Praying for Conflict Resolution: Part One

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.

Sports and The Savior

Comebacks and Testimonies: A Tribute to The Kid and The Savior

Ken Griffy

Ken Griffy’s recent retirement sparked some memories so I pulled this from my archives…

It was incredible. On August 6th they were thirteen and one half games out of first place. By September 21st the Seattle Mariners were in sole possession of first place in the American League Western Division. The California Angels had collapsed The Mariners had climbed. It was one of the greatest pennant drives in major league history.

For 63 games of that spectacular baseball season, The Kid, Ken Griffey, Jr., sat on the bench with a broken wrist. Some called him The Natural. Many considered him the best all around baseball player alive. Yet, he sat on the bench. The first part of that season left him out of the line-up.

His frustration grew. His desire to help his team could be indulged only through cheers and encouragement.

Then came that late season charge. Ken Griffy Jr. finally took the field. He played like tomorrow no longer existed. Number 24 sailed across center field making one spectacular play after another. Swinging the bat, his offensive production placed fear in opposing pitchers. And then, in the eighth inning of game 159 in a 162 game season, he stroked a grand slam against the Texas Rangers giving his team a 6-2 victory. With only three games left in the season the Seattle Mariners had closed to within two games of first place. The miracle was under way.

When regular season play came to an end, the Mariners had drawn dead-even with the California Angels for first place. The Division Pennant would hinge on a one game play off — my boys and I were there.
My two sons and I love to sit in the Kingdome when the Mariners are making baseball history. Watching Number 24, The Kid, perform sometimes takes our breath away. During that pennant fever stretch of ‘95 we were sucking wind big time!

I still recall when Ken Griffey, Jr. hit the big leagues. He decided his number would be 24. Of course. Why not? For baseball fans the number 24 occupies special significance.

Another great player also wore number 24. He too was a center fielder. He too punched home runs like clock-work. He too possessed speed and skills like few others before or since. He too was referred to as the Kid — “The Say Hey Kid.” His name was Willy Mays.

It seems to make sense. A boy grows up playing America’s game. He watches his baseball heroes and dreams of following in their cleats. In his teen years, his parents and coaches know something special is about to explode. And in his mind he longs for the day he might wear his favorite player’s number and play the game like his favorite player plays.

This young man, Ken Griffey, Jr., the son of a major league ballplayer, comes to the major leagues at the tender age of, what was it, 18 or 19? He instantly thrills the baseball world. Sooner or later, it had to happen — the reporters ask him the same question I’ve been wondering about, “Hey, Kid, why did you pick number 24?”

Naturally, everyone figured they knew the answer. We all expected him to say, “It’s in honor of Willy Mays.” But then came the unexpected. Ken Griffey, Jr. said, “Because Rickey Henderson wore number 24, of course.”

Huh!? Rickey Henderson? At first the reporters were stunned. Then it all began to make sense. During the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s, Willy Mays was the greatest in the game. Rickey Henderson grew up idolizing him. As a result, he chose to wear number 24. Then Rickey broke into the majors. Through the late 70’s, 80’s and still in the 90’s Rickey too had left fans in awe. He still owns the single season and all time base stealing records. Guess who grew up watching him from afar — Ken Griffey, Jr.

Three generations of baseball players. Each wears the same number — 24. It’s a legacy — one man’s tribute to another.

I sometimes wonder…

“Will there be something that marks my life like this?”

“Will my sons and daughter know my number and desire to show it off in their adulthood?”

How about you? What do you intend to pass along? What will your legacy look like?

The Bible talks about legacies. In the Gospel of John, we read, On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:19-21). And Paul wrote to Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). That’s the number I want to wear. That’s the legacy I hope my children will receive. That’s what I want my kids to think about after I’m long gone. I want them to know that Dad was all about Jesus. And I hope that when we all get to heaven they will have passed it along to their children.