When I observe some of what is going on in the world, I think of the hymn line, ‘fightings and fears within, without’ (Hymn 335 v3).
Conflict such as we see in Ukraine is horrific, but sadly we also see conflict in the church. Expectations are not met, frustrations develop, people act on their frustrations to punish others or to get their own way, and relationships become strained or broken.
It has been observed that the Covid lockdowns and associated isolation have made people generally less patient, less practiced in social skills, less self-aware, and quicker to react to things that are said or done.
A webinar I attended described one of the top trends of 2022 as a decline in ‘relational fitness’. People are generally less confident in organizing or participating in social activities.
To address this situation one researcher coined the acronym ‘Meet PIE’. The ‘Meet’ (as opposed to ‘meat’) refers to social engagement. The PIE spelled out three important things organizations can do considering people’s reluctance to engage in a helpful way:
Practice empathy – encourage people to consider how others may be feeling
Increase communication – well informed people are less fearful or inclined to react
Embrace intentionality – foster events that encourage rebuilding of social ties
While the research is not specifically Christian, it does have spiritual application. It is the advice given in Hebrews 10:25 and it is borne out by experience. I often noticed during the years of my ministry that when congregation members were meeting socially and for worship, far fewer relational ‘niggles’ would develop. The converse was also evident.
Spiritually though, we know we can’t blame Covid for everything. James reminds us that ‘fights and quarrels’ come from being more in tune with the desires of our sinful natures and the ways of the world than with the way of God’s forgiving grace (James 4:1-6).
When we feel unfairly treated, Peter calls us to consider the cross of Christ.
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:21-24).
The message of the cross is ‘the wisdom that comes from heaven’ to which James refers. This wisdom responds wisely to the forgiving message of the cross and is, ‘first of all peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere’ (James 3:17).
So, in a world where ‘fightings and fears within, without’ seem commonplace, let us focus evermore on the cross of Christ and seek to live in ‘the wisdom that comes from heaven.’
Strengthened by that heavenly wisdom, let us also share and practice some worldly wisdom. Let us share some ‘Meet PIE’ with our fellow members in Christ. Be patient and respectful with one another, mindful of the decline in ‘relational fitness’ caused by covid isolation. Foster lines of communication that keep people well informed about matters relating to your congregation and wider church community, and intentionally plan or participate in events where people can talk, listen, laugh, play, and pray together.
Pastor Lester Priebbenow
District Bishop, Victoria and Tasmania