Sept. 1, 2009
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy; But I tell you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ To show that you are the children of your Father Who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers alike.”
Matthew 5: 43-45
“How To Deal With Bitterness”
“Bitter At Another” – Part VII
“It is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.”
Is there someone in my life who has done something so destructive to me that it is difficult not to feel bitter every time I think about them?
“One may have been a fool, but there’s no foolishness like being bitter.”
“The roots from the tree of bitterness burrow deeply, when watered from the spring of unresolved anger.”
Of all the devotional series we have studied together during our tour of the women in the Bible beginning with Eve in Genesis, none has brought as much response and commentary as this particular group of devotionals on dealing with bitterness. I believe this has happened because nearly everyone I know, at one time or another, has struggled on the battlefield with this tenacious enemy we call “bitterness.”
I know that for myself, this has been one of the toughest battles I’ve ever fought. And even still, there are moments when I recognize this sneaky foe is trying to creep into my heart again.
Looking at the life of Naomi has certainly encouraged me in several ways – the first and most important being the knowledge that I don’t have to fight this battle alone. I have a ready helper who, if I will ask Him and let Him, will bring about a healing in my heart that will make it impossible for bitterness to take root and grow.
Even with this knowledge, there are two more areas I’d like to look at before we move on to our study about “Harvest-Time” in Bethlehem.
Today, I’d like to look specifically at what occurs when we are tackled by the challenge of what happens when we become bitter with another person.
Over the last few weeks, as I worked on this series, I began to mentally review some of the situations I’ve encountered in my own life that left me with a bitter heart as well as bitter feelings toward another person. What I noticed is that there is another emotion I most often detect that like a twin, combines with bitterness and it is the feeling of betrayal. I have discovered that when I have thought I could really trust someone and they betrayed me, these were most frequently the times when I unearthed the disturbing fact that bitterness had invaded my life.
One of the most difficult times I faced when I found bitterness taking root in my life was when a family member, who worked for our company, proved untrustworthy in their dealings with the company finances. I often asked myself through this experience, “How do you forgive someone who repeatedly lies to your face?”
But the very worst event for me was the day, when five months after our car accident, two policemen came to our home to inform Jim and me that the wreck we were in was an intentional act, conceived by gang members who dared the young man who hit us, to “take someone else out with you.” Honestly, I struggled with this information and so did Jim. I’m not some spiritual hero who can’t be taken down by the enemy of bitterness. I was angry. And I wasn’t just mad at the young man who hit us. He was hard to be mad at for he had gotten his wish – he killed himself. Instead, like Naomi, I turned my blame on God. “How could You let this happen? I love You – and this is what my love for You has gotten me into,” I screamed!
Sometimes, our situation seemed too much to bear. But then one day, I began to read the gospels again, and there it was – one of the most in-your-face betrayals of all-time. After all Jesus had done for Peter, after all the love, the kindness, the encouragement and most of all – the trust, when Jesus needed Peter the most, Peter swore he didn’t even know who Jesus was. Not once – but three times!
Maybe this is why it was to Peter that Jesus said, “When you forgive you don’t keep track. You just do it over and over again.” And it’s not necessarily because others deserve the forgiveness we give them, it’s because we don’t deserve the forgiveness God gives us and yet He keeps on forgiving us over and over again! As our text for today states, the reason we give our forgiveness to others and don’t harbor bitterness against another is because we are, “Children of God,” and we should reflect our Father and the loving-kindness He so graciously bestows upon us.
In the book of Acts, there is the record of the life of Stephen, who, as a Christian Apostle, was stoned to death for following and believing in Jesus Christ. Acts 7:58 (Amplified Bible) says, “They dragged (Stephen) out of the city and began to stone him, and the witnesses placed their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” Further on, in Acts 8:1, we read, “Saul was not only consenting to Stephen’s death, he was pleased and entirely approving.”
I got to thinking about this terrible murder and the role “Saul,” who later became the Apostle Paul, chose to play in carrying out this cruel act. I wonder how Stephen’s family felt. He had a mother and father, perhaps even a wife and children. It’s possible he had brothers and sisters, too.
Would harboring bitterness have made them feel better? It certainly wouldn’t have brought the beloved Stephen back. And how do you think they felt when they heard Saul had repented of his murderous ways and was now preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ? I’ll tell you how I think Stephen would have reacted to Paul – he would have embraced him in love. And I know Paul would have asked his brother to forgive him for the way he had treated one whose only offense was to love Jesus. Bitterness doesn’t bring healing and it rarely changes the offender for the better. Sadly, all bitterness does is eat away at the inside of the one who chooses to let it live within themselves.
Rather than bitterness and hatred, hate-mongering and name-calling, those early Christians engaged in a great deal of praying and loving one another which proved to be the most effective tools we have in setting the world on fire with the love of Jesus.
What Stephen recognized at the end of his life, what Jim and I have recognized over the last few years, and what you will recognize too, is that our Father in heaven never leaves our side as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. He will be with us all the way.
I love this prayer by Pam Weaver because I believe everyone of us can relate to her honest expression, “Lord, I heard Your voice today. You said something I’d rather not hear. I prayed about that person, You know, the one that drives me mad. I reminded You how often I’ve been hurt, annoyed, irritated and upset. And You said, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’”
Heaven’s cure for bitterness is found in this formula: God loves and forgives me – I love and forgive you! We are God’s children, reflecting the gracious love showered into our lives by our Father. Pass it on!
“Thank You, Lord”
“Thank you, Lord,
for loving me
when I am my most unlovable;
Give me love enough
to love others
as You love me.”
“Get rid of all bitterness, passion and anger…Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ. Since you are God’s dear children, you must try to be like Him.”
Ephesians 4: 31-32
“Dear God, I find it so hard to forgive those who are unkind to me, or who blame me for things which are not my fault. I go on bearing a grudge against them and even when they try to make it up I feel bitter and hard. I know this is wrong. When Peter asked Jesus how many times he ought to forgive someone who had wronged him, Jesus said he must go on and on forgiving. Jesus even prayed for forgiveness for those who crucified Him. Please help me to be more like Him and be willing to forgive.”
P.S. My book, When A Woman Meets Jesus, is now available wherever books are sold and on the internet at www.amazon.com, ChristianBook.com, or by calling toll-free, 1-800-Christian. You can also go to www.whenawomanmeetsjesus.com and purchase the book through Paypal.
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