God with us when we are powerless (Horizons 5)

“God’s Promise: I Am With You”
2 Chronicles 20:1-30; Deuteronomy 20:1-4

An imminent attack during King Jehoshaphat’s reign and a portion of Deuteronomy titled “Rules for warfare” frame our reflection. Author Amy Poling Sutherlun reflects on the battles we face against disease, sin, depression, injustice and the fights of words and wills. The conflicts of words and will may be our most common daily struggle.

Disagreement and conflict are a normal part of life. The children squabble. The parents get miffed at one another. Employees work to deal with an abrasive boss. A church member annoys us and our buttons get pushed.

Who among us deals openly and maturely with the inevitable clashes between people? Generally speaking, we freeze, fight, flee, ignore, placate, panic, duck, cave into the angriest voice or find allies to our cause. In times when controversy escalates, we can be unsure what to do or feel powerless to stop it.

While many of us might consider conflict negative, conflict can be useful and dealt with in positive and productive ways. The topic of our study, “God is with us when we are powerless,” is timely in thinking about we how we deal with divisions in our families, churches, schools and beyond.

King Jehoshaphat, in 2 Chronicles 20:3-12, provides us some alternative ways to deal with what threatens us. He:

  • Analyzes the data: An overwhelming army is coming to attack Israel.
  • Acknowledges his fear and helplessness.
  • “Set himself to seek the Lord,” and proclaims a day of fasting and prayer for the kingdom.
  • Prays, actively recalling how God has been acted in the past and who God is and then says, “We do not know what to do but our eyes are on you.”
  • Listens to the voice of the Lord through a person in the assembly who proclaims: “This battle is not for you to fight. The Lord fights on your behalf.”

Analyzing requires that we stop and examine one’s own feelings and skills. Examination requires that we do not react immediately. In a recent training in healthy conflict management and in a class on the book, “Scream-Free Parenting: How to Raise Amazing Adults by Learning to Pause More and React Less,” the “pause” was recommended. The pause could be counting to 10, taking a deep breath or leaving the situation to assess one’s emotions.

Pause. Does the latest news make you angry? Turn off the electronics. Are the children driving you crazy? Take a time-out for yourself. The always-critical relative is coming to stay at your house? Think about how you can take care of yourself as you endure the person’s negativity. A person is spreading lies about you? Acknowledge your injury and look for Christian ways to respond.

Like King Jehoshaphat, it is good to acknowledge our need or helplessness. Rarely do we admit that we haven’t a clue as what to do. Whether it is depression, chronic family problems, addiction or physical illness, admitting our need can be a first step to being open to God and to those who can aid us.

Jehoshaphat listens for God’s word. In quarrels and discord, Jesus and the apostle Paul give us direct guidance. “Look at the log in your own eye” before judging your neighbor’s actions (Matthew 7:1-5). Look at yourself. Think about how your actions may be contributing to the situation. “If you remember that a brother or sister has something against you, go, be reconciled to that person.” Take the initiative in working out a problem (Matthew 5:21-26).

“Love your enemies.” Do not return injury for injury (Matthew 5:43-48). In Ephesians 4, Paul says: “Speak the truth in love. … Be angry but do not sin; don’t let the sun go down on your anger. … Let no evil talk come out of your mouths.” All of this is easier said than done! But Jesus knew that we can grow and act on his teachings.

Remember to reflect on how God has helped in the past and give thanks. As Israel faces the massive opposing army, and before God does anything, the people sing praise to the Lord. Thanksgiving is advocated a great deal in Scripture. Thanksgiving turns our thoughts to God’s goodness and gives us a new perspective.

As we try to learn new skills in healthy conflict, it can be like learning a dance. It may feel awkward, we may step on some toes or wonder if we are making process. But we keep our eyes on the Teacher who will steady us and provide for us.

RosalindBanburyRosalind Banbury is the interim pastor of Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church in Fishersville, Virginia.

You can purchase the PW/Horizons Bible study book through the PC(USA) Church Store.