It was only a three-minute escape. Listening to my name being chanted over and over, louder and louder, with greater urgency, along with pounding on the door, you might imagine me to be a rock star.
But in reality, I’m the mother of a toddler who has decided he is only content when he is in my arms. My escape was merely a trip to the bathroom in which I took a deep breath behind the locked door before re-entering my world of diapers, blocks, and Daniel Tiger. And even though I love this little guy with all my heart, at times he can definitely be a difficult person to keep showing love to, especially in the midst of tantrums and tears.
Difficult People Are Everywhere
It probably isn’t hard for you to think of a difficult person in your own life. In our broken, sin-filled world, they are everywhere. The coworker who is willing to do anything to get ahead, including taking credit for your ideas. The in-laws who always seem to be peering over your shoulder, critiquing your parenting skills, and offering “suggestions” for improvement. The child who knows exactly how to push your buttons to leave you exasperated and flustered again. The person in your ministry who is constantly complaining about your leadership, who thinks he has better ideas and communicates them with a sharp and biting tongue. The passive-aggressive friend who is kind one moment and gives you the cold shoulder the next. The list can go on and on.
So, what do we do with these people? With constant strained relationships? Our natural tendency is to want to run the other way, to avoid them as much as possible. But is that what honors God in these hard situations?
Difficult People Have Been Around Forever
“Difficult people are exactly the people we need to intentionally move toward.”
Moses was no stranger to leading a group of difficult people. Even after rescuing them out of slavery and leading them safely away from the Egyptians, the Israelites were not happy with him. Instead of being grateful for their new freedom and provision from God, they were shedding tears over the menu (Numbers 11:4–6), grumbling about not having water (Numbers 20:2–3), wishing they had died in Egypt and could choose another leader (Numbers 14:2–4). Even Moses’s own siblings were jealous of his leadership (Numbers 12:2) and complained to God about their brother and his Cushite wife.
Yet what amazes me about Moses is that he didn’t retaliate against this annoying group of people. He didn’t even defend himself against the harsh accusations. Instead, he demonstrated amazing humility and compassion on those he led, repeatedly interceding for them.
Moses pled with God to heal Miriam’s leprosy (Numbers 12:13). He begged God to forgive Israel’s unbelief when it was time to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14:19). He lay prostrate before God, fasting forty days and nights after Aaron and the Israelites had made the golden calf to worship (Deuteronomy 9:13–18).
Admittedly, there were moments when the Israelites’ constant complaints drove Moses to the brink of despair (Exodus 5:22; Numbers 11:14–15), yet by God’s grace he persevered. And even at the very end of his life, he was still lovingly leading the disobedient Israelites.
Keep on Loving
Moses remained steadfast to his last days and made sure God had another leader in place to take over. He didn’t want his wandering sheep to be without a shepherd (Numbers 27:16–17). Moses never stopped loving them, even at their worst.
“Ask God for grace not to run away, but to keep engaging in love that hard-to-love person.”
By God’s grace, we too can keep loving the difficult people God has placed in our lives. The easy thing is to cut the troublesome person out of your life when possible, or just avoid them at best.
But I suggest we are more like our patient and loving Savior when we bear with each other and seek to show mercy and kindness, no matter how we are treated.
Here are six practical ways, among many others, to show love to a difficult person God has placed in your path.
1. Pray for your own heart.
Ask God to soften your heart towards this person, to put off anger and irritability, to put on meekness and kindness, to understand this person’s struggles and meet them with compassion (Colossians 3:12–14).
2. Pray for them.
Ask God to be at work in their hearts, drawing unbelievers to himself and sanctifying believers to become more like Jesus (Philippians 1:9–11).
3. Move toward them, not away from them.
Although our tendency is to want to steer clear of people with whom we have strained relationships, they are exactly the people we need to be intentionally moving toward. Find ways to engage them in conversation, meet them for coffee, send them a text.
4. Find specific ways to bless and encourage them.
Write them a note of appreciation. Buy them a book that has been an encouragement to you. Tell them you are praying for them.
5. Give them grace, just as God extends grace to you.
Remember God’s lavish grace poured out for your own daily sins. Ask God to help you bear with them, forgiving them, as he has forgiven you (Colossians 3:13).
6. Realize that you too could be the difficult person in someone else’s life!
You might not even realize that you are a thorn in the flesh for someone close to you. Don’t be oblivious to your own shortcomings and sins.
So, when that child has you on the brink of tears, or you’ve just received a harsh and critical email about your ministry, or you’re confronted with that extended family member who drives you up the wall, ask God for grace not to run away, but to keep engaging that hard-to-love person in love.
God will be honored and our hearts will find deeper satisfaction as we seek to love people just as Christ loved us when we were his enemies.
Loving others is one of the most important and difficult commands Jesus gave us. We are a messy, broken, needy, and sinful people. We constantly deal with our own wounds and those of others. Because there is no perfect person, the foundation for loving others must be based outside of the merit or worth of others. The foundation for love must come from the God who is love. As believers we must be constantly tapped into the love and grace of our heavenly Father so that we can love others selflessly and powerfully. May you receive the love of your Father and be empowered to love others this week as we look to grow in our obedience of Jesus’ command to love people.
Scripture:“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” >Hebrews 13:2
Matthew 25:34-40 gives insight into God’s passionate love for the lost, broken, and alienated. Scripture says,
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
The world around you is living every day apart from the saving and freeing knowledge of God’s love for them. They try to find hope in the created rather than the Creator and discover that the world contains nothing to help them. Relationship with Jesus is the sole source of hope for the earth. And God longs to use us to love the strangers around us so that they might enter into relationship with our Lord who longs to sustain them, provide for them, help them, and offer them eternal hope.
I am not by nature an outgoing person. The concept of talking to complete strangers scares me to death. Apart from God, my natural propensity is to go from place to place without interacting with anyone. But that is not the life my heavenly Father is calling me to. We are not called to keep this free gift of salvation for ourselves, but to share it with all those God is beckoning to himself. God longs to fill each of us with the courage to love the unloved. He longs to fill us with passion to see the world around us awakened to the goodness of Jesus. Every time we set foot outside our homes, we are entering into a mission field filled with countless people who need what we have to give.
Galatians 5:14 says, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” You were created to receive the love of your Father and go out to share that love with a lost and dying world. God is calling you to a lifestyle of sacrifice, courage, adventure, and passionate pursuit of lost sheep who desperately need a Shepherd.
I still remember moving to a new city and the ordeal of “church shopping”: in and out every week, feeling the pangs of not having consistent community, displacement from a body of believers, desperate to settle. Now, I work with people who want to connect with our church. Some of these people complain that they show up to our gathering for weeks and no one says a single word to them. My heart breaks when I hear that.
When I consider the relational distance many of us feel when we enter corporate worship, I wonder if we might experience a greater sense of connectedness if we rethink how we welcome others on Sunday morning — regardless of whether we’re brand new or have been around for decades.
Let me use two terms — strangers and members — to describe how this might look. Whether you are a stranger at a church, or a resident member, the call to seek out relationships and do the hard work of community is an invitation into joy for everyone involved.
In Search of Community
“Pray and ask God for eyes to see whom you might welcome at church, whom you might linger with in conversation.”
Strangers — Christians who do not yet belong to a local body of believers — often leave a church feeling painfully disconnected. Many of us point the finger and say that no one tried or even bothered to see us. But beneath this accusation is often a consumerist mind-set, a mind-set that looks to church as an opportunity to satisfy a personal need, rather than as an opportunity to serve the needs of others.
Strangers are not wrong to desire inclusion. But as strangers, we should grow to see how our participation in worship can help create the experience we desire. Take the risk to seek community, and do your best to play your part in Romans 12:13: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
Pray that God will use this Sunday to fold you deeper into this particular body. And look for opportunities to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know. You might meet someone who needs to remember that new people like you are in their midst. Alternatively, you might end up meeting another stranger like yourself — someone yearning for the same kind of connection you are.
Love the Stranger
If you are a member, someone planted and firmly rooted in a church family, remember that you were once a stranger. Even those who were born and raised in the church they attend must recall that we were once aliens, separated from God’s family (Colossians 1:21).
The Bible calls God’s people to love strangers. Moses wrote that God’s people must “love the sojourner . . . for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). Peter reminds his readers, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10).
Like unbelieving Israel, many of us struggle to welcome those who don’t look and act like us. But our mission of outreach calls us to bring light to the darkness, and that includes bringing strangers into our church body. This call includes strangers who are Jesus’s disciples as well as strangers who do not know Jesus.
When Christ’s body extends Christ’s love to strangers, it is a gospel miracle, a small but real reflection of Jesus’s own welcome to us: “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (Romans 15:7). Our hearts can rejoice to follow such commands when we view our gatherings as an opportunity to serve others rather than be served. This Sunday, be the hands of Jesus by reaching out and welcoming others. Pray and ask God for eyes to see whom you might welcome at church, whom you might linger with in conversation, and whom you might invite over to your home for a meal.
A Different Liturgy
“Corporate worship — coming together on a Sunday morning — is not about you. It’s about Jesus.”
Stranger, it is a great gift to be welcomed into a community. But that invitation only points us to the greatest gift: an invitation into God’s own family through the blood of Jesus. Member, extend the costly mercy you have been given so freely. It is costly to be a part of this beautiful, diverse body of Christ: a free gift, but one that calls us to come and die and be raised.
Corporate worship — coming together on a Sunday morning — is not about you. It’s about Jesus. Reject the cultural liturgy of consumerism, and see your act of worship this Sunday as one where even the smallest parts of the service become ways to obey the two greatest commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:29–31).