Jesus flat out told us that offenses would come. (Luke 17:1) There is no way to avoid them. So the question is how do we deal with them and not allow bitterness to set in. Bitterness is a very destructive force and the Bible warns us to stay away from those bitter feelings. So I felt that it might be a good idea to share with you what I have learned about bitterness and how to avoid it.
I have had many experiences in my life where I could have allowed a root of bitterness to take hold in my heart. In fact, at times I had to really struggle with bitterness that was trying to creep into my life. Because of what people have said or done to me, I have had many opportunities to get bitter and allow that bitterness to jade my relationship with other and more importantly with God. So here are a few things I have learned about this destructive force called bitterness.
What is Bitterness?
Bitterness is defined as: unpleasant, angry, hostile, sour, and resentful. When we are offended and refuse to forgive, and receive God’s comfort, it is just a matter of time until bitterness sets in. Bitterness is the emotional state where a person is hurting and angry and they want everyone else to feel the pain that they are feeling. It is because of that need to make people feel their pain, that they end up lashing out at everyone else, either passively or aggressively.
It is like the person who has been hurt by church people. They more than likely were unjustly hurt, but because they have allowed that hurt and pain to infiltrate their heart, they lash out at all church people or Christians just because they are part of the larger group even though they never personally did anything to hurt them. Instead of going to God and receiving the comfort that is available in Him, they refused to be comforted and still harbor the pain.
There are many examples of bitterness in the Bible. The children of Israel were bitter because of what they had suffered in Egypt during their captivity. They responded to every situation they were in after that from a bitter perspective. You can see this by reading the things that they would say. Jesus said that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. A murmuring and complaining attitude is proof of a bitter heart.
The Bible’s warning against bitterness
New King James Version (NKJV)
15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;
Many people worry about the outward things in Christianity and morality but fail to look at the inward things. This verse explicitly says that bitterness will defile us. That means that it will make us unclean on the inside. The Bible is very clear that bitterness is something to be avoided at all costs. It will totally destroy your relationships with your family, friends, and even with God.
I have known more than one dear friend of mine that has allowed bitterness to drag them away from their relationship with God and the joy of their salvation. They have become cynical, depressed, and miserable people because of it but they will not face that they refused to be comforted and consoled by Jesus just because someone disappointed them or some church taught them things that went beyond what the scriptures teach.
What are the symptoms of bitterness?
Feeling others have more than you.
One of the symptoms of bitterness is when you always think that others have it better in life than you, or are considered more special than you. In the book of Acts, there was a guy named Simon the sorcerer and he saw that God was using Peter to touch people with the power of God and he wanted to buy this gift. Instead of understanding that God uses each of us in unique and different ways, he thought that Peter was blessed by God more and wanted to buy that blessing. Read what Peter said to this man.
New King James Version (NKJV)
20 But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”
Do you see how bitterness poisoned his soul? He was looking at Peter through the eyes of bitterness?
Feeling that others owe you.
Bitterness is tied to unforgiveness. Remember the parable of the unforgiving servant? Even though he had been forgiven a million dollar debt, he could not forgive a 20 dollar debt. This was because of bitterness. He was angry and consumed with the fact that he was owed something. Bitter people think that others owe them something and they are going to exact a price out of them no matter what. The result of this is that they become bound up or tied up in their own lives and can’t see beyond what is right in front of them. They are tortured in their hearts, always keeping people in prison in their hearts and always dwelling on the pain and the price they are owed.
Feeling that God has let you down.
Since bitterness is tied to unforgiveness, many people will start to blame God for everything wrong in their life. They will feel that God has let them down. I know in my own life, shortly after going through divorce, I was really angry at God and blamed Him for how things turned out. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this feeling that He had let me down was directly related to my unforgiveness of my ex-wife and the unforgiveness I had towards myself and my own failure. When I dealt with the unforgiveness area, then I no longer had the bitterness towards God.
Remember what Jesus told us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer? Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors? Our relationship with God is directly influenced by our level of unforgiveness we are holding against others.
How Do You Overcome Bitterness?
Learn to accept your trials rather than curse them.
I know that this is easier said than done, but trials are put into our lives to test us, not to punish us. There is a big difference. When we view our trials as tests, then we can see the purpose in those trials. They are no longer seen as undeserved acts of vengeance against us. Everybody in this life goes through trials. No one is exempt. So learn to view these trials as opportunities to grow and learn the faithfulness of the Lord rather than try to avoid them at all costs.
Learn to be quick to forgive.
You cannot go through life without somebody sometime offending you. The question is, are you going to take it to heart or are you going to learn to forgive quickly. I am speaking from experience here. It is not always easy for me. Some of the hardest things I have had to forgive is when people have made deep and personal promises to me and then broke their word and didn’t even say they were sorry. I had a choice to make. I could either forgive, or I could get bitter. I chose to forgive even though with some of them I had to make that choice daily for weeks on end until my heart lined up with my choice.
Learn to be transparent with others and ask for help.
We are not meant to walk alone on this planet. We are called to be part of a body. That means that we should be able to go to others in our church or group of believers and ask for their help with this. Of course that means that our church has to be healthy enough to handle people being transparent and asking for help without judging them. Go to someone you trust to pray for you and encourage you as you are overcoming bitterness.
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
It is in the context of this type of relationship that James is talking about. When you confess what you are struggling with and what you need to work on, that healing can happen and you can be free of bitterness controlling your life. You can overcome bitterness. The reason I know is because I did and if God will do it for me, He will do it for you!