Starting a new 3-week series called ‘You’re Too Blessed To Be Bitter’
And we’re going to hone in on what I believe is one of the most targeted place where the devil comes and wreaks havoc in the life of the Christian.
And for me, this series is a long time coming. It, of course, comes from some of the work God has been doing in me over the last few years but also something I, as a pastor, feel a burden for communicating effectively.
There are lots of professions in the world that basically the art of recognizing patterns.
Stock Market Pickers I’m sure many of you have had your ups and downs with the stock market. Well there are certain people, take Warren Buffet, and Peter Lynch that have made billions of dollars understanding patterns. That when the stock market does THIS, that the chances are above 50% that it will it turn do THIS. And they look back at history and the patterns of the stock market to attempt to predict what the market will do next. The job is essentially recognizing patterns.
Meteorologists My wife is a weather nerd. She loves looking at what the weather will likely do over the coming week or the coming month, and what she’s doing is she’s looking at what Meteorologists are predicting. Now I’m sure you know that they don’t get it right all the time. But I think anyone would have to admit that they get it right more than half the time. Where they’ll look at weather systems. And attempt to recognize patterns. Where because this is happening, the chances are fairly good that THIS will happen next. It’s a profession of recognizing patterns.
Psychologists A psychologist is someone who is trained in recognizing patterns of behavior and connecting them to underlying conditions that would allow them to more effectively help a patient. Again, it’s at least partially a profession of recognizing patterns.
Counselors My point is that I believe counselors and Pastoral who do pastoral counseling like myself. We’re also able to recognize patterns because we see a lot of situations and meet with lots of people. And over time, we start to recognize patterns with outcomes.
And some of where this series came from was God working with me and showing to me a pattern that after spending a couple years with, I’m ready to show you.
Here’s the pattern:
People who unknowingly let bitterness and resentment gradually grow in them tend to be unhappy and lonely.
Additionally, the common factor in the destruction of most family relationships is bitterness and resentment that has grown over time.
In other words, people who do not deal with issues of bitterness and resentment tend to have unhappy lives and unsuccessful relationships.
SUBTITLE: How to ruin your life in one easy step.
So as I was praying about this series and how I wanted to structure it, I feel like God told me “Make It Simple”
So of course, bitterness and resentment are types of unforgiveness. And so I thought I’d spend just a minute on what forgiveness is.
I Get It And I want to start off by saying that I get it. Forgiveness is probably the #1 most difficult of all the Christian virtues. Talking about needing to forgive is like talking about needing surgery. It’s not pleasant. But for most of us, it’s the only way to get healthy.
Even Ghandi recognized this when he said ‘The Weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.’
Me - Pastoral Ministry And to be perfectly transparent, forgiveness is not something that has come naturally to me. I’ve had to work at it. It’s been a brutal journey. Pastoral ministry affords A LOT of opportunities to practice. Most people don’t last in ministry. You’ve got a lot more ‘ex-pastors’ than pastors. And it’s not because the job has so much manual labor, or it’s physically taxing. It’s not. But it’s VERY emotionally taxing. Living your life out in the open invites a lot of scrutiny, and conflict, and contention. - And so if a pastor is going to last, they are going to eventually have to deal with bitterness and resentment. If they want to be a pastor and also live a happy life.
Websters: “forgiveness : to excuse a fault; to pardon”
So let’s say you have someone in prison, and let’s say the governor pardons them. What does that mean? Well it means giving them their freedom, even though our justice system has decided they don’t deserve it. There’s plenty of reasons that a person in power may do this of course. But what I want to emphasize is that it’s giving them something that the justice system says they don’t deserve.
Forgiveness is the same way. Forgiveness is not something that anybody DESERVES. It’s something that the forgiver CHOOSES to give, in our particular instance because it’s God’s nature. And because we are ambassadors of God, we offer forgiveness to people who don’t deserve it.
G.K. Chesterton in his biography of Saint Francis described him as someone who “walked the world like the pardon of God.”
And that’s really the idea of forgiveness. That we walk around, and live our lives putting on display the reality that God pardons us even though we’re guilty.
Everything is the Christian faith follows this pattern: God > Us > Others.
God is the initiator, and we are the responder.
So there’s never a time when we’re only the giver of forgiveness. No, we’re always the receiver of forgiveness, and us forgiving others is a fruit of us being forgiven.
And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him and let it drop (leave it, let it go), in order that your Father Who is in heaven may also forgive you your [own] failings and shortcomings and let them drop. (Mark 11:25)
I love that the amplified bible says “Drop It”. I like that.
Sometimes when someone does something that we believe is wrong, we make it our personal mission to tell everyone. And you just keep harping on it and harping on it, and harping on it.
I meet with couples. And sometimes we’ll be talking about an issue and the person who believes they were wronged just keeps subtly mentioning how they were wronged. They just keep dropping these little comments here and there, over and over. And eventually the other person will say what many of you have heard “Can’t we just drop it.”
I didn’t know it, but that’s right there in the Bible. To forgive means to just drop it.
And in the coming weeks, we’re gonna get real nitty-gritty about what bitterness and resentment are, but just quickly I want to help you understand. And these are my definitions that help me, but you don’t need to get caught up in words.
But I want to say that bitterness and resentment to me are the most deadly forms of unforgiveness. Because they’re subtle. The Bible teaches that Satan, the devil, is subtle. He’s crafty, he’s tricky. And what I hope to do is make you aware of one of his most deadly weapons and to equip you with tools to fight against them.
Think about when something tastes bitter. Bitterness is one of the five taste sensations. The 5 taste sensations are: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.
Don’t have time to get into that, but bitterness is something that your tongue was born with the ability to taste.
When you have a bitter taste lingering in your mouth. It a bad taste that just sits there from something bitter that you ate. And whatever taste you currently have in your mouth can affect how you taste the next thing. If you’ve ever brushed your teeth and than drank orange juice, you know what I’m talking about.
Bitterness in our hearts is the same kind of thing. It’s a bad taste that lingers from negative experiences in the past, that can change the taste of what you’re experiencing now.
Job in the Bible after having suffered tremendous loss said:
“I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. (Job 7:11)
So if I was to say to you “You’re a bitter person.” What I mean is that you have allowed negative experiences in the past to negatively effect your present.
And I think often times bitterness is kind of general. You’re a bitter person in general. You tend towards the negative, you connect by complaining. You’ll gravitate to what’s wrong.
Resentment, tends to be more specific. Bitterness is often general, resentment is often specific. So when you have resentment. That tends to be towards a specific person, or a specific type of person.
Wax And the illustration I use for resentment is wax. I wonder if you’ve ever seen a candle plate where lots of candles have been burned, you might have seen this layer of wax that develops on the plate. And it’s not from 1 candle, it’s from lots of candles over time. A thin layer or wax that isn’t cleaned up, followed by another layer of wax that isn’t cleaned up, followed by another layer of wax that isn’t cleaned up and before you know it, it’s this huge mass of wax that has built up over time.
That’s the human heart. After years and years of partial forgiveness.
Let’s take a marriage for example. A married couple fights about something. And they forgive, mostly. Let’s be generous and say they forgive 99%. So it’s no longer an issue that deserves a discussion, everything goes back to normal, so far as anyone can tell. But there’s still a thin layer of wax there. Just a 1% grudge. Now let’s say that happens 5 times a year, for 10 years. And complete and total 100% forgiveness never happens, just 99% forgiveness. Now over time that thin layer of wax gets another layer of wax on it, and then another and then another.
And so what happens is that the love that the couple used to have is covered up by years and years and years of partial forgiveness.
That’s something I want to warn you about. That divorce is rarely about a single issue.
It’s almost always an issue of partial forgiveness, compounded over the years and then there’s a final issue (the final straw) that becomes the catalyst for the divorce but it’s rarely just that single issue that does it.
It’s like turning the thermostat down 1 degree. You don’t notice it. Until you do it once a week for 25 weeks and then it’s freezing in here. This is what happens in relationships.
Not because of one event, but because of gradual resentment that builds up over time. And once you recognize it, like not in your heart but it’s something that God reveals to you in your heart, you see it everywhere.
That resentment builds up over time so then it stops being an even playing field. So one person is fighting an uphill battle.
So reactions are stronger than they would otherwise be. So when you face an issue, that should be a 2 out of 10 in size, you treat it like a 7, because you’re resentful.
We’ll talk about those more in the next two weeks but I just want you to have general idea of them.
I hope to expose that I think bitterness and resentment are two of the devils greatest tools.
Because a lot of people are great at BIG, HIGH STAKES forgiveness. Someone does something horrible.
We have tons of examples of people who were tortured in Nazi concentration camps publicly declare their forgiveness towards their torturers, and hug and embrace them and even form deep friendships with them. And we’ll all see and cheer them on and say “Man, how great is that!”
But the same people who say we ought to forgive our torturers will have almost no awareness of the bitterness and resentment that they leave unchecked towards the people they’re closest with.
Do you know that you can you can tell if you've really forgiven somebody or not? How can you tell? Well because your attitude comes out of your mouth. When you mention a person, or somebody else mentions a person and you roll your eyes, and your chest clenches up and you and you feel the need to say that one little thing to let everyone know they’re not as great as they seem. You’re in unforgiveness.
Just a brief disclaimer I hate that I have to say this but I do.
I would be truly horrified if you took any of this as me telling you to stay in an abusive situation or in any situation God does not have for you.
I work very hard to keep my heart from offense and unforgiveness. But that does not mean that everyone has access to me at a deep level.
There’s plenty of people that I like and that I love that don’t get to speak into my life because I don’t want what they have.
So I’m not talking about relational positioning. Who you are to be in relationship with, or at what level. Sometimes God’s grace comes in the form of the end of a relationship. That’s true. I’m talking about those relationships that God DOES have for you, for you can steward your own heart in a way that allows those relationships to be healthy.
So what I’m wanting to do this morning as we open up the subject, is to talk about what bitterness and resentment take from you.
Of course we, as followers of Christ, should just forgive because he told us to. Does anyone here want to be more like Christ next year than you were this year? I know I do.
So of course the greatest motivator to get rid of resentment and bitterness, is to just obey Christ and be more like him.
And even if you don’t understand WHY you need to do it, to just do it because he told you.
And part of what faith in Christ means is that you trust his opinion more than your own, even with things you feel very deeply about.
What bitterness and resentment take from you
Hebrews 11 says that without faith, it’s impossible to please God.
The primary channel that we receive from God is when we receive his gifts through faith.
Faith is simultaneously the primary way that we receive from God AND the only way we are pleasing to God.
Believe it or not, when it comes to Jesus teaching on faith, faith and forgiveness are tied together.
“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. (Mark 11:23)
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24)
Now faith preachers love this verse. And they love to stop right here. Because up to this point, if you want your prayer life to be effective, all you have to do is have faith. But that’s not where Jesus ended it. Let’s look:
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25)
Jesus is talking about faith. And how to be effective in prayer. And he links that to forgiveness.
He says “Believe God, speak to your mountains, have faith, OH and MAKE SURE you don’t have unforgiveness in there.”
See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Hebrews 12:15)
Bitterness defiles you.
And when you think about the Palmist in the Bible who wrote asked of God ‘Create in me a clean heart.'
And that helps me when I’m feeling resentful towards someone.
Because I gotta tell you, I can't do what I’m called to do, this is just me maybe that’s not true of every pastor, but just FOR ME, I can’t stand up here and do this before you and before God with a clean conscience, when I have all kinds of unforgiveness in my heart. I can’t do it. There are some very bitter pastors out in the world, so clearly they can do it, but I can’t. Me personally. So I know that no matter what happens to me, I have to get over it. Sometimes it takes longer than other times, depending on how I’m doing with God, depending on what the offense was, depending on WHO it is. But I know it will eventually forgive. I HAVE to.
And so I know that in order for me to do this, from a pure heart. I can’t be bitter and I can’t be resentful.
And believe it or not, I believe it’s the same for you. You’re not gonna be the best parent you can be without a pure heart. You’re not gonna be the best husband or wife you can be without a pure heart. You’re not gonna be the best entrepreneur, the best business man, the best teacher, the best lawyer, the best anything without a pure heart.
It’s not worth it. Don’t give that person that much power over you. Don’t let that guy at work cause you to become a worse father. You know what I mean?
Bitterness is baggage. It’s torture. What smart person would torture themselves? But that’s exactly what you do when you become bitter and resentful. You’re torturing yourself for no reason. You’re going through this agony and the other person doesn’t even know it.
Matthew 18 A lot of Matthew 18 is about forgiveness, but I just want to focus on a single verse here. We’ll probably talk about it more later. But for now let’s just look at verse 33-34
Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ (Matthew 18:33)
In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. (Matthew 18:34)
That unforgiveness, it hands you over to be tortured.
Nothing will take your peace faster than unforgiveness, bitterness, and resentment.
And if you honestly look back at your own life and think about the times when you had the least peace. Surprisingly enough, it was probably not when you were sad or suffering loss, because God can really fill you with supernatural peace during those hard times. I bet the times when you had the least peace was when you were angry. And this festering pile of misery replaying in your head and as you replay conversations over and over.
You can’t be happy and carry that around with you.
A bitter spirit is haunted by the incapacity to forget it.
They’re renting space in your head and you’re not even paying you! They don’t even know they’re living there!
Where there’s unforgiveness, love dries up. I know you know that.
Now me and Jordan have a great marriage. We’ve been together for 19 years and it’s awesome. We get along better than any couple I know of. And that’s the God honest truth.
But we do certainly have times when we disagree and one or both of our feelings get hurt and one of both of us get angry. We don’t yell and call each names and hit things, we’re not children, but we do have disagreements.
And so when we have unforgiveness towards each other, it makes love very difficult, wouldn’t you agree. You normally kiss goodnight, you don’t do that, maybe you snuggle on the couch, you don’t do that. You play and joke with each other, you don’t do that.
“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” - Ruth Graham (Billy Graham’s wife)
Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. (Proverbs 17:9)
I’m a pretty nice guy. I think most people would agree with that. I’m not a perfect man, but I am nice. Maybe if all you’ve heard me do is preach you don’t realize that, but ask any of my friends. I am very friendly.
So with that said, let me tell you what really bothers me. People who courageously talk behind peoples backs, and never to their faces.
Just like this verse says, they go around repeating. They’re like a little parrot. They go to lunch, they’re talking about it, they go to the store, they’re talking about it, their mom calls, they’re talking about it. Just repeating, repeating, repeating.
Scripture teaches us that those are the people, that separate friends.
You lose your ability to be loving when you don’t forgive. When you’re bitter. When you’re resentful.
Bitterness and resentment open the door to the devil.
If you know there’s an enemy on your porch, you should try to be smart enough to not open the door and let him in, right?
Well you need to realize that our enemy is always lurking around looking for an open door.
Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, (2 Corinthians 2:10)
in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:11)
You need to forgive to stop the devil from getting an advantage over you.
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, (Ephesians 4:26)
and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:27)
Letting your anger towards somebody else linger is giving the devil a foothold.
Now I don’t mean you’ll go deaf, I mean your ability to hear from God.
Lady Wanting Counseling Years ago, when I was a little bit younger than I am now, I got a message from a lady that had called the church. It was from a lady who had called the front desk, and had listened to my sermons and she called because she wanted to schedule a counseling session with me. I don’t remember her name, and I wouldn’t tell you even if I did. Now our policy here when possible is to have females meet with a female pastor and have males meet with a male pastor, but we’ll sometimes make exceptions to that for whatever reason. And so I asked Sherie our front desk lady “Did you try to schedule her with Shirley?” And she told me “Yeah I tried but she insisted on it being you.” - Now normally my response might be ‘Yeah ok no problem.’ But when Sherie our front desk lady handed me that note with this ladies name and number on it, I just remember hearing God tell me “Absolutely not David. There’s danger here.” And I went back to my office and I sat there looking at that paper, and it was just a strong sense that God was telling me that this woman did not have pure motives and so to not meet with her.
So I went to my wife and said ‘This woman wants to me to do a counseling session with her.’ And I showed her the paper, and my wife looked at it and said ‘I don’t have a good feeling about this one.’ And I said ‘Really? Me neither.’
So I thought about it for a few more minutes and went to Sherie and told her to tell this woman that I’m not available to meet.
And so that evening I was just thinking about that and I heard God say to me “Always keep your spirit in a place where you can hear my voice”
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:2)
See when I’m in resentment, and bitterness, and unforgiveness, I’m not sensitive to God’s voice. Because I’m just filling my heart with the same old arguments that I’m having in my head over and over and over. And I can’t afford to not hear God when he has something to say to me.
And you can’t afford to not hear God when he has something to say to you.
So I’m not gonna let that death spiral in my head stop me from hearing God. That’s not worth it.
At my first defense, (Paul was on trial a lot, and was in prison a lot) no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. (2 Timothy 4:16)
So let’s imagine that I was arrested for preaching the gospel. And I was on trial. And the public was invited to attend. Now let’s say that none of you came to support me, instead you all deserted me. Well that would be hurtful. And that’s exactly what happened to Paul here. He was on trial and everyone deserted him. That was I’m sure hurtful. Now what he could have done was replay the situation 1,000 times in his head “I can’t believe it! I’m so hurt! I should give them a piece of my mind!” But what does he do? What’s his very next sentence? “May in not be held against them.”
Does that remind you of anything? Jesus of course. During his last moments on the cross, tortured, humiliated, stripped naked, mocked, beaten, and bloody, and what does he say?
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Jesus is the last and final perfect picture of forgiveness.
And as we close, I want to give people an opportunity to come and receive forgiveness.
Something I often say is ‘If the Christian Faith isn’t about forgiveness, it’s not about anything. Forgiveness is how you got here.’