Not long ago I drove through my old neighborhood in Ft. Worth. I saw the old vacant lot where I played baseball and football games. Driving through that neighborhood, I was reminded of a kid named Steve. He had these tennis shoes that always had two or three empty eyelets. He would always cut off the knot that he did not have the patience to untie. Nehemiah shows us how we should never cut what we can untie.
Nehemiah wept over the broken walls of Jerusalem. He rallied the troops in chapter three and faced opposition from those who did not want the walls rebuilt. In chapter five, he faced the opposition from within. Here is a practical passage that we will all have to deal with in ministry.
Conflict resolution is a hot topic today. Within five years most that begin the ministry are out of the ministry. Most often it is because of interpersonal conflicts in the church. Conflict can tear your team apart whether at home, the office, or the church. Nehemiah relates to us in chapter five how to resolve that conflict. He outlines four truths.
First, there is a time to back off. In verse seven, he took council with himself. Why did he back off? Because in verse six he says he was very angry. He was wise enough to take council with himself before he acted out. What Nehemiah did was to listen to his heart.
He had a right to be angry, but the first thing he did was back off and listen to his heart. Most people rush from verse six (anger) to the end of verse seven (approaching people). Nehemiah did something most do not. He admitted he was angry. Many never get to this point.
What happens is that many people excuse anger as some sort of trait or something. Others attempt to justify it as righteous indignation. Still, others repress it. It becomes like a cancer eating at their hearts. Finally, some project it onto others.
We need to be like Nehemiah and back off. We need to look within to see what we are angry about rather than jumping to confrontation.
Second, there is a time stand up. This is found in verses 7-9. After he took council with himself, Nehemiah boldly confronted those in the wrong. Conflict resolution does not mean giving in at all costs. It is not passivism. Jesus blessed the peace makers not peace lovers.
Many times we need to make peace. Sometimes this requires our standing up to the conflict. Many people do not have the courage to do this. Many choose to cut what they can untie. Those who resolve conflict are wise enough to know timing is everything. Thos who get things done in interpersonal relationships never cut what they can untie.
Third, there is a time to give in. Nehemiah is conciliatory-“let us,” and “we will” our operative to conflict resolution. He allows them to save face and identifies with them. There is a time with nonessentials that we can lose a few battles in order to win a much larger war (Acts 6). From the conflict in Acts 6, the ministry of the deacon was instituted.
Nehemiah leads by example throughout this confrontation and in the whole book bearing his name. Nehemiah had the end in mind and he knew there was nothing more important than the completion of the wall. What is more important the completion of the wall or winning every little battle? Those who complete the wall never cut what they can untie.
Finally, there is a time to reach out. Verses 10-13 shows us how Nehemiah’s following these steps brought shalom (peace) back to those who were in conflict.
These four “steps” are not followed systematically. Rather, they are periods of conflict and “stages” by which we will always find ourselves in during conflict. Don’t wait until you have to lay flowers at someone’s grave when you can untie what you want to cut. When you put these four points together, knowing that timing is everything, your conflict will be resolved.
Jesus Christ, in resolving our conflict with God, first backed off in Gethsemane. He stood up before Caiaphus and Pilate. He gave in as He willingly walked to Calvary. He reached out on the cross as he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Unresolved conflict will tear your team life. “Ought you not walk in the fear of the Lord?” Never cut what you can untie. There is a time to back off, stand up, give in and reach out.