I greatly enjoyed my years in college, but my third year (which was the last year I was in the dorm) was trying. It wasn’t the classes, they were some of my best. My challenge was a person. We had been assigned a resident assistant that drove the entire floor crazy.
He was arrogant, ungracious, totally unfit for any type of leadership – and those are some of the nicer things I can say about him. From the first week everyone had conflicts with him. It was the first time that I can ever remember when there was someone that I disliked very strongly and that it grew to almost a hatred. I’m embarrassed to even write these things, but it was true.
The worst part was that he lived right next door to me. Sure, I have been aggravated and irritated by other people before, but not to this degree. I went so far as to go to the director of the resident assistants and made an appeal to have him removed because of the negative influence he was having on the floor. He refused to do so.
Please understand, I am not exaggerating the situation. Perhaps some today would classify him as a punk, jerk, or idiot. I often thought of him in those terms, but he was a Christian brother, though one that was hard for me to love.
Here’s the rub for me. The Bible says that love “is not easily provoked”. (I Corinthians 13:5). My problem was that I didn’t love him. Whether or not he was difficult to love is not the issue, but my response was the problem.
What does it mean to be “easily provoked”? If one cannot explain something simply then they do not understand it. Defining the problem is necessary to solving it.
The words “easily provoked” mean to be exasperated, stirred up emotionally. It’s a picturesque term in the Greek language which has the idea of two separate items grating one another from friction between them. It would be like a whetting stone sharpening a knife and causing sparks to fly. (The sparks are only the public symptom of being in close proximity with something that was causing friction. They aren’t the real problem).
The very same thing can happen to your spirit. Whenever you are near someone that rubs you the wrong way the temptation is to react quickly – and negatively. Our problem is not being provoked. That happens to everyone, usually every day. The problem is being easily provoked.
To help me understand a term better I will look at it’s synonyms. Here are some for “provoked”: quick to be angry, to be exasperated, irritated, agitated. It is always easier to understand our actions than it is the cause that prompts them. If we can deal with the cause we can remove the effect.
However, we cannot have relief by treating symptoms. Surface issues only tell us we have a problem that is deeper. This is the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ in that He doesn’t leave us on our own to change by behavior modification; He deals with us by changing the root of the behavior, the heart. And the good news is that it lasts!
Back to the story about the resident assistant on our dorm floor….that lived not six feet away from me….whom I despised. I avoided him every time I saw him. I didn’t like the way he walked, the smirk he had on his face so often, and even the way he talked. It was beyond disliking him; I was angry with him.
At the end of the year. I was spending time with the Lord complaining about all the trouble I had for the past eight months because of this immature leader who had no right to even be in the position. That day God spoke to me in my spirit very clearly. He showed me that the problem was not this person, but it was me.
I was “easily provoked” because I didn’t love him. God didn’t command me to like him, but He did to love him. I sought God’s forgiveness that day and later did the same from this man. In a sense, he didn’t deserve it as he didn’t care for us, but love isn’t about caring for people that care about you. Love cares in spite of a lot of ugly things. That’s what Jesus did for me – and I’m glad He did and does.
My heart changed from being aggravated and angry to being merciful and even having pity for him. I wondered what kind of family he had, what had happened to cause him to be so caustic.
As I now have time to give me clearer vision I can see that I needed someone like that to push me to my limits to teach me what it means to love someone that is naturally unlovable. God knew I would deal with situations like that in ministry. Sometimes pastors deal with some very negative people toward them and are the objects of some acidic criticism. It’s a train wreck about to happen when a pastor has a spirit that is easily provoked.
I had come to the place where I agreed with the Psalmist that “…it is good that I have been afflicted…” (Psalm 119:71). God used this dear man to show me the shallowness of my love. Today the bitterness, the anger and resentment are totally gone. It’s my joy to pray for him that God would bless him.
Perhaps you have been thinking of someone at work, school, church or even in your family as you have read this. Who is it that aggravates you? It was no accident that the Lord put him in the room next to mine. Who has God allowed into your life to provoke you to teach you to love? This is especially needful when this is a family member that you live with or see regularly. Let God love them through you.
Your response will determine your fruitfulness in your ministry. May you learn your lesson faster than I did mine. It will save you a lot of stress and a troubled spirit and you will be learning what it means to love other people even as God loves us.