On Sunday evenings we have commenced a new mini-series entitled 'Loving Well'. It is a series we are trying to keep as practical as possible in helping our community – well, I guess the title says it all – Love Well! As I write this article, I am also in the process of finishing off writing one of my evening talks. The process of preparing has got me thinking:
Difficult People Are All Around
It's probably not that hard to think of a difficult person who impacts your life; they are everywhere in our broken world. The parents or in-laws looking over the shoulder critiquing your parenting, "offering suggestions". The child who knows how to push your buttons. The co-worker taking credit for your ideas, willing to do anything to get a promotion. The passive-aggressive friend who can be kind and friendly one moment and then give you the cold shoulder or make a cutting comment on social media the next. Even the person at church who complains and thinks they have better ideas and communicates them with a sharp biting tongue. The list is endless. So what do we do? Avoid the other person as much as possible? We’d become a recluse! Is there a God-honouring way to handle difficult people?
Difficult People Have Always Been Around
In the Old Testament of the Bible we find Moses, no stranger to having to work with difficult people. Even after leading them out of Egypt safely, the Israelites, instead of being grateful for their new freedom shed tears over the limited menu, grumbled about the lack of water and even wished they had died in Egypt! Even his own family were jealous of his leadership and complained about their brother. Yet amazingly, Moses didn't retaliate against this irksome people. He didn't even defend himself. Instead he demonstrated compassion and humility on those he led, repeatedly praying for them. He pleaded with God to heal Miriam's leprosy, to forgive Israel's unbelief, and he fasted 40 days and nights after the Israelites made the golden calf in order to see God’s wrath turned away.
There were moments when the constant complaints got to Moses, however, he persevered still loving the disobedient Israelites to the end of his life (Exodus 5:22 and Numbers 11:14-15).
Keep on Loving
Moses was faithful right to the end, even wanting assurance that a new shepherd would be provided to take his place (Numbers 27:16-17). Moses never stopped loving, even when it became most difficult, and with God's help so can we. The easy thing is to cut the difficult person out of our life, or at the very least avoid them! I suggest, however, we are showing the grace and mercy poured into us, and, therefore, looking more like Christ when we behave differently no matter how we are treated.
Here are six practical ways that I am challenged with (there are many others) to show love to those 'difficult people' God brings along your way:
1. Consider your own heart
Pray and ask God to soften your heart towards this person, to understand the other person’s perspective and the struggles; to have compassion and be able to show gentleness. To be able to lay down your own anger and irritability (Colossians 3:12-14).
2. Consider them
Pray and ask God to work in their heart. Ask God to be at work in their hearts, enabling them to become more like Jesus (Philippians 1:9-11).
3. Intentionally move toward them, not away from them
Our tendency is to steer clear of people we have strained relationships with when generally these are the people we need to be moving towards. Are there ways you can engage them positively, in conversation, meeting for a coffee, helping them practically?
4. Find specific ways to encourage and bless them
Think of ways you have been encouraged – could you extend these to the other person? A kind word, a thank you, telling them you are praying for them, a written note of appreciation…
5. Extend the grace God has extended to you
When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:12) He taught them to ask "forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us". God has outpoured His lavish grace over our sins, but for our part we need to be forgiving others. Ask God, He can and will help you bear with them, forgiving them as He has forgiven you (Colossians 3:13).
6. Recognise you might well be another person's 'difficult person'
You may well be oblivious to the fact that you are someone else's problem! It is hard to believe that we could be so blind to our own shortcomings and sins.
So when you have just received that harsh and critical e-mail, or you've had to face that member of the family who drives you crazy, or that child who has you nearly in tears – ask for God's grace to stand firm. Instead of running away, love on through.
Ask how you can be part of a process that heals rather than waiting for the other person to come and bring healing.
God is honoured and we will find we have a healthier, stronger & more Jesus-reflecting community as we seek to love people as Christ loved us when we were His enemies (Romans 5:10).