There are two conditions of the heart no one can hide: one is when the heart is filled with love and the other when we are infected with bitterness. Either condition can take over our thoughts and both can filter our entire view of life. As followers of Jesus Christ, we must make our highest quest to possess hearts full of God’s love. Indeed, how successful we are at revealing Christ’s love is the true measure of our spirituality.
Thus, love cannot long exist as an unexpressed or hidden secret. If love is real, it will be seen in a thousand manifestations reaching to the heart of its beloved. Love, which is in truth passion for oneness, is too powerful to be contained by mere discipline or self-control. Indeed, is not love boldly displayed in its unrequited gifts, and is it not heard in its many encouragements and expressions of concern? Is it not tangible in its unabashed enjoyment of time spent with those it loves?
Bitterness, too, cannot be hidden. A bitter soul is not seeking oneness, but justice. It is driven by the unresolved theft of its peace, personhood or possessions. Bitterness is not just a wound seeking healing, it is a prosecuting attorney building a case against the guilty. Because a bitter soul is conjoined to the injustice committed against it, it perpetually is listening to the voice of its heartache and, thus, perpetually wounded by the unforgiven offense.
Dear friends, Jesus said He came to give us life in abundance. He said He was anointed and sent to proclaim release to prisoners and freedom to captives (John 10:10; Luke 4:18). If we feel we have been spiritually incarcerated by a bitter experience or an injustice, God is not seeking to condemn us for it, but to save us from it. Even now, His Spirit is reaching to release us from this unbearable burden of the past.
How Do We Become Free?
In my years of walking with the Lord, there have been times that I have been slandered, defrauded or unfairly attacked. I have had plenty of opportunities to be embittered by injustice. Not every wound was healed instantly nor each injustice swiftly remedied. Jesus said, “By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:19). The Message translation renders this: “Staying with it - that's what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won't be sorry; you'll be saved.” In the final analysis, being wounded or suffering loss is not the issue – Paul said he “suffered the loss of all things.” The real issue is that we “may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).
Let me also say, I know people whom the Lord simply touched and healed. Yes, often the Lord will simply remedy the offending situation itself, thus bringing healing. Let us make room for the vastness of God’s grace. Indeed, Hebrews 2:18 reveals that since Christ “Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” For no other reason except that He loves us, He will “come to the aid of those” who are embattled. Let us always make room for such grace.
At the same time, I have also recognized that God’s highest goal for me is my conformity to Christ. (See Rom. 8:28-29). God heals me so He can conform me to Christ, and sometimes He reverses that process: He conforms me to Christ so He can heal me. In other words, my deliverance came as I appropriated Christ’s love and learned to entrust myself to God even when I was wounded by injustice.
Consider this issue of trusting God. Peter tells us, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;” (1 Pet. 2:21-23).
Sometimes my healing from wounding and possible bitterness came, not because restitution was made to me by the person who hurt me, but because I learned to entrust myself to God who judges righteously. To trust that God will vindicate me in His time and in His way is a sign of spiritual maturity. It’s really the only way we can avoid responding to reviling with reviling and allowing a wound to fester into bitterness.
There are other times when a lingering conflict would become an oppression upon my soul. Again, as an antidote to becoming bitter, Jesus taught, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad (Luke adds, “and leap for joy”), for your reward in heaven is great” (Matt. 5:11-12).
If you have been unfairly treated, if some injustice has soiled your name or threatens your future because of your faith in Christ, one antidote is to rejoice. Before you defend your right to remain miserable, let me ask this: have you obeyed Jesus by leaping for joy? I remember one occasion when I was especially hurt by a man who, based on a dream his wife had, used his wife’s fantasy to divide our little church. I loved this couple greatly, just as I loved everyone in our church, so my sorrow was multiplied. Indeed, each time I considered the evil this slander was causing, my emotions stormed with anger and grief.
Yet, eventually the Lord spoke to my heart. He asked, since the slander spoken against me wasn’t true, why I hadn’t obeyed Him? He said I had become oppressed by people’s words, but I hadn’t yet leaped for joy. So, I decided to obey Him. Standing alone in the dimmed afternoon lighting of our church sanctuary, I prepared myself to rejoice. Yet, I was so emotionally drained with sadness I had no joy; I could hardly walk, much less leap. Yet, in obedience I tried a feeble jump. Then again, and again, until the Holy Spirit broke through and I was shouting and leaping before the Lord, rejoicing in His sovereign power in my life.
Now, if the problems we are encountering are legitimate consequences to our bad behavior, then we should repent and not blame others for our condition. We still can rejoice that we serve a great God who can work even our failures for good. But if our conflicts are due to our commitment to serve the Lord, then we ought to obey Him and “leap for joy.”
The Waters of Marah
Christ is not our “Savior” in merely a distant or theological sense; He is Immanuel, “God with us.” He dwells within us; He is committed to us. He is fully capable of transforming what was meant to destroy us and using it as a means to perfect us. We must believe that God is fully able to redeem all we go through. If we harbor unbelief about either the Father’s goodness or His abilities, our difficulties will reduce us to bitter, angry people.
Consider also, if Satan is set on destroying us, it must be because God has something powerful waiting for us in the future. The devil does not waste his time attacking insignificant people; he attacks those he fears will be used by God to liberate others. If Satan can set up an attack that causes you to become bitter, your destiny will be sidetracked until that root of bitterness is plucked from your soul.
How is it that bitterness can exist in us? Bitterness is a demonic manipulation of a wound or injustice we suffer in our soul. Jesus, however, said that the only way to save our souls is to lose them to Him (John 12:25). Beloved, I am telling you how I have passed through some of the most difficult battles I faced: I carried the cross.
I believe that my steps are ordered of God. Therefore, if I have faced an injustice, He must have either allowed it or ordered it. In His great omniscience, He knew I would need more love or faith or dependency upon Him, so He arranged my steps so He could work in me His overcoming nature. My battles are not about me and someone else, or even me coming against the devil; ultimately, in every conflict, God is seeking to create Christlikeness in me. As the character, authority and love of Christ become functional in my life, my enemies are subdued and Christ is triumphant through me.
We must, therefore, get over the idea that there is a painless place of existence on earth, and we must learn how to carry the cross of Christ. The cross puts to death our unbelieving, fearful, selfish nature and allows the character of Christ to emerge in our spirits. The cross is the cost we pay so that redemption prevails.
There is a story in Exodus that figuratively reveals the power of the cross. The Israelites went three days without fresh water. When they finally found water,“they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah” (Ex. 15:22-23). Marah, you’ll recall, means bitterness. They finally found water, but they could not drink it. The Lord, however, showed Moses “a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet” (Ex. 15:25).
What Moses did was prophetic. The tree that was applied symbolically to the bitter water was a picture of the cross of Christ when it’s applied to our bitter experiences: it turns the bitter to sweet. I know in the many times the enemy has used people to wound or strike me, as I applied the cross to my life – forgiving, blessing and letting love be perfected – the outcome has always been a greater manifestation of Christ in my life.
This is exactly how Paul handled adversity and injustice. Listen to what he wrote, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:7-11).
Dear one, is this not what you desire most: the life of Jesus Himself manifested in your mortal flesh? Satan has been manipulating your old nature, seeking to work bitterness into your life. The way the Lord has redeemed me from every battle I have faced has been to use that battle to crucify my old nature and release a greater unveiling of Christ in me. This is New Testament Christianity in its greatest glory.
Lord Jesus, forgive me for trying to save my life. I purpose to trust You, to allow love to be perfected within me, to not seek justice, but mercy for myself and others. Help me, Lord. Reveal Your Spirit’s power within me. Even now, uproot every bitter plant in my soul. Let my words be full of grace and truth, not bitterness and evil. In Jesus’ name. Amen