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.
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.
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.
(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.
The Book of Philippians is one of the most positive books in Scripture. Its theme is joy. One of the best books on Philippians at a popular level is the one penned by Dr. Warren Wiersbe titled, Be Joyful.
Wiersbe presents Philippians as a book about joy and suggests that Paul identifies four thieves of joy: circumstances, people, material things, and worry. Weirsbe then suggests that Paul offers a solution to neutralize each thief of joy: the single mind (Philippians 1), the submissive mind (Philippians 2), the spiritual mind (Philippians 3), and the secure mind (Philippians 4).
Real joy comes from rich meaning; as Christians, we possess tremendous meaning if we live to glorify God. But this meaning needs to surface and affect the way we think. We can either aim to win by the world’s standards, or aim to win by God’s standards. If we try to do both, we will fail on both counts. Obviously, I advocate the second choice!
We must ask ourselves this critical question: “What brings us the most pleasure?” As we have already pointed out, most often we answer the question based upon personal affirmation and ministry success. Those events and accomplishments that serve to affirm our value and worth bring us joy. We experience greater personal satisfaction when people appreciate our efforts and our activities accomplish significant results. Let’s be honest, Monday morning is always brighter if our attendance was up on Sunday and people were complimentary. While these are nice, the problem is that these things are not always present. However, when we look at the early apostles, the basis for their joy differed radically from ours. We find our joy in what we accomplish in ministry; they found their joy in the ministry itself. We find our joy in the results of service; they found their joy in the act of service. The difference is enormous.
Imagine standing before a newly planted tree. For the first several years, we see rapid growth; but after a number of years, the tree seems to stop growing. In the first few years, we could measure the height of tree and measure the growth by feet. But as the years go by, the rapid upward growth slows and even seems to stop. Year after year we look at the tree and see little, if any, growth. However, reality often differs from perception. What we perceive to be the periods of little growth is actually when the tree grows the most. The greatest growth in the volume of board feet comes when the tree becomes so large it no longer appears to be growing.
So it is with the spiritual growth of people. When a person first experiences the redemption of Christ, the transformation is both dramatic and highly visible. But as time goes on, it seems as though people become stagnant with little growth occurring. However, what we fail to realize is that God is still at work within the individual.