BLOG: The Root of All Conflict

Written by Melissa H. Stautman, LMT

Do you have divisions, conflicts, and arguments within your family, with friends or church family? Why does this happen? How does it all get started? Is there a way to head it off at the pass or even stop it?

Pastor Wilson speaks to believers with unique conflict challenges in the first half of “Words That Divide[1]

James 4:1-3
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures [desires] that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

James is telling us that strong, individual, self-centered desires are the sin-source of all divisions, arguments, and conflicts. There are two stages of desire that lead to conflict.

#1 – The War Within

The first war we fight is the war within. It is an internal battle deciding which desire inside of you will win over all the other desires in any given scenario. It’s how you, in a nano-second, make an internal choice. It is never a battle of contrary will or determination. You can’t make a choice or decision that is contrary to your own will. It just isn’t possible.

“The war within your members is a battle of desires to find the greatest of all of your desires, and the choice you make will always be consistent with that.”  

Pastor Steve Wilson

You can’t say, “I did it, but I sure didn’t want to.” What you actually end up doing always reflects the greater desire that won out over the other lesser desires that you had within you.

Take a child who has blatantly disrespected a parent…

  1. You have a desire to have a lifelong, mutual, loving relationship with your child so you don’t want to lose their affection by correcting them.
  2. You desire to bless your child with good things and good times, and you don’t want them to suffer a moment of despair because others might look at you as harsh or as having provoked your child.
  3. You desire that the child respect authority so that their adult life and spiritual life has order and growth. You know that is not possible unless they are trained from an early age.

Which internal desire will win “greatest” status over the other two? I hope it’s #3, and you will sacrifice your desire for affection and image for the sake of your child’s future.

“The choice of the mind never departs from that which, at that time, and with respect to the direct and immediate objects of that decision of the mind, appears most agreeable and pleasing, all things considered.”

Jonathan Edwards, The Freedom of the Will [2]

#2 – Entering the Pursuit of Your Greatest Desire

Once you’ve settled on your “greatest desire” and you begin to pursue it, you immediately come into conflict with some other person or thing that stands in the way of you getting whatever it is that you desire most. Those conflicts can be real; such as a crummy boss opposing your day-off request. You might feel like this is such a little-ask, given that you haven’t taken a day off in a year. You just want to quit right on the spot. You now have to make another choice, based on your greatest desire. You may momentarily think that your greatest desire is to attend your cousin’s wedding, but you may find, at that moment, that your greatest desire is to keep your job so that you can afford food, clothing, and shelter for you and your family.

James was right; our greatest desires rule us and everything we do at every moment we do it. We can’t act contrary to our own will.

Changing Your Desires – “Why?” & “How?”

Let’s say that your desires lead you down a less-than-desirable path more often than you’d like. Can you change those desires? How would that be possible?

Psychotherapy and the self-help section at Barnes & Nobles has a myriad of behavior modification approaches for the secularly-minded unbeliever. Once upon a time, I could be seen buying half a dozen guru-opinion books for every type of joy-stealing conflict that I encountered (marriage, children, the mentally ill, etc.). None of them ever personally helped me for very long because I needed supernatural, spiritual help from my Creator to endure and see the real “Why?” behind my life and current struggle. So, I was never able to resolve my conflicts this way.


Christians will inevitably ask the question, “What are God’s desires for me and how do I avoid being in conflict with Him (sinning)?” Clearly, we (believers) are still sinners whose fleshly desires are at war with the saint part of us. We know that to avoid being in conflict with God, our desires will have to line-up with His desires. That means our desires have to change.

“The joyful, mature Christian is the one whose desires are increasingly in line with God’s desires.”

Pastor Steve Wilson

This is absolutely possible. It’s in a believer’s DNA. When we were saved, we were given a new heart, new thoughts, and new desires. Your heart is literally tuned to desire what God desires, and when you do sin, you should know that you are sinning against your desire.

Romans 7:5
For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.

The unbeliever’s heart is tuned away from God’s desires. The law (thou shalt not…) is in conflict with the unbeliever’s desires. So, it arouses disobedience.

Romans 7:15
For I [a believer] do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

This is Paul describing the reality of two desires that now abides in every believer. He keeps surrendering to a competitive desire from his past fleshly self. He is fighting it. He is saying that the thing he most wants to do, the desire of his heart, has not yet become his greatest desire. That’s a conflict.

For the Christian, there is more intensity in any decision. Not only do we have the war within of our own natural-born desires and the pursuit of those desires, but we also have a war within against our new heart that has the desires of God.

Romans 7:17
So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

Paul doesn’t want to be identified with His sin because his identity is now in Christ. He wants to fuel and shape the new desires of his heart (God’s desires). He is admitting that he is losing that battle, but it doesn’t change who he is in Christ.

Romans 7:22-23
For I delight [concur] in the law of God [that my heart has been changed], in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

He (the new soul) is a prisoner in his own body and old fleshly desires. This will be the case on some level until our death. Only then will our souls will be set free, and we will be made perfect; lined up with God’s desires. Our goal on earth should be to line up our goals with His so that conflict gradually begins to cease. 

Ask God

We do this by asking God to change our desires. We don’t ask Him to change our hearts. He already did that, and it continues to be at odds with our flesh. Ask Him to help you conquer your flesh. He left the Holy Spirit in us for a reason. That reason is to work and aid us in our becoming less driven by our flesh and to become more holy. Ask for desire-adjustments, and you shall receive it because it is His will that you should evolve in righteousness.[3] David asked it like this…

Psalm 51:10-12
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

“Living a life that brings glory to God is living a life where our desires are increasingly aligning themselves with His.” 

Pastor Steve Wilson

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[1] Audio mark 0:00 – 26:17

[2] Also check out’s The Will: Fettered Yet Free, Freedom of the Will

[3] Matthew 7:7-11; Matthew 6:33