Pastor Van Morris, from Mt. Washington, Kentucky, tells the story of a married couple, who had a fight and ended up giving each other the silent treatment. A week into their uneasy silence, the man realized he needed his wife's help. In order to catch a flight to Chicago for a business meeting, he had to get up at 5 a.m.
However, he did not want to be the first to break the silence, so he wrote on a piece of paper, “Please wake me at 5 a.m.”
The next morning the man woke up only to discover his wife was already out of bed, it was 9 a.m., and his flight had long since departed. He was about to find his wife and give her the “what for” when he noticed a piece of paper by the bed.
He read, "It's 5 a.m. Wake up." (Van Morris, Mt. Washington, Kentucky; www.PreachingToday.com)
Life is full of conflicts, and people handle them in many strange ways. But how do people of faith resolve their differences with people? How do men and women who depend on the Lord handle the conflicts that arise in their relationships? Well, if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Genesis 13, Genesis 13, where we see how Abram, a man of faith, resolved a conflict he had with his nephew, Lot.
Genesis 13:5-7 And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land. (ESV)
In fact, it was their land, and you can be sure that they occupied the best part of the land. That left Abram and Lot to scrap for whatever was left.
Now, Abram and Lot had acquired a lot of sheep and cattle in Egypt. But when they got back to the land God had given them, it could not sustain them all. Their resources were limited, so there was strife. They fought for every scrap of pastureland, and things got ugly.
Genesis 13:8-9 Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” (ESV)
In essence, Abram gives Lot the best part of the land. By faith, Abram doesn’t take what is rightfully his. Instead, he gives it away. You see, all of the land belonged to Abram. God promised it to him, not to Lot. Besides, Abram was Lot’s guardian, Lot’s elder, Lot’s superior. Abram, by rights, could have kept it all, and let Lot find his own pastureland somewhere else. Instead, by faith, Abram gives to Lot the best he has, and that’s what we must do, if we’re going to resolve our differences with people. We must…
GIVE TO THE RELATIONSHIP.
We must give our best without expecting anything in return. We must give sacrificially, even if it means we are left with the scraps.
Leonard Sweet, in his book, Out of the Question, into the Mystery, talks about the time when he was the keynote speaker at a leadership conference at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. The university chaplain, Tom Wiles, picked Sweet up in his new Ford pickup truck, and immediately the two bonded. Leonard Sweet was still mourning the trade-in of his Dodge truck. They shared truck stories and laughed at the bumper sticker, “Nothing is more beautiful than a man and his truck.”
As Leonard climbed into Tom’s 2002 Ranger for the ride back to the airport a day later, he noticed two big scrapes by the passenger door. “What happened here?” Leonard asked.
With a downcast voice, Tom replied, “My neighbor's basketball post fell and left those dents and white scars.”
“You're kidding! How awful,” Leonard commiserated. “This truck is so new I can smell it.”
“What's even worse,” Tom responded, “is my neighbor doesn't feel responsible for the damage.”
Leonard rose to his newfound friend's defense and said, “Did you contact your insurance company? How are you going to get him to pay for it?”
Tom replied, “This has been a real spiritual journey for me.” After a lot of soul-searching and discussions with my wife about hiring an attorney, it came down to this: I can either be in the right, or I can be in a relationship with my neighbor. Since my neighbor will probably be with me longer than this truck, I decided that I'd rather be in a relationship than be right. Besides, trucks are meant to be banged up, so I got mine initiated into the real world a bit earlier than I expected.” (Leonard Sweet, Out of the Question...Into the Mystery, Waterbrook Press, 2004, p. 91-92)
Dear friends, we have rights in our relationships. A neighbor has a right to restitution when there is property damage. The wife has a right to love from her husband, and the husband has a right to respect from his wife.
But there are times when we must give up our rights to be in a relationship. Abram gave up his rights for Lot. Tom gave up his rights for his neighbor, and Jesus gave up his rights for us.
Jesus had the right to be honored as God, but he gave up that right to become a man and to suffer and die on a cross for our sins (Philippians 2). Jesus Himself gave up His rights so He could be in relationship with us, and He calls us to do the same with each other.
Choose to be in relationship rather than to be right. Give to the relationship.
DON’T TAKE FROM IT.
Don’t come to your relationships grabbing and grasping all you can get. Don’t seek to control your relationships to get your needs met. That’s what Lot did.
Genesis 13:10-13 And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD. (ESV)
Lot took from Abram all he could get. He took the best of the land and left, but it led to the moral and spiritual ruin of his family, because the people there were very wicked.
You see, unlike Abram, Lot walked by sight. Verse 10 says, “He lifted up his eyes and saw…” He saw the wealth of the land. He saw that it was like the Garden of Eden, and he saw that it was like Egypt itself. You see, even though Abram took Lot out of Egypt, he couldn’t take Egypt out of Lot.
Lot walked by sight, and he grabbed what he saw. He took advantage of Abram’s generosity and took the best of the land. You see, custom dictated that Lot defer to Abram, his elder and mentor. Instead, Lot deferred to himself and took what looked good to his own selfish interests.
But later, Lot would live to regret it. His children would succumb to the wickedness of Sodom. God would rain down fire and brimstone, and Lot would lose everything he has.
Please, don’t do what Lot did. Don’t be selfish in your relationships. Don’t be a taker, lest you live to regret it.
Comedian Steve Martin said, “Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you'll be a mile away and have his shoes.” (Monday Morning Insight, www.ChurchStaffing.com, 4-25-05)
We laugh at that, but that’s what “takers” do. They are unhappy, critical sorts, who will take whatever they can from the relationship. But it’s never enough, so they criticize and complain some more. Or they try to manipulate and control the relationship to get what they want.
Now, we nice, Christian people don’t do it so blatantly. No, we have developed more passive-aggressive ways to take from our relationships.
Dave Goetz, a godly Christian leader, candidly described what this passive-aggressive approach looked like in his own marriage. A few years ago, in an article on “Marital Drift” in Marriage Partnership, he wrote this: “Recently, [my wife,] Jana and I weathered one of the most stressful weeks in our marriage. I'd spent the previous two weeks traveling for business, and that week I had some presentations to make to clients. It was also the week that Jana moved her mother into a retirement community. I couldn't help with the move because of my work commitments, plus I had to spend time watching the kids while she got her mom settled. By the end of that week, we were exhausted.
“On Sunday evening, I decided to run to my office (which is ten minutes away) to pick up some work. I left without telling Jana. She was busy checking her e-mail, so I thought, I'll just step out, go to the office, and come back; I won't be missed. But I know Jana doesn't like that. She wants a connection before I go anywhere, even to bed.
“When I came home, Jana said: ‘Dave, you were gone for 30 minutes. You know I hate when you don't tell me you're leaving. Are you mad at me?’ And I thought, Am I? I knew I wasn't. But by leaving without doing something I know she likes, I was being passive-aggressive. I had a couple of weeks where I wasn't getting any attention, and I responded by becoming passive. I'll just leave and see if she misses me.
“We think it's no big deal, but it is. It's a spiritual issue”, Dave says, “Passivity, or not taking initiative in your marriage, is a spiritual issue, because underneath is a deep current that says, My needs aren't getting met, so I'm not going to meet your needs. That's a spiritually dangerous and crippling place to be.” (Dave Goetz, “Marital Drift,” Marriage Partnership, Winter 2006)
You see, when our needs aren’t met, some of us find ways to retaliate. “You’re not meeting my needs, so I won’t meet yours.” “You’re not respecting me, so I won’t love you.” “You’re not loving me, so I won’t respect you.” When we don’t get what we want, sometimes some of us don’t give people what they need. As nice, Christian people, we don’t always actively attack, but some of us passively withhold from each other; some of us take instead of give, and that destroys the relationship.
The problem is: we’re looking in all the wrong places to get our needs met. We’re looking at other people – our spouses, our children, or our friends – but no human being can ever meet our needs. No! If we want healthy relationships, we must GIVE to those relationships, not TAKE from them. Then…
GET MORE THAN WE NEED FROM GOD, HIMSELF.
Go to God to get your needs met, not your relationships. Receive from the Lord everything you need and more! Trust God to supply all your needs according to his riches in glory. That’s what Abram did.
Genesis 13:14-18 The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD. (ESV)
Abram worshipped the Lord, who gave him more than he could ever want. Lot took land that would soon be destroyed. Abram received land that would belong to his descendants forever!
You see, God loves to supply our needs according to HIS riches in glory! God delights in giving us way more than we need. Ephesians 3 says, “[He] is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to His power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). Our God is wonderfully generous, and he loves to “blow us away” with His generosity.
I remember the story of a little boy who went to the local store with his mother. The shop owner, a kindly man, passed him a large jar of suckers and invited him to help himself to a handful. Uncharacteristically, the boy held back. So the shop owner pulled out a handful for him.
When they were outside, the boy's mother asked him why he had suddenly been so shy and wouldn't take a handful of suckers when offered.
The boy replied, “Because his hand is much bigger than mine!” (Brian Harris, Mt. Roskill, Auckland, New Zealand)
My friends, God’s hand is bigger than ours or anyone else’s. So go to Him to get your needs met. Give to your relationships, and trust God to give to you more than you need.
Pastor Craig Barnes, from the National Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C., was counseling a man who had been dating the same woman for several years. She was starting to wonder if they would ever marry, but he told his pastor he didn't know if he could marry her because, and I quote, “I don't think she makes me happy.”
Pastor Barnes asked him why not, and he went on and on explaining all the reasons why she didn't make him happy.
Finally Pastor Barnes interrupted and asked, “What kind of wife would make you happy?” And the more the man described what he was looking for in a wife, the more convinced his pastor became that what he really needed was not a wife. He needed a goldfish, the pretty kind with the long tail that floats around. A goldfish just sits there and looks pretty and doesn't ask you to communicate. It doesn't ask you how your day was or expect you to listen to how its day was. The last thing the man needed was a wife, because his whole understanding of why the world existed was to meet his needs. (Craig Barnes, from the sermon Learning to Speak Multiculturally, National Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C., 10-3-99)
My friends, a wife or a husband will not meet your needs, neither will friends, neither will the church, or even a goldfish.
That’s not to say that our needs aren’t important. They are! But we must go to God to get our needs met. He alone is sufficient for every need. So we must go to Him first, and then we can be useful to the people around us.
You see, when we get our needs met from God, we have something to give to our relationships. But when we try to get our needs met from our relationships, we have nothing to give, and both we and our relationships suffer.
Are you in a relationship that is suffering? Is your marriage on the rocks? Are you “out of sorts” with a friend or neighbor? Try this: Give to the relationship; don’t take from it. And get all you need and more from God Himself.
Legend has it that a man was lost in the desert, dying for a drink of water. He stumbled upon an old shack where he saw an old, rusty water pump. He grabbed the handle, and began to pump up and down, up and down, but nothing came out.
Disappointed, he staggered back. He noticed off to the side an old jug. He looked at it, wiped away the dirt and dust, and read a message that said, “You have to prime the pump with all the water in the jug, my friend. P.S.: Be sure you fill the jug again before you leave.”
He popped the cork out of the jug and sure enough, there was water. It was almost full of water! Suddenly, he was faced with a decision.
What should he do? Pour it into the old pump and take a chance on fresh, cool water, all he could ever want? Or drink what was in the old jug and ignore its message? Should he waste all the water on the hopes of those flimsy instructions written, no telling, how long ago?
Reluctantly, he poured all the water into the pump. Then he grabbed the handle and began to pump… squeak, squeak, squeak. Still nothing came out! Squeak, squeak, squeak. A little bit began to dribble out, then a small stream, and finally it gushed!
Eagerly, he filled the jug with the fresh, cool water and drank from it. He filled it another time and once again drank from its refreshing contents.
Then he filled the jug for the next traveler. He filled it to the top, popped the cork back on, and added this little note: “Believe me, it really works. You have to give it ALL away before you can get anything back.” (Swindoll, Mediocrity, p.47)
So it is in our lives and our relationships. We must give it all away before we can get anything back.