Are you frustrated by a brother or sister in Christ? It could be a fellow church member. Or a church leader – either over you or alongside you. It could be your frustrating Christian flatmate. A spouse. Your kids. Regardless, there’s something they do, or something they say; something they don’t do, or something they don’t say, which you find consistently frustrating. And you wish their actions, words, or patterns would change.
Community can involve conflict.
Community can involve conflict. The background to many of Paul’s exhortations for us to love and bear with one another assumes that we’ll have issues with one another in community (Colossians 3:12-14). Why? Because, even in Christ, we struggle with sin especially in the contexts of the relationships around us. Someone once described it as porcupines in bags: we keep poking one another in the eye, or arm, or whatever.
I’m surely not alone in this struggle. And I certainly know I’ve caused my own fair share of frustrations for others! So below are three responses that have helped me to navigate my own sin and failings, as well as that of others. In a follow-up article I’ll share another three. For now, here are three ways to respond when engaging frustrating Christians.
1. Examine Your Own Heart
We can easily notice other people’s issues, but be blind to our own. We discover the speck before the plank (Matthew 7:3). And yet, by the Spirit, we need to first pause and examine our own hearts and lives. Obviously this won’t fit every scenario. But we should ask the question: Could the issue, or part of the issue, lie more with us, than with them?
Sometimes our issues with others say and reveal more about us than them.
Put another way: sometimes our issues with others say and reveal more about us than about them. Yes, legitimate concerns and problems may exist. Perhaps even justified frustration. Nevertheless, before we deal with others, we should first examine ourselves.
Perhaps try these diagnostic questions:
- What might my frustration with others say and reveal about me?
- What is it that I hold dear that I feel is being threatened or not carried out?
- Am I judging this person by my own standards or by God’s standards?
- Am I wanting this person to be in my image or Christ’s?
Check your own heart. What are the circumstances and situations firstly saying about you?
Am I judging this person by my own standards or God’s?
As we pray through this, we might discover that we’re more of an issue in this issue than we thought or knew. It could be that we are holding people to a higher standard than we should. It could be that we are so easily frustrated because our own identity in Christ is so fragile. In fact, it’s very likely several things. But at the very least, this self-examination might shape us towards a healthier recognition of our own struggles as we humbly wrestle with the struggles of others.
2. Turn to Prayer (and Practice Gratitude)
There are several good reasons to pray for other Christians that we find frustrating:
- If we are convinced change needs to happen, then only God can do the deeper work.
- God gives us opportunities to love others, even in our issues with them.
God may work in you and by his grace soften your own heart.
I would suspect that as we pray regularly for this person, a few things will take place:
- God may work in them and by his grace answer your prayers
- God may work in you and by his grace soften your own heart towards them, increasing your love and concern for them.
If we’re to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, then at the very least we can do the same for saints who exasperate us. Right?
Thanksgiving Can Offset Frustration
And perhaps added to this: it may be a good idea to note the good we see in this person. Nothing quite drives out complaints like thanksgiving.
Nothing quite drives out complaints like thanksgiving.
Where can you see your Father at work in what this person does, says, or thinks? Write points down and actively pray in thanksgiving for them and God’s work in and through them. Note the good, in part to keep your heart from growing bitter, but also to keep in mind God’s active grace to them. Turn your frustrations about people into prayer, and thanksgiving for them.
3. Watch Your Speech—Carefully
Far better to talk to God about them than to talk to others about them. But if we do need to talk to others about this person then we must watch what we say and how we say it. Watch for gossip and slander. Watch for moaning and grumbling. Beware pride and arrogance. Watch for poisoning others’ opinions or relationship with this person. Watch for a lack of grace.
Beg the Lord that both what you say and how you say it is true and gracious.
Most of us have people we download to: a roommate, friend, maybe a gym buddy. And it can be good to talk to others about those who frustrate us. But beg the Lord that both what you say and how you say it is true and gracious. Many times it can be a fine line—and we need God’s grace in this. We need Christian friends who don’t pour more oil on the fire but instead in godly moments pull the handbrake up, helping us to watch what we are saying and how we are saying it.
Ask for Help in Applying the Previous Two Points
Beyond any other wisdom and godliness your sharing partner can bring, ask them to help you with our first two points. In other words, ask them to help you to:
- Keep examining your own motives.
- Pray and give thanks for this person.
Then do both of those with this person. In the next article we’ll explore three further responses to frustrating Christians.