Being "in Christ" is the pre-eminent factor of self-identity for the follower of Jesus. That's what our previous post concluded (see: Who are you, really?).
How does that relate to conflict?
Here's one step toward answering that question.
Therapy or Transformation?
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Some become bitter, withdrawn, crippled, or angry; while others become more compassionate, stronger, and gentler.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 a people more numb than alive; more alienated than reconciled; more resigned to broken-ness than growing toward wholeness. This is true even among Christians.
What is needed is the deep transformation experienced by co-operating with the Spirit in his work of moving our identity “in Christ” toward becoming more “like Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This is the transformation of our identities.
Conflict is a catalyst that calls 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?
Transformation through examination
Here is one helpful approach to aid in your transformation. It is the Examen recommended by Ignatius Loyola.
The Examen is the useful practice of taking time in your day to review with God how you've been thinking, speaking, and acting. It involves examination of your heart before God, and with God, with a view of becoming more aligned with Him.
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.
1. Gratitude: Note the gifts that God’s love has given this day, and give thanks to God for them.
I begin with the simple, yet profound, acknowledgement that I am loved by God. For what gifts do you thank him today?
2. Petition: Ask God for an insight and strength that will make this examination a work of grace, fruitful beyond human capacity alone.
For me, this 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 being invited to co-operate with the Spirit in his work of transforming your identity.
3. Review: With God, review your day – or, in this case, a particular incident of conflict. Look for the stirrings in your heart and the thoughts that God gives you this day. Look also for those that have not been of God. Review your choices in response to both, and throughout the day in general.
As I’ve 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 (“Is that You God?”).
4. Forgiveness: Ask God for his pardon where it is needed (1 John 1:9) – those things that have offended God – and thank him for his cleansing touch.
5. Renewal: Look forward to the following day and, with God, plan concretely how to live it in accord with his loving desire for your life.
This is neither therapeutic technique nor behavior modification. It is the intentional act of drawing nearer to God (James 4:8) where you can co-operate 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.”
What difference can this make?
Does being "in Christ," or becoming more “like Christ,” mean that we will no longer engage in conflict?
It does mean that we will begin engaging in conflict in a different way. In other words, we will engage in conflict more like Jesus Christ engages in conflict.
How did Jesus engage in conflict? That’s for another post.
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