I had the opportunity to lead a devotion for Day 2 of our Conflict Coaching & Mediation Training last week in Houston, TX. Here’s what I shared with our participants just before they dove into a very full day of mediation training:
I want to open this morning by asking two questions that don’t initially seem to be related but, in the end, I think they are.The first question is, “Why are you here?” (at this training)
The second question is, “What are you afraid of?” (both here at the training and as you look ahead to what it is preparing you for, serving other people as a peacemaker.)
Why are you here?, and
What are you afraid of?
I’ll flip, as it were, momentarily to the last page of the book to give you a preview of my answer. I think they are linked by one word, and that word is “love.”
First, why are you here? I would venture to guess that all of you are here because of love in some form or another. Maybe you’ve gone through severe conflict with someone you love and gained a heart for peacemaking through experiencing that brokenness and/or reconciliation. Maybe you’ve watched others do that, in your family or church or circle of friends. Maybe you love the church, the bride of Christ so much, and it saddens you to see conflict disrupting the unity and the witness of the church. Or maybe someone you love thinks you should be here, so you’re taking their word for it.
The Apostle Paul has this great passage in 2 Corinthians 5 that many Bibles title “The Ministry of Reconciliation.” At the end of this chapter, Paul gives a resounding, literally earth-changing statement about the power of the cross and Christ’s motivation in coming to die for us:
He says, starting in verse 17,
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
So here’s this comprehensive statement of who God is and what he’s done and what he calls us to do. But earlier, up in verse 14, Paul talks about why he is such a committed ambassador of reconciliation, why he has given his life to this ministry, both through teaching and through getting involved in the dirtiness of peoples’ lives. He says, verse 14, “For Christ’s love compels us.”
I’m really tempted to go on and on about what that love of Christ looks like and what we look like when we are compelled by that love. If I had the time, I’d talk through passages like Colossians 3:12-14, where we see some really specific aspects of that love – ” 12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, [You are loved; here’s what that love compels you to do:] clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
I suspect that you will need to be reminded numerous times of that love, that you will need to return to verses like this over and over, perhaps today, and definitely in the future as you are exploring what your calling as an ambassador of reconciliation looks like. As your attempts to love are repelled by people who are angry with you or not as motivated to participate in a mediation as you would like. And you’ll need to be steeped in these verses so that you can call other people to live out their identity as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved – you’ll need to be able to communicate what it looks like for Christ’s love to compel them.
But that role can be uncomfortable and daunting at best, terrifying and gut-wrenching at worst. So thus enters my second question, “What are you afraid of?”
At the risk of projecting myself onto you, let me tell you some of the things that I find myself fearing, in both these training events and when I go out to do the real thing.
- I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to figure it out, to get it right. There’s a LOT of information being thrown at you, and some of it is pretty technical.
- I’m afraid of looking foolish in front of my fellow students and my instructors.
- Not only am I afraid I’ll look foolish, I’m afraid I won’t wildly impress and wow everyone (including myself) with how good I am at this
- I’m always afraid of the role plays – I’m not an actress, I studied business in college, and I’m always really unsure of myself when I have to convincingly do these role plays.
- I’m afraid of the real thing – I’m afraid of failing, of not being adequately prepared, of offending the parties, of making things worse, of not rightly understanding what’s going on, I’m afraid of not using God’s Word wisely, of not having the right words to bring comfort or conviction, of not having the courage to say those words when I do have them…
I actually made this list and then had to cut it almost in half because I realized I’d take up all of my time with my laundry list of fears, and that’s actually not my purpose. I raise these fears because I think there’s a Scriptural response to them, and I think it has to do with why we’re here… love.
1 John 4:18 tells us that “perfect love drives out fear.” This is a verse that God recently brought to mind for me as I was preparing for some conciliation work, when I was feeling under-qualified, under-prepared and generally intimidated.
You know, all of 1 John is sort of a treatise on love – of God’s love for us, and of how we love other people. I’ve already said that I think we’re here because of God’s love. And now I can turn around and use the power of that calling to drive out the fears that are holding me back from trying to make the most of my time at training or from diving into my first conciliation or from taking tentative steps to reconcile a relationship of my own that’s broken.
So, looking at some of those fears I listed earlier, how can perfect love (God’s love in me, and also as I grow in sharing that love with others) drive out my fear? Here are some questions I ask in response to my fears:
- Do I love God more than I love my own reputation?
- Am I resting enough in God’s love to look foolish in front of my fellow students, my instructors or even people I’m trying to serve in a conflict? (Luther famously called people to “sin boldly;” here I would encourage you to “mess up boldly.”)
- Do I desire so much to share God’s love that I am willing to take the risks that this sort of ministry entails?
- Will I pray that God will give me such a great love for the people I’m serving that I’ll be able to speak hard words gently and point people back to Christ for their hope? Will I pray that God will help me to love them enough to not get annoyed, angry, or to take sides when their sin starts impacting me?
- What am I afraid of that makes me unwilling to apologize for mistakes or ways that I offend the people I’m serving, and is it because I love my own pride more than Christ’s glory in their relationship?
You are here because Christ’s love has called you here and he is sending you out, equipped in a distinct way to be a minister of reconciliation. Live boldly, now and then, in that love.
1 John 3:1 – “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
Let’s pray that we would grow today in our love for God and in our ability to bring that love to bear in the nitty-gritty details of peoples’ lives.