|Photo: Ed Yourdon, Creative Commons, cc license|
I love that God anticipated the normal ins and outs of relationships. He knew that misunderstandings, grey areas, and disagreements would spring up between people and he wrote that into his book for us.
I've been working my way through the Bible book of Romans, and in Romans chapter 15 this week, I found three tools God gave to help in conflict situations. Now everyone's context is different. For that group of Jesus-following friends, there were some disagreements about foods and days of the week. Who should eat what? What was allowed? What should be outlawed? And we can so easily slap labels on ourselves and others, huh?
Misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and conflict can slide into any friendship or relationship. Sitting on a rock in my flower garden as I read this chapter, two repeated words caught my attention. "Endurance" and "Encouragement" are mentioned in verse four and again in verse five.
After citing the conflicting issues the Italian Roman church friends were having then, God gave Paul three pieces of advice to help resolve their disagreements. First, he pointed to the example of Jesus's death on the cross. Jesus put the needs of others above his own, even dying for his created ones. So, one aspect of working through disagreements and conflict is to carefully weigh the other person's feelings, thoughts, and desires, being willing to put their needs above my own.
Next, God pointed to the Bible-- not only as our source for truth, answers, and wisdom-- but also in the context of solving relational issues. "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (vs.4). Last, the next sentence highlights another resource for defusing conflicts: "May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus..."(vs. 5).
Do you have a place in your life where you need endurance? Do you have relationships where you need encouragement? God specializes in that. For any complicated friendships, church relationships, family dynamics, or co-worker situation, isn't it exciting that we have a God who gives endurance and encouragement? I had never thought of God that way before. This God who gives endurance and encouragement.
In addition to being that source for us, God adds that our aim is glorifying God by our unity among Jesus-following people. Verse Five ends with: "...So that, with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
When we let divisions, discouragements, and disunity crumble and cluster high between us, we get stuck in pain and isolation. And the world sees disjointed Christians. Stepping in, God can bring beauty and hope. He loves to give endurance, encouragement, and his tools to unify us in our relationships.
It was time to race out to the park. Pouring chilled coffee and sweetened condensed milk into a mug and grabbing an odd assortment of food, my son and I headed for the park. No specific conflicts loomed large overhead that day, but I found it changing how I prayed for people, for my family and friends, and for my own heart. To the God who gives endurance and encouragement, and practical advice for conflict situations.
I'd love to pray with you this week, if you have something going on in your life. Let me know in the comments below or by email.