When you don’t know what to do next, pray. When you have to make a decision, ask the Lord for the right answer. When you can’t reach an agreement with someone, don’t insist on your way or cave in to the other person’s demands. Instead, ask yourself, “What does God want?” Do what He wants rather than what you or anyone else desires.
This seems to be a spiritually mature way to handle conflicts. And it’s simple, too. Once you know the will of God, you just do it. Obeying the Lord can be tough, but at least you’re doing the right thing. It might not be pleasant, but you have God’s approval.
So why didn’t Paul and Barnabas do this? These apostles had been commissioned by the Holy Spirit and the church in Antioch to preach the gospel. They obeyed and traveled through Cyprus, parts of modern-day Turkey, and Syria, announcing that Jesus was the Messiah. People converted to Christ and churches were planted. Quite an adventure!
Early in the journey, however, a young helper by the name of John Mark (a cousin of Barnabas) left them. The Bible doesn’t indicate his motivation for leaving, only that he returned soon after starting out with Paul and Barnabas. Maybe the work was harder than John Mark bargained for, or maybe he was scared of the difficulties. Whatever the reason, Paul and Barnabas continued without him, and God blessed their efforts with success.
Sometime later, the apostles decided to revisit the churches they’d started. Naturally, the question arose, “Should we take John Mark with us?” Barnabas wanted to give his cousin a second chance but Paul must have felt that the risk was too great. Not worth it.
They talked it out but got nowhere. They debated, but fruitlessly. Things got heated, but no breakthrough. Finally, they agreed to separate. Barnabas got his wish; he took John Mark to Cyprus. Paul followed a different path; he teamed up with a Christian named Silas and headed out for Turkey.
Why didn’t they pray about the problem? Instead of arguing, or even conversing, why didn’t they just ask God if He wanted John Mark to join them or not?
Were Barnabas and Paul spiritually stunted? Did anger override their good judgment? Was the Lord displeased with them?
I don’t think so. God must have honored their deliberations because Paul began many new churches in regions that had never been exposed to the gospel. By anyone’s standards, he was successful.
And while the Bible doesn’t describe Barnabas’ trip with John Mark, he probably trained and mentored him. That young man so grew in ministry that even Paul eventually vouched for him! No hard feelings!
So what does this teach us about conflicts, tough choices, and challenging decisions?
- Speak your mind! Know what you want and don’t be afraid to communicate it. Others may not agree with you, but at least they know where you stand.
- Show respect. If you feel strongly about your ideas, realize that other people likely feel the same way about theirs. You don’t have to agree with their point of view, but they have a right to have one.
- Don’t be afraid. I get the impression that neither Paul nor Barnabas felt that he disappointed God. Their discussions and decisions were untainted by anxiety or timidity.
- Trust the work of the Lord. When you pray about a problem, you’re demonstrating that you trust God with your trials. But do you trust what He’s already done in your life? Do you value the new heart He’s given you? Do you rely on the Holy Spirit who indwells you? If you do, you’re free to make decisions without worrying about whether or not you’re in God’s will. That’s liberating!
Sometimes you don’t have to pray about a specific issue. God may have already given you enough for a creative solution. He did it for Paul and Barnabas; He can do it for you, too!