Episode 1. The Most Difficult Person You’ll ever Meet
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Difficult people are everywhere in our lives. Absolutely everywhere. You just can’t get away from them. So, unless we learn how to deal with difficult people, we are never going to have peace in our lives, we are never going to have joy in our lives and we are never, ever going to be able […]
Difficult people are everywhere in our lives. Absolutely everywhere. You just can’t get away from them. So, unless we learn how to deal with difficult people, we are never going to have peace in our lives, we are never going to have joy in our lives and we are never, ever going to be able to share the love of Christ into this world. Learning to deal effectively with difficult people, is really, really important. It’s vital.
When People Look at Us
Let me ask you a question: when the world looks at the church, what does it see? When people look at the church of Jesus Christ, what is it they see in the media image? Sexual abuse on the news, division amongst denominations, people who mean well demonstrating against this, that and the other! It sees a bunch of people who say one thing and do another. On the one thing we profess God‘s love, on the other, well, the church seems to be saying, in it’s media image, “do this, don’t do that, but by the way, don’t mind the fact that we have systematically covered up sexual abuse of children for decades.”
There’s a name for that and it’s called ‘hypocrisy’ and the world hates hypocrisy. You and I hate hypocrisy. What do people expect to see when they look at God’s people? What do people expect to see? Tony Campolo is a wonderful man out of the U.S., you may have heard of him. He just a wonderful minister of God’s Word and he often asks young people, when he meets them in universities: “What’s the one thing that you know that Jesus said?” and mostly people say this – mostly people remember that Jesus said: “Love your enemy!” And too often it seems that we as God’s people; as Christians, are kind of telling people how far they have strayed from God. You know, we talk about this social issue, or that social issue, instead of reaching out to people and telling them how close God really is in Jesus Christ.
Well that’s the big picture; that’s the macro. What about the micro? What about you and me? When they look at us, what do they see? Do they see, ‘love your enemy’? First John chapter 4 verse 7 says this:
Let us love one another for love comes from God …
And when you look at Jesus, when you look at how He dealt with people and what He taught and what He spoke about, the biggest thing for Him was that love-walk; the biggest thing for Him was valuing people and loving them into the Kingdom of God. We got a new revelation of who God is when Jesus arrived and then when you look at the rest of the New Testament, the Epistles that come after the Gospels, the letters that were written amongst the New Testament church when Jesus had risen again, more and more you see that revelation expounded as ‘walk in love’. Love God and love other people.
John Grey, the author of that famous book, ‘Men Are From Mars and Women are From Venus’, makes a very interesting point in that book. He says that very few people ever grow in love. Why is that? Because loving is difficult. The people we love can be difficult sometimes. Forty five percent of marriages – almost half – fail. I wonder of those that are left, how many of them are lousy marriages? We want to love; it’s not enough to want to love, we actually need to know how to love, I really believe that. Let me just say that again. It’s not enough for us to know that we ought to walk in love; we actually need to know how to do that. And so on Christianityworks this week we are starting a series of four messages called Dealing With Difficult People. Because difficult people are all around us, difficult relationships are all around us and our ability to look like Jesus and be like Jesus and love like Jesus, depends on our ability to deal with the difficult people in our lives – those that Jesus referred to as our enemies.
Let me ask you, who’s the most difficult person you’ll ever meet? Just close your eyes for a minute and visualise the most difficult person you ever met. I’m sure you can see their face and it stirs up emotions in you. Now open your eyes. If I had a mirror I’d be standing in front of you holding up the mirror and saying, “Here, look at the most difficult person that you will ever meet.”
Take a good look, because we look at ourselves for five, maybe ten minutes in the mirror in the morning and then we spend the rest of the day looking at other people. Day after day after day, we look at other people and sometimes the better we know them, the better we know their faults and weaknesses and their blind spots and we experience the things that they do to hurt us, or the things that they don’t do to hurt us and we go from recognising their strengths and weaknesses to judging those.
Now, it’s right to look at someone and say, “this person is good at this and not good at that” and to assess them. But we can step over a line, where that good assessment of someone turns into judgement and that line is called, ‘anger and resentment’. When all of a sudden, what other people do to us or say to us or omit to do to us – when those things get us angry and resentful and vengeful – we have stepped over a very important line and all the time we forget that in order for us to have a difficult person in our lives we have to have a relationship with them. It’s not so much that they are difficult people; it’s that we are having a difficult relationship. It takes two to tango, as the saying goes.
And sometime as we get to know these people better and their weaknesses hurt us and their failures grate up against our personalities, we can start to judge them. Instead of looking at them through God’s eyes, we end up looking at them through the devil’s eyes. Jesus said: “You’ve heard it said, ‘Don’t murder’ and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement, but I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother, is subject to judgement.” Well, what is that judgement? What does that look like? Why do we go there?
the Anatomy of Judgement
So what is it, what happens when we run into a difficult person and we step over that line, we step over the line from a sober assessment of who they are into that realm of judgement and resentment? Well, Jesus talked about that because it was an important issue – was two thousand years ago, it still is today. This is what He said, if you have a Bible, grab it, you can open it at Matthew’s Gospel; first Book in the New Testament, chapter 6 verse 22, Matthew 6:22, this is what he said. He said:
The eye is the lamp of the body so if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. And when the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness?
The eye, when you think about it, is our major organ of perception. We see the world through our eyes and Jesus was using it here as a metaphor. It’s true in the physical sense but it’s also true in an emotional and spiritual sense. How we see things, often becomes the problem when we are having a relationship that is difficult. Now if the eye is healthy then we’ll see light; we’ll see things the way that they are but Jesus says:
If the eye is unhealthy then you will be full of darkness and how dark is that darkness?
When we get a wrong perspective, it kind of creeps up on you. I suffer from Glaucoma which is a disease of the eye where the pressure in your eye ultimately damages the optic nerve that carries the images back to your brain, and it happens very gradually. You lose your peripheral vision and all of a sudden you can barely see and by then it’s too late. Now fortunately, for me, they caught it early and I’ve got treatment and I can see just fine. But when our eye is diseased; when our perception is diseased, we often don’t notice that it’s going on.
Have a listen to this wonderful story, it was written by Frank Koche, in the magazine ‘Proceedings’ which is the magazine of the U.S. Naval Institute. This is what he writes. He says:
Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been sent on manoeuvres in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and I was on watch on the bridge when night fell. The visibility was poor, with patchy fog so the Captain remained on the bridge to keep an eye on all activities.
Shortly after dark, the look-out on the wing of the bridge reported: “Light bearing on the starboard bow.” “Is it steady or moving astern?” the Captain called out.
The look-out replied: “Steady, Captain,” which meant that we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship. The Captain then called to the signalman. He said: “Signal that ship. We are on a collision course, advise that you change course twenty degrees.”
Back came a signal: “Advise for you to change course twenty degrees.” And the Captain said: “Send – “I am a Captain, change course twenty degrees.” “I’m a seaman second class” came back the reply, “You’d better change course twenty degrees.” By that time the Captain was furious and he spat out: “Send – I’m a battleship, change course twenty degrees.” Back came the flashing light: “I’m a lighthouse.” We changed course twenty degrees.”
The Captain was caught in a fog. Now there were two battleships out there on exercise and he thought that that other light was a battleship but he had fog; he couldn’t see properly. He was trying to keep an eye on things but he’s vision was clouded. The picture in his head was of two ships and he relied on the picture in his head and the picture was wrong, yet he got angry even though it was because he had the wrong picture in his head and that is exactly what we do.
We have a map in our head of other people and why they do what they do and how they do it and what they’re doing to us. We have this map in our head of other people and sometimes it gets distorted. Sometimes we don’t have the right end of the stick. Sometimes our vision is clouded and we just get it plain wrong.
Maybe if we’re insecure, we want other people to walk on egg-shells because of our insecurity. Maybe if we are arrogant we want other people to be perfect, made in our image. You know, perfection is always: they’re exactly like me. Maybe if we’ve got selfish ambition we want people to get out of our road so that we can go and do what we want to do. The list goes on.
Not so long ago, I visited a city; a large city that I used to live in, and I had an old street directory and I was trying to travel from point A to point B in the centre of the city in my car. And I got to a point and I discovered all of a sudden, they had put a pedestrian mall in the middle of one of the main streets, I had the wrong map. And when we do that in our relationships with other people, it can be a painful thing.
Our past hurts or our own weaknesses or our own sin, all of those things – the devil uses those to destroy our relationships. We see things through the lens of our experiences. I wear glasses, maybe you wear glasses, maybe you don’t, but we see things through the lens of who we are, our strengths and weaknesses, of our experiences, of our past, of our insecurities. If we looked at some of the people in our lives who are so difficult, the ones who hurt us and disappoints us, the ones who we’ve made our enemies – if we knew the hurts and disappointments in their lives, that make them do what they do, it would be enough to stop us from any feelings of hostility or anger or anything like that.
‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness and if the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness.’
In other words if you think you are seeing light and clearly, but actually it is distorted, boy, that is a really, really bad place to be. Come on, isn’t it sometimes the problems in our relationships are not so much what other people are doing but how we see the world? What are the things in my life; what are the things in your life that distort our view of exactly what’s going on? How is it that we can see clearly?
We are talking about judgement. We are talking about dealing with difficult people and how it is sometimes that we get all hurt by what other people do. When so often it’s got to do with our own failures and our own weaknesses and the way we see the world based on who we are. Again Jesus talked about this, open a Bible, if you’ve got one, at Matthew chapter 7 verse 1, this is what He said. He said:
Do not judge so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement that you make, you will be judged and the measure you give will be the measure that you get.” Now under what circumstances, according to Jesus, is it ok to judge other people? Never! “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.
Wow! Because judgement is about anger and retribution, when I judge you, I want my pound of flesh; I want to tear you apart. Yea, that’s what we are like as people and Jesus is saying: “It’s not your job. Don’t judge other people.” Boy that’s hard! Have a look at Romans chapter 12 verse 19, just flick there for a moment. This is what the Apostle Paul writes:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God because it’s written: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Now if your enemies are hungry, feed them, if they’re thirsty, give them something to drink, for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.
If I judge what, God is going to judge me? God will judge me by the same rules that I apply to judging other people. Look at it – back to Matthew chapter 7, where Jesus was talking. He said:
Why is it that you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye but you don’t notice the log in your own eye. Or how can you say to your neighbour; “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” while there’s a log in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye and then you’ll see clearly enough to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.
The log in my eye, the log in your eye, that’s our failures and our weaknesses and our downsides and our sin – that’s what causes our perception to be distorted. Come on, if I’m an insecure person, am I going to expect everybody to walk on egg-shells for me? If I’m an arrogant person, am I going to expect them all to kow-tow to me? Or am I going to humble myself and take the log out of my eye. If I’m on a mission; I’ve got a goal in life that’s not from God and I want to roll over the top of people, will I lay it down?
This stuff’s not easy because, the log in our own eye, we don’t want to know it’s there. We don’t want to admit that we have a log in our own eye, but we sometimes do. It’s not easy to get rid of – that’s why we need the Holy Spirit; that’s why we need the Word of God. That’s why you and I are together right now. We can be such slackos but what if – what if we put determination and humility in our hearts?
What if we came to Jesus and said: “Lord, I’ve heard your Word and I confess this log. I confess my own poverty, I confess my complete inability to do anything about it, except to lay it at your feet – to lay it at the foot of the cross – and say: “Lord I need your help.” Because you know something – anything less is hypocrisy. The word ‘hypocrisy’ that Jesus uses there, means an actor who is two faced. The world hates hypocrites – you and I hate hypocrites. How can we be hypocrites? How can we walk around with a log in our eye and say to a neighbour: “You’ve got a speck in yours.” Come on!
Now does that mean that we can never deal with someone else’s problem? No! That’s not what Jesus said. Have a look at chapter 7 verse 5 of Matthew again. He said:
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.
Because when we take out the log; when we take out our failures out of the equation, when we take off the devil’s glasses and put on God’s glasses and we see the world clearly through His eyes, through God’s Word, through who He is, all of a sudden the judgement goes away, a desire for anger and revenge goes away. You and I, we can’t genuinely help anybody when we are angry with them. Can I say that again? We can’t genuinely help anybody to take the speck out of their eye when we are angry with them. All we can give them is cynical, self-serving and self-seeking hypocrisy and judgement.
First we need take the log out of our own eyes, first we need to admit that maybe our own insecurities are ruining this relationship. Maybe our own selfishness is ruining this relationship. Maybe some unrealistic expectations are ruining this relationship. Jesus said: “Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees. You hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and plate but inside they’re full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup so that the outside may also become clean.”
How do I deal with difficult people? For me, the first step is saying, ‘I’m the most difficult person I will ever meet. I am with me 24/7, I am with me every minute of every day of every week of every month of every year for the rest of my life on this earth and Jesus is saying to me, Jesus is saying to you:
Examine your own motives in the light of God’s Word and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Have a look again at the Book of Romans, if you will, with me – chapter 5 verses 6 to 8. Paul writes this. He says:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though perhaps, for a good person, someone might actually dare to die, but God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
When you and I were still sinners; when we were in enmity to God, God proved His love for us, by looking beyond our sin. He didn’t let the hurt that He felt at our sin, immobilise Him or deter Him from the cross.
We all know John 3:16 – that’s the good news, because:
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him won’t perish but have eternal life.
But what about First John 3:16 – that letter toward the end of the New Testament – what does that say? Gotta remember this one too, it says this: “We know love by this – that He laid down His life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for each other. In other words be imitators of God.” We are made to be like God – not to be God – but to be like God. We’re made in His image and the one thing that stops us from that is our sin, our weaknesses and our failures and Jesus is saying:
Take the log out of your eye.
Because as long as you carry it round, you are the most difficult person you will ever meet and when you can see clearly – when you can see through my eyes – when you can see your enemies as the people who God created and God loves, as people made in His image, all of a sudden life becomes a lot better. All of a sudden it becomes so much easier to deal with those difficult people, when we acknowledge that we are part of the difficulty in that relationship. It takes courage to identify the log in your eye. You know, it takes determination to cast it out. It takes humility to love your enemy.
So how about it? Don’t underestimate it – this is a huge thing. It’s being prepared to change our perspective; to lay our pride down, to struggle through this over and over again, to die to ourselves for the glory of Jesus Christ. When they look at you, when they look at me, will they see someone and say: “Now there’s someone that’s like Jesus, there is someone who heard Jesus say: ‘Love your enemy.’” Come on, will they?