Two conditions of the heart exist where 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 its beloved?
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 (John 10:10). He said He was anointed and sent to proclaim release to prisoners and freedom to captives (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 almost 50 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). 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 that often the Lord will simply remedy the offending situation itself, thus bringing healing. Let us make room for the vastness of God’s grace. Hebrews 2:18 reveals that "[Christ] is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted." For no other reason except that He loves us, He will help us. 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. To entrust our case to God is the only way we can avoid countering reviling with reviling or allowing a wound to degrade 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?
The Waters of Marah
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?
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. In Jesus’ name. Amen.