James 3:14-15 – “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.”
The bible calls bitterness a root and this actually describes exactly what bitterness is in people’s lives, because once you give bitterness a place in your life, once bitterness becomes a strong hold in your life, it actually digs deep, becoming the source and origin of many wrong beliefs, patterns of behavior and actions. Bitterness is actually the doorway for many more destructive thought and feelings.
Unforgiveness is what opens the door for the bitter root to take hold. Holding on to hurts and offenses and refusing to forgive others even when we feel they don’t deserve it, will give bitterness an open doorway to enter through.
Bitterness actually is a very dangerous poison, which runs amok in someone’s mind, corrupting everything the person feels and thinks. Bitterness will always surely be accompanied by its friend’s jealousy, anger, malice, unforgiveness, rudeness etc. A bitter person walks around with a victim mentality, with a chip on their shoulder, feeling like someone owes them something. As long as we hold on to unforgiveness, resentment, hatred and anger, we can never be free from bitterness; it will continue to poison our minds and our lives. Our lives will stop growing and progressing in a healthy way as we stay stuck in the past, in the wrongs of the past, the wounds of the past. Our relationships with others will continue to suffer and strain as we view them through wounded hearts, and see them with wounded eyes.
For many years, I lived with a lot of bitterness in my heart; it was so tangible that I could feel it. My heart was always heavy, resentful, and angry; I had no peace from around the age of 13. Because of many things that happened in my life, I grew very bitter and walked around with a victim mentality. Growing up I was a very energetic, active, friendly child, but as things begun to change in my parents’ lives, being the greatly. Sensitive, emotional person I was, it all affected me very greatly. I loved my father greatly and admired him more than he knew and his alcoholism, abuse of my mother and irresponsibility greatly wounded me. When he committed suicide I felt even more bitter and hurt. A lot of hurt caused to my mother by grandmother and uncles before and after my dad’s death made the root of bitterness continue to develop stronger and stronger roots to where it became a major stronghold in my life. I developed severe depression which further aggravated my negative disposition such that I viewed life through very distorted eyes.
Rejection, hurt, pain, neglect, abuse will always cause bitterness if we do not forgive and let go. Keeping all these things bottled in certainly crowded my mind with permanent negativity and consequently affected my relationships with other people. People were an enemy to guard myself from no matter who they were. I did not trust anyone, so I was always a loner and a recluse, keeping myself away from the mean bad world. It’s funny that I though everybody else was the problem not me. Bitterness will always be attached to pride. A bitter person only sees their hurts. Any hurts they cause others will always be excused in light of their own hurts which are more important them.
It’s important to note that bitter people don’t always look or act bitter. Many may smile and never look sad, but all you need to do is listen to how they talk and what they say and you will not fail to notice the bitterness. Have you met people who always say negative things about others? Always have something to criticize and despise in others? Malice and hatefulness are a sure sign of a bitter heart. Others may not outwardly criticize, but may have low self esteem and turn the bitterness onto themselves through self pity and wanting to be validated. The expression of bitterness will vary, but the fruit will always be the same.
One of the key things bitterness does is to steal our peace and cause us also, not to be at peace with others. With bitterness come strife and division, internal turmoil and conflict. Peace cannot reside in the bitter heart.
Heb 12: 14-15 says “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
The great thing is that through Gods help and through our relationship with Jesus, as Christians we can overcome bitterness through the application of Gods word, commitment and of course prayer. Below are some steps towards overcoming bitterness with God’s help
This is the first thing we have to do. Until we forgive those who have hurt us and offended us, we cannot be rid of bitterness, its just not possible. Forgiveness is so crucial that Jesus says this in Mathew 6:15 “But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” We are plainly told that unless we forgive others then we should not even bother to ask God for forgiveness and without forgiveness for ourselves then we are not right with God. When we begin to realize how serious Jesus was about forgiveness then we will desire with all of our hearts to forgive. Not because the people we are forgiving deserve it, but because God requires it of us. Obedience means doing the right thing even when it HURTS!
In Matthew 5:23-24 we find Jesus telling us that if we bring offerings to him and we remember that we are not right with our brother, that we should go first be reconciled and then make the offering. Jesus was simply saying that we need to be right with each other first before we can expect him to receive our requests and sacrifices. In 1 john we are told that if we do not love our brother whom we can see, then we cannot claim to love God whom we can’t see. We become hypocrites when we say we love God but hate each other.
Now it’s important to note that forgiving someone does not excuse what they have done, it’s not a way of validating the bad they have done. What forgiveness does is free us from the burden of carrying people prisoners in our hearts. Forgiveness sets us free, it’s for own good actually. It’s saying, you know what I may not agree with what they did, but I choose to let it go so that I can be right with God and so that I can move on.
The reason why it’s so difficult to forgive many times is because we want compensation for our pain. We want the other person to suffer like we have, we want them to apologize and acknowledge what they have done, and we want vengeance. But unfortunately we cannot control the actions of others; we can only control our own. Sadly you may never get an apology, you may never get that validation, but Gods ways and thoughts are always higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9) and he says “ vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Romans 12:19). Its either we trust him or we don’t.
Once we ask God to help us to forgive, he actually does. When we feel it’s too hard, but come to him with sincere hearts ready and willing to forgive, he will definitely fill us with his love for others and forgiveness will be possible. But it takes surrender!
Ephesians 4:30-32: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
2. Abiding in God through surrender
It takes a willingness to surrender to forgive, but it also takes a greater act of surrender to continually day by day abide in Gods ways, and have him dictate how we are to think, act and treat others. Bitterness is a stronghold which cannot be defeated in one day. Because of the pervasiveness of its poison in our minds, it twill definitely be a process to transform our minds to the point where we find no traces of its fruit in our lives. There will always be slips, small and great. You may find that it takes a while to overcome anger. You may find that after walking free from anger one day you just find yourself losing your temper and getting consumed with guilt. You may find yourself being rude without realizing etc. Emotional healing is usually a process because it means walking through and sorting through piles and layers of wrong beliefs, attitudes, hurts, wrong perceptions etc. But don’t give up when you fail, God is patient with you, be patient with yourself, but keep going. The bible says “For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again”. [Proverbs 24:16]
3. Meditate on his word
To effectively walk through the process, it takes a daily surrender to God and what he says in his word. We cannot effectively overcome bitterness without consuming the word of God. The word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), its not mere words in a book, they are the very words that give us life. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, these words bring life and change us in ways we can’t imagine. To deny ourselves these words, is to deny ourselves life. These words have changed the vilest of sinners into saints. Permanent change comes from the work the Holy Spirit does in our lives as we meditate upon the word of God. It will never come from people, self help or counseling. All other kinds of help are always temporary.
4. Guard you heart
As we continue letting his word transform us, it’s important also to be practical and guard our hearts from all evil .Proverbs 4:23 says “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (NLT says “it determines the course of your life”). You may need to stop watching certain shows on television, stop listening to certain music, stop reading certain emails, certain books, stop hanging out with people who want to gossip and lure you back into negativity and bitterness. It only takes a little exposure to evil to find our peace is no longer there and we are slipping back into old thought patterns and behavior. Guard your heart; it’s your heart, your life. Do not let anybody steal your peace from you.
Another important way to guard our hearts is to watch how we talk and what we say. Constantly putting yourself down, putting others down, being mean and offensive, and always having something to say about everything is not very wise. James 1:19-20 says “Listening and Doing My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”. Sometimes, talking too much and always having an opinion can cause to find ourselves always saying things we shouldn’t. It’s good to speak, but carefully. That is wisdom.
Watching our thoughts is also very important. Our thoughts reveal what we really think about things. We can always put on a show outwardly, but out inner thought always tell us who we really are. When you are full of negativity and bitterness, it takes more than positive thinking to change how you think. It takes filling your mind with new thoughts, new beliefs. The word of God does this. As we meditate on his words and on his thoughts which are higher than ours, we begin to think like he does. We begin to be transformed into his image from the inside out. True Change has to begin form inside out.
Proverbs 23:7 “for as he thinks within himself, so he is”
5.Dwelling in his peace through prayer
True and perfect peace comes from God. As we begin to become closer to God and think as he wants us to think, act like he sys we should we act, we find ourselves having true peace.
Isaiah 26:3 says “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you”. This verse tells us that as we keep our minds stayed on God, focused on him, then he will keep us in perfect peace.”
Prayer keeps our minds on God. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “pray without ceasing”. That means we should always have the lord in our minds, be in communication with him always and not only at set prayer times.
Phil 4:6-7, also emphasizes on the importance of staying focused on God and taking everything to him. It says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”