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.
[clip from “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”]
People can be difficult to live with. And that’s probably never more true that when there’s competition: two people, but only one donut.
Or like here, two people, but only one taxi. No matter what it is, when we have to compete with people for limited resources, they can become really difficult to live with, and so can we.
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.
We’re taking three weeks to examine three biblical principles—three secrets for successfully living with difficult people.
Last week, we saw the first thing Jesus told us about getting along with each other: we need to guard our thoughts.
It’s easy to judge each other hastily, to assign motives, and to focus on everything we don’t like about the other person. But when we judge hastily like that, the Bible says that we create an environment of unfair criticism and that we’re very likely to experience unfair criticism directed back at us. Sometimes we judge each other before we’ve had a chance to examine our own hearts and to deal with any sin in our life that could be warping our perception of other people’s faults. There is a place for making judgments—for discernment and discretion. That requires evaluating other people. But those judgments must be made carefully, looking at our own sin, giving other people the benefit of the doubt, asking questions, focusing on their actions, and exercising grace. The judging that is condemning, hasty, that makes generalizations about a whole group, that is based on gossip, assumptions or appearances, and that tries to divine someone’s motives or read their mind—those kinds of condemning judgments have no place in our relationships. And Jesus tells us to stop it. To get along with other people—even difficult people—we need to guard our thoughts and not allow ourselves to make inappropriate judgments.
This week we come to the second biblical principle for living with difficult people. Jesus says we need to be careful about how we fulfill our desires. The things we want can be a major source of conflict with the people around us. It may be a competition over scarce resources. It might be because we want something that someone else has or they want something we have. It could be that we want something from someone or we want them to do something for us, and they’re not giving us what we want. It could be that we want someone to behave in a certain way and they’re just not cooperating. Those kinds of unfulfilled desires can lead to intense personal conflict. So, when we find that someone is a difficult person to live with, it might be worth asking ourselves if our conflict stems from some unfulfilled desire.
Today we’re going to look at two passages, one in Matthew 7 and one in James 4. 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 was the first book of the New Testament to be written. Here’s what he says,
James 4:1-2 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?
“Desires” 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 but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.
The phrase “you want something” is actually much stronger in Greek. It’s the same word as the word for “lust”. It means a strong, powerful desire, a longing. That kind of longing drives us to treat each other poorly. Now maybe in your life this strong desire doesn’t lead you to commit murder. But there are lots of conflicts short of murder. You know what I’m talking about. You don’t get along with someone and the reason is because you want something and you’re not getting what you want. So the fighting might be as simple as angry words or dirty looks. It might be 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 very simple alternative. It’s so simple that it makes you wonder why you didn’t think about it before you started fighting.
You do not have, because you do not ask God.
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 pastor, 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.
Matthew 7:7-8 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
Jesus doesn’t spell out the connection between these verses on prayer and the surrounding context. The verses immediately before and after are talking about getting along in our relationships with each other. Here in the middle of that, Jesus starts talking about prayer. Why? I think that the verses we looked at in James 4 are the answer. Our desires can be something that creates conflict with other people. And Jesus, like James, says that we should take our desires and ask God to fulfill them.
What we have here in Matthew 7:7 are three commands and three promises. Ask, seek and knock. These three commands are all in the present tense which implies that we should keep asking, keep seeking and keep knocking. The words grow in intensity: asking is basic, easy. Seeking implies even more effort. Knocking implies persistence. Each of them 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:
 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
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.
There’s a certain confidence in these verses, a 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:
Matthew 7:9-11  Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?
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.
 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
God knows how to give good gifts to his children. Notice that the point is not just a certainty that God will answer our prayers. It’s a certainty that God will give us good stuff. If you desire something, don’t let that draw you into a conflict with other people. Instead, simply ask God to fulfill your desire, and he will. He will answer you and he will give you good stuff.
These verses that we’ve looked at are pretty straight forward. Our problem is not figuring out what these verses 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 of unanswered prayers seems to be exactly the opposite of what we read here in Matthew 7. So what’s the deal? We grow more and more disappointed and disillusioned. And ultimately the crisis leads to the big questions: Doesn’t God love me? Is this really true? Does God really answer prayer? And if we struggle too long with that one, then we begin to ask: Is God even there?
I don’t know how many of you have hit a point in your life where you began to doubt if this whole God thing was just a fable because you tried the prayer thing and it didn’t get you anywhere. I suspect that many of you have been there.
Many of the people who survived the Holocaust in Nazi Germany 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.
I know a couple people who have recently struggled over the same issues because several years ago they lost their jobs. And 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 probably some people 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.
Have you ever been to a restaurant where you didn’t get what you ordered? Hungary, cevapcici
[clip: “When Harry Met Sally”]
God will give us good things.
What kind of food does mommy make?
James 4:3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
May I Take Your Order?
But instead of fighting, we should simply ask God for what we want and then trust that He will do what is good. Other people, even difficult people, can’t stand in the way of God giving us what we should have and what He wants to give us. In fact, those difficult people may even be God’s answer to your prayers. They may be the “good” thing that He has provided and we’re just having trouble understanding why it’s a good thing that they’re in our lives.
1 Copyright © 2004 by Lewis B. Bell III. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 2 in the Kingdom Relationships series delivered by Chip Bell at Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho in Dallas, TX on October 24, 2004. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with credit.