"What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about conflict?"
Ken Sande asked this question at a conference I attended. He could have asked "what is the first thing" or "what are the first fifty things." For me, the answers would all be variations on the same theme. I hate conflict; I want to run from it. The "things" that come to my mind about conflict are: hate, loathe and avoid.
Then he asked, "How many people thought "opportunity?"
Not me. Not in a million years, even if I could cheat by consulting a dictionary or Wikipedia. To me, conflict is misery-not an opportunity. But the word opportunity is gradually sinking in because it is crammed with prominent themes from Scripture.
Think about this: Start with how our God-our Father-sovereignly reigns.
No detail is random and haphazard.
Add that he will accomplish his good purposes.
He will make us more and more like Jesus.
Now add hardships.
Our sufferings have new meaning since the cross.
What you get is opportunity.
Since God is sovereign and has good purposes, hardships are opportunities. They must be.
Many people have already learned this. Here is what some of them have said.
"That "C" on the exam-is an opportunity to live by faith in Jesus rather than in my perceived successes."
"That hard marriage-is an opportunity to love as I have been loved."
"That miscarriage-is an opportunity to know that my Father has unlimited compassion for his children and I can trust him."
"That cancer-(and this is really a hard one) is an opportunity to die well and show my children what it means to live and die by faith."
"And we could go on. That traffic ticket, that car accident, that lost job, that plumbing problem, that neighbor . . . . how different life would be if we snuck in an "opportunity" or two each day."
Joseph understood. "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20). His time in an Egyptian prison was an opportunity.
Paul understood too. "We felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead" (2 Corinthians 2:9). His near death experiences were the perfect opportunity. You can almost hear him say, "These are just what I needed."
There is no stiff upper lip in these opportunities. Hardships can be so painful, and our Father certainly encourages us to speak of those hardships to him. But opportunity says that hardships, for God's children, never come without hope. And, with practice, we can discover that hope carries the most weight.
Edward T. Welch (M.Div., Ph.D.) counsels and teaches at Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation .