A friend of mine (let’s call him Bill) was recently confronted with a rather messy relational conflict. It seems that a neighbor possessed a growing grudge towards Bill—fed by statements several people made over the course of time. Each negative comment or accusation was like dry tinder to a fire about to burn out of control. Bill discovered the issue just in time and talked to his neighbor in an effort to begin the healing process.
There are several things about this situation that I find highly disappointing. Many of the accusations made against Bill were terribly out of character for him. If the neighbor had simply talked with Bill somewhere early in the process, much of the mess could have been avoided.
More disturbing is the fact that I’ve seen this type of scenario repeated time and time again amongst professing Christians. For whatever reason, rather than making short work of a situation when we are bothered or hurt by someone, we let it build and grow until it becomes a raging fire. Like Smokey the Bear says, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
Unfortunately, even more troubling is the reality that a large percentage of those who fall into these negative behavior patterns have been Christians long enough to know better. Relationship conflicts due to petty, immature behavior may be understandable for a child just making the transition into junior high, but there is no place for them among mature adults—especially Christians. Only you can prevent forest fires!
Is it uncomfortable to try to lovingly confront someone who has offended you in some way? Of course it is! It’s certainly not on my list of favorite things to do. But if we don’t deal with issues when they are relatively small, they will grow and grow and grow, providing dry tinder for the infernos of darkness to destroy precious human lives. Only you can prevent forest fires!
Lovingly and humbly working through relational conflicts is the mature thing to do—even if the process is painful and uncomfortable. Attacking other believers in anger, or even speaking down about them behind their backs, is behavior that dishonors God, divides His kingdom and alienates those who don’t know Christ. Only you can prevent forest fires!
I realize that I have been particularly blunt in addressing this issue, but I don’t think we fully understand the extreme consequences of playing with matches. Smokey had it right—only you can prevent forest fires!