How to Deal with Difficult People Who Refuse to Change

God shows you how to move forward in a room of fog.

Several years ago I found myself at odds with someone. This individual had spoken severely to our daughter, and I confronted this person with the truth—but in anger, and I failed to speak truth in love.

How to Deal with Difficult People Who Refuse to Change

(Photo by Photodune)

Later, I tried to get together and talk it through. I knew I needed to ask for forgiveness for how I said what I said. But those in authority asked me to leave it alone until later. Although I tried to comply at first, I felt miserable keeping quiet. I came to realize I needed to ask forgiveness, no matter what.

The only way I felt I could honor both the Lord and those in authority came by writing a letter and asking for forgiveness. I never heard back from the individual, nor did I expect to or need to. But I needed to do my part. I needed to reach out.

But it was tough.

Difficult People Need Forgiving

I really believe even when we know someone will refuse to forgive us we need to ask anyway. Genuinely. We need to make it sincere and honest, done with such integrity that allows us to walk away knowing we have honored God. Paul qualified his command appropriately:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. —Romans 12:18

The reactions of difficult people to our request for forgiveness may vary:

  • They may reject us.
  • They may say nothing.
  • They may offer a glib, obligatory, “I’ll try.”

But we have to gauge the success of our efforts by our obedience to God and not by other people’s disobedience to Him. That’s between them and Him. “Be patient with everyone,” Paul urged (1 Thess. 5:14).

We cannot force what God has yet to change in another person. Sometimes, God takes his time. After all, he has taken a long time with us, hasn’t He?

Our Tough Assignment with Difficult People

How do we show love when we don’t feel like it? We reach out with the goal of love without expecting any love in return.

  • We mail a birthday card or send a text with the simple words: “Thinking of you on this special day.”
  • We give a hug and don’t react against their cold reluctance.
  • For husbands and wives, Peter also gives inspired counsel that expresses itself daily by maintaining respectful, godly behavior, a gentle and quiet spirit, and living in an understanding way (see 1 Pet. 3:1-9).

Tough assignments, sure. But as Christians, they’re non-negotiable.

birthday cards

(Photo: By Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine. Own work. CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The motivation behind these acts of love? They must find their roots in our love for God.

  • We cannot love others in order to receive love; that type of barter will always feel off-balance in our favor.
  • God has already loved us more than we could possibly imagine.
  • Our love has no expectations or goal but the glory of God, and practically, we show our love for God by loving others. Love remains our only outstanding debt (Rom. 13:8).

Even When Difficult People Refuse to Change

Sometimes all we see is the mountain before us, not the entire pathway God provides over it. But it’s there. We should take the first step anyway. “Is the Lord’s power too limited?” the Lord asked Moses, “Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not” (Numbers 11:23). We can still believe God without seeing or understanding his plan.

Let’s face it; other people in our lives may never choose to change. But neither do they have to change us. We can choose to follow God regardless, to forgive from the heart, and to move forward in genuine joy.

God’s sovereignty allows us all of that. Jesus died to give us that freedom.

Tell me what you think: What has helped you deal with difficult people? To leave a comment, just click here.

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