Relational conflict can sometimes surprise me. I can also anticipate its impending arrival. In either situation I must make choices.
A pilot friend recently told me that one of the most dangerous moments in flying is when engine failure happens during take off at the end of a runway. With no power, a short runway and few choices, it is understandable that a pilot would “lose it”. There are options in this crucial moment, options for which they prepare. The key is for pilots to remember their training.
When the warning signs of conflict are felt or imagined, we prepare for survival. We call these reactions fight, flight or freeze. Sometimes we experience them without knowing what we are doing, as they are simply self protective reactions. The strength in our response reflects the fear in our hearts and minds.
But there is one thing that we must never forget when we find ourselves in conflict despite what our initial reactions may be.
Philippians 4 reminds us that when we feel anxious, we are to pray. We are to remember the good; we are to rejoice. We are to redirect our minds toward what is true, right, noble, pure and so forth. These verses remind us that God is with us; that we are to be sober-minded and intentional.
Verse 2 shows us that the context of Paul's instruction here is conflict. We are reminded to pray, to remember the good in the midst of conflict, and to aid us in dealing with it biblically.
But how can we respond to conflict without fight, flight or freeze reactions, but to prayer and thoughtful reflection instead? Verse 5 reminds us that the Lord is at hand, with us, empowering us to do good. We are not forsaken or abandoned; we are accompanied by God himself.
I believe it is found in vs. 5, “The Lord is at hand.” The one thing we must remember when conflict arises is that God has neither forsaken nor abandoned us. But to the contrary he has promised to be near.
This truth is also found in Matthew 18. We have spent so much time looking at the principles for biblical conflict resolution that we have missed the big promise that is the foundation for any effort at resolving conflict. In Matthew 18:20 we find, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."
God’s presence has significant implications for how we move forward when conflict arises. First, we have no need for self protective behaviors. There is nothing that can be exposed that God does not already know. He is neither anxious nor worried about our sin, as he has already dealt with it in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are free to move forward in love because any successes or failures are good gifts from our father given by the spirit.
Second, God can bring more change in our lives than we could ever conjure up ourselves. If I forgive the other person will they stop sinning against me? Am I justified in responding with anger to match their anger? Is this situation the beginning of the end of this relationship? All of these questions are attempts at controlling the relationship. God’s presence reminds me that he loves each of us more than we could ever love one another or ourselves. He is more interested in and powerful to bring about the change we desire than we are.
Lastly, remembering that God is near helps us to rejoice, pray and offer grace to the other person. God is near to us in conflict and does not intend for us to handle this situation alone. His nearness can take us out of our knee jerk reactions of self protection so that we can move towards the other person with kindness, thinking of what is best.