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Some tips on handling conflicts

by Jacob Ninan

We are living in a world that bears a deep stain of sin. Every human being is tainted with a tendency towards sin. The intensity or form of sin may vary from person to person. Selfishness is the general characteristic of man, and the whole world has to revolve around him and his ego. This, of course, leads to conflicts. We know ourselves - our strengths and weaknesses - only in a small part, and we understand others far too little. Is it any wonder that we end up frequently with misunderstandings that cause conflicts?

Satan is still the ruler of this world, till Jesus comes and establishes His kingdom on the new earth (Ep.2:2). He whispers suggestions into our minds in such a cunning way that we may be fooled into thinking that he is right. If he tried that with Jesus, as we see from the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness (Mt.4:1-11), he will not leave us alone. He comes to us not only with suggestions that tempt us to sin in an obvious way, but he also comes pretending to be an angel of light trying to make us think that God is saying something to us (2Co.11:14). He quoted Bible verses to Jesus, and he can do that and more to us - perhaps by giving us dreams, visions or special experiences - trying to mislead us. Jesus came through His temptations triumphantly. But we have failed in the past, and there is no guarantee that we will not fail in the future, unless we learn to handle things according to God's ways.

One of Satan's goals is to cause problems and divisions among people. He kindles sparks to fly between people, and he fans up the flame till everything gets destroyed. Relationships get broken, and sometimes it can be extremely difficult to restore them. We must learn how to deal with temptations and also how to deal with conflicts with other people.

Conflicts are to be expected. In other words, we must not be shocked when they occur. As we become mature we will be able to anticipate and avoid many conflicts. But it may be like road accidents, where even if we drive carefully, another man who is careless can get us into an accident. As long as we are on this earth, we will have to face conflicts of some kind or another (Jn.16:33). God allowed Jesus to face conflicts of different types with the Pharisees and other religious leaders and also from His disciples.

When we come into a situation of conflict we must not think that all is lost already. But we must see it then as an occasion where we need to manage and resolve the conflict. What I want to do here is to list down some general tips in dealing with conflicts.

* Recognise that you may very well be the cause of the conflict and that you are unaware of it. Even if you are not fully responsible for the conflict, you may have a sizeable part in it. It is very rare that you are totally innocent and the other person is fully at fault. So ask God sincerely and honestly to show you where your fault lies, and to help you to admit it and set it right.

* Recognise that it is highly probable that the other person is totally unaware of how he is causing you a problem. Even if he knows what he is doing to you, it may be that he feels fully justified about it from his point of view. Take an attitude of mercy just like Jesus when He prayed, "Father, forgive them because they don't know what they are doing" (Lk.23:34). Pray for him that just as you ask for help from the Lord, the Lord should help him also to see his fault and to repent from it.

* Not all conflicts need to be taken up for confrontation with the other person. If it is a small matter or a stray incident that is unlikely to cause further problems later, the best course of action would be to just forgive the other person and then to ignore it. If you take it up it might just flare up more. On the contrary, if you avoid feeding it, it might just die out like a fire without fuel (Pr.26:20). Remember also how much the Lord ignores in you every day (Col.3:13).

If it is something serious, especially with possible long term repercussions, go and try to talk it over with the other person (Mt.18:15). Do this in a spirit of humility and with a willingness to also listen to him as he tells you about what he considers as your faults. Remember, your aim is not to accuse him or to put the blame on him, but to 'win' him - for the Lord, and not to your view of things. Remember also that you might hear some things about yourself that might shock you because you never knew them before!

If that does not resolve the conflict, share the problem with one or two others (v.16). These should be mature and experienced people, able to keep secrets, and not directly involved with the problem themselves. (Don't take your special friends for this, because they might just stand loyally with you on your side and not be able to be fair to the person with whom you have a conflict. You would not like to choose people who are on the other person's side, would you?) First of all they will be able to tell you if you are making a mistake about it yourself. If they are convinced that you seem to have a point, you can all go together to the one you have a conflict with, and talk things over. Perhaps the "arbitrators" will be able to listen to both sides of the story and bring about understanding on both sides.

If this does not work either, you still feel strongly that this should be sorted out, and your "arbitrators" feel that you are right in the matter, tell it to everyone in the church (v.17). Now there will be a lot of discussion about it, and it will become generally clear who is at fault. If it becomes clear that the other person is at fault and he does not agree with it still, you will just have to ignore him from then on.

* It is unfortunately true that all conflicts do not get sorted out on earth. If every attempt to resolve a conflict fails, you must learn to live with it. Perhaps you can move out of the scene or avoid that person. But if you cannot get away from the conflicting situation, pray for grace and wisdom to live without giving any further cause of conflict from your side. God recognises this practical reality that we cannot control how other people will behave, and so He tells us to live at peace with the others "as far as it lies within you" (Ro.12:18).

* Pray without giving up (1Th.5:17;Lk.18:1). We will be amazed to see what God will do for us if we continue to pray in faith without giving up. Even though we cannot change others, God can work in people's lives in many ways in response to prayer. He is interested in delivering us from difficulties. But how much more will He take delight in our prayer if we are seeking to honour Him!

* In some cases it might be necessary to bind Satan and the spirits of darkness in the name of Jesus, in order to bring peace to the situation. If someone's behaviour is stubborn, rebellious, unreasonable, ridiculous or going out of control, it is good to consider the possibility that he may be acting on the suggestions of evil spirits. I am not referring only to people who are 'possessed' by demons, who are totally under the control of demons. 'Ordinary' people including Christians may be influenced by demons to say or do many things which they would not normally do. The more people ignore the warnings of God in their conscience, the more they will open themselves up to such influences which can finally end up in possession by demons. On the other hand, a simple binding of the devil in the name of Jesus can bring an instant change in the situation if it was caused by the devil. This may not be a total victory, but only a temporary one, because a complete victory will depend on that person's response also.

* In some cases it might be more honouring to God if you would decide to take up the cross and die, than if you confront the other person publicly. In other words, if you choose to silently bear injustice for the sake of the honour of God's name, it would avoid a greater confusion among people and the consequent dishonour to God's name. You may suffer dishonour in the eyes of people who think that you are wrong because you would not explain and justify yourself. But you will receive great honour in the sight of God (Mt.5:12,12). Think of the blessing that came on Abraham and his descendents because Abraham chose to avoid a conflict with his nephew Lot by giving up his own rights (Ge.13:7-17).

* It is dishonouring to the Lord, in addition to being unrighteous, if His people take up fights against one another, by going to court (an extreme reaction) or even with verbal battles. Paul suggests that it would be better to suffer wrong than let this happen (1Co.6:1-10).

* Don't take a position that you will not tolerate any injustice. It is fine that you stand up for justice. But if you do it in such a way that dishonours God, with a spirit of defiance, rebellion or anger, you sin. Think of Jesus who suffered the greatest injustice ever done to a human being, and how He bore it - for our sake! We are called to follow His example (1Pe.2:20,21).

* Seek to overcome evil with good (Ro.12:21). Jesus has told us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who mistreat us (Lk.6:27,28). The stress should be on our own attitude, to make sure that it is good towards others. What we do externally has to be chosen with wisdom, because it depends on the other person as well as on the circumstances. Sometimes it may be good to say or do something that demonstrates our good will, but sometimes it may be prudent to keep away in order to avoid making things worse.

* Always remember how much the Lord has forgiven you. Then be quick to forgive others who do you wrong. Remember that if you will not forgive others from your heart, your Heavenly Father will not forgive you (Mt.6:14,15;18:3-35).

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