“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 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 12:14-15) We are responsible to show the grace of God to everyone we meet, ridding ourselves of unforgiveness, letting go of our feelings of resentment, laying down our “right” to get even, and allowing God to deal with the person who has hurt us. We must choose forgiveness. We don’t want to lead anyone away from God or build a wall of bitterness and regret between our hearts and the Lord. We must always choose to show His mercy to others so we can truly be His representatives in the world.
The good news is, anyone can overcome a bitter spirit. God encourages us to deal with it. He says in Ephesians 4:31, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” The Bible is so practical and clear that if we take what God teaches us about overcoming bitterness and apply it, we can be free of the bondage of bitterness.
I found this next story in an on-line daily devotional: Solomon is a grudge-holder. Years ago, his first-grade teacher blamed him for a mishap that he didn’t have anything to do with—a small injustice that most kids would have let slide. We still hear about it from him with the same intensity as if it happened yesterday.
I’ve tried to explain to Solomon that holding on to bad things gives them power. That every time he gets mad about the same thing, it’s taking time away from something better that could be happening. But nothing seems to register.
I hate to admit it, but I fear that he gets this personality trait from me. I, too, have struggled with forgiveness. Name any person in my life and I can rattle off disappointments, disagreements, hurt feelings so easily it’s as if they’re stored on a grudge index card in my soul. Some nights when I can’t sleep, something might rise in my memory and there I am, exactly like Solomon, getting angry and upset about one thing or another that happened a long time ago.
So I got to thinking, What would happen in this month of thanksgiving if I did my best to rip up my resentment score cards and start anew? Replace the bitterness with gratitude? Look for the good, the kind words, the favors, the love, and the laughs we share? What if, in addition to recognizing the good, I let go of the grumblings?
Bitterness is that hateful, spiteful sourness in the heart that creeps in when you have been, or think you have been, maliciously wronged. If you’ve ever had a difficult experience with someone who made you mad, and you resented it, held on to it–you know how bad it tasted spiritually, and in your mind it raised hateful feelings and thoughts. That is bitterness, and God’s Word has something to say about it. Bitterness can be an unseen enemy, growing like a tumor in your mind and in your spirit. The Bible says we should look out for it. Just because we don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Bitterness is the unharvested fruit of anger, and in time it will show itself. As Numbers 32:23 says, “Be sure that your sin will find you out.”
How do you deal with bitterness against others? One thing you must do is to keep your anger temporary. In Ephesians 4:26 God tells us we should not let the sun go down on our anger. If you’re mad at somebody today, you should get it settled before the sun goes down. If it goes down and you don’t deal with it, it will simmer all night, and tomorrow there’s a good chance you’ll be twice as angry and bitter about it as you are today. Washington Irving said that a tart temper is the only thing that doesn’t mellow with age. So deal with your anger before the sun goes down. Keep a short account.
Another crucial area is the tongue. The Bible reminds us that though the tongue is a little instrument, it causes a lot of problems. You can’t get into trouble for something you didn’t say. That’s why it’s so often best to mentally stamp “N.C.” on things you hear or observe. Do you know what that is? “No Comment.” You can keep out of trouble that way. Watch your words. A sharp tongue is a tool that grows keener with use. Watch it. (See Taming the Tongue)
We can also pursue peace. “Make every effort to live in peace with all men.”–Heb.12:14. “Seek peace and pursue it.”–1 Pet.3:11. We must chase after peace, like a dog after a fox! Go for it! In Philippians 4:5 we are commanded, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Be gentle–not to most people, or to some, but to all of them. Live gently. Pursue peace.
Also, if you know someone is harbouring anger, hurt or bitterness towards you because of some wrongdoing on your part, you can take the positive step of initiating reconciliation. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says that if you come to Him with your offering in hand, and then remember that a brother has something against you, leave your offering, go to your brother, and make your offering after you’re reconciled with your brother. So the Lord not only tells us to go to others when we’re bitter or unforgiving towards them, but He covers both angles and also tells us to go to those who are bitter or angry towards us.
There’s something else: Forgive and forget. How can you forget something negative that’s stuck in your mind? The Bible says God remembers our sins no more. So how can God forget something when He is omniscient? How can He know everything and still forget? Here’s the secret: When you forgive and forget, the forgetting means that you, like God, don’t hold that wrongdoing to the offender’s account. God forgets the charge against us; He remembers it no more. Oh, He knows about it, just as you do, but He will never bring it up again. That’s what we are to do. Don’t fish in the pond of history. Leave it there.
A person who has an unforgiving spirit is always the real loser, much more so than the one against whom the grudge is held. Unforgiveness, by its very nature, prevents individuals from following through on many of the specifics of the Christian life and practically necessitates that they walk by the flesh rather than by the Spirit. The destructive nature of an unforgiving spirit is such that it is not limited to one relationship. Resentment and other negative feelings spill over into other relationships. This is the second reason a person with an unforgiving spirit loses out in life.
The third reason a person with an unforgiving spirit loses out in life is closely tied to the other reasons. When a person is wronged in some way, whether in marriage, business, friendship, or some other relationship, a feeling of rejection occurs. There is a fourth reason an unforgiving spirit can devastate a life. Since the person with the unforgiving spirit is usually waiting for the other person to make restitution, a great deal of time may go by. During this time, fleshly patterns of behaviour and incorrect thought processes develop. Even after an unforgiving spirit is corrected, the side effects can take years to deal with, especially in the area of relationships.
By refusing to forgive and by waiting for restitution to be made, individuals allow their personal growth and development to hinge on the decision of others they dislike to begin with. They allow themselves to be held hostage. Holding on to hurt is like grabbing a rattlesnake by the tail: You are going to be bitten. As the poison of bitterness works its way through the many facets of your personality, death will occur–death that is more far-reaching than your physical death, for it has the potential to destroy those around you as well.
Forgiveness is a much more involved issue than just putting time between us and the event or saying some words in a prayer. It is a process that involves understanding our own forgiveness and how that applies to those who have hurt us. Forgiveness is an act of the will that involves five steps:
1. We Are Forgiven. First, we must recognize that we have been totally forgiven by God. Once we understand the depth of our sin and the distance it put between us and God, and once we get a glimpse of the sacrifice God made to restore fellowship with us, we should not hesitate to get involved in the process of forgiving others.
2. Forgive the Debt. The second step is to release the person from the debt we think is owed us for the offense. This must be a mental, an emotional, and sometimes even a physical release. It involves mentally bundling up all our hostile feelings and surrendering them to Christ. We can accomplish this in one of two ways: Either by meeting face-to-face or by using a substitute, possibly sharing all this with someone.
3. Accept Others. The third step is to accept others as they are and release them from any responsibility to meet our needs. Certain people can make or break your day depending on the amount of attention they pay you. Of course, this depends on whether you’re looking to them or to the Lord for your happiness. When we decide as an act of the will to forgive, we absolve others of any responsibility to meet our needs.
4. View Others as Tools of Growth. Fourth, we must view those we have forgiven as tools in our lives to aid us in our growth in and understanding of the grace of God. Joseph of old certainly understood this principle. After all his brothers did to him, he was able to forgive them. He saw them as the instruments of God to get him to Egypt and to be in such a position of power that he could save his family when famine destroyed all the crops.
5. Make Reconciliation. The last thing we must do is to make reconciliation with those from whom we have been estranged. This will vary from situation to situation. Regardless of how we go about it, we must do what we can to restore fellowship with those who hurt us. Once our forgiveness is complete, reconciliation will be much easier. After completing the five steps in forgiveness, we should pray this simple prayer:
Lord, I forgive (name of person) for (name the specifics). I take the authority over the Enemy, and in the Name of Jesus Christ and by the power of His Holy Spirit, I take back the ground I have allowed Satan to gain in my life because of my attitude toward (the person), and I give this ground back to Jesus Christ.
Remember, that forgiveness is for our benefit. The other person’s behavior may never change. It is up to God, not us, to change that person. It is our responsibility to be set free from the pressure and weight of an unforgiving attitude.
Several things will occur once the forgiveness process is complete. First, our negative feelings will disappear. We will not feel the way we used to feel when we run into these people on the street or in the office. Harsh feelings may be replaced by feelings of love, concern, pity, or empathy, but not resentment.
Second, we will find it much easier to accept the people who have hurt us without feeling the need to change them; we will be willing to take them just the way they are. We will understand more why they acted and continue to act the way they do.
Third, our concern about the needs of the other individuals will outweigh our concerns about what they did to us. We will be able to concentrate on them, not on ourselves or our needs.
Whatever our pain, whatever our situation, we cannot afford to hold on to an unforgiving spirit another day. We must get involved with the process of forgiving others and find out what it means to be really free!
“‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'” (Matthew 22:36-40)