Today, I’m honored to feature a guest post from my friend, Dave Jenkins, director of Servants of Grace Ministries.
Dealing with difficult people in a Christ-like manner maybe one of the most difficult ways to live out the gospel. Difficult, because this requires patience, a character trait even the most mature Christians struggle to display.
It has been said that if you pray for patience, God will indulge you with opportunities to develop it. One of his mysterious ways is the sovereign placement of difficult people. These are the folks that only serve to annoy and frustrate. Everyone has a few of these folks in their lives and sometimes we serve that role in the live of others.
If we choose, we can view difficult people as a problem or we can view them as the God’s sandpaper for polishing our rough and sinful edges.
I’ve found five observations about dealing with difficult people:
1) Dealing with difficult people provides fresh opportunities to display humility. When John Calvin was asked to define the Christian life he said three times (following Augustine) that the Christian life was humility, humility, humility. The Bible teaches that God exalts the humble. Proverbs 3:34, “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.” James 4:6, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 1st Peter 5:6, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,” When you love someone who annoys you, you are lowering your own estimation of yourself and exalting a brother or sister in the Lord.
3) Difficult people expose our latent pride: Folowing Christ involves submission to the authority, inspiration, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture. 2ndTimothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Difficult people tests this theory and often exposes our own idolatry of self. The feelings we have for those we don’t like reveal our selfishness and pride. So in every relationship struggle, we have to ask ourselves: will we exalt ourselves as ultimate, as gods, or will we come under the authority of the Word and thus, reach out in love to those we may not like?
4) Difficult people force us to our knees in prayer. Here is something I’ve tried to employ when I’m forced to engage with a person who may be difficult: First, I need to make sure my heart is right before God. This will eliminate most potential conflicts. Second, I have found it wise to get some wise counsel from a godly friend or mentor (Proverbs 11:14). Third, pray for the person. Fourth, sandwich your truth-telling in love. Fifth, we quick to listen to the person’s response and slow to interact with their response.
5) Be willing to hear criticism without defensiveness. James 1:19 is really applicable in relationships: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” Proud people are quick to speak but slow to listen. Humble people endeavor to listen well. This demonstrates love and shows you care about their thought. It also provides a platform for you to speak into that person’s life.
Dealing with difficult people points out weak areas in our lives. When criticized don’t respond negatively but instead thank the person for sharing their perspective. Humility isn’t being a know-it-all. Humility is a lifelong process of admitting what one doesn’t know and growing in God’s grace.