For those just joining, this is part of a series of letters on spiritual growth and maturity. For the last letter, click this link.
Continued from the previous letter…
The underlying principle behind God leaving difficult people in your life is this: If a difficult person in your life needed a touch from God, God would never be able to send them to you. Scripture clearly points out that he created you to do good works, and fore-ordained those good works:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10
..for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:13
However, we have the freedom of will to choose our response to any given situation. That includes the capacity to choose against the “good works which God prepared beforehand (Eph 2:10)” for you. God may have seen a moment in time wherein you would be a powerful conduit of his presence to touch a broken person. But you could miss the moment because you are too busy being annoyed or offended at the very person God brought to you.
What follows then is that if God sent someone to you and you lacked the capacity to love them based upon your preconceived judgements, God may have to judge you for choosing to walk away from what he has prepared for you to do. At best, our judgements limit our effectiveness. At worst, they set us against God.
For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. Matthew 7:2
God leaves difficult people in your life to prepare for the next difficult person. If we are focused on removing the difficult people in our life, we will often miss the very thing that God is using them to do.
“We have found it to be a law that those who merely want pain removed do not get well. Those who want to go on enjoying their own selfish, self-centered life never become free and happy. They only want to escape the trouble (the very thing God would use to wake them up) so they can go on serving their own god of mammon pleasure.” The Transformation of the Inner Man, John Sandford
He uses people to change the way we think about people. The same holds true for difficult situations. God can and will use each and every situation in your life for your benefit. It will be much easier to recognize this by asking the right kind of questions.
Nine questions to ask when confronted with your response to a difficult situation:
Question 1: Why do I respond the way I do?
Question 2: In what ways am I reflecting my own selfish desires, and in what ways am I reflecting the loving nature of Christ?
Question 3: Honestly assess you level of emotional response, whether it be anger, jealousy, annoyance, etc… These are your responses, they are not predicated upon the actions on another. Why do these emotions still linger within your heart?
Question 4: Does the person who is causing an emotional response remind you of someone in your life? In what ways?
Question 5: How could a previous interaction with someone else be triggering this interaction?
Question 6: Why do you lack empathy with the person causing your emotional response?
Question 7: Reflect on previous interactions with difficult people. Do you notice a pattern or habit of response from yourself?
Question 8: In what ways could your family of origin influence your response to this person?
Question 9: Why do I have such a difficult time responding in a loving way to a difficult person?
A number of years ago I was confronted with a difficult person. This person wanted me to change the details of a particular gathering to suit their needs. They wanted me to change things that were simply impossible for me to accomplish. I was incredibly annoyed at the person. Later that day, as I was reflecting on 1 Corinthians 12:24, “….but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it.” The Lord spoke to me clearly and said, “When you understand this I will promote you.”
When Jesus was presented with incredible brokenness, he did not run the opposite direction, but rather embraced the downtrodden. The woman with the issue of blood for 12 years in Luke 8:43-48 was just such a case. Scripture states that she had spent her entire savings exhausting every medical procedure she could find. She was left destitute. This woman was poor, sick, and emotionally distraught. This is not a healthy and whole individual. This is a broken and downtrodden individual. I’m positive I have walked by many people suffering in the same way as this woman. The abandoned, rejected, disillusioned, and those simply looking for a helping hand fade into the background of our busy, everyday existence. We tend to ignore and avoid what we find uncomfortable.
Joseph the dreamer realized something profound at the end of his journey with his brothers. His brothers had kidnapped him, thrown him into a pit, and sold him into slavery. He was subject to incredible difficulty throughout his journey. From the false accusation of Potiphar’s wife to the obscurity of the prisons of Egypt, he had been confronted with difficult people and difficult situations. He had every reason to send them to their deaths. But Joseph realized the providence of God on the other side of the difficulty:
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Genesis 50:20
In fact, the trials were the very thing that God used to purge him:
” …until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him (Joseph).” Psalm 105:19
The Hebrew word for “tested” literally means purged. The circumstances Joseph found himself in with other people were the source of his purging. God used each one to shape and form his character, and in turn change the very way he thought. He was challenged in Potiphar’s house, he was challenged in the prison, and he was challenged in the palace. When Joseph saw his brothers again, it was imperative that the same neural network that was formed around the pain from his brothers had to be entirely rewired. In order for him to fulfill the destiny that God had placed upon his life, God changed the way he perceived the world.
You can only help those around you to the degree you have allowed yourself to be helped. When Jesus quoted Isaiah 61 and sat down in the temple (Luke 4:17-21), he was acknowledging that the Spirit of God was upon him to accomplish an incredible work:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Luke 4:18-19
The great underpinning of the ministry of Jesus was that he could preach good news, heal the broken-hearted, proclaim liberty, recovery of sight, free the oppressed, and proclaim the Lord’s favor because he was not poor, broken-hearted, captive, blind, or oppressed. What he walked in he was able to freely share. In order to heal the broken-hearted, you must be healed. In order to proclaim liberty, you must be free. It is difficult to proclaim liberty as a captive.
God changes us in order to empower and enable us to change others. And allowing yourself to be helped is about changing the very way your brain is wired to think. As God rewires and rewrites your everyday norm, you become the loving person that he can in turn send others to. You become a source of healing rather than perpetuating a cycle of pain and hurt. The process of God rewires you, retells your story, and invites you into the grand narrative of God’s history. Through you, the lives of others can be changed.