How many of us can honestly say that in the past month, week or even day that we’ve never been upset or angry or that we’ve been totally free of conflicts? I know that I certainly couldn’t say that. The bible is pretty clear about the cause of the arguments, conflicts and fights and it gives some great advice in regard to overcoming them.
What causes the arguments? James was quite clear about the cause, in just a few words. James 4:1 says:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
Notice that he doesn’t say that there is anything wrong with having desires. We all have them. The desires battle within us, though, when those desires become more important to us than God and God’s desires. When our focus becomes the desire, we are setting ourselves up for trouble.
When God is the most important thing in our hearts, the desires are controllable and controlled. When the desires start pushing God out of our hearts, the desires begin to control our words and actions. This means that our arguments are a result of a heart condition. Our hearts can’t serve two masters.
The hard pill to swallow is that when we feel anger, resentment, conflict and other negative emotions, we are responsible. Let that sink in a moment. The cause of the problem isn’t the circumstance but rather the condition of our hearts.
Understanding this and accepting it is extremely hard, but it is the first step toward overcoming the strife of conflict. This is something that I personally struggle with. I can’t say how many times I’ve lashed out verbally and later regretted it. For instance, I take pride in the work I’ve done on the church flowerbeds. If someone told me that they looked bad, I’d take it as a personal insult and would likely at least think about some choice things to say, even if I never said them.
How about this; you are driving to an appointment and you’re late. Everyone in front of you seems to be moving at a snail pace. Have you ever caught yourself saying something like, “Come on, move! Don’t you know that I have someplace that I need to be?” Even if you’ve only thought the words and never said them, you should be able to see that they are nonsense. It isn’t as if the thoughts or words will get you to your appointment any faster than being mild and patient would. However, it does give insights into why you or I often feel frustrated in such a situation. Remember, it isn’t the circumstance that causes the feelings. It is a heart condition.
Luke puts it this way in Luke 6:45:
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
Pay special attention to the last 10 words of that scripture. If your heart is filled with God, good things will proceed from your mouth. If it is filled with your desire, your thoughts, words and actions won’t be good. Poorly chosen or spoken words are usually the beginning of an argument or disagreement. Thus, and despite the fact that I dislike absolute statements, all arguments and disagreements come from having the wrong focus in your heart!
This isn’t hard to understand or even to accept. It is far harder to change. The reason is that in order to resolve our arguments, conflicts and disagreements, we much change our hearts. That is hard to do. Indeed, only through help from God can it be done, so we need to pray for His help in this. This is also a truth for everyone who ever feels frustration or finds themselves in a disagreement. It is as true for a Pastor as it is for someone who has only started to study the bible. None of us is exempt.
The world likes to play the blame-game, always trying to blame other people and circumstances for how we feel. When we realize that our negative feelings don’t come from circumstances but from our hearts, we put ourselves in a position to do something about it. Yes, it does mean that we take ownership of our emotions and it means taking responsibility for them. However, it is also liberating to not blame circumstances and to put the cause of the problem squarely where it belongs; in our heart and heart condition.
This has very practical applications, too. A few days ago, I was getting ready to grind up the ingredients for some zucchini relish. The recipe calls for, among other things, zucchini, bell peppers and onions. I bought the bell peppers and onion last week, specifically so I could make the relish. I started getting the ingredients out and discovered that the onion was missing. I looked everywhere for it, while becoming more and more agitated. Finally, I asked my wife if she knew where I might have misplaced the onion.
She said, “Oh, I used the onion in dinner two nights ago. Remember?”
Remember? I wasn’t standing there when she used the onion. I specifically bought that onion so I could make the sweet relish. What in the world was she thinking? How dare she use MY onion! She should have known better. My relish would be ruined and she did it on purpose!
Do you see the progression if I let the desire (to make the relish) take center stage in my heart? I’ve been guilty of letting things progress in exactly this way.
What did I do in this instance? I told my wife that I’d forgotten about it being used in the dinner and that the dinner turned out very well and that I hoped she made that dish again in the future, some time. I then drove the short distance to the store and got another onion, before proceeding to make the relish. A war of words didn’t ensue, neither my wife or I got angry and something worthwhile got accomplished. As an extra benefit, my wife appreciated the compliment on her dinner (which really was good) and to show that she appreciated it, she helped me make and can the relish.
What was the difference between how I might have formerly acted and how I acted by following my own advice above? I recognized that my budding anger wasn’t about my wife and it couldn’t be about a circumstance, so it had to be a heart condition. Once I realized that, I took ownership and responsibility of my feelings and resolved the issue, while leaving God firmly in place in my heart.
Oh, and the little thing about complimenting my wife on the dinner in which she used the onion? “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” My heart was full of God, and as the bible says, God is love. (1 John 4:8) So a loving compliment came quite naturally.
Will I always be able to do this? As much as I would like to and pray that I will, it’s doubtful. I’m as flawed as anyone reading this. I’m also mindful of the fact that any time we let anything at all other than God take center stage in our hearts, it becomes idolatry and we know what the bible says about idolatry.
Still, this really works and it is the way to avoid arguments and conflict. This is probably the most important thing I’ve ever said in an article or post, and it comes right down to this: Circumstances don’t create conflicts. Conflicts are always, always caused by a heart condition. Do you have a heart condition?