It’s inevitable. People are going to hurt us. Even those close to you.
In fact, perhaps especially those close to you.
With every hurt, there is the potential to wake the bitterness monster. He’s a light sleeper. And he’s more clever than we think. Even a small relationship scuffle is enough to arouse him into action. We mustn’t underestimate him.
Bitterness: hurt incurred from either real or perceived offense, gone unchecked, and allowed to continue by failure to apply biblical principles and thinking to the hurt, resulting in hatred and resentment.
Bitterness is the quick fix for the flesh. Dealing biblically with conflict and hurt becomes too much work. So, like a spiritual pusher, bitterness offers a quick high. But, though it delivers for a moment, it destroys in the long run.
To be sure, real hurt occurs far too often through atrocities such as abuse and criminal acts. In these cases, fighting bitterness can be excruciating. Even and especially so, God extends comforting and transforming grace for the greatest life’s hurts (Gen. 50:20).
But often, bitterness slips in and sows it seeds in the thousands of smaller moments and battles of normal life. For that reason, we must be on guard. Christian, we have got to resist this one. And repent. It is a killer.
Here are a few ways that I have been helped in my own battles with bitterness:
- Do not underestimate the power of bitterness.
And I think we pastors are especially susceptible to it because we are, by calling and command, so involved in relationships. Oh, and, just like everyone else, we are sinners.It amazes me how easily bitterness has slithered into my own heart. And equally amazing is how many people in normal life scuffles have said, “Oh, I’m not bitter, I’m just struggling a bit.” None of us are above this.
If you have been like me at times, we will say, “I’m not bitter, I’m just struggling a bit.” Perhaps. However, “struggling a bit” in the wake of a relationship scuffle is often residual bitterness. And, even if we’ve accepted an apology or granted forgiveness, it’s possible bitterness is among us.
Obvious signs of bitterness include hating someone in our hearts, slander, vengeance, and unjustly cutting off a relationship. Consider diagnosing the possibility of lesser bitterness. Are you continuing to dwell on the person/incident in an unfavorable way? Have you brought up the person or incident to use it against them? Have you brought up the person/incident to others who do not need to know the details? Have you quietly enjoyed how others have taken your side in the matter, against another? Are you unnecessarily allowing this incident to stand between your relationship with the person? And are you considering writing off this person? If so, bitterness may have begun to infiltrate your heart.
We do well to pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Ps. 139:23-24).And beware of those mental cage-matches we like to have. Despite the quick and easy pleasure it may deliver, the practice of valiantly winning arguments with people in our own mind feeds our inner Pharisee and the monster of self-righteousness. Why are we doing that? It’s a way that we can proverbially put our enemy’s neck under our foot. We are bitter.
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