Being “in Christ” is the pre-eminent factor of self-identity for the followers of Jesus. That was our conclusion in our previous post (see Unveiling the Clash of Identities).
How does that relate to conflict?
Here’s one step toward answering that question.
Conflict impacts us all. We can either be damaged by it or grow through it.
Some become bitter, withdrawn, crippled, or angry; while others become more compassionate, stronger, and gentler.
In our modern Western culture, there is an excess of simplistic therapies delivered in sound bites that merely leave people with temporary relief. These therapies result in people being more numb than alive, more alienated than reconciled, and more resigned to brokenness than growing toward wholeness. This is true even among Christians.
What is needed is the deep and profound transformation experienced by cooperating with the Spirit in His work of moving our identity “in Christ” toward becoming more “like Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This is God’s desire for each of us— the transformation of our identities.
Conflict is an opportunity and a catalyst calling you to examine your identity.
Think of a recent conflict in which you engaged. Did you act in a way that was inconsistent with, even contradictory to, your identity of being “in Christ”? If so, what can you do?
What is needed is not therapy but transformation.
Here is one helpful approach to aid in your transformation. It is the Examen recommended by Ignatius Loyola.
Some might be uncomfortable with such an approach, but I encourage you to compare its steps with Scripture carefully. There is nothing that I have found in it that conflicts with the love of God, the character of Jesus Christ, or the text of Scripture.
The Examen is the valuable practice of taking time in your day to review with God how you have been thinking, speaking, and acting. It involves the examination of your heart before God and with God, with a view of becoming more aligned with Him and His purposes for you.
It is an examination that leads to transformation by the Spirit, one small step at a time.
The Examen is arranged in five stages. I’ll use modern language adapted from Timothy Gallagher.
Note the gifts God’s love has given this day, and thank God for them.
I begin with the simple acknowledgment that God loves me. For what gifts do you thank him today?
Ask God for insight and strength to make this examination a work of grace that is fruitful beyond human capacity alone.
For me, this usually includes the practice of finding a quiet place and praying the words of Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT):
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Wait patiently for him to answer, then respond intentionally to what he points out. In this way, you are invited to cooperate with the Spirit in His work of transforming who you are— your identity.
With God, review your day— or, in this case, a particular incident of conflict. Look for the stirrings in your heart and the thoughts God gives you this day. Look also for those stirrings and thoughts that have not been of God. Review your choices in response to both throughout the day.
As I have written elsewhere, if these stirrings and thoughts are from God, they will always be consistent with Scripture, the person and work of Jesus Christ, and God’s character of love (see “Is That You God?”).
Look forward to the following day and, with God, plan concretely how to live it in accordance with his loving desire for your life.
This examination is neither a therapeutic technique nor behavior modification. It is the intentional act of drawing nearer to God (James 4:8) where you can cooperate with the Spirit’s gracious, powerful work of transforming your identity. In this way, conflict (among other things) is used by God to make you more “like Christ.”
Does being “in Christ” or becoming more “like Christ” mean we will no longer engage in conflict?
It does mean that we will begin engaging in conflict in a different way— in a better way. In other words, we will engage in conflict more like Jesus Christ engages in conflict.
How did Jesus engage in conflict? That is for future posts.
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