Bitterness

From the Archives: Five Ways to Beat Bitterness: #1 – Worship

Bitterness often begins as a normal—maybe even healthy—response to the losses, disappointments, failures, and unfairnesses of life. In that sense, the term “bitterness” is pretty much synonymous with mental, spiritual, emotional (and often also physical) pain.

But the Bible reveals that when indulged and nurtured, bitterness becomes an infection of the inner man that taints—and has the potential to corrupt—all our activities and relationships. I’ve written about the forms and harms of bitterness previously (see Bitterness Happens, and Six Ways Bitterness Can Poison Our Lives).

The good news is that both Scripture and experience (as application of biblical principles) point us toward some practical strategies for overcoming bitterness in our lives before, or even after, it becomes a chronic problem.

Feed the Attitudes of Worship

Worship is not an “experience.” In Scripture, worship is a set of attitudes and beliefs finding some form of expression. Acceptable worship is the right attitudes and beliefs finding a right expression, in the context of a right relationship. That’s a lot of things to get right. But it all begins with the attitudes.

Much has been written about the attitudes of worship, but for now we can simplify: at their core, these attitudes are humble, submissive, repentant, thankful, and joyful.

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From the Archives: Smartest Man in the World

Following David’s awful sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the ensuing arranged murder of her husband, Uriah, he was confronted by Nathan the prophet. Among the consequences of his sins were that from his own household enemies would arise against him (2 Sam 12:10-11). Three of his sons—Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah—each caused serious problems for him and his successor, Solomon (2 Sam 13; 14-17; 2 Kings 1-2). There was another person, whose name also began with an “A,” who rose up against him as a betrayer. This man, Ahithophel, had been a close advisor to David and could even have been called “the smartest man in the world.”

Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom” (2 Sam 16:23).

He evidently came out of his own retirement and joined the revolt of Absalom as his trusted advisor (2 Sam 16:23).

What is often overlooked, however, is that Ahithophel evidently became part of David’s family by marriage. Two passages explain that Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba (cf. 2 Sam 11:3 with 23:34). One need not speculate too much to see that when David “took” Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:4), Ahithophel must have left David’s service. Later, the crafty Absalom must have assumed (correctly) that Ahithophel would jump at the opportunity to get revenge against David so he asked him to come out of retirement—an offer that the old man simply could not refuse.

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Five Ways to Beat Bitterness: #5 - Connect

Read the series.

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen; nobody knows my sorrow.” We all know the song—or at least that much of it—and we all know the feeling.

Oh, it’s true that the losses, disappointments, failures, and wrongs that tend to lead to bitterness are “common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13), but at the same time, each person’s experience is unique. Our hearts tell us no one understands or can understand.

From there, it’s a small step downward to the attitude that no one cares. Sometimes it may even be true.

Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul. (ESV, Psalm 142:4)

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Five Ways to Beat Bitterness: #4 - Act

Detail from Job & His Friends. Eberhard von Wächter (1762–1852)

Read the series so far.

Elijah sits under the juniper and bemoans the failure, unfairness, and pointlessness of his years of work (1 Kings 19:10). Jonah sits under his gourd and broods over his unwanted success (and God’s unwelcome mercy!) in Nineveh (Jonah 4:1-11). Job sits among his “friends” and agonizes physically, emotionally, and spiritually (Job 2:8, 13).

Then there’s Peter. What was he doing between his denial of Jesus, with its resulting bitter regret (Matt. 26:75), and his decision to “go fishing”?

It probably involved a lot of sitting.

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Five Ways to Beat Bitterness: #2 - Escape

Read the series so far.

The humble, submissive, thankful attitudes of worship are what make any response to bitterness genuinely Christian. Honoring God with our attitudes is at the heart of why it’s worth the trouble to avoid prolonged bitterness.

But believers struggling with bitterness should also take advantage of practical wisdom. We need to be tactical as well as strategic. With that in mind, my aim here is to commend one practical response to bitterness, along with some caveats and cautions.

Simple though it is, this strategy has made a huge difference in my own life.

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Five Ways to Beat Bitterness: #1 – Worship

Bitterness often begins as a normal—maybe even healthy—response to the losses, disappointments, failures, and unfairnesses of life. In that sense, the term “bitterness” is pretty much synonymous with mental, spiritual, emotional (and often also physical) pain.

But the Bible reveals that when indulged and nurtured, bitterness becomes an infection of the inner man that taints—and has the potential to corrupt—all our activities and relationships. I’ve written about the forms and harms of bitterness previously (see Bitterness Happens, and Six Ways Bitterness Can Poison Our Lives).

The good news is that both Scripture and experience (as application of biblical principles) point us toward some practical strategies for overcoming bitterness in our lives before, or even after, it becomes a chronic problem.

1627 reads

Six Ways Bitterness Can Poison Our Lives

Read Part 1.

Bitterness can be a good thing. Hannah’s bitter disappointment led her to earnest prayer. Peter’s bitter weeping moved him toward repentance. Job’s bitter ordeal has been a source of comfort for untold millions. And God commanded Ezekiel to weep bitterly as a means of warning his people of coming judgment (Ezek. 21:11-12).

But for us sinners bitterness is perilous.

At best, continuing bitterness becomes part of a toxic spiritual stew that includes “wrath, anger, clamor and slander” as well as “malice” (ESV, Eph. 4:31). At worst, unchecked bitterness breeds unbelief to the point of life-altering, faithless choices (Deut. 29:18, Heb. 12:15).

Here we’ll consider six ways self-indulgent bitterness poisons us.

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Bitterness Happens

(Read the series.)

Bitterness is a cup we all have to drink sometimes, though some taste it far more often than others and some mixes are far more noxious than others. The bitterest afflictions are those that are continuous—an irreversible decision with seemingly unending consequences, an irreparable but inescapable relationship, the loss of someone so close to us we can’t figure out who we are without them, a gradual ebbing of health and with it both the grief of lost vitality and the resentment of feeling that it happened too soon and wasn’t fair.

In these cases and many more, bouts of bitterness are unavoidable. But with each perfectly normal attack of spiritual and emotional heartburn comes a temptation to indulge and harm ourselves.

I wish I could title this post “I Beat Bitterness and You Can Too,” but my battle with bitterness is ongoing—almost daily. The struggle has led to study, though, and the truths of Scripture have often proved to be powerful medicine. I need to review them, and the exercise may also help you or someone you know.

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