When my eighth-grader walked across the stage to accept her award for “Most Patient,” I laughed out loud and whispered to my husband, “What’s going on in her classroom that requires so much patience she actually won an award for it?”
Conflict is inevitable—even in the smallest classroom with the best teacher. I even find I can experience conflict in a room by myself because I get on my own nerves! But rather than letting conflict rob us of sleep or tempt us to make fist-shaped holes in our walls, God calls Christians to live peaceably.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Rom. 12:18)
Romans 12 shows us at least three strategies to usher peace into any conflict by using our head, heart, and hands.
1. HEAD: Set your mind on the Truth of God, not on your conflict.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2)
Jesus tells us if we know the Truth (if we are ruled by His Word), the Truth will set us free (John 8:31–32). The Bible is our only infallible source of Truth.
Before our hearts hijack our emotions and send us into a frenzy, let’s set our minds on the Truth. Otherwise, the “if possible” of Romans 12:18 may seem utterly impossible. Fortunately, God’s Word reminds us otherwise:
- All things are possible with God.
With man it [salvation] is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God. (Mark 10:27)
We can do nothing apart from Christ. But we are His, and His power is ours. He can save men that we’d stamp “unredeemable” like the first century apostle Paul (formerly a Christian persecutor) and twenty-first century Mincaye (former missionary-murdering Waodoni warrior).
As easy as it is for God to save hopeless men, it’s just as easy for Him to bring peace into turmoil.
- God causes all things to work together for good for His children.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)
God causes all things to work together for good—not some or most things—but all things. Including conflicts. Nothing happens without His permission (Lam. 3:37). Since God either brought or allowed our situation, we know He’ll use it for our good and His glory.
Does your head declare that Romans 8:28 is true, while your heart sometimes struggles to believe it? Don’t we wonder how God can possibly work atrocities like murder out for our good?
When our heart doubts what our head knows, we can direct its attention back to the Truth: All things are possible with God—even salvation and Romans 8:28.
2. HEART: Let Christ’s love, not your perceived rights, rule your heart.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. (Rom. 12:9)
God calls Christians to serve as a bridge to peace by setting our hearts on genuine love. But, as a pastor recently reminded me, do we really want to volunteer to be a bridge? After all, they’re designed to be walked on. Isn’t that often the source of our conflict? People trampling on us and our “rights”?
Our naturally prideful hearts will grind love, joy, peace, patience, and all other fruit of the Spirit into a fruitless pulp. But when our minds are rightly grounded in Truth, our hearts will humbly pour out love rather than indignation.
The following questions can help us set our hearts on Truth as we navigate conflict:
- In light of eternity, does this situation really matter?
If the outcome isn’t deadly serious, it may be best to let it go. Paul encourages us: “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them” (1 Cor. 9:19).
Are there areas of pride in my heart that are contributing to the conflict?
Pride’s endgame is our destruction (Prov. 18:12). Let’s daily ask God to search our hearts for pride and then surrender to Him whatever He exposes.
Am I remembering who the real enemy is?
The Jewish leaders cried out for Jesus’ crucifixion, and the Roman soldiers nailed Him to the cross. But it was the sin in our hearts that put Him there. Sin crouches at the door. Let’s master it before it masters us (Gen. 4:7) by hating sin and loving our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48). Our true enemy isn’t people. It’s the sin in all of us.
3. HANDS: Reach out with grace, not manipulation.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
Have you ever been so convinced of your idea that you manipulated a situation to get your way? After all, it’s for everyone’s best, right? It may sound reasonable, except I can’t find this verse in the Bible. (Trust me, I’ve looked.) Instead, verses like Romans 12:21 convict me to reach out with grace, not manipulation.
Once we set our minds on Truth and anchor our hearts in Christ’s love, the compulsion to manipulate people and circumstances wanes. In its place grows confidence in God and His will, which makes us eager to reach out with thankfulness, trust, and grace. If that seems a tall order, here are some additional strategies to help you grow in grace:
Before we reach out to others, let’s reach up to God, who is the LORD over all—including our conflicts. He’s our source of strength, wisdom, and grace (James 1:5).
- Reach out to others face-to-face or voice-to-voice
Much gets lost in electronic communication. We can read unintentional emotions into a text or email. Siri and her not-always-helpful-autocorrect can worsen our situation. How much better (and safer) if others can hear (and see) our sincerity and love?
- Use the sandwich method of discussion
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18). When we sandwich sensitive issues with words of grace, kindness, and encouragement, tough discussions become easier to swallow.
Start by noting something honest about the person or situation that’s specific and positive. (Lies create more problems, vague compliments sound fake, and kindness heals.) Then move into the meat (or veggie burger) of the matter to work toward a solution. Finally, regardless of whether or not you reach a resolution, end the discussion with true, kind, and specific encouragement.
- Ask questions and repeat for clarification
God asked questions in the Bible, and He already knew the answers. He asked them for the hearer’s benefit. We ask them for everyone’s benefit. Questions help clarify the problem, reveal misunderstandings, and protect against assumptions. Ask sincere, kind questions that enhance understanding. Avoid combative and rhetorical questions that can inflame a disagreement.
After you’ve asked illuminating questions, follow up with, “What I think I heard you say is . . . ” You might be surprised how often they respond, “No, that’s not what I meant.”
- Look for something both sides can agree on
Everyone can find common ground if we look hard enough—even Christians and atheists. Paul used the common ground of a passion for religion in order to engage the idol-worshipping Athenians. Many listened and some were saved (Acts 17:16-34).
Truth, Love, and Grace Lead to Peace
Jesus didn’t promise we’d transform every conflict into perpetual peace. On the contrary, He promised that in this world, we’d have trouble (John 16:33). James suggests we are the trouble (James 4:1).
As long as we sinners live in this sin-corrupted world, disagreements will weasel their way into our relationships, harsh words will erupt from our mouths, and misunderstandings will cause strife. But God promises perfect peace for our souls when we fix our minds on Him and His unchanging Truth, surrender our hearts to Him in love, and reach out our hands in the kindness and grace of Christ.
Who knows? We might even win an award for “Most Patient.”