Want a surefire way to improve your relationships with others, even with those who have a way of rubbing you the wrong way or offending you every time they open their mouths? I’m not going to offer you a seven-step guide, nor am I going to tell you there’s a pill you can take that will help you get along with the most abrasive people in your life. My advice is much simpler. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but let me remind you.
The best way to deal with the difficult people in your life is to pray for them—regularly. But be careful how you pray. Avoid the temptation of telling God what jerks they are, praying for them to change so you can experience relief. Instead, pray that God will richly bless them. As you do so, ask God to help you see them the way he does.
Every act of intercession is an act of generosity. God honors that generosity, sometimes in powerful ways. When you pray for a person, you bring them with you into the throne room of God. That’s where prayers are answered and grace is given. There, in God’s presence, you can receive his heart for the people you are praying for. He can show you the best way to pray for them.
Here’s what Dietrich Bonhoeffer says about what happens when we pray: “I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.”1 Though Bonhoeffer is talking about praying for other Christians, this same transformation can happen as we pray for those who don’t yet know Christ.
Who do you find it hard to like, difficult to tolerate, impossible to forgive? Try a little experiment. Decide you will pray for that person every day for the next twenty-one days. You may be surprised what your heart discovers.
1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper and Row, 1954), 86.
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