Peace in the suburbs?

A single tree shouldn’t cause that much annoyance, but just about everyone has a story about how overhanging branches, loud music often playing late into the night, or a dog which never seems to stop barking caused some kind of neighbourhood dispute.

So often these ‘ordinary’, everyday conflicts become major disputes and cause us deep grief.  But as peacemakers living life ‘in the ’burbs’, we can choose to see and respond to these things as God-orchestrated opportunities!

So how can we transform unwanted and unpleasant interactions with neighbours into the chance to show we’re different – that their neighbour is actually a peacemaker?!

Peacemaking is the practice of seeing things from God’s perspective and using God-honouring, people-loving strategies.  And there’s never a better time to see things from God’s perspective than when we’re in conflict.

So what does this actually look like in these ordinary, everyday conflicts?

How often do people respond in kindness when we approach them in kindness?  My experience is that it regularly happens.  But it doesn’t always.  How can we react then?   Can we aim not simply to react badly when we are confronted with something unexpected or unwanted, but instead aim to stop, listen, consider and reflect on what is being said before saying or doing anything?

“To answer before listening, that is folly and shame.” (Proverbs 18:13)

And when we do speak, what about choosing to speak calmly and gently, regardless of how the other person approached us?

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

When we take the time and effort to listen and, seeking to discover the reasons behind a person’s position (i.e. why they want what they want); when we speak calmly and gently to an upset person, they may recognise our goodwill and so also make the effort to listen to try and work things out co-operatively.  By entering the conflict with gentleness and humility, seeking to understand the interests and concerns of the other person, we show we care not only for our own interests but also for theirs, and most people appreciate that.  And reciprocate in kind.  It’s a relief. (Philippians 2:3-4)

But what should we do if even after we respond with gentleness and humility, they still continue to be ‘difficult’ and we still can’t work things out?

This is where our faith and trust in God get to grow, because if we truly desire to honour God and love our neighbour, we’ll do the hard work of examining our heart and taking personal responsibility for our part in every conflict, trusting that God in his sovereignty will use this to purify us to become more Christ.

Peacemaking gives us the opportunity to look for ‘planks in our own eye’ and to give up our idols for the one true God

Being a peacemaker means that in every conflict God is giving us the opportunity to look for the ‘plank in our own eye’ and inviting us to deal with these in priority to dealing with the ‘little grain of dust’ in the other person’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

Our ‘plank’ can reveal to us desires which might have actually grown to be more important to us than honouring God and loving neighbour.  (The Bible describes these as idols.)

But if we repent and confess to God our worship of these idols and ask him to replace them with love and worship of him alone, he will give us the desire and power to continue to persevere in love, gentleness and humility with our ‘difficult’ neighbour.

Even and especially when we have ‘difficult’ neighbours, we can have the desire and capacity to live at peace with them (as far as that is possible, as much as it depends on us (Romans 12:18)) if we remember and meditate on the love of God which caused him to make peace with us through his son, Jesus Christ when we were not just difficult, but his enemies.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus] and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

Maybe next time you have a problem with a neighbour you might want to remember to first listen to them and ask God to help you be gentle and humble in your response, and if the conflict continues, meditate on God’s love with which he made peace with us through Jesus Christ and ask him to give you the same love for your neighbour.

This article is by Steve Wickham. Steve has been married to Sarah for 12 years. They have one son, and Steve has three adult daughters. Steve has a passion for peacemaking and is a PeaceWise trainer. He has worked as a registered safety practitioner in chemical manufacture, downstream petroleum, and ports initially. He has also served as a pastor, counsellor and school chaplain.

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