Thursday, March 31, 2011

Guarding Against Bitterness

“See to it that…no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” 
Hebrews 12:15

In my series of posts I have described what bitterness is, given examples of how it can rear its head in our lives, how to deal with hurt, and how God desires us to change our perspective. But I would like to try to take that a little further by asking the question: How do we guard against bitterness as Hebrews 12:15 tells us to? By no means is my list exhaustive, but here are some things I believe we should strive to do:

We must carefully guard against bitterness against those closest to us
It’s easiest to become bitter towards those closest to us. That is why it is especially important to deal with our offenses in a biblical manner. That involves admitting to the person who has offended you that you were hurt or offended by something they did/said. This transparency presents an opportunity to clear up offenses and restore relationships.

We must learn to take reproofs biblically
Do you realize that the simple act of someone sharing what they notice as a weakness in your life can result in a response of bitterness if you are not open to hearing what they say? “Teach me how to take reproofs from friends…use them to make me tenderly afraid of sin, more concerned to keep heart and life unblameable.” (Valley of Vision)

We must see that not a root of bitterness springs up
“See to it that…no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” Hebrews 12:15. There isn’t a “level” of bitterness that we must avoid; instead we must be cautious to keep from allowing any bitterness at all in our lives.

We must recognize that bitterness is claiming rights
Everyone has rights that at some point they think they should be able to claim. It may be the right to be loved, the right to be treated fairly, the right to get married, or something else. We must recognize that we have no rights. Everything we have belongs to God; everything we are is His alone. Instead of dwelling on and becoming bitter over those rights we are so confident we deserve, we have to learn how to surrender those rights to the Lord.
“If I want to be free as a woman of God, I must refuse to give in to bitterness and anger which ultimately is the result of claiming rights.” Nancy DeMoss

We must put off bitterness
Ephesians 4:31 says to “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you”. 

We must put on forgiveness
If you continue reading in Ephesians 4, verse 32 says “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” This can only be accomplished through the power of Christ within you, as it will not be something you naturally desire. But in order to follow Scripture, we must not only put off our wrong thoughts and actions, but replace them with righteous ones.

We must recognize that bitterness is resistance to God’s ordained plan
By becoming bitter, we are saying that God’s choice is not best, especially when we are bitter towards Him. But even if we are bitter towards people, we are still resisting what God, in His perfect plan, has allowed. How can we expect to have a better plan than God Himself?

We must not be bitter about any circumstance or relationship we are given
God works all things out for our good! Romans 8:28 reminds us that, “For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

We must pray for God to give us the strength and grace to not become bitter
This is not a one-time thing. If you’re facing a difficult circumstance or strained relationship, it may be a day by day, moment by moment continual prayer.

“God is wanting to conform you to the image of Christ, and He will use that circumstance to do that if you won’t become bitter. As you go through it, call on God…Call on God for grace. ‘Lord, I can’t handle this person. I can’t handle this circumstance. I can’t handle this pain. I need You.’ ” 
Nancy DeMoss

God is more concerned with your sanctification than your happiness. What does He want to teach you through the circumstances He has allowed in your life right now?


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Perspective Transformation

Through these past posts, have you begun to recognize any seeds of bitterness in your heart? Have you realized that you’ve focused on your own wants, desires, or rights? My dad has said before, “You should not be offended by anything anyone says, because whatever they say, however terrible, you are reminded that you know things far worse about your own heart.” So for them to say something mean only scratches the surface of who you know you, when walking in the flesh, are. That is a humbling thought. We have no right to become offended with someone (which then turns to bitterness). Our perspective must change. We must be others-focused, and not self-focused.

When a child is given a piece of yummy cake, he is ecstatic. That is, until he sees that his sibling got a bigger piece that he did. Then it's completely turned around, and the joy is turned to jealousy as he focuses on what he didn't get. It's a perspective issue, an issue of gratitude in the heart. This same thing can so easily happen to us when we have less than desirable circumstances.

Henry Blackaby turns the spotlight off ourselves when he expresses,
“Rather than focusing on what you would like to see happen, realize that God may be more concerned with what He wants to see happen in you.”

Instead of concentrating on what bad things have happened to us, we need to change our perspective. Dwelling on what we wanted only leads to bitterness because things won’t always go our way. However, keeping a biblical perspective provides us with the opportunity for God to use the circumstance to refine us. In the Valley of Vision book, one of the Puritan prayers acknowledges to God that “All I want in life is such circumstances as may best enable me to serve Thee in the world”.

Imagine the amazing transformation if we focused on honoring God throughout any circumstance versus becoming bitter over it! Can you pray and ask God to give you any circumstance He desires, no matter what it means for you, as long as it enables you to serve Him better? God desires to sanctify us. He wants to use our circumstances to refine us in ways He cannot do when things go well. When we experience difficulties and testing, we should learn how to see those as an opportunity to be conformed to be more like Christ. So instead of becoming bitter, we should choose to thank God (even when it’s difficult) that He is conforming us to His image!


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dealing with Hurt

I used to think that sharing hurts with others was admitting that you sinned because you were hurt by something they did. That instead of telling someone that they hurt you, that you should confess your sin to God and try to forget what they had done to you. It seemed wrong to me to be “hurt” by another person, as if it was your own fault for being bothered by something they did. But my parents explained that may not be the case. If someone has clearly sinned against you, that may hurt you. It is not wrong for you to share with that person that they hurt you if they have sinned against you. At the same time, you could also be hurt by something perceived as wrong against you, so you must be careful to distinguish between the two.

In example three from my recent post, you were dealing with an angry dad. In this case, it was clear that your dad sinned against you, and you harbored bitterness in your heart because you felt like he unjustly accused you. But if someone has sinned against you, what are you to do? How do you biblically deal with someone sinning against you or hurting you?

First of all, identify if it is appropriate to tell someone that they’ve hurt you. Here are some thoughts.

If you can’t cover it with love. If your sibling accidentally messes up a project you’ve been working on for weeks, and you think they did it on purpose to get back at you for something and can’t forgive them, you need to go to them. If your mom asks you to watch your younger siblings while she runs an errand and you had other things you needed to do but she didn’t give you a chance to explain that and you became angry or bitter, you need to go back to your mom (especially if you then did what she asked with a bad attitude--in which case you need to ask forgiveness).

If they’ve clearly sinned against you. I’m not talking about what you think is sin, but something that clearly was sin. If your dad yells at you for not doing your work as in the previous example, and he never returns and asks your forgiveness, it is appropriate for you to go to him.

But how should you go back to a person that has sinned against you? What if it is a parent or other authority figure?

First of all, you must make sure your heart is ready to go to that person. Are you enraged? Are you self-righteously wanting them to apologize to you?

You must speak gently and lovingly.

Your intent should be to restore the relationship—not proving your point, getting back at them or making them feel bad for what they did. There are two ways you can go to someone when they’ve sinned against you; you can go proudly or you can go humbly.

In the midst of that, if you responded in some way that was wrong, you also need to humble yourself and confess your sin.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Bitterness Manifested: responding to my examples

(If you haven't read the last post, do that first.)
How can you tell that you have become bitter? Here are some evidences:
  • You can’t speak kindly to the person or about the person
  • You can’t forgive or get rid of the anger towards that person over the situation
  • You are easily irritated by things they do or say
  • You can’t resolve the conflict

In my last post I gave examples about how bitterness may manifest itself. What if we were to return to those examples, but change them up? What if we recognized the wrong thoughts and attitudes when they first arose, and replaced them with right thoughts? What would that look like?

In example one I had you imagine that you had a friend say something to you that was offensive or mean sounding to you. Instead of thinking, “I can’t believe he/she said that to me!”, you turn your wrong thoughts to God, confessing, “I’m sorry Lord for being defensive, and thus not demonstrating humility. Help me to think what is true and to not jump to conclusions.” Then you proceed to ask your friend what they meant when they said that to you, perhaps explaining if necessary that it came across as harsh to you. When you ask them about it, they are quick to clear it up, apologizing that they didn’t mean to hurt you by their negligent words. What if they really didn’t say anything offensive at all, but you took what they meant and misinterpreted it and were hurt by it, because in reality, they didn’t live up to your expectations? You would have spent so much time thinking wrongly of them when they didn't mean anything bad in the first place.

In example two you are annoyed by a sibling that leaves his stuff around everywhere. In this case, instead of inwardly stewing because he’s so careless, why don’t you take the opportunity to gently remind him that it would be nice if he put his shoes away somewhere when he came inside instead of leaving them scattered across the house. Be sure to be a part of the solution instead of simply telling him to “just stop”.

I believe example three deserves a post all to itself, so it’s coming next!


Monday, March 7, 2011

Examples of Bitterness

“I’m not bitter!”

My first response for my own life when I began thinking about and writing on bitterness was that I was not bitter. My definition of bitterness involved a continual dwelling on wrong thoughts about a person—an intense, constant stewing on all the things they’ve done wrong, so much so that you couldn’t talk to the person or be around them. I imagined an angry person who couldn’t think of anything positive, or really think about anything but that one horrible thing that someone did to them. However, as I talked to my dad I began to realize that bitterness may not be so obvious or so outwardly extreme. And it manifests itself in various ways. Hopefully the following examples will give you an idea of what bitterness may look like in the life of a teenager and help you to determine if there is some springing up in your heart. I hope they will be applicable for you as I tried to think of common scenarios for teens; or in the least that you will be able to understand bitterness and its danger in a greater way.

First scenario: Imagine you’re having a conversation with one of your good friends. You may be talking about something that’s going on in your life, having a good discussion about some things you feel strongly about, or talking about what Scripture says about an ethical issue. The conversation may become heated because of the topic, or it might have the appearance of a friendly debate. Either way, your friend says something that hurts your feelings. You take it as something against you personally. They may have never meant it that way, but you perceive it in that manner. However, instead of asking them to clarify what they meant, or acknowledging that their statement hurt you, you stuff it inside. Your thoughts like, “I can’t believe he/she said that to me!” or “He/she doesn’t understand!” continue, you replay the conversation in your mind, and begin to get angry. This continuation of wrong thoughts and anger quickly leads to bitterness towards that friend. Your friend, meanwhile, may never know that they hurt you.

Second scenario: You have younger siblings. And your younger siblings aren’t always as responsible as you are (or at least, as you think you are). One of them in particular seems to always forget to do a chore that affects your own chores and the state of the household: picking up his belongings. This bothers you, and while you know he may just be forgetful, you think he think he needs to take charge of this responsibility, instead of carelessly leaving his stuff everywhere. But instead of talking to him about it (in a gentle and loving manner of course), you sigh and think, “He never cleans up after himself! Why can’t he ever do what he’s supposed to do?” Already you’ve planted a seed for bitterness. Over the next months, it grows stronger and deeper as you see the pattern continuing. You complain to yourself about all the things he does wrong, meanwhile feeling sorry for yourself for getting left with all the work. Every time you see something that belongs to him, your blood begins to boil. After a while you can hardly speak to him in a kind manner because of the bitterness that has built up in your heart.

Third scenario: You were supposed to ______ (fill in the blank to apply to you: wash the dishes, take out the trash, mow the lawn, clean your room…). However, in the busyness of the day, it slipped your mind, and you didn’t do it. Your dad walks in, and begins to raise his voice and speak angrily because you didn’t do what you were expected to do. Without even giving you a chance to say why, he blows up at you. You inwardly harbor bitterness towards him for not even allowing you to give a reason for why you hadn’t done your work. You may forget about your bitterness towards him, and not even think you’re bitter any more; that is, until he asks you to do that same thing again (or maybe just asks you to do something unrelated), and you have angry thoughts towards him when he does. You may not even pinpoint that it’s the bitterness and anger in your heart that you didn’t deal with biblically before that is resurfacing.

Bitterness takes root and grows so easily and so subtly and why it’s crucial to carefully guard against it.