Mar 12 - Conflict And The Renewed Mind

Conflict And The Renewed Mind

March 12, 2017

Romans 12:2

 

CONFLICT AND THE RENEWED MIND

March 12, 2017

 

Conflict is inevitable.  In fact, it is part of any relationship, even the healthy ones. 

 

Despite this, great relationships are possible.  However, because of the unproductive way that many of us deal with conflict, they are often not probable.  Many relationships suffer because of conflict in part because we often don’t give a lot of thought on how we should deal with conflict.  We are not intentional about what we do and say when conflict arises, instead simply reacting in the way that we feel at the time. 

 

The apostle Paul, writing to the believers in Rome, introduces the practical section of his letter - about what it means to live out the Christian life - with a verse that I have used often and that you will find quoted quite often, because it is so apropos when it comes to the source of Christian conduct.  This is how the New Living Translation puts it:

 

Do not copy the behaviour or customs of the world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.                         Romans 12:2 (NLT)

 

If we don’t just want to follow the way that people normally act and react, then our thinking will need to be transformed by God.  This is true of any and all areas of our lives, whether it has to do with our finances, our approach to life, our work or studies, and our relationships. If our thinking changes, if our minds are renewed, then our lives will change accordingly.  So without the change in our thinking, we will not experience the positive transformation that God desires for us. 

 

Another verse where Paul mentions this concept is in Ephesians 4:23 - renewal happens in the mind.

 

Do not copy the behaviour or customs of the world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.                         Romans 12:2 (NLT)

 

Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.

                                                Ephesians 4:23

 

Sometimes we hear that positive transformation is always instantaneous and automatic.  Truth be told, I would want that to be true.  I become a believer and instantaneously I am the person God wants me to be. And sometimes that actually happens in certain areas of life. 

 

However, this doesn’t always happen.  God does not wave a magic wand over us and our thinking changes automatically about everything.  In many cases there has to be some intentionality on our part as well, especially in areas of our lives where are thinking is pretty set. 

 

For example, when we feel threatened or attacked we will lash out or withdraw because our mind tells us that those are our options.  If we have been hurt by someone, our mind tells us to resent them and carry a grudge. 

 

Living the Christian life and experiencing life change doesn’t just happen when we let go and let God.  Often it takes effort on our part.  And this is true in the area of how we deal with conflict as well.

 

I am reminded of a couple of verses in Philippians that speaks about God’s part and our part when it comes to salvation:

 

Continue to work out your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear, aware that God is also at work within your, giving you both the desire and power to do what pleases him.                  Philippians 2:12-13

 

[Positive change takes effort.  Only determined, conscious decisions to do things differently, knowing that those decisions are possible with God, will take us step by step toward changing for the better.]

 

So today I want us to think about conflict.  As I’ve already mentioned, conflict is something that will be part of any relationship.  That is because we are different, have different opinions, have different ways of looking at events, and have different agendas.  So what are some of the main causes for conflict?  And I don’t mean the topics of conflict, like money, parenting, sex, division of chores, in-laws, and the like. 

 

  1. Poor communication

 

Most conflict starts over relative trivial matters or small disagreements.  However, conflict can easily escalade because of what we say and how we say it. 

 

a. That is because communication sometimes is neither loving nor fair.  Sarcasm, name calling, dredging up the past, lack of respect or kindness, humiliating in public.  You get the idea. 

 

The Bible speaks of the tongue as having the power to bring life or death.  We can tear down or build up another person when we speak to them - and they can do the same to us.  

 

 (Husband: I can’t believe that you’re so beautiful and so stupid at the same time. Wife: God made me beautiful so that you’d be attracted to me, and only stupid in so far as I’m attracted to you.)

 

Set a guard over my mouth, O YHWH.  Keep watch over the doors of my lips.                 Psalm 141:3

 

A door has a hinge we can control.  In the book of James we read not only about the destructive nature of the tongue but also about just how difficult it is to control it. 

 

b. By the way, poor communication that leads to conflict can simply be communication that isn’t clear. She meant this, and he thinks she meant that.  Misunderstanding someone may be an honest mistake but the problem is that it still breeds conflict. 

 

c. Poor communication sometimes just means that we don’t really listen.

 

  • Interrupting

  • Jumping to conclusions

  • Finishing others’ sentences for them

  • Frequently (and often abruptly) changing the subject

  • Inattentive body language

  • Not responding to what others have said

  • Failing to ask questions and give feedback

 

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand the speaker, but they listen with the intent to reply.[1]  In other words, conversation is reduced to us wanting to be heard, but not really interested in hearing what the other person has to say. 

 

Good listening requires patience.  Most of us are too preoccupied with ourselves when we listen.  Instead of concentrating on what is being said, we are either deciding what to say in response or we are poking holes in the other person’s point of view.[2]

 

Good communication is asking questions and paying attention to the answer.  Often we do not take the time to mirror back to others what we think they are saying.  We don’t say, “OK, let me get this straight.  Are you saying this and that?”  This would be telling another person, “I am listening and this is what I understand that you were saying.  I’m receiving, is this what you are sending?

 

(four common causes of conflict, 1. poor communication)

 

  1. Unfulfilled expectation

 

If you ask 100 married people if they expect their spouse to be perfect, chances are that all of them would say “no”. 

 

However, that may not be completely true.  While we may not expect complete perfection, we may expect them to be perfect in specific areas of life, or be perfectly what we want them to be, not realizing that meeting those expectations is impossible as well. 

 

So often the reason why we are impatient with others is because they are not doing what we want them to do, or because they are not the way that we want them to be.  And we don’t realize that what we consider to be “normal” is often predicated by the environment we grew up in.

 

The husband who has to be the perfect romantic - like the father was to the mother.  The wife who goes to work and then is expected to do all the chores like the mother used to do.  Perhaps we demand from the other person that THEY make us happy or content.  Do you know that marriage satisfaction among women decreases significantly in those women who read romance novels and watch romantic movies? 

 

So we can sometimes put pressure on someone to be something that they cannot be.  Unrealistic expectations will drive other people away from us.

 

When our expectations aren’t met, then, as James points out, we often respond in anger and frustration.

 

What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from the desires that battle within you?  You want something but you do not get it.            James 4:1

 

By the way, that is true in all areas of life: 

 

When I’m running late for an appointment or for work, then I either want a street free of cars or people in front of me to drive a certain speed so that I can there in time.  I also expect those who drive slower to move to the right hand lane so I can pass them. And when those desires aren’t met, I get frustrated.  It is their fault that I’ll be late for my appointment.

 

Or we may expect to have peace and quiet when we are at home. We expect the neighbour with the barking dog to stop his or her dog from barking or leave the dog inside during the day.  But if my expectations aren’t met, then I get frustrated and angry. 

 

Or, I might think that for some reason I should be the exception to the rule. I should be able to be exempt from the norm:

 

  • I should be the one who won’t become an addict no matter how much I drink or snort or smoke. 

  • I should be the one who is able to eat whatever my heart desires and who never exercises but still lives to be 100. 

  • I should be the one who has a spouse has a great body, worships the ground I walk on, knows exactly what I want and fulfills all my wishes

  • I should be the one with a perfect marriage without having to put any effort into the relationship.

  • I should be the one who is always in the right, who never has to say “sorry,”

  • I should be the one who always gets my own way and never has to compromise.

  • I should be the one who does not have to deal with strict parents or follow any rules.

  • I should be the one who never has to deal with rebellious or lazy kids.

  • I should be the one who never has to battle a serious illness.

  • I should be the one who can get injured and heal up without rehab and without any future consequences.

 

I feel special and unique among the billions of humans on this earth so I should receive special treatment, special privileges, and special dispensation, from others and from God.  Because I am the exception to the rule.

 

The apostle Paul wrote something that is often taken out of context:

 

 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me

                                                Philippians 4:13

 

Paul wrote this statement within the context of him having learned the secret of being content in any and all circumstances:

 

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. ... I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.                    Philippians 4:12-13

 

And he was referring to circumstances that are very difficult.  I have learned the secret of being content when I do not have enough food to eat.  I have learned the secret of being content when I do not have enough clothes to keep me warm.  I have learned the secret of being content when I am imprisoned and awaiting trial that has a good possibility of leading to my execution.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me

 

What was Paul’s secret?  He simply did NOT expect to be exempt from trouble and suffering and deprivation - and so he not only accepted it but found joy despite of it.  Many of us have never, ever, even got close to being able to deal with our own unfulfilled expectations.

 

By the way, sometimes the unspoken expectations in relationships is that the other person has to and will fundamentally change in order to be more like us. 

 

But all of us are different.  Sometimes that is the very reason we are attracted to someone ... in fact, opposites attract, we are told. 

 

He is calm when there’s a disagreement, she is a screamer.

She is strict when it comes to parenting and he’s more laid back.

He is someone who likes to save, she likes to spend.

He is irresponsible, she is conscientious.

He likes the bedroom cold, she likes it warm.

He likes to squeeze the tube of toothpaste.  She likes to role it up.

You get the idea.

 

While these difference may seem quaint at one time, after a while they have the potential to turn into becoming significant irritants between people. 

 

So why is it that some people who are polar opposites still are able to have a great marriage, while others, who seem to be more compatible, are fighting tooth and nail? 

 

For one, the couples that tend to get along despite differences remind themselves to appreciate some of their differences. They really do see the positive side of being different, of complementing each other and do not expect the other person to fundamentally change.

 

They realize that a good football team does not only consist of men who are 6’5” tall and weigh 325 lbs.  You need players who are significant shorter or who can run significantly faster than someone on the offensive or defensive line. 

 

But the other thing that those couples have been able to do is to find a position that both can adjust to and live with.  There is a recognition that, as Jesus said, ...

 

If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.                                               Mark 3:25

 

If I cannot seem to find common ground and always insist on my way, then something has to happen inside of ME.  There has to be healing and renewal and rebirth within me, and not just the demand that the other person change for the better. 

 

Some people think that they lose their dignity or pride if they end up Initiating a resolution to a conflict, if they are the first one to say sorry, if they forgive the other person and move on.  But that simply is wrong thinking.  Stinking thinking.  Which brings us to the nest point about the source of conflict.

 

  1. Lack of forgiveness and grace

 

All of us are fallen creatures. The apostle Paul writes about this inner brokenness and tendency toward doing and saying the wrong, sinful thing:

 

Everyone sins and we all fall short of God’s glory (i.e.: His holy standard).                       Romans 3:23

 

But while we want and expect forgiveness and understanding from both God and others, we sometimes treat others as if they were not broken, sinful, fallible and a bit messed up - like we are. 

 

So on the one hand, we expect that God forgives us our foibles, sins, short-comings, quirks, hang-ups and dysfunctional behaviour - but then we turn around and are unwilling to get over the way others have hurt us in the past or present. 

 

We also expect others to accept us for who we are, knowing full well that we are fallen, because we’re just human.  But then we turn around and we hold other people up to a different standard - so we end up being absolutely shocked and outraged when they don’t live up to it. 

 

It is sometimes amazing just how much grace and forgiveness we ask of God and just how little we are willing to be gracious and forgiving toward others. 

 

By the way, Jesus made that very point in his Parable of the Unforgiving or Merciless Servant in Matthew 18:23-35 after Peter asked him if he should forgive a person who hurt him seven times (Matt 18:21 - lit. who sins against me). 

 

When I come to God, I can give him everything that is bad.  The horribly mean thing that a person said to me.  The horribly damaging thing a person did to me.  The horribly sad thing I said to myself.   I take everything that is bad - and give it to God and allow Him to do a transforming and healing work in me. 

 

  1. Lack of Humility (False Pride)

     

We don’t put an end to conflict when we are able to force another person into agreeing with us. Kathy and I were in Wal-Mart on Friday and we saw a T-shirt that said,

 

It sounds funny until someone you love actually has that attitude and you have to try to get along with them.  A good friend of mine is on his third marriage because he carried that attitude into his first two marriages. He was willing to battle every disagreement until he was able to force his will on his wife.  But resentment continued to build with each perceived victory until one day his wife had walked out of his life, taking the daughter along.

 

Instead, we can deal positively with conflict when God changes us from the inside out, when our thinking and therefore our attitude and therefore our actions and words, are renewed and therefore changed to be, well, better, kinder, more rational, more forgiving, filled with more grace and compassion, and more humble

 

By the way, what I am saying is NOT that we should not have our own opinion, or become doormats or simply take abuse from others lying down - although what Jesus said about turning the other cheek in the Sermon on the Mount seems to point in that direction.  In my opinion, Jesus wasn’t telling his listeners to be punching bags when they have the option to walk away.  Or, that they should allow themselves to be robbed when they have the ability to prevent it. 

 

I would not counsel a person to allow themselves to be debased, exploited or abused by someone who has psychopathic tendencies, who is incapable of empathy, who is highly narcissistic and toxic, who is not willing to respect any boundaries. 

 

Evil behaviour should not be rewarded with unquestioning submission.  But in reality, those kind of people and those kind of circumstances are usually the rare exception.

 

So what I AM saying is that in almost all cases the real answer to conflict is to get so close to God, to continually lean in on God, and to let Him do a work inside of me ... opening every door for him to do so.  

 

When people go to counseling, they usually vent a host of grievances, they point to the other person as the main culprit and the source of the problem, and they are convinced that if only the other person would change that everything would be wonderful. 

 

The truth is, that if two people genuinely try to get as close to God as possible, when they are willing to forgive, and if they allow God to change their own outlook and attitude and thinking, then a solution can often be found that previously seemed impossible. 

 

When we are close to God, then often we will see things from His perspective, and often we will be motivated to approach things in a different way. 

 

By the way, I hope you realize that I am not saying that there aren’t other important ways to improve a conflicted relationship.  It is sometimes absolutely necessary to get help, to seek out counseling or a mentor - by the way, both of which are available at the church.

 

When there is unresolved conflict it is necessary to work on better communication, to set down rules for fighting fair, to find and agree on compromise positions that each person can live with, to agree on shared rules and values when it comes to parenting and agree on proper discipline when the need arises, to balance the need to save and spend ... but the ultimate answer to conflict comes when we are close enough to God for Him to change us

 

Sometimes the problem is that we don’t want that.  We don’t want God to change us.  We don’t want to change our approach.  We don’t want to see things from God’s perspective because then maybe we can no longer point our finger self-righteously at the other person.  We don’t want to put in the effort. 

 

Some people are trapped in misery because they’ve convinced themselves that they can never be happy or content unless the other person does this or that.  You fill in the blank.  When they feel that they cannot be happy unless the other person changes then they have put another person in charge of their fulfillment and happiness.

 

Others may be highly skeptical.  “You don’t know my situation.  My husband or wife has checked out.  He or she is sullen and angry and crabby all the time.  He or she is dealing with mental issues.  You don’t know ... just me getting close to God simply will not work.

 

But maybe, we need to change our thinking.  Maybe we need to let go of our expectations.  Maybe we can let go of our desire to have the other person change or for our situation to be wonderful. Maybe we need to stop wanting to have a relationship on our terms.  Maybe we need to find happiness and contentment despite the unloving situation we find ourselves. Maybe we have to stop praying, “God change them” and start praying, “God change me.” Maybe we really need to find the secret of contentment in each and every circumstance.  After all, aren’t all things possible with God?  

 

God is not here to give us everything we want.  He isn’t there just to make our lives perfectly as we would wish them to be.  God isn’t there to change the other person.  

 

Three ways to responding to conflict God’s way:

 

  1. I will seek to act and not simply to react

 

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.                            Proverbs 15:1

 

If I want to deal with conflict properly, I have to get to the point where I don’t simply react to the other person.  Where I don’t just blow my top, start yelling, or use whatever knee-jerk defensive reaction I have gotten used to or that was modelled to me. 

 

When I feel criticized I will NOT simply respond by going on the attack and accusing the other person.  When I feel disrespected I will NOT become sarcastic and cutting and mean. When something is said I don’t want to hear, I will NOT shut down and stop responding.    

 

I need to determine ahead of conflict how I will act.  I need to determine before I get angry what I won’t allow myself to do or say - no matter what. 

 

For example, we should never stoop to name calling.  Never call your spouse or your kids names.  Not even those that seem rather innocuous, like dummy or klutz.  Children in particular internalize those messages. 

 

Never dredge up the past.  Women tend to have memories that are absolutely unbelievable.  “You did this 14 years ago when we went out for dinner with your sister.  You had on that stripped T-shirt, and you said that you didn’t like my hair short - and you embarrassed me in front of your sister.  Don’t your remember?”  And you can’t believe ladies that husband has forgotten.  Completely. And he has no defense.  Because it’s in the past.  

 

So, no dredging up the past.  Stay in the present.  Focus on the present.

 

No hitting under the belt - picking on those areas where we are particularly sensitive ... our looks, our weight, out height, the size of our nose, our intelligence, our income, our position in the company, or whatever else where a comment is extremely cutting and hurtful.

 

Determine not to scream and yell.  Not to lose it.  It doesn’t help.

 

Don’t throw things.  Don’t destroy things.  Don’t punch the wall or anything else, for that matter.      

 

Don’t use terms like “never” and “always”.  “You always do this and that.  You never do this or that.

 

  1. I will focus on understanding not on winning

 

There are numerous verses in the Bible, both Old and New Testament, that speak of the foolishness of not listening and understanding, and the wisdom of going so. 

 

To answer before listening is folly and shame.

                                                Proverbs 18:13

 

Fools find no pleasure in understanding.  They only delight in airing their own opinions.                    Proverbs 18:2

 

The purposes of a person’s heart are like deep waters.  The one who is wise draws them out.           Proverbs 20:5

 

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.                         James 1:19

 

So I will listen. I will ask questions to make sure I understand.  I will try to make sure I understand, even if I don’t agree.  I will listen to your feelings, not just your words.

 

And often that will result in a willingness to find the middle ground.  It’s not my way or your way, but our way.

 

So we’ll set the temperature in the house to 19 degrees instead of the 17 degrees I like and the 22 you like.  Or they have his and her tubes of toothpaste - or his and her bathrooms for that matter.  They agree not to spend money above a certain amount each paycheque unless they both agree on it.  They determine not to argue in front of the kids ... finding a middle ground between them when it comes to consequences for bad behaviour.  They agree that raising one’s voices to a point is fair, but screaming is out. 

 

Without that kind of maturity and willingness to flex, differences simply breed conflict - and unresolved conflict ends up being highly destructive to the relationship. 

 

  1. I will extend grace and stop holding on to resentment

 

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger ... and every form of malice.  Instead be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving each other just as God has forgiven you through Christ.                                      Ephesians 4:32

 

I will not say, “God forgive me,” but then seek to punish you.  I will not seek forgiveness for myself, but then deny that forgiveness to another and make the other person pay.   

 

Holding a grudge, bitterness, resentment and malice are our natural reactions when it comes to how we react.  It is not natural to forgive.  To move on.  But if I expect God’s grace to be extended to me, I cannot but extend grace and forgiveness to others.

 

So maybe I don’t know how deeply you were hurt or how angry you are or how desperate.  I don’t know what was said to you or just how wounded you are.  And you don’t know how I’ve been hurt or abused.  But God does.  He sees what is happening in your life.  And ultimately, He needs to speak into your life and mine, change the way that we think, change the way that we react, change the way that we feel. 

 

Sometimes Christians speak of having strongholds in their lives. The expression comes from 2 Cor 10:4, where Paul writes that the spiritual weapons that we use have divine power to demolish strongholds.  Paul describes it in the very next verse as, among other things, of taking captive every thought and making it obedient to Christ.

 

Someone told me this week that he thinks that strongholds are negative and destructive patterns of thinking that need to be challenged, broken down, and then replaced with new patters of thinking.  I thought that was quite profound seeing that what took me on the journey of this sermon was the thought thatGod will transform us into new people by changing the way that we think (Rom 12:2) and that we are renewed in the spirit of our minds (Eph 4:23). 

 

I guess the point of this sermon is to make sure that we draw so near to God that our thinking will be changed even when it comes to how we deal with the inevitable conflict that will be part of our relationships.   

 

DOES THE WAY I DEAL WITH CONFLICT REFLECT:

 

  • MY SURRENDER TO CHRIST

  • MY NEARNESS TO GOD

  • MY RENEWED MIND

  • MY ABILITY TO FIND CONTENTMENT IN EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE?

 

IF NOT WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN?

 

 

[1] Stephen Covey?

[2] Janet Dunn, How to Become a Good Listener.