Indulging in bitterness is one of the most stupid things we ever do. How stupid is it? Well, think about it this way.
Imagine that someone stabbed you in the arm with a knife, leaving it there. After he flees, you stare in horror at the knife, then in agony take the handle in your other hand and pull it out.
After a moment, you impulsively stab yourself again. With your own hand and by your own choice. You do it again and again, day after day, week after week. It’s one of the most self-destructive acts you could ever do.
But that’s exactly what bitterness is.
People betray us, lie to us, gossip about us, fail to support us. It hurts. It hurts badly. It’s like they’ve stabbed our hearts with a knife.
All too often, rather than turning to God for grace to respond to the wrong with wisdom and forgiveness, we choose to indulge bitterness. We keep thinking about that wrong. We play it like a video in our mind over and over. We stab ourselves with the sharp memory of the incident, feeling the pain again and again.
This is why the Bible tells us to “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Eph. 4:31). God wants to spare us from the repeated, unnecessary pain we tend to inflict on ourselves.
How do we find this relief? The answer is found in the words that surround verse 31: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” and “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (v. 30, 32).
The key to getting rid of bitter memories is to get my focus back on God. In the terms of relational wisdom, to become more God-aware and God-engaging. How?
First by remembering that bitterness in my heart grieves my Father’s heart … which I never want to do.
Second, by thanking God over and over for all he has done for me through Christ … especially for the countless times he has forgiven me for disobeying and hurting him.
Third, by meditating on the many promises God makes to comfort, sanctify and bless us when others have harmed us (see, e.g., Psalm 37:1-40, which I have turned to often in life).
And fourth, by asking him to fill me so full of his grace and love that I naturally imitate him and obey his teaching as I respond to those who have wronged me.
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:30-32).
– Ken Sande
Think of a time when you felt prolonged bitterness toward someone.
- How did it affect you? (Psalm 73:21-22; Psalm 106:32-33; Acts 8:23; James 3:14)
- How did it affect your relationship with God? (Isaiah 59:1-2)
- How did it affect your relationship with others? (Proverbs 10:12)
- How can focusing on the Lord help you to get rid of bitterness? (Eph. 4:30-32)
For more insights on the role God-awareness and God-engagement play in improving your relational wisdom, go here.
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© 2017 Ken Sande
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