Why Refusing to Resolve Conflict Hinders Prayer

Some sins are more passive than active. We may call these sins of omission rather than sins of commission because they are all about what we don’t do. These sins involve neglecting (and sometimes refusing) to do what is right rather than willfully doing what is plainly forbidden. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave pointed warnings against areas of neglect that are especially pertinent to this matter of unanswered prayer. Mishandling these warnings severely damages not only our horizontal relationships with others, but also our familial relationship with the Father and consequently the effectiveness of our prayers. One such area is the delay of conflict resolution.

As long as we live this side of heaven, we will continue to experience conflicts with others, and we will continue to hear God’s call to repentance and greater growth in the midst of conflict. Relational conflict, like everything else God puts in our path, is used by him for our good. When responded to with humility, long-suffering, grace, and forgiveness, such conflict leads to stronger, more Christ-honoring relationships. The transformative grace of God converts that which would weaken human relationships into something that substantially strengthens them—evil is turned into good, and cursing into blessing. This makes us more like Jesus and equips us to be better testimonies to the redemptive power of God in a world that is desperate for grace and peace.

The Delay of Conflict Resolution

The Bible is clear. Each of us is a selfish sinner. No exceptions. Therefore, conflict is simply inevitable. Conflict is more than simple disagreement. Peacemaker Ministries defines it as, “A difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires.” In a conflict at least one of the people involved, if not both, becomes upset because he fears he may not get what he wants—even if what he wants is simply to have someone else see a particular situation the way he does. James strikes at the heart of it when he writes, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1).

How we handle conflict reveals our heart’s true relationship to the gospel. Whether we are the offender or the offended, if we choose to delay the resolving of our conflicts with one another then we short-change ourselves—hindering our own spiritual growth and that of others. To resist or neglect the resolution of conflict, especially between yourself and another Christian, is a small but real rejection of the gospel itself. No wonder it can hinder our prayers. So, what do we do about it?

Have a Sense of Urgency

The Bible exhorts us to do everything in our power to resolve conflict ASAP (Rom. 12:18). The clearest scriptural call to this duty is found in Matthew 5:23-24, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Those are radical words. The original Jewish hearers were able to place these words of Jesus into a familiar context. For them, the Lord was referring to animal sacrifice within the Temple. This was a solemn, somber, and deeply meaningful act of worship and trust that lay at the heart of the Old Covenant. For us, this would correspond to our most significant interactions with God as his children, including private worship through personal prayer as well as corporate worship. But here Jesus is saying there is one good reason to stop right in the middle of it all—because you have other, more important business.

Jesus considers conflict resolution among believers a higher priority than our worship of God himself! He tells us plainly that it is better to interrupt or postpone our worship than to engage in it under the wrong conditions. This passage does not explicitly say that unresolved conflict is a cause for unanswered prayer. But it does say that God is not interested in receiving our worship until we honestly face the wrongs we have committed against one another. While it is possible to argue distinctions between those two, they are distinctions without any real difference. To come before God aware of unresolved conflict with another Christian, when it is within our power to seek resolution to that conflict, renders our worship false and hypocritical. Unresolved conflict hinders our relationship with God, and this hinders our prayers.

[This post is excerpted from Brass Heavens: Reasons for Unanswered Prayer published by Cruciform Press. Also for Kindle.]

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