So you want to be a peacemaker. How do you go about it? What does peacemaking look like in practice, and how is it best pursued?
First of all, making peace doesn’t mean avoiding conflict. A conflict avoided is often a conflict postponed and therefore a conflict that ultimately becomes worse. Peacemaking begins with the honesty and courage to recognize a problem and face it. Without these steps no further progress can be made.
Here are five tactics you can deploy to pursue peace.
1. Deal with conflict early.
The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out (Proverbs 17:14).
Growing up, I remember building a dam in a stream that was flowing down a hillside. The idea was simple: if we blocked the stream, we could create a pool of water deep enough for a swim. It took some time to gather the stones and put them in place, but eventually the dam was built. The pool was formed, and the level of the water began to rise. Time to get ready for a swim! But there was a problem. A small trickle of water had found its way through the rocks. Before long the trickle had moved a few small stones, releasing more water, which then had the force to remove some larger stones. What began as a trickle ended in a flood. Our dam was swept away, the pool emptied, and all our work was lost.
That’s the picture God gives us in Proverbs. The beginning of strife is like the first trickle of water. It may not have seemed like much at the time, but in that trickle lay the potential for a torrent. You’ve probably been in that situation, and you know if you could go back and do it all over again, the outcome could be different. But you can’t go back, so deal with conflict early. Don’t let small resentments take root because if you do, they’ll grow. The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.
2. Practice restraint, especially with your tongue.
Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19).
Self-expression is one of the leading idols in our culture, certainly fueled by social media. Peacemakers, however, practice restraint. When a relationship is under strain, you may be tempted to unload, but if you’re a peacemaker, you’ll hold back. Recognizing a problem and having the courage to face it don’t give you permission to explode with your accumulated frustrations, disappointments, and complaints.
Practice restraint, especially in relation to your tongue. Even in honest confrontation you don’t need to unload everything, and if you’re a peacemaker, you won’t.
3. Prepare for a long journey.
Seek peace and pursue it. (1 Peter 3:11).
If you’re serious about peacemaking, you may need to prepare for a long journey. If the problem is recognized early, peace may be restored quickly. But if you’re called to be a peacemaker in a relationship in which wounds are deep, you should be prepared for the long haul. When Peter used the word seek, he was saying sometimes peace won’t be easy to find. When he calls us to pursue it, he reminds us that peace may sometimes be far in the distance and that to find it, you’ll need to stay on the journey. Peacemaking is a process, not an event.
As you think about the long journey of peacemaking, remember God’s journey toward peace with you. The process of God’s making peace with you goes back to the beginning of time. It took all the promises of the Old Testament, all the work of redeeming Israel, and all the ministry of sending the prophets. It took the coming of Christ into the world, His perfect fulfillment of God’s law, His atoning death as the sacrifice for your sins, His rising from the dead, and His ascending into heaven. It took the sending of the Holy Spirit, who awakened you to your need for Christ, caused you to be born again, applied the full effect of the cleansing blood of Jesus to your life, and adopted you into the family of God. That was a long journey of redemption. God has been relentless in pursuing peace with us. Peacemakers reflect His persistence.
4. Take a step towards peace.
If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. (Romans 12:20).
Even your enemy has needs, and Paul described a situation in which your enemy needs food. He or she is hungry, that gives you the opportunity to show an act of kindness. The principle here is a very simple one: when peace seems a long way off, ask God to show you one small step you can take in the right direction.
5. Trust to God the injustice you’ve suffered.
This is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly (1 Peter 2:19).
Sometime in your life you’ll experience the sorrow that comes from being slighted, treated unfairly, passed over, or taken for granted. It’s painful to have evil returned for good or to give of yourself and receive wounds in return. When you suffer unjustly, you need to know that Jesus has suffered unjustly also. No one has ever been wronged and had their rights ignored or flouted more than your Savior. Nevertheless, Christ was the great peacemaker.
Peter tells us in the way Jesus endured the evils and injustices committed against Him, He left an example for us so that we could follow in His steps. Jesus embodies the way God wants peacemakers to act when we’re wronged, provoked, or wounded.
Entrusting yourself to God (1 Peter 2:23) means looking to Him to deal with the injustice rather than trying to vindicate yourself. When Christ bore our sins, He absorbed the pain of what we did to Him without passing it on. This is what peacemakers do. The only way to break escalating cycles of retaliation is for someone to absorb the pain rather than pass it on. Someone has to say, “It stops here.” That’s what Christ, the great peace-keeper, has done for us. Knowing His vindication was with God and trusting Him for the outcome, Jesus broke the otherwise endless cycle of violence and vengeance by bearing our sins and absorbing the pain.
Knowing your need, you become “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) and are thrown back in fresh dependence on the Lord. You begin to recognize and mourn the compromises of your past life and to submit yourself with meekness to the will of God, even when these steps are difficult and costly.
From this God will bring the good fruit of a tender heart filled with compassion, mercy, and forgiveness; a pure heart that wills one thing and pursues holiness; and a peaceable heart that will make it possible for you to be a peacemaker in a divided and troubled world. The first ring is within your reach. Grasp it firmly and swing!