that I believe and agree with the gospel is acknowledging I am imperfect in a lot of ways, so I don't have to hide it. But in spite of my imperfections, I have a Savior and a Father who are perfect and who love me and who want me to continue to grow to reflect the character of who they are in my life. In all of my imperfections, it doesn't change how they view me.
I'm not contingent on looking to other people for their approval. Therefore, I can acknowledge and admit when I'm not perfect. I can own my part when it comes to conflict. In doing so, in owning my part and saying, "I'm not perfect; I need to grow here," do you know what happens? You start to grow. You start to look to people to come alongside you to help you, to pursue an abiding relationship with Christ, to learn who he is, to have his Spirit change who you are so you become a blessing to other people and not a burden.
Here's the kicker for you: if you're not willing to admit you have a part to play, you will not grow. Every relationship in your life will continue to suffer if you're not willing to say, "I have a part to play in this, and I want to own it, because I see this as an opportunity for me to grow." In James 1:2-4, James says, "Consider it all joy… [whenever you experience trials of any kind] , knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
What he's saying is we can have a joyful attitude when it comes to conflict and owning our part in it because we know in doing so we have an advantage. That advantage is that if we persevere in resolving conflict, dealing with our own stuff, we will become more like Christ in the process, which means we'll have less conflict in the future and will deal with conflict in the future in a way that is a blessing to other people.
Here's what nobody has ever done. I don't know that anybody ever gets to the very end of their life where there are unresolved conflicts, where there are broken relationships, and says, "I'm so glad I never restored that relationship." It doesn't happen. There is no joy in living in disunity with other people.
In a moment of clarity (unfortunately, too often it comes at the end of our lives) we realize, "I should have done something differently. I should have been willing to reconcile this conflict. I should have been willing to own my part and to do so." I am convinced that the arena of conflict resolution has been the single greatest contributor to my growth in being more like Jesus Christ.
Today, nine years later from that person walking into my office and telling me I was the most unapproachable person they had ever met and not having a single relationship I would have said was a healthy, thriving, lasting relationship, I now have a life that is thriving and overflowing with amazing relationships with people, where we are walking together, that are not free of conflict in any way, shape, or form but have conflict in the midst of them, and we are helping each other in a way that's glorifying God, serving each other, and helping me to continue to grow.
Not long ago, I was reading a book that was helpful to me. My friend walks into my office and sees it on my desk. The book was called Courageous Leadership. He just kind of sees it at a glance and says, "Are you reading a book called 'Courteous Leadership'?" I laughed and said, "No, it's called Courageous Leadership."
Delivering truth in the way only he can, he said, "Well, maybe you should find one that's about courteous leadership." He's right, because I'm still imperfect, and I still need to continue to grow in the same way you do, but you're not going to grow if you're not willing to own your part and admit that you need more of Jesus in your life.
Whether you have a conflict that's 100 percent your fault or 1 percent your fault, be willing to own your percent and learn from it and grow from it every single time with an attitude of joy, knowing that when you do that it's going to help you grow to be a person whose life reflects more of the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, conflict is an opportunity for us to grow ourselves.
In this, you may be saying, "Okay, I agree with you." You may give me that. You may agree with me that conflict can be an amazing, constant opportunity to glorify God, to serve others, and grow yourself, but then you may be saying, "But I still don't want to do it. I still wouldn't enjoy it." Why is that? Well, let's just all acknowledge it's because it's hard. No matter how we see it, whether it's this amazing, joyful thing or a great opportunity, it is going to be hard, but you know what? It's worth it.
Probably the most quoted verse at Watermark is Ephesians 4:3, which says, "Be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." It's worth it, because the outcome of dealing with conflict in a way that is glorifying to God is peace and unity and a reflection of the gospel that's going to cause other people around you to ask, "How do you live this particular way?"
That word diligence is the word agon, which means to agonize. Constant, painstaking effort toward a common goal. You could just think about working out. Everybody I think would say, "Hey, I'd love to be a little bit more healthy," and we all talk about things we could do to get healthy. We buy health club memberships we never use, so it's more like a monthly donation than an actual health club membership.
We look at catalogs. We read articles. We envy other people who are healthier. We can do all of these things, but until we actually put in the hard work to buy healthy food, to eat healthy, to go to the gym, to work out, to do all of these things, it doesn't matter how much we agree with it. Until we actually put it into practice, we'll never be healthy. We have to put in the work in order to experience the outcome.
In the same way with conflict, I think everybody would desire to have a life that's full of joy and peace and unity in their relationships, but I want you to know you will never experience that unless you are willing to consistently put in the hard work to resolve conflict with one another. Here's a summary: conflict is a constant opportunity to glorify God, to serve others, and to grow ourselves.
Here is the application. Here's what I want you to do this morning: acknowledge or identify the relationships in your life where conflict currently exists. That's an easy first step. I'm not asking you to do much. Just say, "Hey, I'm admitting conflict exists in this relationship." The second may be a little bit harder for you: own your part. You may have one name or you may have 50 names of people, of relationships where conflict exists.
What I'm asking you to do is to sit down with a journal or a notepad, and underneath every single person's name… I don't want you to write anything about them, but I want you to write your part to own in that conflict, in that relationship. Sometimes, whenever it comes to owning our part, we have a hard time doing so.
Have you ever noticed how people can't smell their own house? You walk into some people's houses and it smells delightful, like, "Oh man. It smells like cookies in here every time I come in." Other people's houses… Anybody know any pet owners who keep their pets inside, and you walk in and you're like, "Man, I wish they could smell their own house"? (I can say that because I'm a pet owner of three dogs and we keep our dogs inside. I feel like I'm clear there.)
People can't smell their own house. We can't smell our own house, and we need people to say, "Hey, bro, it's time to mop." Whenever it comes to dealing with trying to figure out your own part in a conflict… If you're having a hard time, like, "I don't think I have a part to own here," if you invite other people you're doing life with into that and say, "Hey, can you help me understand here what my part to own in this is?" I promise you they're smelling what's going on in your house that's not helpful to others, and they can help you identify what your part to own is. So own your part.
The next one is just prepare. Prepare your heart to go and be reconciled. I don't want you to necessarily take any action toward that yet, unless you're ready to take that step. The next two weeks we're going to be diving in specifically to what God's Word calls you to do, what kind of wisdom God gives you in terms of when to go and resolve conflict, how to go and resolve conflict.
But do these three things this week: acknowledge where conflict exists, own your part, and then prepare your heart to go and be reconciled by viewing this conflict or those conflicts as an opportunity to glorify God, to serve others, and to grow yourself. Let's pray and ask that God would help us in that now.
God, thank you so much that you're amazing and that you didn't tell us you were unwilling to come to us unless we came to you. You didn't tell us you would only go so far in pursuing us to restore the conflict that exists between you and us, but, God, you came all the way and gave your everything to restore this.
In doing so, God, you have given us an example to follow on how to be peacemakers in this world and how to deal with conflict in such a way that other people will want us to move in and help them, because the way we do it is with kindness and gentleness in a way that serves them and helps them grow.
God, I specifically pray this morning for those in here whose seats may be burning a little bit because they know there are relationships in their lives that just aren't right. God, I pray specifically that you would help them, that you would put your heavy hand of conviction on them, that they would not be able to sleep with peace until they commit their hearts to go and be reconciled.
In doing so, God, I pray that you would increase the health of this church and the way it reflects who you are and that people would want to look at the people here and say, "I want to know who your Jesus is," and we'll be able to tell them. We're not going to be able to do any of this apart from you.
I pray that even this morning and over the course of the next couple of weeks, as we continue to dive into this topic, God, that you would change our hearts completely, that you would change who we are, that you would restore relationships, and that you would give us the opportunity to trust you. We love you, we thank you, and we continue to stand and worship you now, amen.
When relationships exist conflict is inevitable, but the way we face it is up to us. This series calls us to abandon the approaches most of us take - withdrawal, avoidance, aggression to name just three - and consider the approach God has laid out in His Word. You'll find that working through conflict from God's perspective will actually be a source of constant opportunity instead of a constant source of discouragement and frustration. An opportunity to glorify God, serve others and grow to be more like Christ. You'll be amazed to see how honest God's Word is about conflict and how powerful His plan is to deal with it. And if you'll apply it, you'll be even more amazed to watch this plan bring healing and health to your relationships.