“Responding to Difficult People”


Responding to Difficult People

Do you have any difficult people in your life? Most of us do. Is there someone that God has not changed (even though you have been praying and praying) … and it’s hard? So, how does God want us to respond to them?


Responding to Difficult People


This is the second post in a series about what Paul Tripp calls “Living Between the Already and the Not Yet.”

The first post was “5 Ways God Finishes His Work in Us” based on Philippians 1.6:

being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;

We talked about Jude 24 and how God tells us that one day He will cause us to stand before Him faultless.

But there is a progression to it. By God’s grace we are progressing from what we were on the day of our spiritual birth (the “already”) and what Jude talks about in verse 24 (the “not yet”).

Here between the “already” and the “not yet” God is progressively changing us as we learn to:

1. Count it all joy (James 1.2-5).
2. Accept His discipline (Heb. 12.5-11).
3. Keep the 2 great commandments (Matt. 22.37-40).
4. Overcome evil with good (Rom. 12.17-21).
5. Trust in His sovereignty (Rom. 8.28-29; 1 Cor. 10.13).

Today in the second post in that series, we’ll talk about how we should respond to difficult, even sinful, people.


Difficult Relationships


Do you have any difficult people in your life? Is there someone that God has not changed (even though you have been praying and praying) … and it’s hard?

It could be a work situation or a family situation. Maybe you’re being mistreated, insulted or falsely accused?

The truth is, most of us have relationships that are challenging!

In counseling much of what we deal with concerns relationship issues:

  • A couple may come because they can’t be in the same room without fighting.
  • A wife may come because her husband is harsh and unloving.
  • Parents come because a child is disrespectful and angry.
  • Someone else comes because they are still struggling with mistreatment or abuse from childhood.
  • Parents come with a child who is being bullied.


How do these things fit into God’s plans and purposes for us?


Let’s just say for a minute “Lois” comes in. Her husband is harsh and unloving and not even willing to come for counseling.

Mike Wilkerson in his book Redemption says that we are all fellow sufferers AND fellow sinners. Even when we are sinned against, we complicate the situation by our responses.

So Lois finds herself yelling, complaining, gossiping to friends, and even threatening her husband with divorce. Now things are not going well. In fact, life has gotten hard!

I will often draw what we call the “Y- Chart” and share with her this simple phrase “Only 2 choices on the shelf, pleasing God or pleasing self.”


y chart

“Only 2 choices on the shelf, pleasing God or pleasing self.”


Pleasing Self


Pleasing self starts out easy. It comes naturally to us. But …

Proverbs 13.15 says “the way of the transgressor is hard.”

What starts out easy gets hard; things don’t go well. Our sin only worsens the situation.

Psalm 32.10 says, “Many are the sorrows of the wicked.”

And Romans 2.9 says:

There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil

Synonyms for those two words “tribulation” and “distress” include depression, shame, guilt, anxiety, affliction, agony, hurt, misery, pain, torment, and woe, just for starters.

Doing evil can involve sins of commission or sins of omission. Sins of commission are things we do that we shouldn’t and sins of omission are our failures to do what we should.



y chart Pleasing self starts out easy, but, eventually, life gets hard!


Pleasing God


The other way … pleasing God, starts out hard. It goes against our natural way of thinking.

We have thoughts like: “If I let him get away with that, he’ll think it’s ok” or “Do you expect me to be a doormat?” It’s hard! But … Jesus said in Matthew 11.28-30:

28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”



y chartWhat starts out “hard” gets easier and our burden gets lighter.


A minute ago I quoted Romans 2.9:

“There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil …”

But verse 10 says:

“but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good …”

John 13.17 says, now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. And James 1.25 says it’s the doer of the Word who will be blessed.

So back to Lois … life has gotten hard, there’s tribulation and distress, made worse by her sinful responses. One of the first passages I would share with her after giving her some hope that things can be different is 1 Peter 3.1-6:

¹ In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands. Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over by observing your pure and reverent lives. Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful. They put their trust in God and accepted the authority of their husbands. For instance, Sarah obeyed her husband, Abraham, and called him her master. You are her daughters when you do what is right without fear of what your husbands might do. (NLT)

The best way for wives to impact, even change, their husbands is by showing them respect and displaying a gentle and quiet spirit. We are to do those things without fear of being seen as a doormat. Without fear that “He’ll think it’s OK to treat me that way.”

We are to do things God’s way and trust Him for the results. When we do, life gets easier and our load gets lighter. God goes to work instead of us. Romans 12.17-21 in the NLT:

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. 19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge;     I will pay them back,”     says the Lord. 20 Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them.     If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” 21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

God has given us a weapon that is much more powerful than trying to take control. It’s more powerful that fighting or demanding our own way. Our weapons are spiritual and mighty through God. It is a better way of living, superior to trying to have life on our terms.

Many people would say, “I know that’s what the Word says, but that’s just too hard.” “Why hasn’t He changed my husband, or my boss, or my mother or ….” You fill in the blank. “Why would God allow this to happen to me?”

Romans 8.28 in the NLT says:

28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

How could it be good that someone was abused? How could it be good that a husband has walked away from his marriage? Or a child is angry and rebellious or a husband is harsh and unloving?

We can’t talk about Romans 8.28 without putting it in context. Verse 29 says:

29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, [remember Jude 24] so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (comment added)

Remember, God is taking us from who we are when we get saved to what He has declared in Jude 24. He’s going to causes us to stand before Him perfect. If we are going to become “like His Son,” we have to learn to respond “like His Son.”

So let’s talk about how Jesus responded at the most difficult time in His life.



simple cross


He had been betrayed by a friend. His other friends had deserted him. He had been beaten until He was almost unrecognizable. He had probably been stripped almost naked. And then … He had been nailed to a cross.

And what was going on around Him? How was He being treated? Matthew 27:

39 And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

41 Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, 42 “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. 43 He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

44 Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.

Luke 23 adds this:

“… And they divided His garments and cast lots … The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself” (Lk. 23.34b, 36).


simple cross Jesus mistreated mocked


So at His hour of greatest need, He was being reviled, mistreated, and mocked. And how did He respond? Luke 23.34:

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

And in John 19:

25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” 27 Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.

And Luke 23:

39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”

40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

So as Jesus was dying, as He was being reviled and mocked, He first turned to the father and prayed for those who were tormenting Him. Then, instead of focusing on Himself, He focused on the needs of others: first His mother and then a common criminal hanging on the cross next to Him.


simple cross forgave

Jesus is our example.


And He is our example:

1 Peter 2.21-23 NLT: 21 For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. 22 He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. 23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.

When we think responding like Christ is more than we can do, we need to remember that God doesn’t expect us to do these things in our own strength. In fact, we’re not capable of it. Instead, we are invited to come boldly to the throne of grace and receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4.15-16). God never asks us to do anything He won’t also give us the strength and the grace to do, if we keep our eyes on and rely on Him.

So remember the “Y-chart.” “Only two choices on the shelf, pleasing God or pleasing self.” When we seek to please self life gets hard, but when we seek to please God, we can experience peace and joy, honor and blessings in ways we had never imagined.

The next post in this series is: RECOGNIZING THE PROCESS OF SIN.


Coming Up:

In the next few days in the daily posts, we’ll look at eternal security, suffering, sin, self-examination, and how to respond when life is hard and confusing. Be sure to sign up so you won’t miss any of these upcoming posts.


You can also sign up for special “Christian Living” posts or to receive notices of the Mondays @ Soul Survival LINKUP.

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Featured Resource:

Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry

Exodus is a real story about God redeeming his people from the bondage of slavery and how their difficult journey home exposed their loyalties—though wounded by Egypt, they had come to worship its gods. Most Christians don’t make golden idols like the Israelites in the wilderness, but we do set up idols on our own desert road—idols like substance abuse, pornography, gluttony, and rage. And even those who don’t know the pain of actual slavery can feel enslaved to the fear and shame that follow sexual abuse or betrayal by a spouse, for we suffer at the hands of our idols as well as those created by others. We need more than self-improvement or comfort—we need redemption.

Redemption is not a step-oriented recovery book; it’s story-oriented and Bible-anchored. It unfolds the back-story of redemption in Exodus to help Christians better understand how Christ redeems us from the slavery of abuse, addiction and assorted trouble and restores us to our created purpose, the worship of God. Readers will discover that the reward of freedom is more than victory over a habitual sin or release from shame; it is satisfaction and rest in God himself.

16 thoughts on ““Responding to Difficult People”

  1. I have never thought of the “Y” as applied to dealing with difficult people, but the way you explained it makes sense. When I have a difficult time with someone else and think that I need to pray for them, that usually means I need to pray for MYSELF. It is another opportunity to become more like Christ. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement!

    • Emily, God puts difficult people in all of our lives. It helps us to see the areas where we are not like Him. It took me quite a few years before I stopped complaining about the difficult people in my life and started allowing God to change me! Blessings!

  2. There is always so much here in your posts, Donna, that I need to read and come back and read again. You give practical yet profound wisdom applicable in every life situation we find ourselves in… again and again.

    The Y chart is a fatantic tool and easy to use at EVERY age.

    Very blessed to have spent time here with you. You have me pondering!

    • Dawn, I’m glad the post was helpful. I love the Y-chart, too. When I share it people tell me they end up using it with friends and family, on napkins over lunch … it’s a simple, but good visual. Thanks for stopping by and for commenting. Blessings!

    • Rose, I’m so glad it spoke to you and was helpful. God’s Word give us all we need for live and godliness, doesn’t it! Blessings!

  3. I love this post. I’m pinning to come back and review some more. I have a series called Relationships in the Raw for a place to vent about difficult relationships. The next stp is to discuss how to deal with them. Stopping by from The Great Blog Train.

    • April, I’m so glad you visited today. We all have those difficult relationships, but it’s so important to seek God’s Word for the biblical response. Blessings!

  4. Wow. You share practically and powerfully here. I appreciate your explanation of pleasing self moving from easy–>hard, while pleasing God moves from hard–>easy. The verse from James came to mind, which describes the one who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continuing in it being blessed. When it comes to obedience, we have a choice to make; faith chooses to trust God when He says His law is one of liberty, even when it’s asking us to do something hard. Thank you for breaking down this important principle, and for sharing it with us at Grace & Truth!

  5. This post is very relevant for my life right now. Loving those who are making it difficult to love us, and especially when they are loved ones who have or are currently causing us hurt takes us beyond what we are humanly capable of. But God is more than able…

    My favorite quote:

    “When we think responding like Christ is more than we can do, we need to remember that God doesn’t expect us to do these things in our own strength. In fact, we’re not capable of it. Instead, we are invited to come boldly to the throne of grace and receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need . God never asks us to do anything He won’t also give us the strength and the grace to do, if we keep our eyes on and rely on Him.”

    Thank you for posting to Motivating and Rejuvenating Monday!

  6. another great post, Donna. I like your Y example and yes, life on the narrow path will be hard but as we submit to Him, and in our joy of pleasing Him, it becomes easier. Thank you for the application that Jesus is our example and if He could do it, we can too, with His help. Blessings!

    • Thanks you, Cindy. Yes, that narrow path starts out harder, but in the end is where true peace and joy come from even in the midst of difficulty. Blessings!

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