Being a pastor is probably the greatest job in the world. This is especially true when a pastor is blessed with a loving, Christ-centred, Word-hungry, Spirit-filled church - like the one I pastor. And this privileged job comes with some incredible opportunities to grow in some challenging ways. I get to hear people's stories. I have the sacred trust of stewarding people's souls and it's in their souls that some of the most passionate dramas are played out! These experiences have helped me to learn how to care, how to listen, but most importantly how to begin to understand another person. Against this backdrop, I occasionally see others who don't enjoy this privilege and end up creating utterly avoidable conflict. I want to share with you (what now draws on the learning of several decades of experience) some things I have learned about other people.
¶ But Moses said to the people of Gad and to the people of Reuben, "Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here? Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the LORD has given them? "
"Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here?" Before they had even finished explaining to Moses what their intention was, Moses had alreadyassumed it! But incorrectly! Of course, Moses is not the only one to do this. Weall do it all the time. We hear half of the story. We think we heard their story. Worse still, we think we already know what their story is - and we haven't even heard it yet! When some of the clans of Gad and Rueben came to Moses to ask for pasture and home land on the east of the Jordan, he assumed that they were saying, "We don't want to be a part of this nation anymore." Eventually, after Moses calmed down, they were able to clarify with him that this was notwhat they were saying at all. But a generation later, Moses' successors hadn't learnt the lesson either...
¶ And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size.
And the people of Israel heard it said, "Behold, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built the altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region about the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the people of Israel."
And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.
When these clans from Gad, Manasseh, and Rueben decided to build a memorial altar, their countrymen assumed that they had set up an illegal sacrificial altar, and prepared to muster their battled-hardened troops to take action again those east of the Jordan. This is an all-too-common type of reaction by those who assume rather than understand. When people jump to conclusions about what they think someone else's motives are, the end result is more often than not and fractured relationship and hurt. It wasn't until the Promise-Land-Israelites actually talked with - and heard - their East-of-the-Jordan brothers that this potential dispute was diffused.
After the leaders of Israel heard this explanation their response was, they "... heard the words that the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh spoke, it was good in their eyes." (Josh. 22:30) There are too many angry fathers who explode at the children before listening to them. There are too many angry husbands who explode at their wives without everhearing them first. There are too many managers and employers who verbally tear their staff apart without ever giving them the opportunity to explain themselves first. The Bible provides these stories to show us a better way to avoid and navigate such conflicts.Josh. 22:21 ¶ Then the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel, "The Mighty One, God, the LORD! The Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith against the LORD, do not spare us today for building an altar to turn away from following the LORD. Or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or peace offerings on it, may the LORD himself take vengeance. No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, 'What have you to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? For the LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you people of Reuben and people of Gad. You have no portion in the LORD.' So your children might make our children cease to worship the LORD.
Therefore we said, 'Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice,
but to be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we do perform the service of the LORD in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings, so your children will not say to our children in time to come, "You have no portion in the LORD."'
I spend a good deal of time with a couple preparing them for marriage largely concentrating in this one area: learn to understand the other person. This involves language-learning (everyone has their own language), the three types of listening, seeking to understand first, and separating the issue from the person.
Throughout my life I can reflect on those deeply painful moments when I have not sought to understand or listen to someone before I reacted based on my assumptions about them and their actions. Even more painfully - far more painfully - is when others have assumed to know my motives and assumed the worst. An older and much wiser retiring pastor said to me nearly twenty-five years ago that I could look forward to a pastoral career where I would be more misunderstood than most, and the object of otherwise calm people's anger and the opportunity to perpetrate more regrets than most would experience. As he shared from his experiences as a pastor he said that it was only later in his life and ministry that he realised that people treated him as God's representative. Thus, when they were disappointed with God, or angry with God, or feeling that God didn't really care, they would take it out on him and accuse him of being a disappointment and express their anger at him for being uncaring. The secret in these instances was to seek to truly understand why people were doing this and love them anyway. By understanding that a hurting person often wants to hurt someone, he was able to ignore their offences and minister the love, grace, and goodness of God to their wounded souls. The next time some prickly person comes across your path, or someone you love does something out of character, consider the other side of them: their heart, and seek to discover what's really in it, not what you think is in it.
¶ Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.