I know people have always been prone to disagree with one another, but it seems like in recent years our disagreements have become more serious than ever before. Once upon a time you might come across two parties who didn’t see eye to eye on a certain thing and yet those parties could still coexist at work or in the home or even in a church. Nowadays, coexistence has become a lost art. As soon as the first hint of disagreement arises people retreat to their corners and look upon the other as the enemy.
How do we then operate in such an environment? One way is to clam up and to remain silent. While the Bible teaches that there is a time for silence, the same verse also reminds us that there is a time to speak as well (Ecclesiastes 3:7). Silence can too often be misconstrued as agreement, which would make our silence misleading. The key, therefore, is to make sure that our words promote consensus and don’t add further to the divide.
As a natural-born opinionated soul (who also has a platform to voice his views), I have had to learn over the years how to muzzle my one mouth in order that my two ears might function as God designed them. It is a work in progress, but with the Spirit’s help I think I am making a bit of headway. So, how am I going about it?
In the first place, I’m working at listening more lovingly. By that I mean that I am trying hard to attend to the positions others hold from the standpoint of what they see is at stake. If I can reach a place where I can empathize with their perspective, it opens me to creative possibilities for resolution as opposed to being entrenched in my viewpoint, which is inevitably focused on what’s best for me and not much on what’s best for anyone else – a decidedly unchristian posture.
The next step is to ponder patiently what I have heard others saying. Sometimes allowing other viewpoints to roll around for a while in my head and heart enables me to see better both the strengths and weaknesses of where I have come down on a matter so that I might be more deeply informed about it and in a stronger position to work for a way forward.
Lastly, I pray for the grace to respond respectfully. I learned a long time ago that there are usually many ways to accomplish a given objective and sometimes my way is not the best way. And even when it is, a little humility and less reactivity on my part always goes a long way toward forging a spirit of unity, particularly where arrogance and self-centeredness might have too easily won the day.
We’re entering into a season where the potential will exist for polarization all around. But we don’t have to contribute to the polarization. As followers of Jesus we can offer a better way, one that fulfills our Lord’s desire that his people be “one” and locates our unity not in any team or party or philosophy or cause, but in his grace poured out for us all in the same way and for the same reason.
In a day when people are weary from the strife going on around them, I am certain that they will be drawn to a place where folk walk a straighter and narrower path that leads them to a greater peace and joy. I see no reason whatsoever why our church can’t be that kind of place and our fellowship can’t offer that kind of healing. In fact, I am certain, in a loving, thoughtful, and respectful spirit, this sort of approach is what Jesus is calling us to show.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9).