See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble and by it many are defiled. Hebrews 12:15
While living in Hawaii, we admired a plant called “Elephant Ears” that grew to have huge leaves. Not only are the leaves large, but the roots go deep into the soil. If the leaves are cut off eventually another leaf will sprout from the stem. Like the elephant ear, a root of bitterness may begin growing in our hearts and keep sprouting until we pull up the entire root.
In the Bait of Satan, John Bevere writes, “Many people are unable to function properly in God’s purpose and calling for their lives because of the wounds, hurts and offenses in their lives.” He goes on to say that “Offended people bear much fruit.”
Unfortunately, when we harbor bitterness we may be the last one to recognize it. What are some of these fruits of bitterness? Broken relationships, inability to trust, establishing walls to protect ourselves, distance from God and anger with God are just a few. Bitterness can also manifest itself in our physical bodies.
In Chapter 23 of Exodus, the Israelites encounter bitter waters. While the people grumbled, Moses called out to the Lord. The Lord showed Moses a tree and told him to throw it into the waters. The waters became sweet and drinkable. Then the Lord identifies Himself as Jehovah Rapha “I am your healer.” Many believe this incident in Exodus points us to the cross of Jesus.
When we begin to view offenses, unfulfilled expectations, and disappointments through the lens of the cross, the sweetness of his grace and mercy allows us to release the circumstances of our past into God’s hands. We can respond not as our flesh desires but by the power of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Peter 2:23, Jesus models this for us. While being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.
Chaos beneath the Shade, a book by Tracey Bickle, address the subject of how we uproot and stay free from bitterness. Here are some of her valuable insights:
- “Unacknowledged disappointment makes us vulnerable to bitterness.”
- “Be honest about your pain and acknowledge you are bitter.”
- “Deal with your emotions in the presence of God.”
- “Use your energy to be grateful and find blessings in today.”
- “Trust God to bring justice in the end.”
As I studied bitterness to prepare this lesson for our small group, I came away thinking, “This is not wisdom for someone else, the Lord wants me to diligently address every root of bitterness in my own heart.” If the gentle admonition was not enough, the warning that my bitterness (even if I have not recognized it) will defile others prompts me to action.