I can’t remember the preacher who told the story about this husband and wife who were having trouble. Their names were Herman and Henrietta. They were going through their brand-new house. It was a house that Henrietta had paid for with her money. Henrietta was constantly reminding Herman that it was her money that had paid for the house. In each room as they toured the house she said to her husband, “Herman, if it were not for my money we wouldn’t be here.” Poor old Herman didn’t say a word.
That afternoon a truck delivered to the house a load of furniture, furniture which Henrietta paid for with her money. After the furniture was in place, the couple toured the house again. As they observed each room, beautifully appointed and magnificently decorated, Henrietta reminded her husband, “Herman, if it were not for my money this furniture – would not be here.” Poor old Herman stood there in silence.
Late in the afternoon a truck came with a special piece of furniture which was to be the focal point of the den, a combination stereo – television – computer all wrapped into one gorgeous piece of furniture, which Henrietta paid for with her money. When it was in place Henrietta again addressed her husband and said, “If it were not for my money that piece of furniture would not be here.”
Finally, Herman spoke up. He said, “Honey, I don’t want to make you feel bad, but if it were not for your money, I wouldn’t be here either.”
How many of you know someone who is difficult to be with? How many of you are the one that is difficult to deal with? Perhaps you have said things like this before: Work would be great if it wasn’t for a certain co-worker. Coaching would be fun if it wasn’t for the parents. Management would be exciting, if it wasn’t for the people. Those of you in Customer Service or in a service industry know how trying people can be.
There was a man in our church in Cincinnati who made it his habit to sit on the front row and scowl at me as I led worship and he did the same when Pastor Burch was preaching. He said he made it his mission to keep us humble. Talk about potential to quench the Spirit of God. He was a total pill and was in our face week in and out. There will never be a shortage of difficult people to deal with. One thing is for certain, we can’t control how difficult people act, but we can control how we will choose to respond to them.
Moses had his share of difficult folks to contend with. Let’s take a look at how he dealt with them. Numbers 11:1-Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord.
Numbers 14:2-4 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
Numbers 11:4-6 4 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”
Numbers 11:10 10 Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents.
There was a whole lot of mumbling and complaining going on in the camp. Folks didn’t like what was on the menu. God had been supernaturally supplying food, but instead of gratefulness there was grumbling. They let their minds go to the worst-case scenario. They believed they would die in the wilderness. Because they believed the worst, their memories became pretty unclear about what had actually been the worst. They had been slaves in Egypt. There was nothing positive about that experience. Nothing. God had dramatically brought them out. They were in transition, yes, but the worst was behind them. The best was yet in front of them, but they became fixated on circumstances being ideal and completely had a memory lapse about how bad things really were in Egypt. Funny how that happens, huh? We can easily forget the blessings of God.
Not only did folks not like what God was serving for lunch every day, but they didn’t care for their wilderness accommodations.
Numbers 20:4-5 4 Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”
Sometimes leaders have to deal with one or two complainers or a few disgruntled people, but verse ten says that the people of every family were wailing at the entrance to their tents. Morale was at an all-time low. How was Moses going to deal with their defeatist attitude? How was he going to lead people who had forgotten how blessed they were and were now bitter about what they perceived needed to change?
In Numbers 11:11-15, after witnessing the attitude and hearing the complaints of the people, Moses went to the Lord in prayer. He asked why things were happening as they were. He asked God how he could possibly make them happy. He called their emotional state a burden that was too heavy for him to bear. We see here the first step in dealing with difficult people is to:
- Pray and process your feelings with God.
Leaders are people, too. Leaders have feelings. Moses had feelings. Their negativity took a toll on him. They blamed him for their circumstances. He was frustrated. Moses felt as if he was doing as God had asked and that God had put him in kind of an unfair position. The people were expecting Moses to “do something” and what they wanted was beyond his ability to produce. He not only wanted to quit, but he asked God to take his life if it was going to be like that going forward.
Difficult people can suck the life out of us, can’t they? They can take the joy out of serving, out of leading. Leaders are only human. What was being asked of Moses would require something no human could produce. Moses had to have an outlet for the overwhelming burden that came with the complaining spirit of the people. He saw his limitation and it created great frustration for him, so he took it to the Lord.
If Moses had just reacted to the people, if he had just told them to shut up or tried to reprimand them for having a bad attitude, things would have gone south in a hurry. Instead, he listened. He listened instead of reacting to them, and he reacted by being pretty direct with God about the position he believed God had put him in. As a result, he received direction and help that enabled him to continue to lead.
We can allow criticism or negativity to push our buttons and get us to react negatively or to the place where we internalize the stress and just acquiesce, give in and relinquish the God-given place we are occupying OR we can start with prayer, giving us a an outlet for our feelings and giving us an avenue through which to receive the God-given direction that is available to us.
God told Moses he didn’t have to bear the burden alone. He told Moses to choose 70 leaders to help bear the burden of the people with him, so he didn’t feel so alone. Pressure is easier to handle when people are standing against you. God made a way for Moses to have help.
When we skip the step of talking with God about difficult people, we miss the opportunity for God-sized help to come our way and we may wind up a casualty of other people’s negativity.
- Step two for dealing with difficult people is to resist receiving everything as personal.
Sometimes difficult people just make life difficult for everyone around them. It isn’t personal. It is just who they are as people. When the people grumbled and complained, their angst wasn’t really with Moses; it was with God. Moses was simply an easy target. We see how people went after Moses in what could really be interpreted as personal in Numbers 12:1. Numbers 12:1-Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. Notice who it was that was stabbing Moses in the back? It was his brother and sister. Sometimes the difficult person is a family member and not a random person. That can complicate things in a hurry. Was the issue that they really didn’t like his wife? That sounds personal, doesn’t it?
Numbers 12:2 goes on to reveal more of what was actually going on in their hearts. 2 “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.
It is clear that Miriam and Aaron were jealous of Moses. I mean, Moses was the baby brother to Miriam and Aaron. Miriam watched over Moses when he was placed in that floating basket to escape being killed by the Pharaoh of Egypt. If it weren’t for her, Moses wouldn’t have even had a chance at life. Maybe Miriam thought she deserved more credit than she had been given, that her voice should have been as prominent in Israel as his was. The phrase is nuanced in such a way that it was almost insinuated that Moses went around flaunting his spiritual status and authority as if he was at the top of some authoritative heap. That can feel personal, can’t it? When someone questions your confidence or criticizes the way you lead? We’ll dispel any notion that that was an accurate statement in a minute.
When people are jealous of someone, they will often try to tear them down and try to undermine their leadership. In this instance, Miriam and Aaron felt they were on par with Moses and had some kind of sense that they had been slighted or that their leadership hadn’t been recognized appropriately.
God called a meeting with the three of them, and He defended Moses to Miriam and Aaron. He said in Numbers 12:7 that Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Perhaps we are sometimes too quick to defend ourselves, too quick to go on the defense when people say things about us, when we should count on God to have our backs, on God to reveal the truth about who we are? Just food for thought. God disciplined Miriam by striking her with leprosy. That was a pretty big judgment against her. Perhaps she was the one who made the comment about Moses’ wife and the one about God speaking to more than just Moses.
Moses could have thought, “Well, that will teach you to run your mouth, Miriam.” But what did he do after Miriam was struck with leprosy? He begged God to heal her. He hadn’t taken her criticism or her jealousy personally. He still viewed her as a sister, as someone he loved. He didn’t let her lapse in judgment or her harsh comments destroy the bond that they shared. He didn’t cut himself off from her just because she said something that I am sure she later regretted. He prayed for her to be healed, and God healed her.
Had Moses washed his hands of Miriam just because she made some stupid comments, he would have missed an opportunity to be part of a Divine healing miracle in her life. She would have died. The last words between them would have been tragic. Obviously, Miriam was dealing with some kind of personal lack of confidence or feelings of insecurity and she lashed out on Moses. He chose not to take things personally, and because he didn’t take them personally, he became part of her healing story.
You see, when we take things personally, we distance ourselves not only from the people who hurt us but from the possibility that God may want to bring healing into their lives through us.
Third and finally, I would suggest to you that dealing with people requires that we maintain a spirit of meekness.
Demanding certain treatment because we are the boss or because we could pulverize someone who challenges us or because “our daddy is bigger than his daddy” or whatever other superior position we think we are in…none of those approaches will diffuse the situation. Seeking to expose someone or “take someone down” or get someone back for what they have done to us doesn’t come from a humble heart, one that seeks what is best for everyone. A humble person will be concerned with the best interest of all in each situation. Humble people will want to be used of God to diffuse difficult situations. What do we read about Moses in Numbers 12:3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)
That phrase is in the Bible for a reason. We are supposed to know that about Moses. The assertion that Moses had flaunted anything or was intentionally throwing his weight around to show people who was boss was obviously false. He knew it. God knew it. And Aaron and Miriam knew it. When difficult people say things about you that are untrue, the truth is always still on display on some level because they know that what they are saying isn’t accurate. If it was accurate, they wouldn’t have to make something up or twist it around in order to say it.
Let me define humility or meekness for us. Meekness is power under control. When you know whose you are and who you are and what you have done or haven’t done in a situation, and your heart is clear, you can move through difficult situations with difficult people without losing your cool and without losing control.
Allow me to share a personal illustration. Several years ago, I was invited to share a funeral with another pastor. That pastor, however, didn’t believe women should be in ministry and his particular denomination forbid him from sharing ministry with a female. Well, the family wanted both of us and insisted that both of us serve. So, something had to be worked out. Well, I have never been to a funeral that utilized a bulletin before, but he printed one up, and everyone got a copy. My name was listed in the bulletin first. It said, “Personal Remarks and Song by Melissa Pratt.” There was no mention of “Rev.” or the church I served. OK. No huge deal, right? Then after the listing of my name, there was a line drawn under that, and it read, “The service begins.” That was his way of abiding by the family’s wishes yet not actually admitting to having shared a funeral service with a female pastor.
Now y’all, this isn’t about me and no one needs to take to Facebook or Twitter to defend me or hire a private investigator to figure out who the pastor was…(He has since retired.) I am just sharing it as an illustration of a time when I was in a difficult situation with a difficult person, and I was able to stay cool, calm and Christ-like. Because I know who I am in Christ and because I know what God has called me to do and because I knew He had placed me in that family’s life to minister to them during a difficult time and because I knew this other pastor was a Brother in Christ (No, I didn’t say “Bother” in Christ,” I said “Brother.”) Because I knew he was a brother in Christ and was simply living out what he believed was a right conviction in his life and because I wasn’t there for myself, I wasn’t there to prove anything, I was there for Jesus and the family, I did my portion of the service with the strength, confidence and authority that Christ provides to me, and I sat down. I didn’t take is personally because he was just doing what he had been taught. He was being faithful to what he perceived was the truth. He didn’t know me. It wasn’t about me. I wasn’t going to allow it to become so.
I didn’t demand the bulletin be done away with. I didn’t tell him to get a life or that he was theologically errant. I didn’t storm out and say, “I’m out of here. If you can’t at least respect me, we can’t work together.” Nope. I swallowed some humble pie, a big piece, and I allowed myself to be used of God to accomplish His purposes in that situation. While my flesh would have desired to do something different, I allowed my spirit, which has been occupied by and transformed by the power of God, to take the lead. That is humility-allowing yourself to be used of God to accomplish His purposes in every situation. Moses allowed himself to be used of God. That meant he was elevated at times, and not everyone understood or appreciated that. It was OK. It didn’t change Moses’ desire to be used of God. Had Moses not maintained a spirit of humility, his responses could have disqualified him for God’s next assignment. Where would that have left him? Where would it have left the children of Israel.
True leadership requires humility. Just because you could squash someone like a bug doesn’t mean you should.
So, what has God said to you about dealing with difficult people today? Can you pray about them and process your feelings with God? Can you resist receiving everything as personal? Can you maintain a spirit of meekness? Can you bring those names before the Lord this morning and ask God to help you develop a holy strategy for dealing with them in a way that will still allow God to use you in their lives as He sees fit?