Dealing with Problem People

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NRSV)

I start by saying emphatically, “No! I don’t dislike people in general.” However, as an introverted pastor, generally dealing with people day-to-day can take a toll on my overall health and wellbeing if I’m not careful – more so regarding “problem people.”

It’s “problem people” that the apostle Paul is referring to in his second letter to the Corinthian church. In the letter, Paul talks about praying to God to remove the thorn in his flesh. While some scholars interpret this as a physical infirmity that Paul was suffering from. Others insist that Paul is, in fact, referring to problem people that are threatening his ministry as the thorn he repeatedly asks God to rid him of. Problem people, as being a thorn in Paul’s flesh, is the interpretation we’ll adopt for this article.

A couple of things to note in this passage: 1) Paul says that “a messenger of Satan” is responsible for his thorn in the flesh so as to torment him. 2) God answers Paul’s prayer, not by removing the thorn but by reminding him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” In summary, Paul is being tormented by Satan to destroy his ministry. Thus, Paul prays to God to remove the problem people from his ministry and life. God responds by telling Paul that, rather than having the problem people removed, he needs only to rely on His grace and strength to deal with them.

Like my namesake, often I have prayed that God would rid me and my ministry of problem people. And I’m sure you also have prayed a similar prayer sometime in your life. After all, all of us at some time or another must deal with problem people in our lives. When we do, it’s only natural for us to pray to God to intervene on our behalf. However, often, when I have prayed such a prayer, I discovered that God gave me a similar answer that He gave the apostle Paul. That is, I will not rid you of them. Instead, I will give you the grace and strength to deal with them – if only you will ask.

That’s the whole issue, isn’t it? When encountering problem people, I have been praying for the wrong solution. Instead of asking God to rid me of problem people, I need to ask God to prepare me to receive the grace and strength He desires to give me so I can deal with the problem people in my life in a positive, Christ-like manner. How about you? If Satan is tormenting you with problem people, keep praying to God for help. But change the focus of your prayer!

To help you, I share these wise words of advice that have greatly helped me deal with the problem people in my life. They are from Rick Renner’s book, Sparkling Gems from the Greek Vol.1 “So instead of constantly asking God to remove all the problem people from your life, why don’t you change the way you are praying? Start asking God to release His power to change you so you can walk in peace and victory even when people fail or disappoint you. If you can learn to appropriate the power of God to deal with people, the devil won’t be able to use people to steal your joy and victory anymore!”

The only thought I add to Rick’s words is this: Also, try daily to get away from the world and people and spend quality, alone time with God in prayer, devotion, and silence. Trust me. I know from experience. It’s the best thing you can do for the health and wellbeing of your body, mind and soul!

Just a thought . . . Agape!
Pastor Paul