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Difficult people are God’s grindstones in our lives

Here’s one of the best lessons I ever learned: God uses difficult people to help you grow. I was sitting across from a friend at a fast food restaurant several years ago. As he related the story of how he had been slandered by a pastor at his church, I felt myself …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Here’s one of the best lessons I ever learned:

God
uses difficult people to help you grow.

I was sitting across from a friend at a fast food
restaurant several years ago. As he
related the story of how he had been slandered by a pastor at his church, I
felt myself becoming more and more indignant on his behalf. “How is it that this person could get away
with such behavior?” I asked myself. “How can he call himself a Christian, much
less serve as a church leader?”

But as my friend finished his story, the Lord brought a
different perspective to mind. While on
the surface my friend’s antagonist seemed to be a poor example of a Christian,
and while my flesh cried out for justice, this pastor was actually God’s tool
in my friend’s life.

“You know, as difficult as your pastor was,” I said, “as
wrong as his actions were, consider the fact that God is using him to help you
grow. You have an opportunity to grow in
grace by forgiving him and to sharpen your conflict resolution skills by going
to him with your issue and letting him know how his actions made you feel. Viewed from this perspective, really he’s
God’s grindstone, a tool to hone your character.”

How many times do we view difficult, contentious people
from this perspective? Unfortunately,
rather than seeing the positive way in which they may cause us to grow, we view
them as a thorn in our flesh, a necessary evil in a fallen world. In so doing, we may be rejecting the very
tool that God wants to use to help us grow.
You pray for patience and He puts you behind a grandma going 20 miles an
hour in traffic. You pray for
discernment and He gives you conflict situations that require you to rely on
the Holy Spirit. You pray for
sensitivity and He gives you a boss who fails to consider the pressures closing
in around you.

In each instance, God is answering your prayers by putting
a difficult person in your life. Such a
person acts as His grindstone, knocking the imperfections off your
character. As you choose to respond to
sin not in kind, but with grace, your own capacity for righteousness
increases. You look more like Him and
you please Him more.

Viewed from this angle, each person in our lives who makes
us want to cuss is really a present from God to us, a declaration of His love
for us. Consider the possibility that
the more difficult the person, the bigger the imperfection in our character
that God wants to smooth out through the friction in the relationship. Were we to respond with patience, grace, and
love to the problems the person poses, then we would have already passed the
test that they represent.

Who are the difficult people in your life? What is it that God wants to teach you
through them? Thank God for them. They are evidence that He loves you and wants
to polish you on His grindstone. Then
consider responding in grace. After all,
you could be God’s tool in

their
life, put there to model the kind of response that He looks for from them. Through your grace, everybody wins. You allow God to take the rough edges off
your character, looking more like Jesus and, in the process, demonstrating yet
again that His light can illuminate the dark places in our world.

“Accept one another,
then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
Romans 15:7

Comments (27)

  • I can really attest to such iron that sharpens iron! I must confess that in most cases I am the one who is considered the grinding stone by many brethren. Not because I am mean to them or am cruel…just that I expect us to be Christians. To many…I have become their thorn in the flesh, not even knowing it most of the time.

  • PIUS KIPLAGAT-KENYA

    It is true we have difficult people in all spheres of life. However it is easy for us to see the others as button pushers but we forget that in a conflict the accuser is sometimes the problem.
    Thank you for the good insights and god bless.

  • Thanks for reminding me that God is using the person I find difficult in my life as a ‘character flaw remover’, I shall try my best with God’s help to respond in a Godly way and not comment or join in the gossip about this person. I was wanting a better answer but God has given me this answer before and I didn’t like putting it in practise as I wanted someone to understand my hurt too, but in the big picture it’s this other person that needs a different reaction and protection from more gossip and I need to just get on with practising it!

  • I agree with what everyone has stated above. I have small children that are greatly effected by the behavior of this difficult person. It is this person’s desire to spend as much time with the children as possible. Are my husband and I doing right by keeping them away as we feel they are much too small to understand and they are confused by it. I want to do what is right. I have a handful of children under the age of 5. Thanks so much!

  • The children are under your authority. If the difficult person is negatively impacting them, it is your job to protect them. I would have a conversation w/ the difficult person about their behavior and ask them to modify it when they are in the children’s presence.

  • Although I believe God puts difficult people in our lives, he does not put them to hurt us, to harm us, to discourage, to frustrate us. I have had a share of difficult people in my life. Satan uses difficult people to hurt us, to destroy us, to discourage us, etc. However, God uses them to heal us, to build our character up. I think to myself. A good Bible verse would be Romans 8:28

  • Although I believe God puts difficult people in our lives, he does not put them to hurt us, to harm us, to discourage, to frustrate us. I have had a share of difficult people in my life. Satan uses difficult people to hurt us, to destroy us, to discourage us, etc. However, God uses them to heal us, to build our character up. I think to myself. A good Bible verse would be Romans 8:28

  • Yea but how are we supposed to re-charge our battery when family and whatever hateful, controlling friend comes along? What ever happened to just being loved and accepted? Every Christian friend I ever made was mean in one way or another.

  • you sir are full of it ! there are some very hateful people out there, they are like cancer , eating away at you, finally you become one of them,hateful, mean, ugly, I have prayed, ask for mercy, nothing ,absolutely nothing

  • Tenna,

    I am sorry that your experience has been so difficult.

    The most hurtful people are often those who have been hurt badly or fear being hurt badly. On the contrary, some of the most joyful are those who’ve grasped their forgiveness the most.

    I pray that for you and for those you speak of. May the viscious cycle end. May He give you the strength and hope to be part of the exit from that cycle, even if all the previous efforts seemed fruitless.

    The fact that you have prayed and asked for mercy is a step in the right direction, evidence of a seed planted. Some seeds just take longer to sprout. That can be very discouraging. May the Lord tend those seeds the most at your weakest and most hopeless moments, and sprout forth the fruit in due season. And may you still have a taste and hope for the fruit when it comes in.

  • I really needed to read this message on this new year day,as for someone who’s been dealing with this situation for some time now ,it bring such clarity to my situation.Now I know I can move forward with my life I thank God for your wisdom

  • I really needed to read this message on this new year day,as for someone who’s been dealing with this situation for some time now ,it bring such clarity to my situation.Now I know I can move forward with my life I thank God for your wisdom

  • Thanks for this. This is something I’ve already believed but to read it here confirms it.

    The difficult person in my life is my wife. I could see the fruits of exercising patience, not responding in kind, holding my tongue and trusting in the Lord. I’ve had to overcome my reactive nature through God giving me a wife that does not take any crap from me. She can be abrasive and hurtful with her words. There is no subtlety with her. But in a way, God uses that so that I can confront things that may be uncomfortable to face. It’s been difficult but I’ve seen improvements in my reactions to her. But the fact that I fall off the wagon once in a while is evidence that God is not done with me. So the tests and trials continue.

    Question: what if I am dealing with, say, people in church that say that I as a husband should put my foot down and do or say something. See, she has stopped going to church with me. I’ve opened up to a couple of men in church and they say directly, or indirectly, that I ought to be more assertive. Being “more assertive” does not help in my situation since it brings more conflict (see above). Is this a matter of, again, entrusting this church issue to the Lord and not worry what others may say? Entrust the process to the Lord?

  • Sounds like your trust relationship is broken. I’d try and serve her to build trust. Love her and show her you’re trustworthy. Over time she will give you the opportunity to lead in ways that are righteous.

  • Interesting. I’ve lost her trust because of the way I’ve reacted in the past (and slip up in the present). I’ve lost her trust to love her, unconditionally. Thanks for your input.

  • My mother was verbally,mentally and physically abusive towards my brothers and I growing up. I have forgiven her many many times for her behavior.I am 43 now and she still is verbally and mentally abusive.I recently agreed to let her stay with us for the 2nd time because she needed oxygen chamber hyperbaric treatments everyday. It was a nightmare the 2 months she stayed.Her negative behavior caused a strain on my family including myself. Regretfully i couldn’t compose myself when I argue broke out as I was trying to tell her that her behavior was awful and it was effecting all of us,as the agrument got deep Regretfully I brought up a time when she tried to smother me with a pillow after she beat me badly and her reaction was not good needless to say I had her by her throat and my 17 year old son stopped me.My heart is so broken and I am so heavy with guilt that God will never forgive me. I feel I failed Gods test of not only patience but forgiveness and love.Yes she is a very very difficult person BUT I should have kept strong in the Lord and not my own “feelings”. Moral of this is that not a minute or second should u leave God out of anything,Lean on him ALWAYS!

  • Krista, this is a good confession. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

    Her behavior is inexcusable. Your job is to break all ties with it. Jesus gave us the path in Matt. 5-7. You may want to pray about going to her and apologizing.

  • Thank you for the quick reply! Yes I already started praying for God to help me with going and apologizing when it is the right time. Thank you.

  • I have past experience with verbally and physcically abused husband for 20 years. He passed away in 2013. I married again in 2017. In my second marriage, my husband is a divorcee.
    Now I have problem with him being a liar. He seems to lie most of the time and he said he is not lying eventhough he already said he lied and ask me for forgiveness and he still keep on lying.
    Furthermore, his ex and kids keep manipulating him to hate me and do something on their behalf. I feel so stressed now and won’t to get rid of this relationship.. but everytime I want to do it.. he doesn’t want to give up on me… I will appreciate if you can give me support and encouragement.

  • Yes, I fully agree with your article but I am at stand still. God has put a very difficult and hateful person in my life. I just don’t understand exactly what God wants me to do, Its a roommate that I have no control over whether she atays or goes. She very vindictive. In the beginning we got on well. Since she does not know God I attempted to bring Him in. On one hand God wants us to tell them, give a warning of His kingdom or else blood will be on our hands.She is deep into sin and thinks she is going to heaven when she dies. I told her, no, she won’t. For she does not know God or Jesus. On the other, the good book says to pursue peace with all people. I don’t know how to balance this. I feel that I am being persecuted for the word. On the other hand, maybe I have been to harsh and deserve the back lash .,I would welcome any comment or suggestions you may have.

  • Yes, I fully agree with your article but I am at stand still. God has put a very difficult and hateful person in my life. I just don’t understand exactly what God wants me to do, Its a roommate that I have no control over whether she atays or goes. She very vindictive. In the beginning we got on well. Since she does not know God I attempted to bring Him in. On one hand God wants us to tell them, give a warning of His kingdom or else blood will be on our hands.She is deep into sin and thinks she is going to heaven when she dies. I told her, no, she won’t. For she does not know God or Jesus. On the other, the good book says to pursue peace with all people. I don’t know how to balance this. I feel that I am being persecuted for the word. On the other hand, maybe I have been to harsh and deserve the back lash .,I would welcome any comment or suggestions you may have.

    • I wondered if you were the Lisa Nelson that I’ve known for 20 years, and you’re not. But I asked her and here’s what she gave me to pass on to you:

      “Pour her energy into praying for the roommate and showing her God’s love through kind words and actions. If the roommate is drawn by that she may be open to asking questions and spiritual discussions. Also, to try to be a good friend. Listen well, show interest in them and their life, ask good questions. Seek first to understand.”

  • Thank you for your feed back. What was said I find true for most people. As for this roommate it’s going to be very difficult. Maybe that’s why God put her into my life.

  • Thank you for your feed back. What was said I find true for most people. As for this roommate it’s going to be very difficult. Maybe that’s why God put her into my life.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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