Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Fruit of the Spirit: Loving Difficult People

About 2 months ago I wrote a post introducing my goal of focusing on the Fruit of the Spirit as an area for growth over the next several month. (Click here for the link)

I have faltered slightly from my original timeline but I now bring my first post in my ‘Fruit of the Spirit’ series. I first saw this series as an opportunity for growth. But I sometimes forget to acknowledge that growth usually comes from a challenge. And that is exactly how I see it. When I think of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) in my life I see where I am not loving, where I lack a joyful attitude, where patience has run away and the last thing I want is peace.

However, in this pursuit to embrace, and train for, godliness, I have been challenged to identify where the fruit is lacking in my life. And first up in the line is: love.

God has created each and every one of us to be different. There is an amazing diversity in personalities and temperaments among us. There are some people who work really well together. But there are others who clash. There are times when these clashes occur and it is hard to openly, willingly and easily love people. I have begun to feel convicted over this area as I engage with different people in various areas of my life.

I have been learning how my personality works and recognising my strengths and weaknesses. It hasn’t been an easy road to walk but it’s been enlightening as I can reflect on various relationships and have a deeper understanding on why this worked or why that didn’t.

Most of all, it’s been about allowing the Spirit to work on my weaknesses.

Some people are so easy to love. Others, are hard. It is challenging to swallow pride and instead, I need to remember I am on my own journey in becoming like Jesus. I need to remember what He has said: 

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.  And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Luke 6:27-31. (ESV)
Some of these difficult people may not be my enemy, but I am still called to love no matter how little I agree with them or how much I find their own attitude frustrating. If I look to my own feelings in tough relationships, I usually end up disappointed, bitter or frustrated. But if I look to Jesus, part of loving, is to be praying for them. Now that’s a concept I don’t think about often when dealing with difficult people. I have been looking at areas of godly discipline in my life and prayer is one I want to improve on.

Thankfully, though it is hard to love difficult people, and I can make a start by praying, the Bible gives examples that I can build on in my own life:
       Paul tells the Christians in Philippi, “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3-4) (ESV). 
       The wisdom of Proverbs speaks to us, “fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.” (Proverbs 12:16) (NIV)
       Paul also wrote the Corinthians a description of true Christian love - it is to be patient and kind. (1 Corinthians 13)

Not only do I need to be praying for the people in my life, I cannot forget my responsibility. I have learned recently that I do not take responsibility for anyone else’s thoughts or behaviours. But I do take responsibility for my own. There may be people in a dark and hard place. There may be relationships that are strained. There may be words that hurt and do not make sense.  My responsibility is to be looking at my own actions, words and thoughts.
And I can begin by praying for the Holy Spirit’s power to change my heart. I can pray that I can see and display Christ’s love to all around me, just as Christ displayed love to me.

And if I do this and lean on the strength of Jesus’ love, I can begin to see the fruit of love produce in my own life.  

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