At the Table with an Enemy
Everything God brings us to can be used for good, especially conflict.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine sent a prayer request. For weeks, she had been going toe-to-toe with a colleague over email and she was set to meet with this colleague in person. In the emails, the colleague had been manipulative, passive aggressive, and deceitful about work on a collaborative project, going out of her way to include my friend’s boss in the conversation. My friend’s fear was that the conflict was going to come to a head face-to-face, and she wanted me to agree with her in prayer that God would cover her mind and guide her tongue during what she was sure would be a tense interaction.
While interceding on my friend’s behalf, the Holy Spirit reminded me: God prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23:5). I’ve heard this scripture recited several times from the pulpit and in lyrics for a number of my favorite worship songs. But what stuck out to me this time was the word ‘prepares.’
God prepares the table, he doesn’t just meet us there.
Like the many details of our lives, I was reminded that God is intentional about everything he brings us to and he uses everything we endure for good, and that includes conflict (Romans 8:28). All too often, conflict is treated as an issue that is somehow not a factor in the Christian walk, with a heavy emphasis on ‘turning the other cheek’ and loving our enemies (Matthew 5). But, although we adopt the turning of the cheek doctrine, we also celebrate the testimonies and triumphs of victors who overcame conflict in the Bible by engaging in the battle.
I’m thinking most notably about David and Goliath, a story we love to use to encourage ourselves when we are being perceived as the underdog. We talk about David’s triumph over evil with only a slingshot and the favor of God, and how his courage and faithfulness positioned him to be used for a miracle and a legacy that lives on.
As a Black woman (my friend is a Black woman, too), it’s easy to identify with David in this particular story: he was left out, underestimated, slandered, silenced, and had to provide his own account of his qualifications to a questioning audience before he was able to do what God had prepared him to do (1 Samuel 17:28–37).
In ways similar to David, Black women often find themselves embroiled in conflict on the way to a conflict, and the process can be exhausting. Sometimes it feels like we are David on the way to the battlefield every week and I wondered if David would have been able to secure this triumph with the same dignity and zeal time and time, and time, and time, again. And to make matters worse, when we fight back, our resistance is often painted as something other than righteous indignation — selfish ambition, hostility, sensitivity, or conceit — just as Eliab accused David.
I felt this weight in the prayer request of my friend and it mirrored my experiences and those of many others that I know, so I asked God for a fresh word of encouragement for all the conflicts we must endure, it feels like, just to exist. With this looming conflict heading my friend’s way, God challenged me to extend my thinking during my time of prayer, encouraging me to cast off the shame that people often try to place upon Black women, and others, for embracing conflict.
He reminded me that sometimes he has called us to fight.
God pressed upon me: What if Goliath never met David? I’m honestly not sure if anyone has written about this (although, with how much saved folks love to talk about David and Goliath, I’m sure someone has), but that question prompted my response to my friend: Your enemies need an encounter with you.
The fact that God prepares our tables tells me that the conflict is awaiting our arrival. There is a purpose for our placement and for the placement of our enemies. After all, they are people in need of an encounter with Jesus. And, even if the encounter with them is not for them, perhaps there are onlookers who need to see God move in order for their faith to grow.
At times, our Christian witness is in our ability to extend grace and mercy to those who harm and spite us as a result of their own brokenness. And then there are times when our Christianity witnesses because the power of God is perfected in our weakness, and demonstrated as we embrace the conflict — when we go up against Goliath — and win (2 Corinthians 12:9). Knowing when to take which path is a matter of discernment and trusting the Holy Spirit to lead us in conflict. However, we can rejoice in knowing that no matter how the story ends, we have already secured the victory. The battle may be designed for us, but it is not ours; it is the Lord’s (2 Chronicles 20:15).
Furthermore, I know that as we trust God with our conflict, we soon find that we are equipped with everything we need to sit at the table and to engage what’s ahead. After all, we are fearfully and wonderfully made and our great works (even slinging rocks at uncircumcised Philistines who have the rest of the crowd paralyzed in fear) were prepared for us in advance (Ephesians 2:10), just like the table in the presence our enemies.