Peace is not just about you. It’s not just about your personal tranquility. It’s not just about your inner peace. Peace is fundamentally relational and communal.
Neither is peace limited to the absence of conflict. It’s the proper handling of conflict when there is conflict. If conflict is absent, then peace is possible because the things that cause conflict are absent. Instead of poverty, you have a strong value of work and of developing economy. Instead of injustice, you have justice. Instead of competition for limited resources, you have cooperation and collaboration about how best to use those resources.
When all of those things are reality, then personal peace, personal tranquility, inner peace is possible. I think of it kind of like a pyramid where just trying to manage conflict correctly is the base of the pyramid. That’s where you’re going to spend the most time. Trying to create an abundance of work and an abundance of opportunity is going to be the next layer. The next layer being justice and collaboration. Finally at the top is your personal or inner peace.
Here are some guidelines for managing conflict (because that is where most of us will spend most of our time).
“If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all.” – Romans 12:18. So, recognize that it may not be possible. So far as it depends on you, take personal responsibility for it. Don’t be defensive. Don’t stonewall, don’t avoid conflict for the sake of avoiding conflict. Only avoid or take a break as a means of regulating your own emotions. If you need a break to cool off, go cool off and commit to coming back.
Think critically about whatever the issue is, but do not be critical of the other person or people. Reinforce and shore up their character. For example: saying, “I know that you’re a generous person.” “I know that you are a kind person.” “I know that you are a caring person.” Do not attack their character, even if you are thinking critically about their position on an issue or their behavior in a situation.
Do not be contemptuous of them. So, don’t call names. Don’t call somebody a neanderthal because they are more conservative or traditional. Don’t call somebody a wacko because they are more progressive or liberal. You’re not going to get anywhere doing that. Don’t point fingers. Don’t be accusing. Avoid using “always” or “never.”
To the extent possible, manage your emotions. Check your emotions. You can feel angry, you can feel sad, you can feel worried about a situation. That’s fine, that’s appropriate, those are your emotions. But do that and then don’t be a jerk? “Be angry and do not sin.” – Ephesians 4:26. You can have whatever emotions you have and then not be a jerk. Because you have self-control.
Articulate your position with eye statements. “I think…” “I feel…” “I need…” “I want…” Those are what you need, what you think about the situation. It’s not pointing the fingers at the other person. It’s not being critical of their character.
When you’re listening, reflect on what they have said. Summarize their position and then clarify it to make sure you have correctly understood them. One common source of conflict is just misunderstanding what someone has said and getting angry, or worried, or sad.
The next level of cultivating peace, beyond just managing conflict, is to work to create abundance and opportunity. Have a strong value of work. Have a strong developing economy. In a fallen world, the purpose of our work is not just to make a buck. It is to facilitate peace, it is to bring about peace. Sure, we’re out there working, we’re out there trying to get our own needs met, provide for our own food, shelter, and clothing.
To the extent that it is possible, we also have a moral duty to provide food, shelter, and clothing for those people who cannot provide that for themselves. This is kind of interwoven with the justice layer of that pyramid, but not completely.
This is where, beyond what you’re doing at work, you are actively seeking the good of your fellow man.
The Bible is pretty clear. You have James 2, 1 John 3, and Matthew 25 that are all very clear that we need to care for the needs of our fellow man. And, we also have 2 Thessalonians Chapter 3 that is also pretty clear. If somebody’s just not working because they’re lazy, or distracted, they don’t eat. Somebody that chooses not to work needs to be held responsible to work. That’s when you’re back down to the second level of the pyramid where you need to work. You need to pursue your own opportunities, but then if you cannot work, then it’s a matter of justice, it’s a matter of peacemaking for me to do what I can for you.
Here, you also have cooperation and collaboration. In a capitalist sense, I kind of believe in competition. But then even in a capitalist sense, competition based just on price is a race to the bottom. If all we’re trying to do is offer the cheapest product or service, eventually we’re going to be offering the worst product or service. There are other ways to reduce cost, mainly efficient use of resources, and that takes a lot of collaboration and cooperation.
If we want to make peace, we’re not going to be saying “mine, mine, mine,” and using things ridiculously and inefficiently. We’re going to be collaborating and trying to use resources as efficiently as possible.
The final layer of the pyramid is your personal or inner peace. When we’re talking about the Fruit of the Spirit, when we’re talking about working on yourself, this is what most people are thinking about, because it’s self-oriented. But the biblical idea of peace is much bigger than working on yourself.
This layer of inner peace is this peak of the pyramid. It is only possible when all the other stuff is managed.
Philippians 4:4-7, “rejoice in the Lord always…” That means to have and express your joy. That’s what I talked about in the last article. “…Again, I say rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” Your reasonableness is your willingness to not be in conflict. Your ability to appropriately handle conflict. “The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
When we’re doing these other things, when we’re cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit in other areas of our life, the peace that surpasses understanding comes as a result of that. That’s why it’s at the top of the pyramid.
James 3:18, “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
Jude 2, “may mercy, peace and love be multiplied to you.”
Those are things that you’ll feel internally, that’s an internal sense of those things. So, keep in mind the pyramid. Recognize it’s just reality in a fallen world. You will spend most of your time managing conflict, but then try to get up into those other layers as well.
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