Dealing with difficult people not only tests our faith in God, but it also puts our witness on display. One biblical figure who responded well to difficult people was David, who triumphed over many offensive characters to become king of Israel.
When he was only a teenager, David encountered one of the most intimidating types of difficult people—the bully. Bullies can be found in the workplace, at home, and in schools, and they usually frighten us with their physical strength, authority, or some other advantage.
Goliath was a giant Philistine warrior who had terrorized the entire Israelite army with his size and his skill as a fighter. No one dared to meet this bully in combat, until David showed up.
Before facing Goliath, David had to deal with a critic, his own brother Eliab, who said:
"I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle." (1 Samuel 17:28, NIV)
David ignored this critic because what Eliab said was a lie. That's a good lesson for us. Turning his attention back to Goliath, David saw through the giant's taunts. Even as a young shepherd, David understood what it meant to be a servant of God:
"All those here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord's, and he will give all of you into our hands." (1 Samuel 17:47, NIV).
While we should not respond to bullies by hitting them in the head with a rock, we should remember that our strength is not in ourselves, but in the God who loves us. This can give us confidence to endure when our own resources are low.
Dealing with Difficult People: Time to Flee
Fighting a bully is not always the right course of action. Later, King Saul turned into a bully and chased David throughout the country, because Saul was jealous of him.
David chose to flee. Saul was the rightfully appointed king, and David would not battle him. He told Saul:
"And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. As the old saying goes, 'From evildoers come evil deeds, so my hand will not touch you.' "(1 Samuel 24:12-13, NIV)
At times we must flee from a bully in the workplace, on the street, or in an abusive relationship. This is not cowardice. It's wise to retreat when we are unable to protect ourselves. Trusting God to exact justice takes great faith, which David had. He knew when to act himself, and when to flee and turn the matter over to the Lord.
Dealing with Difficult People: Coping with the Angry
Later in David's life, the Amalekites had attacked the village of Ziklag, carrying off the wives and children of David's army. Scripture says David and his men wept until they had no strength left.
Understandably the men were angry, but instead of being mad at the Amalekites, they blamed David:
"David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters." (1 Samuel 30:6, NIV)
Often people take their anger out on us. Sometimes we deserve it, in which case an apology is needed, but usually the difficult person is frustrated in general and we are the handiest target. Striking back is not the solution:
"But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God." (1 Samuel 30:6, NASB)
Turning to God when we're attacked by an angry person gives us understanding, patience, and most of all, courage. Some suggest taking a deep breath or counting to ten, but the real answer is saying a quick prayer. David asked God what to do, was told to pursue the kidnappers, and he and his men rescued their families.
Dealing with angry people tests our witness. People are watching. We can lose our temper as well, or we can respond calmly and with love. David succeeded because he turned to the One stronger and wiser than himself. We can learn from his example.
Dealing with Difficult People: Looking in the Mirror
The most difficult person each of us has to deal with is our self. If we are honest enough to admit it, we cause ourselves more trouble than others do.
David was no different. He committed adultery with Bathsheba, then had her husband Uriah killed. When confronted with his crimes by Nathan the prophet, David admitted:
"I have sinned against the Lord." (2 Samuel 12:13, NIV)
At times we need the help of a pastor or godly friend to help us see our situation clearly. In other cases, when we humbly ask God to show us the reason for our misery, he gently directs us to look in the mirror.
Then we need to do what David did: confess our sin to God and repent, knowing he always forgives and takes us back.
David had many faults, but he was the only person in the Bible God called "a man after my own heart." (Acts 13:22, NIV) Why? Because David depended completely on God to direct his life, including dealing with difficult people.
We can't control difficult people and we can't change them, but with God's guidance we can understand them better and find a way to cope with them.