Avoiding conflict keeps the peace, but only temporarily. Real peacemakers know that sometimes you have to walk through the fire of conflict in order to sow the seeds of lasting peace. This deeply encouraging piece from Sarah Damaska explores what Jesus meant when He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” and what it means to be one.
When my husband and I got married, I was still a student and he had just graduated from seminary. We paid $300 for a tiny apartment and our car (a bright red 1990 Beretta) had definitely seen better days.
Inevitably, the car began making alarming clunks and thumps. But what were we going to do? Our budget was beyond tight. So we just turned up the radio.
That’s right. We drowned out the noise of what was really going on. The loud bass worked beautifully to help us forget that something was really, truly wrong.
One day, about 15 minutes from our apartment, our car finally quit. Turning up the music wasn’t going to cut it anymore. We had to own up to the fact that our sorry car needed some major attention.
By covering up the root issue and ignoring what needed to be done, we’d created an even bigger mess that required a tow truck and a large hit to our meager savings account.
Over the years, we figured out something about cars: Paying attention to the warning signals is a good thing. Routine maintenance may seem like more money, but in the long run, it most likely means your car will run longer and smoother.
You and I are living in a world of thumps and clunks. We as Christians have an obligation to bring the peace of Christ to a world who desperately needs it. But sweeping the problems under the rug, pretending everything is okay, can’t be our solution.
WHAT IS A PEACEMAKER?
Soon after Jesus called His disciples, people began to come to Him. As the news about Him spread, more and more people began to bring “all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them” (Matthew 4:24).
I imagine His hands touching their bodies, His eyes looking into theirs with compassion, their hearts overcome with amazement as they realized this ‘man’ was removing what had plagued them.
As the crowds grew bigger, Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down. He began to teach, beginning with what we know as the Beatitudes:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…”
And then, He said this: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:3-5,9).
The Message paraphrases Jesus’ words like this: “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.”
Blessed are the peacemakers, who work for peace. Blessed are those who show people how to cooperate.
Most of us are pretty great at being ‘peacekeepers‘, but we’re not so great at being ‘peacemakers‘. There’s a big difference between those two words.
Peacekeepers avoid the conflict. They look for the short term resolution, even if the problem is ongoing. But peacemakers take a long term view. They work out differences that bring honor to God and to one another.
Peacekeepers hunker down and do what it takes to keep everyone from exploding. They are passive. Peacemakers make an active effort to restore relationships.
Peacekeepers take the path of least resistance. Peacemakers take the path of discipleship.
Peacekeepers focus on themselves and what makes it personally easy. Peacemakers are focused on God and on others.
LET’S MAKE IT PRACTICAL
My children are 16, 14, and 10 years old. You’d think I’d have sibling rivalry figured out by now. But let me tell you that it remains one of my biggest and hardest parenting hurdles. My kids are experts on one another (and me!) and know just what to do to push one another’s buttons. When it happens, I want to just diffuse the whole situation. I want to jump in and make it all go away.
I admit, I’ve done my fair share of passive peacekeeping. When they fight over who is going to clean out the dishwasher, it’s easier to just do it myself. When my girls are lying in their beds at night and one is breathing too loudly, I sit between their beds and run interference.
Over and over again, I maintain the peace. And it exhausts me. Why? Because, ultimately, peacekeeping avoids the root issue. It diverts the attention from what’s really going on.
Peacemaking though, points us to God and the truth of salvation. And it builds relationships between people. This means that when I’m a peacemaker, it may take more effort and time, but it produces peace and love instead of exhaustion and bitterness.
Here’s how it works: When my 10-year-old is being predictably annoying and pretending to sneak a picture of my 14-year-old, it creates conflict. The 14-year-old responds by throwing a fork at the 10-year-old. There’s weeping. There’s gnashing of teeth. It isn’t pretty.
While I want to sweep in and diffuse the whole thing, instead I ask questions and listen without judgment. What’s really going on? What’s the root issue? We talk and pray together and I remind them that siblings are our greatest friends. At first they complain, roll their eyes, the whole nine yards. But eventually, they’re laughing again. Soon I find them playing a board game together. Since I listened instead of lecturing, they pursued peace.
Peacemaking looks at the long term view of reconciliation. It takes more time and effort to work out the differences, but it ultimately honors both God and each other. It doesn’t avoid the conflict or pretend it doesn’t exist, but it looks at the end result, instead of the immediate outcome.
JESUS IS THE ULTIMATE PEACEMAKER
Not long after He preached the Beatitudes, Jesus got into a boat and crossed over to His hometown. In this place where He had scraped His knees and grown from a little boy to a man, He reunited with the people who had known Him for His entire life.
Some men brought Him a paralyzed man on a mat. Jesus took one look at the faith of those men carrying their friend and said to the man, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).
The crowd around Him couldn’t believe it. They were outraged! Jesus could see their wheels turning and He knew what they were thinking, so He brought it to light by asking, “Why do you think evil in your hearts” (Matthew 9:4)?
I picture them there—the men bearing the weight of their friend who was lying helpless on the mat. Were the teachers of the Law (who had maybe even been Jesus’ own teachers in His life) shocked as Jesus was calling out their thoughts? The expectation of what Jesus was going to do was quite different from the direction He was heading. Was Jesus tempted in that moment to just hunker down and heal the man of his paralysis, hoping He could keep everything from exploding?
Instead He looked at the teachers of the Law and the crowd and told them, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then, He turned to the paralytic and said clearly, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Matthew 9:6).
As the man walked away on his own two legs, the crowds “were afraid, and they glorified God” (Matthew 9:8). In that moment, Jesus taught them what it meant to be a peacemaker by pointing people to the truth of salvation. He was unwavering in His focus on His Heavenly Father and others.
If Jesus had been a peacekeeper, He wouldn’t have confronted the sins of others, but would have made everyone happy. He wouldn’t have questioned the motives of His disciples or challenged the religious leaders, but would simply have hoped it would all work out.
He wouldn’t have had the confidence to preach and challenge others who disagreed and disapproved of His message. Ultimately, there wouldn’t have been a crucifixion.
Instead, Jesus would just have healed a bunch of people who eventually died anyway. Our history books would probably mention Him, but there would be little reason to follow Him today. But Jesus saw their hearts and the root of their issues.
ARE YOU A PEACEKEEPER?
Do you suffer from peacekeeping? If we aren’t intentional, you and I will naturally drift toward the path of least resistance. Here are four warning flags to watch for:
- Do you avoid conflict at all costs? When a disagreement comes up, do you steer away or deflect to someone else? If you’re being honest, do tense situations cause you to break into a cold sweat and find an escape? Being a peacemaker doesn’t mean you happily flock toward conflict, but it means that when something comes up you are obedient to confront it.
- Is your focus on keeping everyone happy? Do you sacrifice your own internal peace to put on a front of peace with others? Are there topics you avoid with others because you’re afraid that if it comes up, it will be too much for you to handle?
- Are there issues you continue to push aside, hoping that they will just disappear? Is it causing bitterness in your heart and wounding relationships?
- Do you ever find yourself turning to unhealthy coping strategies in order to generate a cheap imitation of peace? Does it feel like food, drinking, exercise, shopping, or vegging out on the couch will drown out what you truly hope for?
Paul tells the Romans, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). This doesn’t mean your goal in life is to make everyone around you happy and comfortable. It means you value those around you enough to bring dignity and honor to them. You’re confident in your words and actions to know they hold weight and, above all, you desire reconciliation.
BECOMING A PEACEMAKER
Sculptors Tim Noble and Sue Webster created several works of art made entirely of trash. They took piles of rotting food, broken toys, moldy wrappers, and empty pop cans and placed it all in what looks like a disgusting heap. But they also placed a spotlight at just the right angle so its illumination revealed a clear silhouette of two people. In a moment, everything about the dirty pile of trash was transformed into art.
If you’re a peacemaker, you’re bothered by the deep sadness of the world. You see the brokenness and the utter helplessness of those around you. You switch on the news and you feel the weight of the chaos swirling everywhere.
But those who seek peace aren’t content to just leave the feelings and emotions alone.
Peacemakers are committed to help others who are hurting. You may not be able to help everyone, but you can help those in your sphere of influence. Peacemakers have a way of finding themselves in places of conflict. The value they place in reconciliation means that they allow the Holy Spirit to speak through them.
The end result is beauty in the brokenness; light shining in the darkness.
THREE WAYS TO BE A PEACEMAKER
Perhaps you realize that you’ve been living as a passive peacekeeper and you now know it’s time to begin being proactive.
- Listen to the Holy Spirit and trust Him to lead you. It takes time to develop new muscles. Give yourself grace as you figure it out. James tells us that when we ask for wisdom, God will give us wisdom (James 1:5). It’s a prayer that we have assurance will be answered.
- Believe that your voice and actions hold weight. James wrote, “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18). Don’t stay quiet for the sake of keeping harmony. Maintaining the status quo isn’t the goal. The goal is to bring reconciliation; to bring healing to people (including you!) who are longing for inner peace.
- Speak from the intersection of truth and love. The questions you ask and the words you say may not be taken well at first. That’s okay. Make space for brave conversations and don’t be afraid when things get messy. When you speak from a place of truth, grounded in the love of Christ, you are bringing peace to earth.
Two groups of women had let some things come up between them and, before they knew it, it was a deep, festering wound. They asked me, as part of their church staff, to help them reconcile.
I felt completely ill-equipped, but deep in my soul I knew God was asking me to walk alongside these women. I fasted and prayed. I jotted down Scripture and notes. Each day, God gave me a prompt to share with the women to prepare them for our in-person meeting.
On the day we came together, I felt such a deep sense of assurance. I had done what the Holy Spirit had called me to do. The outcome wasn’t up to me, it was up to Him.
When we left the meeting there was still work to be done. The wound was still there, but the work of reconciliation had begun. It wouldn’t change the entire world, though it had the potential to affect our church and community.
What can you do to be a peacemaker in your family and community? You may be tempted to just turn up the radio and ignore those annoying clunks in your relationships, but that will never bring about true peace.
Blessed are the peacemakers, who bring the peace of Christ to earth.
Do you inadvertently suffer from ‘peacekeeping’? What can you do to be a peacemaker in your family and community?
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