If you are a member of the human race then you will experience difficulty. You will experience suffering, sickness, loss and heart ache. There will be nights so dark that even the stars seem to stop shining. And these difficulties will include conflict with other people: neighbours, colleagues, friends, family, strangers – whoever it is, conflict will come.
How do we respond?
In the last couple of posts I’ve talked about dealing with anxiety and finding contentment, about finding peace in our personal life. How do we find this peace when other people are involved? How do we respond when the issue isn’t impersonal circumstances but aggressive persons?
Kathryn Kuhlman, in a television address in the ’70s, turns to 2 Kings 6 and the story of Elisha. The Syrian King, an enemy of Elisha and his nation of Israel, sends an entire army to capture Elisha. This army surround the town Elisha and his servant are in with horses and chariots – the heavy artillery of the day. There is no way out. Many of us will know situations that feel like this. Unfairly, perhaps even due to our obedience of God, we find ourselves confronted by adversaries who have overwhelming force. Maybe at work, in the community, in school or at home, there are people coming against us who have power we cannot tackle – they are simply stronger than us. How do we respond?
Elisha’s servant responds with fear. It’s natural. We can see only two ways to get out of a mess like this. Either we escape or we win. Our fear can lead to withdrawal (I have to get away!), aggression (You’re going down!) or despair (There’s no way out!). However our fear expresses itself each of these responses leads to a breakdown of relationship. We’ve been there, done that, or at least seen it before at different degrees of severity. Even winning the contest leaves a hollow feel, especially when the one we beat is a loved one or friend.
Yet Elisha finds a different way to respond. If you skip to the end of the story we find the Syrian army celebrating a feast with their enemies the Israelites and we read that there was a lasting reconciliation – “the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel.”
What makes the difference? Here are a few thoughts…
Elisha sees differently
If you hear only one thing from this message, hear this: The presence of God is not a theory, it is a fact.
These are the words of Kathryn Kuhlman. These words are true. These words change everything.
Elisha prays for God to open his servant’s eyes. When he does the servant sees that “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” When we know that God is present we become free to act differently. Often we feel in conflict situations like we are forced to react defensively or aggressively by the circumstances or people – ‘they made me do it’. Yet the reality is that when our Father God is present we are ‘more than conquerors’ through his love – we are safe and secure enough to choose for ourselves how we want to react.
How do we choose how to react? We either let the circumstances shape us or we let God do it. Jesus taught us to pray ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. What is the will of the Father? It is to see peace, reconciliation, unity come. The picture of heaven is the picture of a feast as every people from every tribe and tongue celebrate together. A picture not dissimilar to the end of this story…so what does Elisha’s reactions look like?
Elisha first reacts with prayer
As with choosing not to be anxious, choosing not to be the victim does not come from a denial of the challenge or conflict. Rather it comes from giving the conflict to God. Elisha prays that God would make the enemy army blind. In other words, he prays that God would step in so they could not do what they are planning to do. Rather than taking the matter into his own hands, Elisha places it in God’s.
Elisha walks with his enemies
As God begins to move, Elisha has an opportunity to escape. He could run from the conflict. There is a way out. Yet he decides to walk with his enemies, leading them to the very place where reconciliation needs to happen – to the capital of Israel. Now, please note that God has already moved to remove the immediate danger from Elisha. I’m not saying here that we should remain in a situation where we are actively being hurt – like an abusive relationship. If God provides a way out then step out of the abuse, out of the place or hurt. The question is: what is our heart when our enemies have been weakened? Elisha doesn’t leave them in weakness, but walks them to a place of greater reconciliation. Are we willing to maintain relationship in whatever way God guides as he leads us to?
Elisha chooses to bless not beat
Elisha finds himself with this captured enemy army under his power. He is now in the place of influence and here we see his heart shine through. Rather than beating them, he chooses to bless. Not only that, but he draws others to join that blessing. Elisha calls the King of Israel to feast their one time enemies. In this place of blessing rather than beating, Elisha now draws others into reconciliation. Having chosen to walk the way of peace rather than fear, he finds himself with an opportunity to bring peace in the wider community.
When we recognise the presence of God in conflicts we recognise an opportunity to respond differently. Rather than defending ourselves we can live for Him. Our actions can be shaped not by fear, but by love. First we hand over the problem to God in prayer. When he moves we have a choice to cut contact, maintain relationship – to reconcile in our own part to our enemies and continue to walk with them. As we walk with them an opportunity may come to draw others into reconciliation depending on whether we are willing to choose to bless rather than beat.
How will we respond?