Over the last couple of months we've been having some minor problems with two of our neighbors, and through it all the Lord has taught us some things that we want to pass on to you. To put it into the form of a question, How should a Christian deal with difficult neighbors?
1. "Be filled with the Spirit...giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 5:18,20). Kim and I believe that God has a particular design for our souls and his Kingdom in willing that we live next to these particular people. Therefore, rather than automatically reacting to situations, we are trying to learn to stop, pray, and give thanks to God for what's happening, asking for eyes to see his view of the situation. It may be that what the devil, the world, and the flesh mean for harm, God Almighty means for good. So, the most important thing we have learned of late is to always give thanks to God.
2. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). Generally speaking, the last thing a person wants to do for someone who's just offended them is pray for them. But that's what our Lord and Forgiver, Jesus Christ, has called us to do. And I don't think he means that we should pray for them like this: "Jesus, please get them for what they're doing!" Rather, I think he means that we should pray for them as we would pray for those we love. "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?" (5:46) There is great blessing in learning to be like Jesus, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and praying for the blessing of those who are making your life difficult. It may be that one of God's designs in allowing us to have neighbors such as these is to shape us all the more into his image.
3. "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:19-21). Having given thanks to God and prayed for the blessing of your difficult neighbor, begin to look for ways to serve and do good to them--whether or not they know it was you who did it. There are times, especially when the threat of physical violence is involved, that it's best simply to stay away from your difficult neighbor. But I think most of the time it is possible to pray that God would open up practical opportunities to serve them.
For example, the other night some kids came through our neighborhood and smeered mustard and ketchup on ten mailboxes and three cars. Kim, Rachel, and I did not make a neighborhood-wide announcement about it, but we went and cleaned up all the mailboxes--including our difficult neighbor's mailbox. They may or may not ever know that we're the ones who did this, but serving people who are making our lives difficult is good for our own hearts before God and neighbor.
4. If you have had any part in causing the problem, humble yourself and confess your sin before God and neighbor. It's amazing how far a little humility will go with people, and even if they don't listen to you, how far it will go in freeing your own soul before God. The main goal of confession is not to change your neighbor's heart but to get your own heart right, and then of course it's right to hope that your honesty and humility will impact your neighbor's heart as well.
Well, for what it's worth, we hope this is a help to you. Please pray for us as we continue to pray for our neighbors and look for ways to serve them in Jesus' name.