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Look Behind the Issues

As we behold with fear and awe the just started war on Iraq, we think of conflict being inevitable. Especially so when it comes to personal conflicts.And we can see that the Conflict is unavoidable and not necessarily bad. Now, one of the most practical things we can do is realize that as far as conflict is concerned...
The problem is not the problem. Disagreement over issues is not what causes us to walk all over one another. Disagreement is not what causes committee meeting to erupt in anger. The real story of conflict occurs not in what we are disagreeing about, but in why and how we are disagreeing. Until we get below surface issues to our own unseen motives, we have not even begun to deal with the problems that are dividing us. And until we get below our unseen motives to the underlying beliefs that form them, we will still have a very shallow approach to conflict.

Our differences might be important. What we need to see, however, is that issues do not cause conflict. Unseen motives and underlying misbeliefs cause conflict.

To cultivate relationships that enjoy the freedom of healthy disagreement, we need to develop an understanding of unseen motives.

Motives Behind Issues.
The issues in a conflict are like the tip of an iceberg. Underneath are the unseen motives that cause healthy disagreements to turn sour.
The Apostle James shows us (James 3:13-16) that unseen motives can cause us to be like trouble looking for a place to happen. He made it clear that if we resent the attention or recognition that someone else is getting (envy), or if we are committed to getting ahead even at the expense of others (self-seeking or selfish ambition), we have a hidden conflict of interest that will shape and sour our approach to disagreement.
Paul, on the other hand, shows us ( 2Tim. 2:24-26) that if our motives are right, we can act graciously- even toward those who are against us. Even if we are convinced that the other side is caught in serious error, our goal can be for their good.
James and Paul are not alone in their emphasis on the role of right attitudes and motives. The whole Bible is a book of the heart. The Scriptures teach us that if our motives aren't right, our knowledge, faith, and self-sacrifice are of little value in the eyes of God (1Cor.13:1-3). Over and over the Word of God calls for the kind of love that is a motive before it is an action. The Scriptures are also clear about what happens when bad motives displace good ones. (Lk. 22:14-27).

Beliefs Behind Motives.
Conflict could be defined as "two or more people trying to occupy the same space or control the same limited resources." This was what was happening between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot. There was not room for both of them. (Gen.13:1-9).
Abram's response was peaceful- offering Lot his choice of land. The reason for Abram's generosity goes beyond his good motives. Abram was able to be so vulnerable because he was being taught by God to realize that his well-being was not found in his own clenched fists but in the open hand of the One who was leading him (Gen. 13:14-18).
Our motives and approach to conflict will not be shaped by rules but by whether or not we join Abram in trusing the Provider God. Are we willing to let Him provide for us on His terms and in His time? Or do we believe our security depends on our ability to take matters into our own hands?
This is not to say that we are to lie down and let people walk on us whenever they want. Love doesn't always give others their way. Sometimes they need to feel the weight and intensity of our concerns and convictions. In the process, however, they need to sense that our disagreement is gracious and loving in nature. They need to know that we are not resisting merely to protect our own interests. And the only way we can be so loving is to rest in God's ability to provide for us.
People who know they are secure in God's hand find their motives shaped in that awareness. They learn to live with grace, to love freely, and to trust God from day to day when matters beyond their control do not go their way.

Misbelief Behind Cycles.
We repeat cycles of conflict when we assume that what we want is always what we need, or when we are more concerned about the people who are against us than God who is for us. Misbeliefs are the fuel of ongoing cycles of conflict. They lead us to think that it is up to us to take matters in hand, and that if we don't protect ourselves no one else will.
Underlying misbeliefs also help to explain why the apostle Paul wrote as he did to disputing parties in Philippi. See Philippians 4:2-7. He must have known something of the matters that were separating them. Yet he didn't even mention the specific issues. Instead, he wrote as if the details could be worked out once both sides came to terms with the underlying misbeliefs that had caused them to turn away from the Lord and against one another.
By addressing the real issues underlying belief, Paul gave them a means of breaking the cycle of conflict that could have spread to many others. He knew that the formula for unity is not found in agreeing about all issues. Neither is the solution merely in knowing that we should find it within ourselves to love one another. The answer for those who know God is to have the right beliefs about Him in the troubling circumstances of life. This alone will enable us to avoid the self-protection, fear, and anger that otherwise lead to returning evil for evil and harm for harm.

Be encouraged.

*******************Letter # 12 (23.3.2003)*********************

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