Recognising and resolving our bitterness
Bitterness is a spiritual stronghold that is easy to spot in others but difficult to spot in ourselves. If we habour resentment, mistrust, cynicism, envy or anger and find it hard to forgive others quickly, then we might need to check if we have any “root of bitterness” from unresolved injustices from our past. These will invariably colour our perspectives and sour our feelings towards certain people. The Bible calls bitterness “defiling” and warns us that it blocks us from receiving God’s grace.
Hebrews 12:15 ESV See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
Checking for signs of bitterness
Checking our hearts for bitterness requires a good dose of courage and self-honesty, because bitter people tend to excuse and exonerate ourselves from the ways we have hurt others too, just because we are still hurting ourselves. We can fail to see that we have been behaving in ways that dishonor God and grieve the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 4:30-31 ESV And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 ESV Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.
Here are some symptoms of an embittered person.
- Constant dissatisfaction: We are seldom joyful, satisfied or comforted because deeper and unresolved subconscious grievances still plague us. We project our inner dissatisfactions onto others and invariable condemn them to “fail” us because of our pessimistic and even hostile expectations. This becomes a vicious cycle where people will invariably disappoint us because there is always something that we can pick on, since no one is perfect. | 1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV … build one another up, just as you are doing.
- Quick to judge: Our instincts or initial judgments tend to be negative. We prefer to imagine the worst in people in hardened self-defence. We develop a habit of condemning, gossiping, and complaining about others, although we would never admit it because we see it as our right to appraise and judge other people. | Romans 14:10-13 ESV Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
- Oversimplified stereotypes: Rather than see each individual as someone created by God with specific talents and needs, we tend to categorise them into “good” or “bad” people. Anyone reminds us of people we hate, begrudge, or distrust will automatically fall into our “bad” or unsafe category. | Romans 14:12-13 ESV So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
- Intolerance, irritability: We are constantly annoyed by other people because they can’t meet the high standards we have subconsciously set for them to “prove” themselves to be worthy of our trust or respect. Some of us are known to be “perfectionists” who are hard to know and hard to please. | 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV Love … does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
- Self-justification: An ongoing narrative inside our minds points out why others are wrong and why we are right. We believe that since others haven’t given us second chances that we shouldn’t extend any grace to others either. | Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
- Envy: We find it unfair that people do better than us because we are bitter and cannot tolerate other people being happier or more successful than we are. We are seldom happy for others. We either become hyper-competitive or sulk about how unfair life has treated us. Our attention focuses on ourselves, rather than on God, to determine our self-worth. We don’t go to God to ask Him for what He has created us for. We fail to see that only God’s plans can fulfill us at the very deepest levels of our souls, because we have been uniquely created for them. | Proverbs 23:17 ESV Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day.
- Malice: We feel quietly smug when other people encounter misfortune because they will now know what it is like to suffer just as we have. We don’t see that even if we haven’t taken revenge ourselves, our bitterness has made us inwardly spiteful and malicious. God has been forgiving and gracious towards us but we fail to obey Him and extend that same grace towards others. | 1 Peter 2:1 ESV So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.
- Isolation: We find we eventually have fewer and fewer friends. Instead of extending love, peace, and reconciliation, we convince ourselves that we don’t need them anyway. | Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Bitter people are known for being critical and cynical more than loving. Following a pattern of self-justification, we may even be proud of who we have become. Our persistent self- justification has turned us into self-absorbed, self-victimising, and self-entitled people who sadly, are blind to our own defiling ways.
At the same time, we can chase certain ideals or dreams that we hope will help us feel good as soon as possible or prove that we are indeed someone worthy of respect and admiration. This leaves us vulnerable to being misled by empty promises and deceptive schemes.
Bitterness brings on many curses and deprives us of joy. Worst of all, it defiles our relationship with God.
Galatians 5:19-21 ESV Now the works of the flesh are evident: … enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy…. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
How bitterness defiles our relationship with God
God’s Word shows that people who are embittered tend to leak their misery out to others with words that are poisoned with lies and half-truths, curses, and slander. To God, such words smell like the “stench from an open grave.” The Bible says this is because we “have no fear of God at all.”
Romans 3:11-14,16-18 NLT No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” “Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with lies.” “Snake venom drips from their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” Destruction and misery always follow them. They don’t know where to find peace.” “They have no fear of God at all.”
When we follow Jesus as our Lord and Saviour on the other hand, our words will smell fragrant to God and always be a source of God’s love, peace, and hope to those around us.
2 Corinthians 2:14-15 NIV But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
Here are some other ways that bitterness contaminates our relationship with God:
- Separation from God: Because our bitterness makes little room for love, we can’t really relate to or connect with God, who is love. We wonder why we feel so distant from God and our prayers are so empty and repetitive. | 1 John 4:8 ESV Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
- Unbelief: We can read God’s Word with deep disbelief, because our bitterness keeps us from believing anything can be good or made good again. We resist obeying God’s Word that tells us to forgive others and to love our enemies, because we have an ingrained habit of looking at what bad things others have done to us, rather than what good Jesus has done for us. It also keeps us from experiencing God’s promises and miraculous work in our lives because of our unbelief. | Hebrews 3:19, 4:2 ESV So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.
- Judging God: Our bitterness colours the way we see God. We don’t believe God is good because people have acted wickedly towards us. Our hearts accuse Him for being unfair, mean, and uncaring for allowing us to suffer. We take the credit when things go well and blame Him when things don’t go according to our will. Our judgements towards God plunge us into deeper bitterness and hopelessness. | James 1:13 NLT And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else.
- Using God for personal justice: Some of us believe that becoming a Christian means we can be on the right side of an Almighty God who will vindicate us. While it is true that He will judge the sins of other people, our bitterness makes us more intent on using God than loving Him. We want God to show us abundant grace and forgiveness, but withhold it from those we despise. God is just and fair. He will judge others for their sins, but He will also judge us for ours.| Romans 14:10-12 ESV Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Our gracious God hears every single one of our cries when we are afflicted. We need not have any doubt that He has recorded every evil word and deed committed against us, as well as any good word or deed that has been withheld from us. His judgment will be holy, fearsome, and terrifying.
Psalm 10:17-18 ESV O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
Ecclesiastes 12:14 ESV For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
Proverbs 20:22 ESV Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.
Hebrews 10:31 ESV It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
But we cannot forget that He will also judge us for refusing to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, as His Word commands us. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:14-21). We do not overcome evil with back-biting, complaining, violence, or hatred, because all these only propagate more evil. These fleshly responses may initially bring us some carnal satisfaction but at the end, it will feel fleeting and hollow, because our real needs are still not addressed – the need for God’s deep comfort for the wounds our souls have suffered from injustices committed against us.
James 4:17 ESV So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Romans 12:14-21 ESV Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Exchanging bitterness for peace and hope
Every one of us has unfulfilled expectations and painful experiences, yet we can remain free from bitterness.
1. First, renounce our inner vows
We often make promises to ourselves as a self-protection mechanism, in response to trauma or pain. Such vows eventually become strongholds that block out the Holy Spirit’s work on our hearts.
For instance, we may have vowed that:
- “I must never trust anyone.” | This will block us from trusting God. The Bible tells us: Psalm 37:5-6 ESV Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.
- “I must not open my heart / feel anything / be vulnerable.” | This will block us from loving God with all our hearts, which is the First Commandment. The Bible tells us: Mark 12:30 ESV And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
- “I must not cry.” | This will block us from receiving emotional healing from God. Jesus did not hold back His tears and weeping. The Bible records three incidents where Jesus wept openly in public. The Bible tells us: John 11:35 ESV Jesus wept.
- “I won’t be satisfied until these people give me what I deserve.” | This puts us in a bind because we make our well-being conditional on what other people do, thereby making them the “lords” of our hearts. We are enslaved to their behaviour towards us. The Bible tells us: Psalm 37:4 ESV Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Such inner vows will prevent from opening our hearts to the Holy Spirit and receiving His healing. We need to renounce all our inner vows in Jesus’ name and repent for making ourselves the lord and ruler of our hearts. Instead, we ought to truly give God control. Also, see Inner vows must be revoked
2. Go back to the root
Bitterness is usually linked to some unrequited need/s and grief. We can recognise this by a lingering sense of constantly being overlooked, unloved, not understood, and cast off. The roots of such bitter emotions will invariable go back to our childhood where we experienced:
- Relationships | Neglect, betrayal, public humiliation, rejection, favouritism etc.
- Circumstances | Discrimination, deep poverty, oppression etc.
- Inter-generational | Family patterns of complaining, discontentment, jealousy, fighting etc.
- Mental strongholds | Perfectionism, stoicism, pessimism, romanticism of sorrow and agony etc.
The longer we have been harbouring such toxins in our hearts, the stronger and more blinding our bitterness becomes.
The challenge with uncovering our bitter roots is that they can be buried under layers of memories, self-justifications, and coping mechanisms. For instance, we may have learnt to project a happy outlook on life and forget the past. Moreover, if we or our family have practiced idol worship and any form of witchcraft, Satan might be blinding our minds and keeping us from seeing the redeeming truth in God’s Word that will set us free.
2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.
Acts 26:17-18 ESV … I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
The only power to set us free from such bondage and blindness comes through Jesus Christ. But first, we must accept Jesus as our Saviour, be baptised with water in His name, and be ready to repent of and be cleansed from all our sins, especially the sins of idol worship and witchcraft, and then ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Acts 2:38 NLT Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Thereafter, we can ask the Holy Spirit to lead us to a season of regeneration and renewal by praying and asking Him, “Holy Spirit, You are the Spirit of Truth. Please lead me to the truth behind my bitterness so that I can confess it and purge its roots.” Such a prayer is best done with a Spirit-filled believer whom we can confess to and be prayed by.
Titus 3:5 ESV He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
James 5:16 NLT Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.
3. Pour out our anguish to God
As we wait on God’s response with a humble and willing heart, we will start to recall past painful incidents that have yet to be brought to light and fully healed.
Long buried toxic and uncomfortable emotions may start to well up inside us and feel almost “fresh” – this is evidence of unhealed afflictions on a wounded soul.
We should not suppress such feelings, no matter how disconcerting they may be. The Holy Spirit is doing His work of flushing out the “toxins” from our spirits and “washing” us clean. We should not obstruct Him.
2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV … beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
Here is where we voice out and pour out all our tears, pain, grief, anger, frustrations, and complaints to God audibly. There is no need to be polite or hold anything back. We need to be totally honest with God and confess all our bitter feelings, so that the Holy Spirit can minister to us. This usually comes with crying and in some cases, even weeping and wailing.
It is during such times that we will experience the Holy Spirit’s deep comfort as God speaks His words of love and comfort. No one can soothe our wounded souls like the Holy Spirit can.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Also, see Please vent to God, not to people.
4. Confess our judgements of God
Behind every pain and trauma are subconscious fears such as, “Where was God when I was in anguish? Why didn’t He take me out of the situation? How could a good God allow such things to happen to me? Does He not care for me? Maybe He doesn’t love me.”
Our bitter emotions can lead us to believe lies about God, but it would be a grave error to place our faith in our feelings, rather than on God Himself. We should let Him tell us about His character and His will for us, rather than be led by our fleshly hunches and instincts.
Such silent cries need to be verbalised and confessed, rather than stuffed down in our hearts. God desires our heart-to-heart authenticity and honesty above us being “politely correct” and only partially honest. We can cry out to Him like the psalmist did in Psalm 13. God does not condemn us when we question His ways to His face, He will bless and love us because we are finally being “real” with Him,
Psalm 13:1-6 ESV How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
5. Invite God to turn our bitter experiences into testimonies that glorify Him
We do ourselves a grave injustice when we allow the painful circumstances of our lives to determine what sort of people we become, rather than giving that role to the Holy Spirit. In a sense, we can create idols out of our pain. We can’t see past them to behold the magnificent and glorious Jesus Christ who loves us beyond human measure. Also see Rejection can lead us to form idols out of pain
God does allow us to go through times of suffering for purposes much higher than what we can imagine. The story of Naomi in the Bible demonstrates this.
During a time of famine, Naomi moved with her husband, together with her two sons, to an enemy territory that worshipped idols, in search of food. They lived there for 10 years, during which her sons married Moabite women, something God warned His people against. Over that time, Naomi’s husband and two sons died and she returned to Bethlehem with just one daughter-in-law, Ruth, and no children or grandchildren. Her old friends hardly recognise her. Worn out and discouraged, she tells them to call her “Mara”, which means bitter.
Ruth 1:19-20 ESV … And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.
In spite of her bitter circumstances, we see that Naomi did not curse God. She continued to be kind towards and to pray for others. Eventually, we see that Naomi acquires land, redeemed for her by Boaz, a respected landowner and future son-in-law. Through the marriage of Boaz and Ruth, Naomi eventually becomes a grandmother, and subsequently the great-grandmother of King David, one of the greatest kings of Israel, and an ancestor of Jesus Christ. The women around Naomi praise God for what He has done.
Ruth 2:20 ESV And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.”
Ruth 4:14-16 ESV Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse.
Without the tragedies in Moab, Naomi would never have experienced God’s amazing redemption and His greater, bigger, and better plan back in Bethelem. She would have lived in exile in a place of idol worship, separated from her own tribe, instead of being restored to greater blessings back home.
Like Naomi, our greatest testimonies and miracles arise from our most bitter circumstances. It is where we get to experience the greater portion of God’s redemption. We simply need to be patient and steadfast. Like good wine, the unfolding of God’s plans may take years.
Isaiah 38:17 ESV Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.
In the meantime, we can confess to the Author of our lives that we don’t like some chapters of our lives, but we should be careful not to accuse Him of being evil, because He is not.
Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV … let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…
James 1:12-13 ESV Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
6. Repent to God for idolatry
Our bitterness often points out the idols in our lives. Perhaps we desire affirmation from people more than from God. Or we desire a comfortable life more than a holy, God-fearing life. Perhaps we want things to turn out our (short-sighted) way more than His eternally perfect one.
1 Peter 1:13-16 ESV Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
God will never forsake us or dismay us. It is only because we place our faith in things other than God alone that we become bitter.
Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
When we derive our hopes and identities from our feelings, circumstances, possessions, people, or even ourselves, we will eventually feel jaded, dissatisfied, and empty.
A good place to start identifying some idols, therefore, is by reviewing what we tend to complain about and identify our hidden unrequited desires. We need to repent of placing our faith in such idols if we want to pull down additional blockages between God and us.
1 Peter 1:13-17 NLT So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as “temporary residents.”
7. Forgive our offenders
God’s Word shows us that the cure for bitterness is forgiveness.
Ephesians 4:31-32 ESV Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Forgiving someone does not invalidate our grievances. It relieves us of our bitter pain and grief and makes us legitimate children of God.
Philippians 2:15 ESV that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,
Forgiveness, however, is a conscious decision. No one feels like forgiving, it goes against our carnal nature. No one deserves forgiveness either, because the wrongs people commit cannot be fully undone.
We forgive simply because Jesus first forgave us, even though we did nothing to deserve His grace. He calls us to extend that gift we have received to others. Those of us who remain in bitterness will fail to obtain God’s grace because our un-forgiveness towards others disqualifies us from His forgiveness for our sins, and therefore, from eternal salvation. There is a very significant price for staying bitter. God will not populate heaven with bitter people.
Hebrews 12:15 ESV See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
Matthew 6:14-15 NLT “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Also see Forgiveness brings us new life.
8. Forgive ourselves
We can, at times, hold ourselves responsible for our misfortunes and go on bitterly regretting our mistakes. Such grief leads to spiritual death because we lean on our flesh to save ourselves, rather than allow the Holy Spirit to renew us.
2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
We also place ourselves under the impossible burden of never making mistakes and never being hurt again. Satan will use such ill-advised inner vows to torture us. He will repeatedly remind us of our missteps and accuse us of failing, even though God has already forgotten our mistakes after we have asked for His forgiveness. We see Jesus’ disciples made numerous mistakes, including abandoning Him at His death, but Jesus never disqualified them. He forgave and made them the building blocks for God’s church on earth. Also, see When to agree or disagree with Satan
Isaiah 43:25 ESV “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
Instead, we need to apply Ephesians 4:29 to ourselves. Rather than agreeing with Satan and constantly putting ourselves down (the devil is a persistent pest), we need to encourage ourselves with God’s Word and show ourselves some grace.
Ephesians 4:29 ESV Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Let us also remember that we grieve Jesus every time we condemn ourselves when He does not condemn us at all. Let us therefore repent of grieving Jesus and forgive ourselves once and for all.
Romans 8:1-2 NLT So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.
9. Repent for the sins we have committed against other people
One consequence of bitterness is that it blinds us to our sinful reflexes. We are often quick to judge others for things that we ourselves are guilty of. Proud people, for instance, will readily accuse other people of being too full of themselves. We accuse others of being biased towards us, when we have our own prejudices as well. We judge others for not being loving and generous, when we aren’t either of those things too.
Other times, we use bitterness as a defensive front that stops people from getting too close and seeing the real person that is hurting behind our outward persona. We hide our vulnerabilities and by doing so, don’t see our own missteps.
Either way, we ignore our own sins and never bring them to the Lord in repentance. Then we wonder why we feel burdened and joyless, unable to enjoy God’s holy presence, and begin to erroneously judge Him once more. It is only after we are willing to confront and repent of our own bitter responses towards others and God that we will be restored back to God’s holy presence and receive “times of refreshing” from the Holy Spirit.
Hebrews 12:15 ESV See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
Acts 3:19-20 ESV Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…
10. Learn to trust God more than people
People who are bitter find it hard to trust God and trust others.
The good news is that when we forgive those who have hurt us in the past and invite God to heal us, He will also give us a new heart and a new spirit. The Holy Spirit, whom we used to grieve and quench through our bitterness, can now personally guide us in all our relationships – and who to interact with and who we should avoid.
Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Sometimes, God may even lead us to people we may naturally not trust in our flesh because He has chosen us for a unique role in their lives – bringing His good news to them – even if they may hurt us. True strength, joy, and peace is not the absence of pain and sorrow in life, but the ability to overcome all things because of God.
2 Corinthians 4:7-10 ESV But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
If we are still suspicious of everyone or most people, however, we might have to ask the Holy Spirit if this fear is the result of lingering bitterness and unhealed wounds.
11. Be careful not to fall back into bitterness
Last but not least, once we receive the Holy Spirit’s refreshment and renewal, we must learn to take every thought captive and not fall for the temptation of becoming bitter again. The world around us will not change but we can. Otherwise, we will grieve the Holy Spirit and dishonour His grace towards us.
2 Corinthians 10:5 NLT We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.
Ephesians 4:29-31, 5:5 ESV Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is … impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
We need to recognise that sometimes, the feeling of bitterness can give a (false) sense of power over other people, because we have cultivated a (bad) habit of blaming others for our problems and keeping count of their errors. At the same time, we selfishly exonerate ourselves from searching our own hearts for our own issues. All this is “earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.”
James 3:15 NLT For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.
We may have used our bitterness as a carnal self-seeking defence mechanism in the past. Now, we have the opportunity to love others as God loves us. Let us make up for all the ways we have been a “stench” to God and people in the past, and become like a fragrant perfume instead.
Leviticus 19:16-18 ESV You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Also, see Retraining our anger triggers.
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