My parents come under fire for things every now and then as church leaders. People criticize them and scrutinize what they do which comes with the challenge of leading others.
I have often wondered how they handle the people stress in their lives with such grace. Certain things that would send me into an emotional tailspin hardly phase them. It’s not because they are immune to hurt or stress, rather it’s the way they process hurt and stress. They remain joyful and hopeful in the Lord.
Over the many years of watching their lives up close and learning from their examples, I have come to observe that there are three effective perspectives for “the people stuff” (aka difficult people in your life) that we can adapt:
You can’t please everyone. Not everyone is going to applaud you and give you a handshake for what you do. There will always be those who find something about you to complain about or pick on. As one person said, “‘Pharisees’ are still alive today.” Sometimes you and I are the Pharisees, too!
We can’t rid the world of judgmental people. (Let’s not contribute to the pool by being one of them, either). However, living our lives to please people isn’t going to solve the problem of disappointing them or failing to meet up to their expectations.
There have been occasions when my blog entries weren’t digestible to everyone. People simply didn’t agree with the biblical perspectives I wrote about, particularly on marriage and parenting. Sometimes, their comments were an all-out personal assault. The prideful me wanted to retort with scathing remarks. However, I realized that there was no point in fighting battles against people with completely opposite world-views. That wasn’t the route to take to win them over to the Lord.
Instead, I was reminded to hold to my convictions, and to focus on pleasing God…not people. I like how Galatians 1:10 puts it, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
It’s impossible to please everyone. That’s a universal truth if we haven’t figured it out yet. The good news is, it’s possible to make choices that honor God. In the process my hope is that people will see the logic behind choosing to follow God, not because I argue them to death to prove my point, but because they see actual evidence in my life that ministers to their hearts.
While I think that apologists are badly needed in this day and age for the defense of faith in God, I also believe that the most convincing argument for the truth of God’s Word is transformed lives. Do we testify to the love, joy, peace, and grace that are found in Jesus Christ? Do we exhibit a contagious faith?
Listen with humility. God uses people to refine our rough edges or do massive work-ups on our hearts. Sometimes the very people who correct us, as well as those whom are difficult to get along with, are the very people we need in our lives to develop Christ-like character.
Are we willing to listen to what they have to say? We don’t have to make them our closest confidants or best friends, but is our default response to run away and shut them out of our lives or is it to love them still and be grateful for the way God is using them?
Furthermore, not all of what they say may be accurate or true, but is our disposition to be humble or is it to be combative and defensive? God reminds us that the humble have his favor. Psalm 25:9 tells us, “He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way.”
In my years of ministry, I’ve made many mistakes with people. I’ve hurt people along the way because of my personality or lack of sensitivity. After I gave birth to my fourth child, Tiana, a group of ladies I had known for a very long time confronted me and told me the areas I needed to change and improve on. It was deeply humbling as I sat there with a panel of women in front of me expressing their frustrations towards me. Some were in tears, some were less emotional, but all of them had something to say about how I had wounded them.
It wasn’t easy to listen to them because some of it sounded like it had been blown out of proportion. However, I did my best to apologize and ask for their forgiveness. The fact that their feelings were pretty unanimous meant there was definitely something I could change to be a better person.
Still, some of them lingered in the hurt I had caused and pulled away from me. At that point, I didn’t want to pursue them relationally. I wanted to back off and give up. Yet, God taught me through this trying season of ministry that I must pursue people with His love. Even if I don’t feel like it, His love compels me to.
The rebuilding part was a challenge because I had to win back their hearts. It didn’t happen right away. For some, it took a number of months and even years. However, today, it is by God’s grace alone that I can say that my relationships with those women have been healed. I love them more today than ever. Furthermore, I know that God used them (and still uses them) to teach me how to be more loving, more giving, and more selfless.
People aren’t the real enemy. The evil one plants seeds of divisiveness in our relationships all the time. He likes to tear marriages, families, and organizations apart. So we need to recognize his handiwork and modus operandi. He turns our focus towards people and their offenses against us rather than towards the Lord and our walk with Him.
Instead of seeking out God-honoring resolutions, we end up being pawns in the evil one’s chess game. His ploy is to make us casualties by planting resentment and bitterness in our hearts, which keeps us from following and obeying God, and ultimately destroys us and those around us. Bitterness occupies the place of grace when we invite it into our hearts.
“Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” Hebrews 12:15
Sometimes, when Edric and I help to facilitate reconciliation between people, we hear them make statements that are incongruent with their profession of faith. They will say, “Yes, I’ve forgiven them,” yet in the same breath will continue with, “but I’m not ready to meet with them or to be with them.”
For followers of Christ, we can’t have this attitude. Hebrews 12:14 commands us to, “Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
Living at peace with others is paired with living a holy life. Our relationships with people impact our intimacy with God and vice versa. If we are not walking intimately with the Lord, we will not process people problems properly. Peace with others will not be a priority. Rather, our responses will favor things like self-preservation and/or revenge.
I know this temptation all too well as a wife! There are times when Edric is the source of my people stress (thankfully, it’s not often). When he is, I plot out ways to get back at him in my head. However, I have to resist this urge as a child of God.
Matthew 5:9 says, “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” A true child of God “works for peace.” A true child of God doesn’t burn bridges, leave issues unresolved without doing their best to restore their broken relationships, neither do they gossip and slander others, or nurse bitterness and distrust.
I know it’s hard to commit to peacemaking, especially when betrayal is involved. It almost seems stupid to allow ourselves to be vulnerable when there’s a very high possibility that we can get burned by doing so. So my encouragement to myself and to others is to trust in God and entrust people to God.
Realistically speaking, we can’t control people and force them to act and behave in ways we want them to. Instead we must remember that God is sovereign and in control. For example, He can bring wrongdoers, offenders, and those with mal-intent to justice. In Deuteronomy 32:35 God says, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back. In due time their feet will slip. Their day of disaster will arrive, and their destiny will overtake them.”
Another comfort is that God exposes the secrets of a man’s heart. Luke 8:17 tells us, “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.”
God is not blind to the ills and sins of people. But sometimes we act like he is when we panic and take justice into our own hands. Are we greater than God’s hand? Do we know more than He does? Of course not. These are rhetorical questions. Our best resource when it comes to difficult people is to acknowledge the capacity of God to do something by praying! People can fool us with their pretenses but they can’t fool God.
Best of all, God can change the people who wound us the most and transform them completely. When the apostle Paul encountered God, he was radically changed. From a murderer of Christ-followers, he became a torchbearer of Christianity.
My parents have repeatedly told me, “See people for who they can become in Christ. Don’t focus on who they are now with all their issues and shortcomings.”
In the meantime, when it comes to problematic people stuff, let’s be accountable to the Lord for what’s in our own hearts. As Psalm 139:23-24 puts it, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
The other day I had a conversation with my dad about some people issues that he has been facing at the moment. When I asked him how he handles everything, he told me (paraphrased), “I sleep very well at night. When people say negative things about me, it makes me evaluate what areas I have to change. If there is something there, then I work on it. If there is no merit to what is being said, then I leave it up to the Lord to handle.”
He also added that his energies are directed towards seeking God and serving people which protects him from being consumed by people issues.
In conclusion, let’s not sweat the people stuff! We can’t please everyone so let’s focus on pleasing God. Let’s learn to listen and be humble because there’s always room for improvement. God uses people to refine us. Remember, people aren’t the real enemy so let’s not become a puppet of the evil one by participating in his divisive schemes or adapting divisive mindsets. Instead, let’s surrender difficult people to the Lord and trust that He is in control. He possesses the power to effect change in their hearts and our own. Our part is to be reconciled to others as much as possible by seeking to be peacemakers, and to walk in obedience and faithfulness to the Lord.
Sometimes this will mean feeding our enemies and clothing them, or extending a handshake or a hug, or writing a letter that expresses an apology or reaches out to a person, or choosing to forgive even without receiving a sincere sorry from an offender, or showing acts of kindness, withholding words that will provoke someone to anger, or praying for those who have hurt us, or sharing the gospel with them.
Matthew 5: 43 – 48
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”