I just read a powerful article by Joni Eareckson Tada for pastors titled When a Member of Your Church Dying. It goes well beyond dealing with a dying church member and is not just for pastors. It is about how Christians can think biblically about suffering, end of life decisions, ministering to those who are suffering, and the importance of the family and church. I highly recommend it. Here is a portion of it about the role of family.
When I was in college, I convinced myself that I was supposed to marry a certain girl. I even talked myself into believing that God was leading me to do it. In retrospect, I can see many reasons that I was wrong, but I did not see those at the time. Fortunately, there was one key that prevented me from making a mistake. My mother simply would not agree. I made a commitment as a young man that I would never marry someone unless I had the blessing of my parents. I believe this commitment was built on a biblical principle that helps us learn to discern God's will for our lives.
In the past few blog posts, we have been exploring important principles for understanding God’s will for our lives. These are separated into five foundations for discerning God’s will and four avenues for discerning God’s will.
- We can discern God's will by surrendering our lives to him.
- We can discern God’s will by studying Scripture (Psalm 19:7–11; 1 Thessalonians 4:1–6; 2 Timothy 3:16–17).
- We can discern God’s will by seeking him in prayer (Philippians 4:6–7; Jeremiah 29:11–13; James 4:2b).
- We can discern God’s will by waiting for him to lead us (Psalm 25:4–5; 106:13).
- We can discern God’s will by listening to the testimony of the Holy Spirit.
- We can discern God’s will by observing our personal desires, convictions, and abilities (1 Cor. 7:8–9, 36–38; Exod. 25:2; 2 Thess. 3:5; 1 Cor. 12:4–7, 11).
- We can discern God’s will by observing God’s work in our circumstances (James 4:13–17; 1 Kings 12:15; 1 Cor. 16:8–9; 1 Pet. 3:17; 4:19).
Now we can cover the last two avenues.
3. We can discern God’s will by listening to the counsel of the church (Matt. 18:15–17; Heb. 13:17; 1 Cor. 12:4–20, 14:29–33; Prov. 15:22).
Learning to live in community and to submit to the authority that God has placed in our lives is critical to discerning Gods' will. When you are seeking God’s will on a particular matter, go to those who have authority in your life and ask for their counsel. It is also helpful to get feedback from others in the body of Christ. Take the time and effort to find godly people you trust, and ask them for counsel as well. This might not be easy, because it takes humility to ask for and listen to advice from others. But we can be sure this is a part of how God intends to give us his wisdom.
Once again, we cannot discern God’s will only by listening to the advice of others. Sometimes we may receive conflicting feedback—and sometimes even godly people are wrong. But getting counsel from others is a critical piece that must be taken seriously to see how it fits into God’s overall movement in our lives.
4. We can discern God’s will by reasoning and testing (Prov. 14:15; Rom. 12:2; 1 Cor. 1:20–21, 2:4, 4:6, 10:15; Acts 17:2, 11, 17; 1 John 4:1–6; James 3:17).
Seeking truth is more than, but not less than, using our minds (Phil. 4:7; Rom. 12:2). We tend to try to think our way out of troubles or calculate the wisest decision. This is simply not enough.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
At the same time, it is right to use our intellect as we seek God. Although God’s ways transcend our understanding, his life-transforming work is generally discerned through the mind of the believer. Furthermore, while God’s ways may transcend logic, they are not illogical, chaotic, or confusing. If we build our thinking on the presuppositions of the love and power of God and the revelation of his Word, then his leading is going to make sense. So as we seek God’s will, we are supposed to be reflecting, thinking, remembering, paying attention, and making wise choices. As you make decisions, try to think clearly and objectively about the situation and what you know about God and his ways.
When you are seeking God’s will on a particular issue, you can use the following questions to help process these foundations and avenues for discernment.
- Am I willing to follow God’s will in this matter, even if it is not what I want to do?
- What scriptural principles are relevant to this question? Do I need to study more on this subject?
- Have I spent significant time in prayer seeking God about this question?
- Have I worked through any feelings of pressure or impatience? Will I wait until I am clear about God’s leading?
- Has the Spirit convicted me of any sin related to this question? Can I sense his peace in moving in a particular direction?
- What desires and abilities has God given me that are relevant to this question?
- How has God worked in my circumstances to lead me concerning this issue?
- Have I sought the counsel of godly leaders and others in my church? What do they have to say about it?
- What are the pros and cons surrounding this question? What makes most sense from a biblical perspective?
This is the the sixth post in a series. The first five are:
I have had way too many conversations that went absolutely NOWHERE! That is especially discouraging when I am trying to discuss what I feel to be an important topic. In the next two steps in the 9 Steps for Conflict Resolution, I hope to point out some conversation strategies that will you help you avoid those dead end conversations.
At this point in the 9 Steps, I finally get to do what I’ve been chomping at the bit to do since the problem first began: talk. Hopefully taking the other steps first (which you can read about here: 1, 2 & 3, 4 & 5) has prevented me from making some major mistakes. If I have made it this far in the process, and still believe that there is a legitimate issue that needs to be resolved, then it is time to talk. But how I approach this is critical.
First, ask questions. I should not come into the conversation with guns a’ blazing, firing off my accusations. Here is a wise saying,
“If one gives an answer before he hears,
it is his folly and shame.”
Bring up the topic by asking for more information about what happened, how the other person feels about it, or what motivated the situation. Listen to what they say.
Second, be gentle and kind. Even if we are asking questions, we are probably poking into a sensitive area. Another wise word,
“A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
This open and gentle approach often gives the other person space to fess up to their own mistakes without having to confront them.
Now that you have more information, the next task in the conversation is to discern what kind of issue you are facing. I will suggest two basic categories:
a) those of a secondary nature, involving personal conviction or preference
b) those involving violation of central biblical principles
Paul warns the Romans “not to quarrel over opinions” (14:1). On these secondary issues, “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (14:5). “Each of us will give an account of himself to God” (14:12).
Not that I can’t discuss questions of opinion or the best way to get something done. But I will do so with humility and patience. And ultimately, I will be willing to let it go and let the other person live according to his or her own conviction.
There are some issues, though, that we cannot ignore. If so, we must move to the next step, which I will explain in the next post.
Do you have any other suggestions for avoiding dead end conversations?
Next Step: Saying Hard Things to People You Love
Want to know how to have 100% of all your fights vanish into thin air?
Want to know how to remove 80% of all of your conflicts from existence?
Of course you do. So you are going to keep reading about the 9 Steps for Conflict Resolution. You may have already missed the first three steps. You can read about how to Give Space here and how to Check Yourself and Let Go of Anger here.
So, on to the next step.
When something goes wrong, our natural response is to withdrawal. This is usually an attempt to protect ourselves or to influence the other person by expressing our disapproval of them. This is not love. Love is what is best for someone else, even when it costs me. Love does not choose its course of action based on personal hurt and loss (Christ is our example).
Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” Even when we are hurt and our relationships are broken, we can love. The entire purpose of your life and all the commandment of God are fulfilled in this one act of obedience (Mark 12:30; Gal 5:14).
Love (along with the other steps) is why 100% of your fights will cease. Love is patient and kind . . . (1 Cor 13:4-7). And if 80% of our conflicts are because we focused on ourselves, then love destroys them. We stop focusing on what we need and want and focus on others.
Here is the challenge: go do something to express your love for the person you are in conflict with. Do it before things are resolved. Do it today. This will solidify your forgiveness toward them and will strengthen your relational foundation so you can deal with difficult subjects at the right time.
Do we really think we will be able change others? What do they need? Who can change them?
So talk to him about the situation. Pray for the work of the Spirit to convict them if you believe they are wrong about something. Pray about how and when to bring up the matter with them. Allow God to lead you in handling the situation. He might tell you to let him handle this one and be patient.
The first step for conflict resolution is Give Space. You can read about this in the first post of this series.
The second step provides another great reason we should not
dive right into correcting others.
2. Check yourself
Jesus warned, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” (Matt 7:3-5)
Go ahead and say this out loud to yourself: “I might be wrong.” Some of us really need to add this possibility to our thinking process. When I am in conflict and I choose to give space and check myself, I find that often the main problem is actually me! I get alone with God and ask him to convict me and help me understand the situation. He will.
It may be that there is still a legitimate issue in the other’s life. But this is a great opportunity to make sure that I have discerned, confessed, and requested forgiveness for any wrongdoing on my part. Getting things right from my end often clears up the waters for others to see their own issues. It also strengthens the relationship and clears the way to address those issues when the time is right.
Bottom line: do not “go to your brother” about their sin when there is unconfessed sin on your part in the relationship.
3. Let go of anger
When we are hurt by others, or think that what they are doing is wrong, we often become angry. Trying to have a discussion when we are angry will rarely produce good results. Paul warns us not to allow anger to settle in our hearts (Eph 4:26-27).
Forgiveness takes place at two levels. One is the relational level, when we extend forgiveness to a repentant person and the relationship is restored. Another is the heart level. Even if someone does not repent, we must not be resentful or hold on to anger. We can forgive them in our hearts even if the relationship has not yet been restored. This heart level forgiveness is how we let go of anger. We can and must forgive because we have been forgiven (Matt 18:21-35).
Bottom line: do not “to your brother” about their sin when there is anger and forgiveness in your heart toward them. This sin on your part is a direct obstacle to your relationship with God (Matt 6:14-15).
Next Part: Steps 4 & 5: 9 Steps for Conflict Resolution
Have you had a fight with someone you love this week? Unfortunately, most of us have. It is amazing how we can experience so much joy and so much frustration from one relationship! We can enjoy the fellowship and love and cooperation. But relationships are also difficult. We often do not agree. We hurt or are hurt by others. We act wrongly and this affects those around us.
What should we do when we are hurt or believe those around us are doing the wrong thing? God tells us how to handle it in the Bible. When we follow his ways, we will be able to faithfully love and uphold truth and righteousness.
Here are nine steps you can take (and retake) when you face these difficulties in your relationships.
1. Give space
When Dana and I were first married, I asked my older brother Michael to give me marriage advice. He said, “One of the most important lessons I have learned in marriage is that I am not my wife’s Holy Spirit (and she isn’t mine).”
We like to try to fix those around us. But that is not really our job. In fact, by trying to fix others, we can become an obstacle to their learning process. When I think someone is wrong, I am not going to try to take God’s place in his or her life.
There is another reason we should not dive right into a “discussion” when we disagree. Some of us tend to speak before we think. Anger and frustration make this even worse. James advises, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).
So, the first thing I am going to do when I think someone else is wrong about something is nothing. With humility and patience, I am going to give the other person space to make mistakes and learn from them.
“But I can’t do nothing! This is too important!” Don’t forget, this is only the first step.
Next part: Steps 2 & 3: 9 Steps for Conflict Resolution
Here is our covenant for Highland Christian Fellowship:
Highland Christian Fellowship Covenant
As baptized believers in the atoning work of Jesus Christ, indwelled with the Holy Spirit of God, and saved through the grace of the Father, we do now, in the presence of God, and this assembly, enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ. As we are transformed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we commit to pursuing a life of obedience to the following biblical principles:
- Live for Jesus Christ and take His commandments and His commission seriously; to offer our time, energy, money, and prayers to participate in and support local and global efforts to make disciples of all nations (Mk 12:30-1; 16:15; Lk 24:47; Mt 28:19; Acts 1:8).
- Be family; to be committed to each other; to love, accept, and forgive each other. Help one another grow toward Christian maturity by bearing one another's burdens (Gal 6:2), encouraging one another (1 Th 4:18; Heb 10:25), exhorting one another (Heb 3:13), praying for one another, confessing our sins to one another (Jm 5:16), speaking the truth in love to one another (Eph 4:15), admonishing one another (Col 3:16), building up one another (1 Th 5:11), teaching one another (Col 3:16), comforting one another (1 Cor 13:11), submitting to one another (Eph 5:21), serving one another (Mt 20:27-8), patiently bearing one another (Eph 4:2), regarding one another as more important than ourselves (Rom 12:10), caring for one another (1 Pt 4:10), exercising our spiritual gifts to serve one another (1 Pt 4:10), being kind and tenderhearted to one another (Eph 4:32), forgiving one another (Eph 4:32), and loving one another (Jn 13:34-5). Inviting one another to pray for us, teach us, correct us, or rebuke us, if necessary, in a spirit of gentleness and humility, should we stray from our Lord's commands, because the thing we desire most in life is to glorify God and serve Christ. We voluntarily submit ourselves to one another and to the discipline of the Church.
- Love, honor, and esteem the pastors/elders and to pray for them. (Gal 6:6; 1 Tim 5:17; Heb 13:17)
- Support the Church in prayer, talents, offerings, and with other financial support and time as the Lord enables. (Acts 2:44-5; 4:34-5; 1 Cor 16:2; 2 Cor 9:6-7; Gal 6:6; Jm 5:16; 1 Pt 4:10)
- Maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3) while respecting and sharpening one another in areas of disagreement; preserving purity of biblical doctrine in primary matters of importance (1 Cor 15:3-5; Rom 16:17; 1 Tim 6:3-5) and exercising generous patience, love, and mutual edification in matters of secondary importance and personal conviction (Rom 14; 1 Cor 8, 10:23-33).
- Unite with some other church, where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God's Word, as soon as possible if we depart from this place.
I have uploaded last Sunday's Bible teaching: The Benefits of Community from Eccl 4:9-12. Listen, download, or subscribe is the Teaching Audio player in the right sidebar. Here are the main principles we discussed: 1. When we live in community, we produce more from our labor (v. 9). 2. When we live in community, we can help one another in weakness and failure (v. 10). 3. When we live in community, we can meet one another's needs (v. 11). 4. When we live in community, we are stronger in battle (v. 12).