People who hate conflict often cling to the verses where God says that peacemakers are blessed, but what does living that out actually look like?
In C.S. Lewis’s satirical science fiction novel That Hideous Strength, a young married couple Mark and Jane find themselves key players in a grand and terrible academic experiment, ironically named N.I.C.E., to disprove the existence of God. Betrayed by the people he has trusted, Mark sits in a cell, awaiting execution.
“There were no moral considerations at this moment in Mark’s mind. He looked back on his life not with shame, but with a kind of disgust at its dreariness…. He saw himself in his teens laboriously reading rubbishy grown-up novels and drinking beer when he really enjoyed John Buchan and stone ginger.
“The hours that he had spent learning the very slang of each new circle that attracted him, the perpetual assumption of interest in things he found dull and of knowledge he did not possess, the almost heroic sacrifice of nearly every person and thing he actually enjoyed, the miserable attempts to pretend that one could enjoy Grip, or the Progressive Element, or the N.I.C.E.—all of this came over him with a kind of heart-break.
“When had he ever done what he wanted? Mixed with the people whom he liked? Or even eaten and drunk what took his fancy?
“The concentrated insipidity of it all filled him with self-pity….
“Vindictiveness was by no means one of Mark’s vices. For Mark liked to be liked. A snub sent him away dreaming of not revenge but of brilliant jokes or achievements which would one day conquer the good will of the man who had snubbed him.
“If he were ever cruel it would be downwards, to inferiors and outsiders who solicited his regard, not upwards to those who rejected it. There was a good deal of the spaniel in him.”
Silenced by Pleasing Others
Amy Morin, psychotherapist and TED Talk speaker, pointed out, “Over the years, I’ve seen countless people-pleasers in my therapy office. But more often than not, people-pleasing wasn’t really their problem; their desire to make others happy was merely a symptom of a deeper issue.
“For many, the eagerness to please stems from self-worth issues. They hope that saying yes to everything asked of them will help them feel accepted and liked.
“Other people-pleasers have a history of maltreatment, and somewhere along the way, they decided that their best hope for better treatment was to try to please the people who mistreated them.”
Unfortunately, people-pleasing is well rewarded in church where anger or disagreement are often viewed as worldly or even outright sinful.
This most certainly isn’t to say that anger isn’t ever sinful or that disagreement can’t be driven by selfishness. However, a believer can justly be angry over situations where innocents are being preyed upon or unfair burdens are being placed on people. Someone should speak up when decisions being made by the group are questionable, and ignoring a prompt from the Holy Spirit because it might be unpopular with your listeners has serious consequences.
Despite this, more than a few believers fall into passivity and silence. It’s easy, after all.
Charles Stone wrote about this struggle in Christianity Today, “To research this topic, I commissioned a survey of nearly 2,300 pastors, including men, women, young, old, minimally educated, and highly educated from both large and small churches in North, Central, and South America.
“Surprisingly, 79 percent of the leaders in one survey of 1,000 pastors and 91 percent in another survey of over 1,200 pastors admitted to people-pleasing tendencies to some degree in their respective ministries….
“People-pleasing, approval-motivated leadership can be subtle, often counter-intuitive, and it will stifle a spiritual leader's passion and joy if left unchecked.”
Jesus didn’t pick some men called the “sons of thunder” to lead the church after he was gone for nothing. Now, disagreement should be done graciously and with the correct end in mind: getting people to realign themselves with God and his Word. That said, it’s critical that believers, especially leaders, disagree with others sometimes.
Fighting as a Quiet Person
How do we find the fine line then between peacekeeping and people-pleasing?
Many people mix the two up. They tell themselves that they’re keeping the peace when in fact they are enabling bad behavior or overlooking unhealthy situations simply because they don’t want to deal with the conflict or they’re afraid of damaging a relationship.
Refusing to bow to the whims of others, though, doesn’t mean that we need to be combative. We don’t have to be a person who is naturally demonstrative.
“Barnabas was a peacemaker. His name meant ‘encouragement,’ not ‘spiritual warrior,’” Gary Wilkerson pointed out in a newsletter sermon. “Consider his vital work with the apostle Paul and their young protégé Mark. Paul was frustrated with Mark who had left their ministry in the midst of a crucial mission trip.
“Now Mark wanted to rejoin, but Paul refused to take him back. He reasoned, ‘We needed to have an impact on certain cities, but Mark’s departure left us shorthanded. The gospel was less effective there because of him. There’s no way I’m letting him come back.’
“Barnabas insisted, ‘Paul, the young man needs another chance. He needs our kindness. This isn’t about our success. It’s about training Mark to become a faithful servant.’ In short, he stood up to Paul; and when Paul refused to budge, Barnabas left him, saying, ‘This isn’t right in God’s eyes. I’m going with Mark.’ That is a man of a different spirit.
“Here’s something else that was different about Barnabas. He was the same man who went to Paul just after his conversion, when everyone was still afraid of Israel’s great persecutor. Just weeks before, Paul was breathing deadly threats against the church. But Barnabas had the boldness of the Spirit to trust what others didn’t, that God wanted to use Paul mightily. To do so, he put his own life at risk.
“Simply put, Barnabas’s ‘different spirit’ had nothing to do with being a Type A personality.”
We are still called to speak up for the truth even if we’re a naturally quiet person who prefers to have others take the lead. In fact, having a faithful follower suddenly balk or outright protest will often make a good leader sit up and pay attention faster than anything else. Even if they ultimately choose to disregard your objection, it makes an impression.
Living as a True Peacemaker
What if true peacekeeping was actually stepping into the middle of conflict, not avoiding it? What if the best peacekeepers are frequently engaged in a fight, but their aim is to bring compromise and true justice rather than helping one side or the other win?
What if being an encourager means reaching out to difficult people and sometimes disagreeing with others in order to direct them toward a better understanding of God, themselves and the world?
Jesus didn’t say “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9, ESV) because he thought this job would be easy. Quite the opposite, he knew it would go against every one of our ‘natural’ sinful instincts. Having a spirit of peace often means bringing people what they need in order to heal, not necessarily what they selfishly want. Nobody skips into the dentist’s office to have a cavity drilled (at least, nobody I know).
Disagreeing with others, especially when we have something important to lose, isn’t easy, even more so if we’re someone who usually avoids conflict. There’s a bit of the spaniel in almost all of us, and we’ll probably have to fight it our whole lives.
UN Peacekeepers are given a helmet, body armor and a gun. They’re not just diplomats; they’re soldiers who are sent out into the middle of war zones.
So if you want to keep the peace, suit up.