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I have a question for you today, which I likely already have the answer. My question is this: "Do you have a difficult person in your life?"

Wouldn't it be nice if every friend or family member in your life bore a personality resemblance to Mary Poppins? Or to Pollyanna? Or to Mother Theresa? Instead, with difficult people, I often feel like I am stuck in a relationship with Cruella de Vil, Scrooge or with the despicable Grinch!

Yet, as I questioned difficult relationships, the Holy Spirit recently reminded me that Jesus chose Judas to be one of His disciples, even though He knew Judas would betray Him. Judas was definitely difficult.

The Holy Spirit also tenderly pointed out to me that Jesus chose Peter to be one of His disciples, even though He knew Peter would rebuke Him, cut off a soldier's ear and deny Him three times.

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Peter was undeniably difficult.

God never shies away from using a difficult person for His purposes and for His plans. In fact, there are a list of difficult people that He has used over the course of history, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jonah, Samson, David, Moses, Paul and even you and me. If God doesn't shun difficult people, then neither should we.

However, we must employ the strategy, the wisdom and the heart of God when navigating the stormy relationship waters that difficult people tend to stir up. When I confront difficult people in my life, I often give opinion rather than truth, frustration rather than righteousness and judgment rather than love. I need to be more like the Father.

"As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ" (Eph. 4:14-15, NASB).

When God allows my life to collide with the life of a difficult person, it is not so that we will beat each other up emotionally and verbally until one of us bleeds bitterness and cries out in pain. Instead, it is so that one of us — perhaps both of us — will begin to act more like Jesus. Difficult people are not meant to bring out the worst in us but they were always meant to bring out the Jesus in us.

What if God has allowed a difficult person or two into your life to develop your grace muscle? Yes, you have a "grace muscle"! Giving unlimited grace is part of the calling of a believer in Jesus Christ.

Grace often hurts the giver but it heals the one who receives it. And, in the long run of life, it strengthens the one who has given the grace.

"Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth but only that which is good for building up, that it may give grace to the listeners" (Eph. 4:29, MEV).

Another strategy that Christ often utilized when dealing with a difficult person is that He enlisted that fractious person as a worker in His kingdom! He gave Moses a million or more people to lead out of slavery. He gave Paul some books to write and He gave Peter a church to build. Ministry often morphs a skeptic into a partner and transforms a whiner into a witness.

So now, rather than getting all bent out of shape at the prospect of spending another day with Cruella, the Grinch or Scrooge, perhaps it would be wise to determine that you are going to be just like your Dad!

You will speak the truth in love rather than vomiting your opinion in frustration when speaking to Cruella. You will reveal the character of Jesus every time you hang out with Mr. Grinch. You will give grace upon grace whenever Scrooge knocks upon your door.

And you will understand the value of challenging that difficult person to invest his or her life in something bigger than himself or herself. And maybe, just maybe, you will roll up your sleeves and join in the work with your new friend!

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Dr. Mark Rutland's

National Institute of Christian Leadership (NICL)

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