4 Ways to Stay United
This post really makes sense in the light of the last post I wrote on looking at John 15 and the Vine and the branches in a new way. You might like to go and have a read if you didn't manage to read it before!
Now that you can see the prize and all the beautiful fruits that unity can bring, let’s talk about the price.
My husband and I began living in community 5 years ago after moving from a neighborhood where nobody would talk to us! As well as getting to know our neighbours, we have gathered people around us who have become leaders of their own communities and students from our school of ministry. There are lots of people and many leaders around us, who we work with and live life together with. There are LOTS of opportunities for disagreements and misunderstandings and LOTS of conflicts and potential conflicts. Over the years however we have seen how true the Bible's wisdom is in promoting unity and we have a leadership that has healthy practices in place to deal with issues that arise. We have seen the fruits of pursuing unity in our lives and ministry.
Here are four things we have learned that are worth making habits in order to see the fruits of unity:
1. Be vulnerable and go and talk to the person we have a problem with quickly and before discussing it with other people.
This Biblical practice mentioned in Matthew 18:15-17 is something we work really hard to do. My first impulse when I feel offended by something someone has said or done is to talk about it with a friend or Mark and to try and get them to justify my point of view. I can tell you from experience this is rarely helpful.
It breeds dishonour, anxiety, and is a huge distraction to what you are meant to be doing. It also amplifies a situation beyond its true size. (Suddenly Robert's bad's night sleep and mood at morning prayers turns his unintentioned brisk comment into 100 reasons why he hates and disrespects me and all leaders between here and eternity.)
It is much better to follow the Biblical guidelines shown in the above passage and go ALONE and talk to that person and try and sort it out with them as soon as is possible. (Obviously if the person is a member of the opposite sex and not your spouse, this needs to be done in a public space!)
If you are concerned about the conversation, by all means ask someone to pray for you without giving details. I frequently say to someone: 'I need to go and have a difficult conversation with X and I am feeling really nervous about their reaction. I don't want to go into details, but will you pray for me right now?' Because we have a culture of talking to the person who has offended us first, we then try and honour the other person's desire to have that conversation and do not ask for further details. If someone comes to us to talk about someone else they have issues with, we always try to ask: 'have you spoken to that person about it?' If they say 'no' then we tell them that they need to go and talk to them first before we get involved or before we will listen to more. We will happily pray for them and work through any hesitations they may have in approaching the person. Of course conversations still happen that shouldn't, but on the whole we have seen a much healthier dealing with conflict in recent months.
In experience, 80% of the time I go to someone they did not even know they had hurt me and had no intention to hurt me and it was just a misunderstanding! In most cases in our community where I have approached someone to sort it out, there has been increased unity and friendship and trust after having a hard conversation. When we try to have the conversation in love the other person can recognise that we value them enough to approach them. They respect our desire to talk through the thing we have been upset by without accusing them.
(If someone has acted abusively towards you or is not able or unwilling to hear your words, then it is then appropriate for that person to be approached with someone else. This is the next stage mentioned in Matthew 18:15-18. However, these situations do not make up the great majority of misunderstandings and conflicts.)
2. Forgive quickly.
One of those things which is easy to say and hard to do. It takes time, humility, embracing God in our lack, and intention.
I have had many people severely offend me in my life and some of those people it has taken months or years to fully forgive them. I have found, however, that the more I have had to forgive, the quicker I have been able to wrestle with the process.
It is a discipline to allow God to set us free from the hurt we think will comfort us but actually enslaves us. Holding onto unforgiveness is like daily drinking poison. It doesn’t do much damage to those who we want to hurt back, but does a lot of damage to ourselves. I cannot count how many times I have taken a shower and played negative thoughts and situations through my head with people who have offended me! And it has not helped our relationship at all!
One thing I have found now that really helps is declaring all the things I am thankful about that person out loud in prayer and allowing God to bring His love and perspective into my heart. Recognising that God's love towards them hasn't changed can be uncomfortable, but when my heart's desire is to have a heart like His, I have to try and see them from God's perspective. Although it can be incredibly difficult at first, and you may think there is nothing you are thankful for that person, that is really a lie. You would not be offended by them unless you valued them. And you value them because there is something valuable about their life, even if they have misdirected their gifts and energies and have used them for to hurt you. If you can't think of anything, then ask God to show you how to pray destiny words for them. If someone is an rude, manipulative leader, for example, declare in prayer that God wants to make them into a loving, Spirit-filled, freedom-embracing leader!
Sometimes we have to ask ourselves: is it more important that I am right, or that I am in the right relationship with this person?
Should I be protecting my heart or should God be doing it?
Is what is stopping me going and sorting out this conflict my own pride?
One day after an argument with Mark, God gently reminded me that I had been praying for humility. He lovingly told me that now was a great opportunity to practice! Since then, when I have felt pride rise within me, I have consciously tried to choose humility. It isn't something that just happens, it is something you have to choose!
Humbling ourselves is an action - it is a choice to deliberately put our pride to one side - to stop looking out for ourselves first. It seems scary at first and is an act of faith, because we have to choose to allow God to look out for us instead, but His word tells us that if we exalt ourselves we will be brought low, but if we humble ourselves, He will lift us up. (Matthew 23:12)
4. Pray, intercede and get on your knees for unity!
Ephesians 6:12 tells us that our brothers and sisters are not the issue, the enemy is. Our fight is not against our brothers and sisters - they are on the same team as us! Let us not try and attack the soldiers on our own army! If they have gone astray, let's try and guide them lovingly back onto the right path!
We need to presume the best about others intentions towards us and pray for unity and that no disunity would get in.
Often in our ministry the enemy tries to get in and divide the leaders against one another - we have to be vigilant against his schemes and pray often for unity and do steps 1-3 as well to remain united. We have told all our leaders that the enemy will try and plant accusations in their hearts against one another and that we want people to quickly sort out any issues that arise so that a bitter root doesn't grow up and divide us. Unity is not about all doing the same thing, but it is about wanting the best for one another and seeking God's will together. When I feel like the enemy is trying to get in, I make a practice of deliberately taking time to ask others if they have anything against me. I ask them if they have any questions or doubts about stuff I am doing so that false accusations from the enemy don't have an opportunity to build up. We also try and pray regularly together with our leaders as prayer promotes unity.
Ultimately you may try to do everything you can and the other person may or may not be able or willing to be united with you. That is between them and the Lord and there are times when relationships move on. But let us seek, on our side, to honour others and promote unity in every way we can.
Lord, we desire to be peacemakers and it is so hard when we listen more to the enemy's accusations than to Your voice. Help us to take time to listen to Your heart for others and help us to lean into those we find difficult and promote unity in all the relationships we can. For Your glory and as a present to You, the God who so desires unity. Amen.
I hope you have enjoyed this mini-series on In a Right Relationship. If you want to receive new blogposts into your inbox you can click here.
Do let me know in the comments what you think about anything I have written and do pass this article or any others onto anyone else who you think would appreciate it. Thank you!