The annual congregational meeting is coming and you dread the tension. You have pains in your stomach as you anticipate what the discussion will be. The inner turmoil also results in anxious thoughts and sleepless nights.
Maybe the tension in your life is caused by marriage conflicts. You and your spouse hardly agree on anything. The thought runs through your mind that he or she never meets your needs. He or she just does not understand you. Maybe it escalates into an outward explosion.
Do these scenarios or something like them describe your experiences? I’m sure the answer is yes because they describe life on planet earth. We live in a Genesis 3 world and this is reality. It is obvious from this chapter that conflict started when mankind rebelled against God’s design and “worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). Praise God that through the process of sanctification believers in Christ can become worshipers of the Creator instead of the creation!
Human beings are worshipers
I would like to propose that conflicts come from a disorder of the soul—a worship disorder as Romans 1:25 states. In Paul’s “fruit of the flesh” list of verses 29-30 this misplaced worship produces “…strife…malice…gossips… slanderers… unloving…and the unmerciful.” God’s intention was that our desires were to be focused on Him and others. At the fall these desires turned toward self and mankind was infected with narcissism. We now want what we want and are willing to fight to get it. We may just want “peace and quiet” or have “life under control” but are willing to disturb the peace to get it. This describes the strange kinks and twists of the human soul.
To continue building our understanding that we are worshipers let’s look at Romans 11:36. In this verse, as part of doxology of praise to the Lord for His incredible plan of salvation, Paul states why we are on the planet. He says that everything is “from Him,” “through Him,” and “to Him.” Life was meant to revolve around God. If everyone lived with their life revolving around God and others there would be no conflict. Another way of saying this would be, if everyone lived worshiping God and loving others there would be no conflict.
According to this verse He is the originator, the Creator (“from Him”). He is also the sustainer (“through Him”). And everything is to be the goal (“to Him”). In Colossians 3:11 Paul adds that “… Christ is all….” Other verses that present this focus are I Corinthians 8:6 (that states clearly “…we exist for Him…”); Colossians 1:16 and of course the abundantly clear I Corinthians 10:31. Life was meant to be theocentric and our desires focused on Him and others. He is to be the king and my life is to revolve around Him and His desires not me and my desires. Again, at the fall the focus became “I am the king of my life and others are to serve me” instead of loving God and loving others. The problem is that everyone has this “my kingdom” mentality and conflicts reveal “kingdoms in conflict.” The walls of castles clash together.
All are religious
Another line of reasoning that reveals that all are worshipers is exploring why all people are religious. Typically when I ask a class what it means when we say a man does his work religiously I get these type answers. He is devoted to his work. He is zealous, passionate, and puts energy into it. He is willing to sacrifice time and money for it and finds some type of satisfaction in it. There are many other characteristics also.
Now think about conflicts with me as we continue to establish that conflicts reveal a worship disorder. I have seen a lot of people zealous for a cause at congregational meetings! I am proposing that they were being religious. They were worshiping but most of the time the focus was not the true and living God. Why are individuals willing to put so much effort into getting their own way? Why are they willing to sacrifice time to gain support for their cause? Why do they show so much zeal? The answer, they are functioning as a worshiper but the god they are serving is their own desires. They are focusing on self instead of loving and serving God and loving and serving others.
Discerning the Heart
How can we figure out what we are really serving and living for during conflicts?
Psalm 18:1-4 can provide some guidance. It is a truism that pressure (like conflicts) reveals character. What a person turns to when feeling the heat of life reveals a lot about what he or she thinks it takes to make life work. It reveals what a person is really living for and loving. Let’s call this his or her “functional god.”
David was facing intense heat in relationships in Psalm 18. He describes it as “torrents of ungodliness” in verse 4. Have you ever felt that way during a congregational meeting? Instead of turning to his own desires to keep life under control David instead turns to worship of the LORD.
Among other things He says that the LORD is His “rock,” “fortress,” and “horn of my salvation” (verse 2). As he tries to deal with life (especially conflict in relationships) he turns as a worshiper to the proper source, the living God with Whom he has a living relationship, and the LORD sustains and delivers him.
I would like to suggest that people turn to other “rocks” and “fortresses” during conflict. Individuals blow their own horns of salvation and what they turn to reveals their functioning gods instead of the true and living God. Let’s think what the metaphors represent. A rock would symbolize security and even the comfort that comes from feeling secure. During conflict this can come out in subtle ways like manipulating conversations or relationships to get what you want so you can feel secure. It could also be demanding to be in control because that’s when you feel most secure.
The term “fortress” also can reveal functional gods. A fortress is someplace where you retreat when you are under attack. During conflict humans have many escapes. They can hide in silence and hope the conflict will go away. Humans are also good at making food and entertainment fortresses when there are tensions in life. Really anything can become a fortress. The question is what are they really loving, serving and wanting during conflict? Answering these questions can get to the roots of what is really producing the bad fruit of conflict in a church or home.
The phrase “horn of my salvation” is also revealing. The horn David blew when feeling pressure in relationships was the greatness of his God! Many people though “toot their own horn” during conflict. The answer to resolve the conflict is of course doing it their way in direct violation of Philippians 2:4 that states, “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” For others the horn may represent a “cavalry to the rescue” mentality. So they take control (this is the idol) of the situation and their abrupt speech becomes the means of letting people know, “I’m in charge.”
You can take each of David’s metaphors and ask what each represents and then question how humans turn to others things instead of the LORD. This would be helpful during conflict to help discern what is really fueling the fire of conflict in the congregation or the home. The answers reveal the functional gods being worshiped during conflict.
Learning from a tea bag
Proverbs 4:23 states that we should guard our heart because out of it flow the issues of life. In other words, we live out of our hearts. Matthew 12:34 states, “…the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” Under pressure the heart comes out. That’s how a tea bag works. Under heat the contents of the tea bag are revealed and it seeps out into its surroundings. The next time you hear an outburst of anger tell yourself you are hearing the contents of the heart. You are really hearing an expression of worship. Most humans look for a way to blame their environment for their responses to conflict. “It’s the pastor’s fault.” Or, “I wouldn’t be this way if my father loved me more.” Or, “if my wife loved me more I wouldn’t be so depressed.” Remember that biblically it starts with your heart and life just reveals what is already inside.
- Conflict is about much more than what is happening on the surface. Please think deeper. It seems to me that churches have focused on external behavior for so long that we have forgotten that God’s Word also addresses the “thoughts and intentions of the heart”(Hebrews 4:12). If we are going to truly help our churches break free from patterns of conflict we must help people realize they are worshipers and they are worshiping their own gods. This is idolatry and they must repent!
- Realizing that conflict reveals a worship disorder will help you realize the depth of depravity in the soul and spur you on to love the Lord your God with all your heart when you repent of these false gods (like loving comfort, control, pleasure). The path to resolving conflicts is by teaching people to love and serve what they were created to love and serve—God and others.