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Loving Difficult People

Let’s be honest. Some people are hard to love. Your annoying neighbor. The person who cuts you off in traffic. That opinionated co-worker.

Some friends of mine have two-year-old triplets. Remember the “terrible twos”? Multiply that by three, and you don’t get six. You get the multiplied energy, curiosity, and noise. Now, imagine going out to eat as a family.

My friends and their enthused triplets did just that, and the Terrific Three got the idea they would run around the table neighing like horses. A man sitting at the next table made a snide remark about the lack of parental control, and my friend gently responded that when the man has two-year-old triplets, he can give all the advice he wants. And the man sneered and said, “I would NEVER be stupid enough to have triplets.”

Needless to say, it was about all my friend could do not to “neigh, neigh” a punch across the man’s face. As I said, some people are hard to love.

And sometimes WE are those people. At times we act selfishly, stubbornly, and spitefully. We require grace just as much as we need to extend it. While we work out what God has worked in, we acknowledge others are doing the same.

Remember the Apostle Peter? Peter was bold, rash and impetuous, and most likely he got on others’ nerves. He often thought he was right (John 13:8). He vowed he would never deny Jesus, even if others did (Matthew 26:35). He even rebuked Jesus (Matthew 16:22). I mean, who would do that? You’ve got to be pretty full of yourself to rebuke the Lord of the Universe.

And yet Jesus continued to love Peter. As the old hymn says, how grateful we are for “the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!”

Augustine once wrote, “Anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them” (On Christian Doctrine).

What is the best indicator that someone knows the Bible? Is it that they can quote verses or wax eloquently in their explanation of some obscure passage? Augustine, who knew quite a bit about the Bible, said if you do not love God and neighbor you understand very little. I wonder where he got that idea (Matthew 22:34-40)?

The next time you’re around someone who is hard to love, be grateful for the opportunity to pour into him or her what has been poured into you—“. . . God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

When God Knows His Plans, But We Don’t

Sometimes I get frustrated with God. Is it okay to acknowledge that? I think so. The Bible is full of people who say such things as, “I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me” (Job 30:20).

The particular frustration I have with God is that He doesn’t always show me exactly what I’m supposed to do, what decision to make, or what action to take.

I’m a person who likes to be in the know. Call me a control freak, but my life seems to go better when I have a plan, and I stick to it. I get fired up when I read a passage like Jeremiah 29:11—“`For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, `plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

The problem is that God knows His plans, but I don’t. Generally speaking, I know His plan includes my faithfulness and conformity to Christ, but when I get to specifics, the plan gets foggy. Should I take this job or that job? Should I buy this house or that house? Should we send our kids to this school or that school? Come on, God! What is your plan for me?

Sometimes I fail to take my next step, because I’m waiting on God to make the next move. I want some kind of sign that what I’m about to do is aligned with God. What I’m discovering, however, is that God is often waiting on me.

When I pray and trust in the Lord, and when a decision or action is in faithful obedience to the character and calling of Jesus, then I have to take that next step in faith. I’m learning that it’s only when I take a step in faith that God reveals the step that follows.

In Joshua 3, the people of Israel are lined up and ready to cross the Jordan River to enter the land of Canaan. Joshua told them, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you” (Joshua 3:5). The people obey, and God tells them to follow the Ark of the Covenant across the Jordan. But it was only when the priests, who led the procession, stepped into the river that God parted the waters and the people walked across on dry ground.

They had to take the first step.

What is keeping you from taking your next step in making a decision or following through on a commitment? Is it fear you might be wrong? Is it frustration that God isn’t making the path clearer?

If you consecrate yourself to the Lord, then you are prepared to take that next step. Only then will God reveal step number two.

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