DAY 20 Restoring Broken Fellowship [God] has restored our relationship with him through Christ, and has given us this ministry of restoring relationships. 2 Corinthians 5:18 (GWT) Relationships are always worth restoring. Because life is all about learning how to love, God wants us to value relationships and make the effort to maintain them instead of discarding them whenever there is a rift, a hurt, or a conflict. In fact, the Bible tells us that God has given us the ministry of restoring relationships. For this reason a significant amount of the New Testament is devoted to teaching us how to get along with one another. Paul wrote, "If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you,... Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends." Paul taught that our ability to get along with others is a mark of spiritual maturity. Since Christ wants his family to be known for our love for each other, broken fellowship is a disgraceful testimony to unbelievers. This is why Paul was so embarrassed that the members of the church in Corinth were splitting into warring factions and even taking each other to court. He wrote, "Shame on you! Surely there is at least one wise person in your fellowship who can settle a dispute between fellow Christians.' He was shocked that no one in the church was mature enough to resolve the conflict peaceably. In the same letter, he said, "I'll put it as urgently as I can: You must get along with each other.” If you want God's blessing on your life and you want to be known as a child of God, you must learn to be a peacemaker. Jesus said, "God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God." Notice Jesus didn't say, "Blessed are the peace lovers," because everyone loves peace. Neither did he say, "Blessed are the peaceable," who are never disturbed by anything. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who work for peace" those who actively seek to resolve conflict. Peacemakers are rare because peacemaking is hard work. Because you were formed to be a part of God's family and the second purpose of your life on earth is to learn how to love and relate to others, peacemaking is one of the most important skills you can develop. Unfortunately, most of us were never taught how to resolve conflict. Peacemaking is not avoiding conflict. Running from a problem, pretending it doesn't exist, or being afraid to talk about it is actually cowardice. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was never afraid of conflict. On occasion he provoked it for the good of everyone. Sometimes we need to avoid conflict, sometimes we need to create it, and sometimes we need to resolve it. That's why we must pray for the Holy Spirit's continual guidance. Peacemaking is also not appeasement. Always giving in, acting like a doormat, and allowing others to always run over you is not what Jesus had in mind. He refused to back down on many issues, standing his ground in the face of evil opposition. HOW TO RESTORE A RELATIONSHIP As believers, God has "called us to settle our relationships with each other." Here are seven biblical steps to restoring fellowship: Talk to God before talking to the person. Discuss the problem with God. If you will pray about the conflict first instead of gossiping to a friend, you will often discover that either God changes your heart or he changes the other person without your help. All your relationships would go smoother if you would just pray more about them. As David did with his psalms, use prayer to ventilate vertically. Tell God your frustrations. Cry out to him. He's never surprised or upset by your anger, hurt, insecurity, or any other emotions. So tell him exactly how you feel. Most conflict is rooted in unmet needs. Some of these needs can only be met by God. When you expect anyone-a friend, spouse, boss, or family member-to meet a need that only God can fulfill, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and bitterness. No one can meet all of your needs except God. The apostle James noted that many of our conflicts are caused by prayerlessness: "What causes fights and quarrels among you? ... You want something but don't get it.... You do not have, because you do not ask God." Instead of looking to God, we look to others to make us happy and then get angry when they fail us. God says, "Why don't you come to me first?" Always take the initiative. It doesn't matter whether you are the offender or the offended: God expects you to make the first move. Don't wait for the other party. Go to them first. Restoring broken fellowship is so important, Jesus commanded that it even takes priority over group worship. He said, "If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.' When fellowship is strained or broken, plan a peace conference immediately. Don't procrastinate, make excuses, or promise "I'll get around to it someday." Schedule a face-to-face meeting as soon as possible. Delay only deepens resentment and makes matters worse. In conflict, time heals nothing; it causes hurts to fester. Acting quickly also reduces the spiritual damage to you. The Bible says sin, including unresolved conflict, blocks our fellowship with God and keeps our prayers from being answered," besides making us miserable. Job's friends reminded him, "To worry yourself to death with resentment would be a foolish, senseless thing to do" and "You are only hurting yourself with your anger.” The success of a peace conference often depends on choosing the right time and place to meet. Don't meet when either of you are tired or rushed or will be interrupted. The best time is when you both are at your best. Sympathize with their feelings. Use your ears more than your mouth. Before attempting to solve any disagreement you must first listen to people's feelings. Paul advised, "Look out for one another's interests, not just for your own." The phrase "look out for" is the Greek word skopos, from which we form our words telescope and microscope. It means pay close attention! Focus on their feelings, not the facts. Begin with sympathy, not solutions. Don't try to talk people out of how they feel at first. Just listen and let them unload emotionally without being defensive. Nod that you understand even when you don't agree. Feelings are not always true or logical. In fact, resentment makes us act and think in foolish ways. David admitted, "When my thoughts were bitter and my feelings were hurt, I was as stupid as an animal." We all act beastly when hurt. In contrast, the Bible says, "A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.' Patience comes from wisdom, and wisdom comes from hearing the perspective of others. Listening says, "I value your opinion, I care about our relationship, and you matter to me." The cliche is true: People don't care what we know until they know we care. To restore fellowship "we must bear the `burden' of being considerate of the doubts and fears of others.... Let's please the other fellow, not ourselves, and do what is for his good." It is a sacrifice to patiently absorb the anger of others, especially if it's unfounded. But remember, this is what Jesus did for you. He endured unfounded, malicious anger in order to save you: "Christ did not indulge his own feelings ... as scripture says: The insults of those who insult you fall on me.' Confess your part of the conflict. If you are serious about restoring a relationship, you should begin with admitting your own mistakes or sin. Jesus said it's the way to see things more clearly: "First get rid of the log from your own eye; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye.' Since we all have blind spots, you may need to ask a third party to help you evaluate your own actions before meeting with the person with whom you have a conflict. Also ask God to show you how much of the problem is your fault. Ask, "Am I the problem? Am I being unrealistic, insensitive, or too sensitive?" The Bible says, "If we claim that we're free of sin, we're only fooling ourselves." Confession is a powerful tool for reconciliation. Often the way we handle a conflict creates a bigger hurt than the original problem itself. When you begin by humbly admitting your mistakes, it defuses the other person's anger and disarms their attack because they were probably expecting you to be defensive. Don't make excuses or shift the blame; just honestly own up to any part you have played in the conflict. Accept responsibility for your mistakes and ask for forgiveness. Attack the problem, not the person. You cannot fix the problem if you're consumed with fixing the blame. You must choose between the two. The Bible says, "A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper fire." You will never get your point across by being cross, so choose your words wisely. A soft answer is always better than a sarcastic one. In resolving conflict, how you say it is as important as what you say. If you say it offensively, it will be received defensively. God tells us, "A wise, mature person is known for his understanding. The more pleasant his words, the more persuasive he is." Nagging never works. You are never persuasive when you're abrasive. During the Cold War, both sides agreed that some weapons were so destructive they should never be used. Today chemical and biological weapons are banned, and the stockpiles of nuclear weapons are being reduced and destroyed. For the sake of fellowship, you must destroy your arsenal of relational nuclear weapons, including condemning, belittling, comparing, labeling, insulting, condescending, and being sarcastic. Paul sums it up this way: "Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you." Cooperate as much as possible. Paul said, "Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody." Peace always has a price tag. Sometimes it costs our pride; it often costs our self-centeredness. For the sake of fellowship, do your best to compromise, adjust to others, and show preference to what they need. A paraphrase of Jesus' seventh beatitude says, "You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family." Emphasize reconciliation, not resolution. It is unrealistic to expect everyone to agree about everything. Reconciliation focuses on the relationship, while resolution focuses on the problem. When we focus on reconciliation, the problem loses significance and often becomes irrelevant. We can reestablish a relationship even when we are unable to resolve our differences. Christians often have legitimate, honest disagreements and differing opinions, but we can disagree without being disagreeable. The same diamond looks different from different angles. God expects unity, not uniformity, and we can walk arm-in-arm without seeing eye-to-eye on every issue. This doesn't mean you give up on finding a solution. You may need to continue discussing and even debating-but you do it in a spirit of harmony. Reconciliation means you bury the hatchet, not necessarily the issue. Who do you need to contact as a result of this chapter? With whom do you need to restore fellowship? Don't delay another second. Pause right now and talk to God about that person. Then pick up the phone and begin the process. These seven steps are simple, but they are not easy. It takes a lot of effort to restore a relationship. That's why Peter urged, "Work hard at living in peace with others." But when you work for peace, you are doing what God would do. That's why God calls peacemakers his children. DAY TWENTY THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE Point to Ponder: Relationships are always worth restoring. Verse to Remember: "Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody." Romans 12:18 (TEV) Question to Consider: Who do I need to restore a broken relationship with today?