Whether you have become bound by your own, or another’s sinfulness against you, the fact is, —here you are.
Bitterness. Anger. Pain. Despair.
Often, our lives end up in a twisted maze that we can’t make much sense of and we find ourselves in corners or dead ends, from which we see no way out. God must show up.
The Good News is —He does.
He pursues us tirelessly, with His limitless love. His healing love.
He promises to make the crooked paths straight, and to turn the most desperate, hidden and barren places in our lives into beautiful, fruitful fields.
The only requirement is our willingness to give Him the fragments of our lives and allow Him to begin to do His work.
“In Him, our will, intellect, imagination, feeling, and sensory being are hallowed and enlivened. We begin to fully live, to participate in the eternal, the immutable, the indestructible.” —The Healing Presence, LeAnne Payne
One of my greatest “aha moments” this year is that judgments follow the laws of sowing and reaping. Our judgments of people might seem innocent and benign. We’re just “calling it like it is.” However, the caution against making judgments in Scripture (see below) holds a personal dimension: they will warp you!
Say you had a rough childhood because your mother wasn’t as nurturing as you needed her to be. You see some of the effects of her deficits in your life, but you try hard to compensate for the loss. You think you’ve contained the damage by swearing, “I’ll never be like her.” The problem is your very judgment of her. When you think of her, you make critical judgments that bind the very things you judge to your life.
It may be that, like Job (3:15), what you fear the most, eventually comes upon you. Fears can easily become self-fulfilling prophesies. But it could also be subtler than that. I have a mentor who likes to say, “Funny you should mention that” whenever someone shares a judgment or complaint about someone to him. He encourages them to use that reaction (judgment/complaint) for self-examination, “Why does their action trigger me in such a way?”
The only pathway to freedom is through forgiveness.
“Lord, I lay before you a sin of judgment against a precious child of yours. I affirm that you sent Jesus for ________________. Your word makes it clear that there are no benefits from pushing you off your throne and taking over your job of judging. I want to be completely free from having judged or continuing to judge those who have hurt me in the past or whose sins I have observed and judged. In the name of Jesus Christ please forgive me for judging ___________ for the sin of ____________. Thank you for forgiving me for this judging sin and for meeting me where I am. I lay this judgment at the foot of the cross and trust in the blood of Jesus to cover it. I forgive and bless ___________in your name. I ask you to show mercy on me and those I love so that we not reap the same sin in our lives. Thank you for showing me this sin and the way out of it. In Jesus’s name, Amen!
Here are a few of the scriptures on judgment:
Matthew 7:1-2: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Galatians 6:7: Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
Romans 2:1: You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
Romans 12:19: Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
Some good friends of ours have 5 kids and the whole family has been sick for weeks. They share the same symptoms and assume the problem must be their air or water quality. But no one can locate the exact source of the problem.
Bitterness can infect like this–silently contaminating every relationship we have while remaining largely undetected.
Take a minute to make sure bitterness has no root in your heart…
Hebrews 12:15 offers an intriguing word picture for the toxic effects of bitterness:
“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.”
Here’s the connection between bitterness in our hearts and the “defiling of many:”
Let’s use the story of Jacob and Esau as a case study. Genesis 27:41 says, “Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him.” Jacob stole a blessing from Esau that was very important to him and his future was greatly shaped by the loss. The theft basically changed the very trajectory of his life.
When we miss out on a blessing there are two great temptations we face:
-How we try to fill the void and compensate for what’s lacking in our lives.
-The bitterness that takes root in our souls.
Esau learned a valuable lesson as a boy—people aren’t trustworthy. If your mom and brother aren’t trustworthy, people aren’t trustworthy. I picture him making an inner vow: “That will never happen to me again!” He probably saw a little of Jacob in everyone. Can you imagine his response when someone accidentally slighted him? Or how difficult it would be to risk vulnerability and trust people in intimate relationships? There were probably all sorts of triggers that led him to react in ways far disproportionate to what a circumstance would warrant. Why? Because he wasn’t reacting to the specific circumstances. He was reacting to his history and out of a heart full of bitterness.
Bitter roots that aren’t pulled up grow large and defile future relationships. We eventually look to other people to repay debts that they don’t even owe us and could never repay. The reason we’re taught to not “let the Sun go down on our anger” (Ephesians 4:26) is because eventually we lose sight of its source and allow it to warp us. Our anger is spilling out, and we’re not even sure why anymore.
I imagine the writer of Hebrews counseling Esau, “Be careful that you don’t allow Jacob’s sin to hijack your life. Mourn the loss but don’t fall short of God’s grace and sin in response to his sin. God can heal the effects of his sin against you. He knows your needs. He will meet them according to His riches in glory. (Philippians 4:19) So, guard your heart against bitterness, because if you sit too long in unforgiveness, it’s going to reap trouble and defile many.”
What signature wounds continue to shape your life?
What has been stolen or where are there significant voids?
What inner vows have you made in response to them?
In the next post, “Funny You Should Mention That,” I’ll describe the way to uproot bitterness.
Wesley Furlong is the founder and director of City of Refuge (refuge.life), a network for community transformation and the director of Church Development for the EVANA Network, an evangelical Anabaptist network of churches across North America.