In his Thought for the Day, Alan Smith tells the story of a patient who had skipped a Doctor’s appointment. When he finally showed up, this conversation ensued.
Doctor: “I see you’re over a month late for your appointment. Don’t you know that nervous disorders require prompt and regular attention? What’s your excuse?”
Patient: “I was just following your orders, Doc.”
Doctor: “Following my orders? What are you talking about? I gave you no such order.”
Patient: “You told me to avoid people who irritate me.”
If we’re honest, we all have people in our lives that are hard to like, let alone love. Some folks just seem to provoke frustration. Aggravation. And irritation. So, what’s a Christian to do?
Alan recommends a book by Milton Jones, “How To Love Someone You Can’t Stand.” He lists six principles from Jones’ book based on Romans 12 that can help us.
(1) Manage Your mouth — Bless and don’t curse (Rom. 12:14)
(2) Put yourself in the other person’s place. Try to understand their feelings, thoughts and position (Rom. 12:15)
(3) Never, never, never take revenge (Rom. 12:17)
(4) Plan ahead to do something beautiful (Rom. 12:17)
(5) Don’t just win the war, win the peace (Rom. 12:18)
(6) Make room for God (Rom. 12:19)
Jones’ last point may be the most beneficial. Attitude altering. And life changing. While we may conscientiously take specific steps to get along with other people, the best way is to open our hearts to God’s love. The golden text of the Bible, John 3:16, reminds us of God’s immeasurable love
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
He loved us when he didn’t love Him. When we were sinners. When we were unlovely. So, God wants us to take the next step. He wants us to learn from Him. “Be holy for I am Holy,” He implores (1 Peter 1:16). The Teacher wants us to be like Him (Lk 6:40). We are called to follow in His steps. To feel as He felt. To care as He cared. To love as He loved.
And who did He love? The scattered. The tired. The weary. The downtrodden. The dregs of society. The Publican. The prostitute. The sinner. Folks difficult to love.
Jesus challenged them and us in His immortal Mountain message to “love your enemies.” When we only love those who love us, how are we better than others? It’s easy to love our friends. But it is a challenge to love our foes.
To begin such a quest, you don’t have to volunteer at a homeless shelter. Or pick up a beggar on the street. You might start in your own neighborhood. Your own family. Or in the same church building where you worship!
How often do we find people that we ought to love irritating and aggravating? Maybe they are socially inept. Or flawed with a bristly personality. Or not very bright. Or not very much fun. Or not very pretty! It’s so easy to gravitate to the winsome personality, the engaging conversationalist, and let’s be honest, the pretty face! And in so doing, to ignore those who are difficult to love, but need it the most.
God calls us to a higher standard. A nobler motivation. A deeper love. It is love that looks beyond the surface. That delves into the heart and the soul. That sees the image of God in everyone. That remembers how God loves him or her, too. That, I too, have been unlovable, but God loved me.
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:11)
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman