Have you ever held something against someone for far too long?
Sound like I know what you are feeling? It’s because I have felt all of these things myself.
Of course there are valid reasons for me to hold this bitterness in my heart, but God doesn’t say, “Forgive others, except when they have seriously wronged you. Then hold it against them for the rest of their lives.” You may be thinking that this thing is unforgivable or you have forgiven this person, you just don’t want to think good thoughts of them again (the second is my reasoning). I urge you to hear me out for the next couple minutes and to not tune out because you think my life might be a piece of cake. Bad things happen to everyone. We all need to hear this message! Mostly me.
Let me start by first and foremost saying that no one has ever been hurt more by people he loved than Jesus Christ. Even one of his best friends tried to have him killed! The very Son of God came on earth to save us from our sins, and we were the ones that killed him! Romans summed this up in chapter 5 verse 8, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God showed his love for us in sending his son to die for us on the cross. While we were still sinning against him he put his son on the cross and gave the biggest love offering known to man. Through accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior we now can have access to eternal life with God!
Yes this is good news, but imagine how hurt God must have been on that day to see his one and only son killed for people who didn’t know he was being killed to save their souls. I’d say that’s anything bigger than what we can even grasp. When I put my own hurt beside that I almost feel selfish for holding onto it for so long.
“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" (Ephesians 4:31-32)
God calls us to forgive others as he has forgiven us! Reading this passage, the first sentence (from my experience) makes this process seem a tad easy. Just let it be put away from you. Put your anger and your bitterness away. It doesn’t seem that easy to me.
I’m one of those people that it takes awhile to get back to a normal state of emotion after feeling extremely hurt by something. I can’t just turn off the emotions that I so strongly feel because I say with my lips that I forgive someone. I can truly even mean it but still have bitterness in my heart against them. For awhile I tell myself that I have forgiven them so I have done my job, but it’s when I’m faced with situations where I am confronted with this person that the bitterness becomes a problem.
“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 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…” (Hebrews 12:14-16)
The bitterness in my heart towards this person can become toxic to myself and to others! Hebrews says that we should, “strive for peace with everyone and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” If we are holding onto bitterness in our hearts toward someone, people will see it and it will cause bitterness to spring up around us. I know that when I’m holding bitterness against someone and others don’t join my bitterness towards that person that my bitterness grows. It grows so big that it starts to affect my day-to-day life and my relationships in life. Most of the time this is when I know I need to have a heart to heart with God about it. Hopefully in the future I will catch it sooner!
Granted you may never see this person again and you’re thinking, “I don’t need to get rid of this bitterness because no one is going to confront me, and I’m never going to have to deal with them about it.” You may be right but let me tell you that the freedom I feel in Christ when I let go of bitterness is unlike anything I have ever felt! God will fill your heart with more love than you thought possible. He is almost humorous in how he has brought these people back into my life. You might even feel called to start praying for this person, heck maybe you should start to pray for them before your feelings catch up!
God has so much good planned for your life, but when you are holding onto something from the past and not giving it to Him to handle, it will inevitably hold you back. No matter how big or small.
God, I pray that today you would give us the strength to forgive the people in our lives that have hurt us. Not only will you help us forgive them but give us the power through your Holy Spirit to get rid of any anger and bitterness from our hearts toward them. I pray these things in the name of your son Jesus Christ, whom you gave as a sacrifice for us all to be with you. I thank you so much for your sacrifice that day!
Is there any bitterness that God is calling you to confess today? Who do you need to forgive?
[This post first appeared on Radical Everyday Living, September 16, 2013.]