We live in stress-inducing times, but over the next couple of weeks, I’d like to suggest some things we can do about it. Take the stress produced by conflict and hurtful words. It is some of the most painful. I have a friend and colleague who is experiencing some extreme stress right now from conflict with his associate pastor. They have very different leadership styles and some irreconcilable differences. He is now certain that either he or his associate will have to go. As you can imagine, this is deeply painful for him and for everyone involved.
Conflict affects all our relationships, whether work or family. If we experience conflict with family, it will affect our work. If we experience conflict at work, it will affect our relationships at home. Take Jesus’ family, for example. We know from Mark’s gospel that some of Jesus’ family actually opposed him early on. We read in Mark 3:20-21 that his family “went out to restrain him” (lit. “to arrest him, take him into custody”). People were saying, “he has gone out of his mind.” His brother James refused to acknowledge his true identity until after he saw him alive, from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1ff.).
In James’ letter he writes about the power of our words for evil or for good: “All of us (thankfully, James includes himself here) have made many mistakes” and, in fact, “anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect.” No doubt James said many things to Jesus that he later regretted. He calls this a tongue problem -- an inability to communicate in a way that brings healing to relationships and glory to God. Never has the power to broadcast our words through the internet and social media been easier. Angry and hateful words fly back and forth on a daily basis, and the result is not often pretty.
The temptation to say whatever is on our minds in an inflammatory way is powerful. I’ve fallen prey to this temptation many times over the course of my life! It is easier to steer a ship than to tame the human tongue, says James. In fact, “every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed…but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (3: 7-8). But does this leave us without hope? Not quite. The point James is making is not that we should despair because “no one can tame the tongue.” No, his point is to remind us that this is a spiritual problem that human effort alone cannot solve. When our words are on fire, and conflict is consuming our relationships, the proper pilot is not in control. It’s true that no human being can control the tongue but “with God, all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).
Jesus once said, “Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). The character of our speech reveals the condition of our hearts. If we want to speak truthful words that both challenge and heal today, we will have to be full of God and not full of ourselves. We will have to confess to God our weakness and our lack of self-control, and invite him to direct our thoughts and our words daily. The testimony of the Spirit’s fullness (Eph. 5:18) and the Spirit’s fruit (Gal. 5:22), will be a new freedom to speak the healing words, and the humble words, which lead to peace.
Today, over the same internet that makes it so easy to communicate hurtful words, I had the opportunity to pray for my friend and colleague as he prepares to take a stand for his job, his family, and his sense of call. He wants to do it to the glory of God and without regrets. Perhaps you are experiencing conflict right now too. In the power of the Spirit, and with the prayers of the saints behind us, we can be quick to hear, and slow to speak (James 1:19) so that when we do open our mouths, we can voice our deepest convictions with passion, and we can take our stand with humility and love. Hope to see you soon…