Having Difficult People in Your Life: the Upside

Maybe you know someone who has serious character flaws. Maybe you are simply annoyed at the little quirks of a brother or sister from time to time. Maybe you don't know what I'm talking about because everyone in your life is simply pristine. Then again . . . maybe you are the difficult person! :) Whatever the case, people can tend to be like porcupines: to stay warm, they huddle and crowd together, but as a result, spiny quills poke, prod and prick all around. We can't get rid of difficult people. Difficult people are everywhere, so there's no point in running; all of us have a sin-nature. It does seem, however, that some have a few more quills than others. So what "warmth" can be found in that kind of company?

Several weeks ago, some friends and I were asked to teach on "Loving Difficult People". Actually, originally, the topic was Dealing with Difficult People, but as we began our study, we realized that was not the best title. We don't want to just deal with people; no, all who are are in our lives are there by the providence of God, for purposes far beyond our understanding and wisdom. So we want to do more than just deal with them, we want to love them as Jesus has loved us. After all, it was Jesus who loved us while we were the epitome of "difficult". We blithely spat in His face while He laid down His very life for us. That kind of love is supernatural, and people witnessing that love in us will know from where it comes. However, this is easier said than done! Some people are, well, really difficult. But if you have some of these really difficult people in your life, know that you also have a pile of potential for some really important lessons, too. Difficult people and potential for God's glory come hand-in-hand. After my friends shared some insights on how to love difficult people, I shared some of the blessings I have discovered in having difficult people in my own life.

1.      Difficult people reveal to us the depth of our character.

Image I had a chain full of links – hundreds and hundreds of links – and all of them were in perfect condition: strong as iron. . . . Except one. How many of you would repel off a cliff using that chain? No one in their right mind! The chain could not be trusted. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.  We are, likewise, only as “strong” as our weakest moments. If we take any pride in our self-perceived strength of character, we are simply setting ourselves up for a terrible disappointment. Our strength is not in ourselves, but in the Lord. It often takes these difficult people to show us our dependency on God. We don’t really know who we are and what we’re made of until faced with difficult people and situations.

Difficult people are often the mirrors that allow us to see the depth of our own character and to help us examine our own selves. Is our love conditional? Will we only love when we are loved back? Will we only serve when we are appreciated? Are we willing to be trampled over and still handle someone with patience?

I Peter 2:19-25 says, “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [emphasis added]

2.      Difficult people help us build stronger character.

When my pride is hurt, my instinctive reaction is to defend myself and “protect my reputation”, but is that what Jesus did? No. When he stood before Pilate and was being falsely accused (not even accused for things He had committed, but accused for things He hadn’t), He stood silent. He had nothing to prove and no pride to bolster. He made himself of no reputation.

When there is friction in my relationship with another, it is often because I have viewed myself as more than a servant . . . and I am not. I am to serve God through whoever He places in my path to serve – be they kind or mean. I do not deserve acknowledgement and I have no claim to be lifted above my position. I love this next passage; please take some time to think on it:

Luke 17:7-10 says,  “But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do."

It is common to serve with expectations and not even realize it. But God loves us with an unconditional love, and we ought to do the same towards others. I Peter 4:8 says, " . . . love will cover a multitude of sins."  Even when we deal with difficult people, we can tend to do it hoping we’ll get something out of it. Though the feelings may be ever so subtle, we want our good deeds to be acknowledged. We want others to notice and praise us, and when they don’t, in fact when they do the opposite and become even more difficult in spite of our "goodness" towards them, we are tempted to feel offended, taken for granted and defensive. 

Difficult people help us develop humility.

James 1:2-4 says, My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”

3.     Difficult people provide opportunity to earn lasting rewards in Heaven by serving them here on earth.

Matthew 25:34-40 says, “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee and hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

4.     Difficult people strengthen our testimony.

If we never had to deal with difficult situations or difficult people, our testimonies would have no power. It is the very measure of difficulty that determines the measure of victory. If we are faithful to respond in a Christ-like way, our position may change from the receiver of difficult things, to the receiver of blessings. Proverbs 17:2 says, “A wise servant shall have rule over a son that causeth shame, and shall have part of the inheritance among the brethren.”

Some examples from the Scriptures to study:

Mocked, chased by King Saul, life endangered
Made King of Israel, called a man after God’s own heart

Despised by his own brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused and thrown into jail
Rose to be the most powerful man in Egypt next to Pharaoh

Poor, hungry, in pain
Comforted with eternal blessings in Glory

Blessed are the peacemakers:
for they shall be called the children of God.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: 
for great is your reward in heaven.
Matthew 5:9, 12a

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