Years ago, I found myself holding onto hard feelings against a key ministry leader in a church I served.
This brother had the gift of criticism. I know he did because he exercised it each week when I finished preaching.
My dislike for him had reached a point where I didn’t want to be around him. I thought about him too much, and I was tempted to correct anyone who said anything nice about him. Fortunately, I never did. I’m embarrassed to admit that I had allowed the sin of bitterness to creep into my heart and take root.
My resentment came to a head one day when I pulled into the church parking lot — only to discover his vehicle was there as well, which meant we were going to have to encounter each other. Instead of going immediately into the building, I bowed my head in prayer and confessed, ‘Lord, I don’t like him. I don’t like to be around him and I don’t know what to do about it. I know, Lord, that you love him, and I believe you can help me love him as well. What can I do to love him?’ That pretty much sums up my prayer and my feelings at the time.
The next thing that happened was unexpected. I felt a strong impression to hug this brother every time I saw him. I resisted that urge for obvious reasons — and because I am not much of a hugger. However, I submitted to what I thought could be the leadership of the Lord and started hugging him each time I saw him. In the following months, God so changed my heart that he became one of my favorite people in that church. When I look back on it now, I am still amazed at how my hard feelings melted away and gave space for love and compassion toward a brother in Christ.
What can we do when there is someone in our life who we know we should love but who we may not like very much?
1. We can remember God’s Word. God sanctifies us by His Word, and God’s Word speaks to this issue. In 1 Thessalonians 4:9, Paul told the Thessalonian believers, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.”
This verse became my prayer for the brother in this story. I had faith — because of this verse — that God could teach me to love someone that I wanted to avoid at all costs. God sanctifies us by His Word, and this was a much-needed area of sanctification for me.
2. We can pray and ask for God’s help. I am convinced that God delights in any prayer that focuses on us fulfilling the second great command: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” When we are praying to love a fellow image-bearer, we are clearly praying in God’s will, and we are praying a prayer that God will answer. We may be surprised at how He answers it, but He will answer that prayer. When you are overcome with strong emotions against another, pray and ask God to help you. He will.
3. We can do things that are loving and watch as God changes us over time. Nothing takes away hard feelings toward another like acts of unselfish and genuine compassion done for their good. That urge to hug this man was a way of caring for him in a manner he needed at the time. He was going through some things that I knew nothing about. In time he began to confide in me, and I was able to minister to him more fully. By God’s grace, I was able to become the pastor he needed.
None of this is to say that we should be doormat Christians or remain in a dangerous situation without seeking help. It is to say, however, that when we have strong negative feelings toward a brother or sister in Christ, God can help us grow through that experience in ways we would never have imagined.