Difficult People

In a book I once read the author confessed: “There are some people I couldn’t warm up to even if I was cremated with them.”
I laughed, and then didn’t. I know exactly what they mean. There are people who, no matter how hard I try, I find them REALLY hard to like. They grate on me. They get under my skin. Their laugh, their voice, their manner, their habits, their prevailing attitude or tone or bent – something about them irks or irritates me, and just their showing up forces me to practice Lamaze breathing.
I know this confession may identify me as a spiritual pygmy – but there it is.
Jesus commanded us, in no uncertain terms, to love each other. But then gets very confronting, and goes on to define the scope of “each other”: friends, enemies, the least of these, the worst of these, the brother who sins against us again and again and again. It’s a big list. He virtually leaves no one out.

As a pastor, I have on top of the general command to obey everything Jesus says, one large extra reality: I will be judged more severely if I get it wrong. I cannot become an accuser of the brethren. I cannot choose which sheep I feed or protect, and which I leave in the gulch or to the wolves. I don’t have the luxury of contempt or neglect. So over the nearly thirty-eight years I’ve been a pastor, I’ve learned and practised, failed at and started over with, several disciplines that help me love – and even like – those that would be easier to avoid. So here are four things that I have learned and continue to learn – which I hope will help you too.

I remember the state I was in before Christ found me. Jesus wasn’t drawn to me because of my winsome ways or attractive personality. I was a wretch. I was a starving ragged stinking prodigal, still dripping with piggish muck, when He ran to kiss me. It was my desperate condition that awakened His compassion. He welcomed me and rescued me, not because of who I am, but because of who He is. He calls us to love like that.

Tap the power that is in me through the risen Christ. Paul says (in 2 Corinthians 5) that Christ’s loves compels us, because we are convinced His death and resurrection are for everyone. And so, He says, we no longer look at anyone from a worldly point of view. Christ not only gives us a heart transplant: He gives us an eye transplant. The more we steep in His love and grace, the more we see people – everyone – from a “heavenly point of view.” Christ gives us His very own eyes to see people with. Use them.

Value others above myself. Paul commands this in Philippians 2. It’s one of the most convicting verses in Scripture, because it’s not limited only to people we like. Paul is talking, for instance, to Euodia and Syntyche, two women who want to rip each other’s faces off (see Phil. 4). It is a sobering and humbling exercise to actually, tangibly do this for someone you don’t like – to value them above yourself, and then act on that value. Try it.

Remember where this all ends. I have a theory: the person we least like on earth will be assigned as our room mate in heaven. I don’t think God will do this as a prank, though. I think He’ll do it so we can laugh with that person for a few thousand years about how petty and small-minded and self-centered we were, and rejoice with them for all eternity at how great is the love of God that He lavishes on us, that we should be called His children, and made one another’s brothers and sisters.
There may be people you couldn’t warm up to if you were cremated with them. But could you if you knew you were to spend eternity with them?

When I practice these things and more besides, God changes me, slow but sure. My LQ – Love Quotient – goes up.
How’s that going for you?

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