Have you ever wanted something really, really bad, only to discover that someone else was standing in your way? When that happens, you just might find yourself living with difficult people. Series: Living With Difficult PeoplePeople can be difficult to live with. And that’s probably never more true that when there’s competition: two people, but only one donut. What is it you really, really want?
If anybody would know about living with difficult people, it would have to be Jesus. When you’re perfect, living with anyone else would be difficult. So, last week we began a look at what Jesus had to say about how to live with difficult people. His words are found in Matthew 7.
First of three principles: 1. Guarding my thoughts.Easy to criticize others & focus things we don’t like about them. When we criticize unfairly, we can expect unfair criticism directed at us. Sometimes we judge before we’ve dealt with sin in our life that could be warping our perceptions. There is a place for making judgments about others, but those judgments must be made carefully, looking at our own sin, giving them the benefit of the doubt, asking questions, focusing on their actions, and exercising grace. The judging that condemns & generalizes & is based on gossip, assumptions or appearances & tries to divine someone’s motives or read their mind — those kinds of judgments have no place in our relationships. And Jesus tells us to stop it.
Second principle: 2. Fulfilling my desires.Things we want can be a major source of conflict with others. Competition over scarce resources. We want something someone else has or they want something we have. We want them to do something for us, and they’re not giving us what we want. We want them to behave in a certain way and they’re not cooperating. Unfulfilled desires can lead to intense personal conflict. So, when we find that someone is difficult to live with, we might ask if our conflict stems from some unfulfilled desire. Two passages, Matthew 7:7-11 & James 4:1-3. Together they tell us that unfulfilled desires can tear apart our relationships. But the good news is that there is something we can do about it. There is a way to fulfill our desires that doesn’t require fighting with each other. These verses tell us the secret of not allowing our desires to make it difficult to get along with other people.
Let’s begin in the book of James. James was Jesus’ brother, a leader of the first church in Jerusalem. His letter may have been the first book of the New Testament to be written. Here’s what he says,
“Desires” (ἡδονή) is the word for “pleasure”, the word from which we get our English “hedonism”. The Bible says that our desire for pleasure fights a battle within us—a relentless campaign for satisfaction. And when someone gets in the way, look out! We’re willing to fight anyone who stands in the way.
“You want something” (ἐπιθυμέω) is much stronger in Greek. Same word as “lust”. Strong, powerful desire, a longing. That longing drives us to treat others poorly. Maybe doesn’t lead you to commit murder. But there are lots of conflicts short of murder. You don’t get along with someone and the reason is because you want something and you’re not getting what you want. As simple as angry words or dirty looks – or as subtle as who you choose not to speak to. Our desires can make it difficult to live with anyone who gets in the way. But James has a simple alternative – so simple that you wonder why you didn’t think about it before you started fighting.
Whoa! I could ‘a had a V-8!You don’t have, because you didn’t ask! I think what James is saying here is that often we convince ourselves that the reason we don’t have something we want has to do with some person who’s keeping us from fulfilling our desires — a parent, a spouse, a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor. If they’d just get their act together, then my desires would be fulfilled.
But, says James, why not try going to the source. If you want something, instead of waiting on fickle, selfish, forgetful people, why not just ask God for it? Duh! And that brings us to our verses in Matthew 7. Jesus has just been talking about judging others, now he suddenly starts talking about asking God for what you want.
What’s the connection between these verses on prayer and the context – verses before and after are about getting along with others. In the middle, Jesus starts talking about prayer. Why? James 4:1-3 is the answer. Our desires can create conflict with others. Jesus, like James, says we should take our desires to God. Matthew 7:7 has three commands and three promises. Ask, seek and knock. Commands are all in present tense which means keep asking, keep seeking and keep knocking. They grow in intensity: asking is easy; seeking requires effort; knocking implies persistence. Each is followed by a promise: God will give. You will find. The door will be opened. Just in case someone missed it the first three times, Jesus repeats the whole thing in verse 8:
Ask, seek, knock, and you will receive, find and walk in an open door. Basically, Jesus is saying SIX times that God will fulfill your desires. He will give you what you ask for. He will allow you to find that which you’re seeking. You knock and he’ll open the doors. But it doesn’t work quite the way Bruce Almighty thought.Scene Setup: God and Bruce have worked out a deal where God has given Bruce just enough of His powers to let him experience how challenging it is to be God. Realizing that part of his new job as God is to address all the prayers of humanity, he sits down to listen.
This clip shows Bruce faced with millions of prayer requests that have come in over a 24-hour period. To Bruce that was a huge amount. To God it was several billion too few. It turns out that Bruce’s “Yes” to every prayer ends up making a lot of people angry. Millions of people have prayed to win the Big Lotto grand prize, and when they all win each person only gets $17. Their anger, combined with others who are upset with their answers to prayer, ends up fueling a mob riot. In order to say “Yes” to some prayers, God has to say “No” to others. And sometimes, he just says “Wait.”
There’s a certain confidence in these verses.Confidence that God will answer our prayers, a confidence that he exists, that he’s listening, that he is able to act and that he will act to fulfill our requests. There couldn’t be a clearer statement that God will answer our prayers. How can we be so confident? The reason is in verse 9:
God is our father and he acts like a father would. If your son asked you for something good would you try to trick him? Would you give him something worthless to eat instead of something nutritious and delicious? Of course not. Neither does God. Cinderella Man tells how, in the Great Depression, the former successful boxer James Braddock loses all his possessions and savings with the crash of the stock market. He, his wife, Mae, and their three children survive to starvation and lack of heating and the daily difficulties supported by their love. In one scene, he gives up his breakfast to his young daughter.
That’s the way parents give to their children
The point is not just that God will answer our prayers – it’s that God will give us good stuff. These verses are pretty straightforward. Our problem is not figuring out what they mean. Our problem is that our experience doesn’t live up to the promise. We have all prayed for something and found that God does not simply give us what we want. We have all taken our desires to God and still found them unfulfilled. And that leads us to a crisis. Did I do something wrong? Is sin keeping God from answering my prayers? Is it a lack of faith? When I prayed I believed, but maybe I didn’t believe hard enough.
Our experience seems to be the opposite of what we read here. What’s the deal? We grow disappointed and disillusioned. Ultimately the crisis leads to big questions: Doesn’t God love me? Does God really answer prayer? Is God even there? Many who survived the Holocaust came away with their lives but not their faith. They grew tired of calling out to God for justice and deliverance—but all they got back was silence. Many are struggling with the same issues because they lost their jobs. After years of praying for a new job—asking, seeking, knocking—they haven’t received, they haven’t found, and the door hasn’t been opened. There are some here who have been praying for health, for recovery, or praying that one of their relatives would come to Christ, and you’re tired of praying because nothing has changed—your strongest desires remain unfulfilled.
Difficult people can’t stand in the way of God. They may even be God’s answer to your prayers. They may be the “good” thing He has provided and we’re wondering why it’s a good thing that they’re in our lives. Kay Onstead shared a movie with us this week. Courageous (2011) is the story of four deputies and one jobless day laborer who decide they are going to do what God expects of them, no matter what the cost.Javier has been out of a job and unable to get work. His family is close to losing their home when he finally gets a job. Just when things seem to be going well, his boss offers him a promotion – if he will fudge inventory numbers. The implied threat is that he will lose his job if he doesn’t go along with the scheme.Javier reports to his boss to give his answer and face the consequences.
130414 sm 22 may i take your order matthew 7 7-11 (abridged)
MAY I TAKE YOUR ORDER? Matthew 7:7-11 & James 4:1-3THE DISCIPLE’S HANDBOOKStudies in the Sermon on the Mount
THE DISCIPLE’S HANDBOOK Worship Economy Code RelationshipsCharacter Disciple’s Choices
THE DISCIPLE’S RELATIONSHIPSWho are You to Judge?
THE DISCIPLE’S RELATIONSHIPSWho are You to Judge?May I Take Your Order?
OUR DESIRES CAN BE A SOURCE OF CONFLICT James 4:1-2
James 4:1What causes fights and quarrels among you? Dont they come from your desires that battle within you?
James 4:2aYou want something but dont get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.
James 4:2bYou do not have, because you do not ask God.
WE SHOULD FULFILL OUR DESIRES BY ASKING GOD Matthew 7:7-8
Matthew 7:7 Ask and it will be given to you;seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
Matthew 7:8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.