I read about an exasperated mom who sent her disobedient little boy to his room. When his time was up, he came out far more confident than when he had gone in.
He said, “I’ve been thinking about what I did and I said a prayer.”
“That’s fine,” his mother said, ‘if you ask God to make you good, he will help you.”
“Oh, I didn’t ask him to help me be good,” replied the boy. “I asked him to help you put up with me.”
I found that little gem by reading through a list of quotes and anecdotes. Here’s another…
It seems a little guy was attending church with his family when a flash of insight concerning prayer and conflict resolution suddenly came over him. Here’s how the storyteller related the incident:
“We watched an especially verbal and boisterous child being hurried out, slung under his irate father’s arm. No one in the congregation so much as raised an eyebrow—until the child captured everyone’s attention by crying out in a charming Southern accent, ‘Ya’ll pray for me now!'”
We can laugh because we totally get it.
It seems all of us want to pray, “God there’s some conflict here! Help me get the best of it!”
It makes sense since the requests are coming from the hearts of children. However, what makes sense for children should not be so sensible for mature adults. Instead, we will be far better served if we listen to the advice of two other selections found in the same list…
First, William Law said, “There is nothing that makes us love a man so much as prayer for him.” One has to wonder, “Why doesn’t that choice bit of wisdom not pop up more often when people are held in the clutches of conflict?”
Second, President Lincoln said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me seemed insufficient for the day.” Considering the greatness of this hero and the enormity of the conflict he dealt with, once again, we need to ask, “Why are more of us not following his example?”
It seems logical that we would. However, like the children in the above anecdotes and unlike the advice in the quotes from Mr. Law and Mr. Lincoln, most people, if they think to pray at all during times of conflict, pray for themselves. They pray for victory. They pray for personal advantage. The Bible, however, leads us another direction.
So how should we pray when faced with conflict? Well, in a follow-up message to this message, we’ll get some real nitty-gritty, moment by moment advice as we investigate the conflict resolution model the Apostle Paul gave the two church ladies, Euodia and Syntyche, in Philippians 4:2-7. However, before that, let’s first consider why we should pray for conflict resolution.
The “why” question is almost always the most important question. If we do not know why we should do something, we will more than likely fail to have much, if any, motivation for doing it. So, let’s get to it.
Where better to look for an answer to the why question than the Lord Jesus himself. In chapter seventeen of his gospel, the Apostle John recorded the words of Jesus when the Lord prayed to the Father in anticipation of the crucifixion. Notice a part of what he prayed (John 17:13-15):
“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”
Did you pay attention? Look at the last two sentences again: “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” Praying on behalf of the apostles, Jesus said the world would hate them. Yet, he did not ask that they be removed from that hatred. He did not ask God to knock-out those who would generate and extend that hatred. Instead, he simply prayed they be protected from the evil one. In the face of hatred and conflict, Jesus simply wanted the apostles to avoid giving in to Satan.
If this were the end of his prayer it would be sufficient, but there is more. What Jesus desired for the apostles, he wants for all believers. In verse twenty, Jesus prayed, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” Whoa! Jesus prayed for all of us! And he did not finish with this prayer for protection. He went on. So, let’s see where his prayer went (John 17:20-23):
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
When Jesus prayed for us, he prayed specifically that we be a people united, not divided. In fact, his words were quite explicit: May they be brought to complete unity. But why? The answer came in his next breath: “to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
The product of unity is what Francis Schaeffer called “The Final Apologetic.” In his book, “The Mark of the Christian,” Schaeffer argued that the best form of evangelism was for Christians to get along. His point must not go unheeded: continual, persistent, unresolved conflict between Christians has the exact opposite impact on the world from what God desires. Here’s part of what Schaeffer wrote, “…we cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians.”*
This is exactly why Jesus prayed as he did. The Lord indicated that two things would occur as a result of Christian unity:
first, unbelievers would believe our claims that God the Father sent God the Son;
second, unbelievers would believe that God the Father loves us as much as he loves his One and Only Son.
Now if this is true, the opposite is also true. If we allow conflict to divide us, if we allow disunity to be the hallmark of who we are, the world will not believe God the Father sent God the Son and the world will not believe that God loves us. They will be wrong, but they will have arrived at a reasonable conclusion. It will be reasonable to them, because we—through our lack of agenda harmony—will have given them every reason to believe just the opposite of the truth.
If and when we allow conflict to tear us apart, we also destroy our effectiveness as ambassadors for Christ.
Question: What does all this teach us about prayer and conflict resolution? Well, at the very least, it teaches us that whenever we face conflict our motivation to pray should stem from a hope that in all we say and do we will not destroy our testimony.
Two things, therefore, stand out:
like our Lord Jesus, we should pray that everyone involved with the conflict will be protected from the evil one;
and, as Jesus did, we should pray that unity will be of greater value to everyone involved than our personal differences.
Think about it. You are faced with conflict. You now have a choice.
You can react without thinking. If you do, you will not pray. You will engage your opponent in your own strength. When you do, you will be susceptible to the evil one and your conflict may very well blow up in your face. Your testimony will be damaged. If there are unbelievers involved or observing you will jeopardize their opportunity for seeing the truth about God.
You can wait to respond. If you do, you may think to pray. When you pray you can ask God to protect you from the influence of the evil one. You can ask God to help you value your relationship more than the issue causing conflict. And you can ask God to help you negotiate this conflict in a way that maintains your testimony.
Think about it. How would this change the patterns between a husband and wife? How would this alter the many disputes found within church congregations? How would this impact the negotiations between co-workers? How would this counter the tension between management and labor? That’s motivation.