At Work

The Blessings of Difficult Bosses, Coworkers, Employees & Customers

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Have you ever worked for a tough boss? I know I have. Have you ever had a coworker who drove you crazy? Me, too. Have you ever had an employee who made your job a nightmare? Been there; done that. Have you ever had a customer (or a child, or a student) that wore you out? I’ve had a few.

This is one of those critical topics in the practical theology of work that I have not yet addressed. I know it will be relevant to everyone who has a job. All of us who work have to deal with difficult bosses, coworkers, employees, and/or customers at some point. This is the nature of the fallen world in which we live due to Adam’s sin and the sins of everyone else, especially our own.

What I am about to discuss is one of those slices of real life where we can easily find appropriate Scriptures to guide us as we work with difficult people. I will also share some observations which may help flesh out these biblical principles so that you can put them into practice in the places where God has called you to work. My main ideas are these: the difficult people we must work for and with are going to be the ones God uses to develop perseverance, who teach us valuable lessons, and who need what we have to offer: our time, talents, and unconditional love.

Difficult People Build Perseverance

Biblically speaking, bosses, coworkers, employees, and customers who fall into the category of being difficult to work with essentially become what we normally call a trial. Let’s recall what the Bible teaches us about the blessings that God brings to us as we undergo trials:

  • “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
  • “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom. 5:3-4).
  • “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas. 1:2-4).
  • “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Pet. 5:10).

It seems clear in these verses that God is present with us while we work through these challenges. But that is not enough. We have to respond. Jesus said that we have to come to him when we are worn out by people or circumstances, by faith, and he will give us rest. Paul, Peter, and James all reinforce that message by telling Christians to rejoice, by faith, in these trials. We can do that when we recognize that God uses them to build our character to grow in endurance, patience, and resilience.

In my nearly fifty years of employment in a variety of settings, I know that when I struggled in a long season of working with a difficult boss or employee, this always drove me to my knees in prayer. I would ask the Lord to give me wisdom to know what to do and to make it through another day. And you know what? God always provided that wisdom, just as he promised he would (Jas. 1:5).

Difficult People Teach Us Valuable Lessons

Since God builds our character from dealing with difficult people whom we work for, work with, work for us, and serve, can he can also teach us in a deeper way as well? Let me unpack that.

We can learn as much if not more from bad leaders than we can from good ones. From working under a toxic leader who does not treat people well, we learn what not to do when we are put in charge. When we get to know the difficult coworkers, employees, or customers that we are forced to work with, we can develop a deeper understanding of people’s needs in general. This can help us become more compassionate leaders and open the door to share God’s comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-5).

Jacob is a great example of someone who God enabled to develop shrewdness after working for his deceiving father-in-law, Laban, for twenty years. Jacob summarizes his extremely difficult working conditions in Genesis 31:40-42. He worked seven years for Laban’s daughter, Rachel, but was given Leah instead. Jacob had to work another seven years in order to marry Rachel. Jacob came up with a brilliant plan to increase his share of the flocks after Laban had been cheating him for a long time. What brought him through it all was God’s presence at work (what I call Immanuel labor). God gave him endurance, taught him how to deal with his boss, and provided for him abundantly.

Difficult People Need What We Have To Offer

So far, I have listed two benefits that we receive when we are exposed to difficult people at work. Now, I would like us for a moment to consider how difficult people are blessed by our presence.

One of the basic principles of our theology of work is that God meets our needs through human work. How does that apply here? Have you ever thought about how God uses you to meet the full spectrum of human needs (physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually) by what you do all day?

If you are a hard worker with an unreasonable boss, God is using your talents to contribute to the success of that organization. By your cooperation and submission to his or her authority, you are blessing your employer (Prov. 25:13). If you are a doctor treating a cranky patient, God is using you to heal. If you are a teacher with a slow student, God is using you to help them understand truth. If you are a parent comforting a fussy baby, God is using you to sustain their life with His love.

How Can I Apply This?

At the end of the day, we must realize as Christ-followers that our bosses, coworkers, employees, and customers, as difficult as they may be, are quite simply our neighbors. We are commanded to love our neighbors, which, as the parable of the Good Samaritan points out, means that we give sacrificially to meet their legitimate needs. Of course, this is impossible to do in our own flesh. However, in the power of the Holy Spirit, as we abide in Christ and walk righteously with God the Father, we can.

I challenge you to see these difficult human beings who are made in the image of God in a new way. Love them humbly, practically, and unconditionally if you are able to do so. As you work to be a blessing as God has blessed you, you will see him work with, in, and through you for his glory.

Editor’s note: This article was adapted from the author’s personal blog. Republished with permission.

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