Have you attempted to restore a relationship only to find that your discussions are going in circles? Relational strife can quickly degenerate into a battle of he said, she said arguments. Accusations are lobbed back and forth, tempers flare, and nothing is accomplished.
Individuals in conflict, however, can prepare for success by making these four commitments before attempting to discuss any specific problem. Making these promises first will increase the likelihood that the relationship will be reconciled, and God will be honored.
1. I Will Examine Myself First.
Ask yourself: Is there any possibility I could be at fault? Is there any possibility I could be deceived? Could I be wrong?
I remember the first time that idea even occurred to me. I was waxing eloquent about some situation in my life and how angry I was at the people involved. My sister, a more mature believer than I, looked at me and calmly asked, “What if you’re wrong?” I was shocked; that thought had not occurred to me.
Admitting you may not have it all right is the first step to having godly, growing relationships. Jesus said if you don’t examine yourself first you cannot even see clearly (Matthew 7:3-5). It’s normal to believe you are correct in your thinking; after all, most likely yours is the only perspective you have. But did you know you can be certain you are right but, in fact, be wrong (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25)? Have you considered that you can even be right and still be wrong because of the way you handle a situation? The Scriptures are clear that if you truly want God to direct your path, you must not trust your own heart (Proverbs 3:5-6). It takes humility to admit your viewpoint may be a little bit skewed or even totally incorrect.
If you cannot agree that there may be something you could learn, repent of, and change, there is no use in even looking for help. God’s Word does not speak highly of the person who will not listen to counsel (Proverbs 12:15). First Samuel 25 describes a foolish man named Nabal who was harsh (v.3), and no one can speak to him (v. 17). I would assume people tried to speak to Nabal, but he would not hear them. Nobody can speak to, and certainly cannot help someone who will not hear. If you won’t acknowledge that you may not have the right perspective, the discussions you have will resemble a hamster on a wheel that goes round and round: much energy is expended, but there will be no progress. Stay off the wheel and admit, I could be wrong; I may be deceived. Perhaps I am the one who needs to repent of my wrong thinking and actions.
2. I Will Silence the Inner Lawyer.1Paul Tripp develops the concept of the Inner Lawyer in his book, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, (Wheaton, IL, Crossway, 2012).
Proverbs 21:2 tells us that every way of man is right in his own eyes. Everyone has an inner lawyer who is relentless in his job of being right and proving his own innocence. Good lawyers protect their clients; their goal is to frame the evidence in such a way that their client (themself) is declared not guilty. Inner lawyers defend and justify sinful behavior. They often say something like this:
- I did curse at her because she was disrespectful (lazy, incompetent, yelling at me first, not meeting my needs, etc.)
- I did disrespect him, because he deserved it (he was mean to me first, disrespectful, argumentative, not being loving, not meeting my needs).
- I did talk to all my friends about how bad he is, because I had to have help and prayer support.
The purpose of counseling is not to declare a winner or loser by weighing the evidence to determine who is the greatest offender. When the inner lawyer emerges, the counseling room becomes the courtroom, where people are defending their own innocence and pronouncing the other party guilty. Even the Apostle Paul declared that his own clear conscience didn’t prove he was right (1 Corinthians 4:4). Resist the temptation to defend yourself. Your Inner lawyer must be silenced.
3. I Will Embrace the Goal.
God’s Word tells us that conflict does not come from the other person you are fighting with. On the contrary, conflict comes from you. It comes directly from the things you want. James 4:1-3 tells us that quarrels and fights come from the things you want badly that are having a war inside of you. What you say and do comes directly from your strong desires. The purpose of counseling is not to fix the other person so you can have what you want: a happier marriage, a more comfortable life, a more obedient child, and a more loving friend or spouse. The goal is not to prove to the other person that they need to change so you can get what you want and have a better life.
Profitable conversations cannot even begin unless both parties resolve that they want to please God more than getting what they want. As Ken Collier of the Wilds Christian Camp so aptly states, Just two choices on the shelf, pleasing God or pleasing self.2K Collier, The Wilds Christian Camp, https://wilds.org. If both parties in conflict will embrace the goal of pleasing God above themselves, full reconciliation is certain.3Robert D. Jones, Pursuing Peace, (Wheaton, IL, Crossway, 2012), p. 52. Both must determine to honor the Lord first (2 Corinthians 5:9). If not, the discussion will quickly end up back on the hamster wheel.
Embrace the goal: I will please God first.
4. I Will Resist the Inner Pharisee.
Just as we all have an Inner Lawyer, we also have a pharisee that lives in our hearts (Luke 18:9-14). How do you know when your Inner Pharisee rears his ugly head? You will say (or think in your heart) something like this: I’m glad I’m not like them. At least I work hard, go to church, keep the house clean, keep my body fit, etc.). This pharisee loves the word but. He will declare, I know I (fill in the blank), but at least I don’t (fill in the blank). The word but serves to prop up his own righteousness by minimizing his own faults and focusing on those of the other person:
- I know I yell at her, but at least I don’t take out my anger on the children like she does.
- I know I give him the silent treatment, but at least I don’t sit in front of the TV like he does every night.
- I know I have trouble controlling my anger, but at least I don’t clam up and refuse to talk like she does.
Inner Pharisees consider themselves to be righteous and treat others with contempt (Luke 18:9). Do you sense that an Inner Pharisee is alive in your heart? He will be relentless, so resist him by God’s grace.
Are you seeking help for your relational conflict? Do your own pre-counseling first by admitting you could be at fault, silencing the Inner Lawyer, committing to the goal of pleasing Christ above all else, and resisting that Inner Pharisee. If you do, you will be way ahead – or maybe even at the end of the road to success in solving your conflict.