Excerpt from Craig Groeschel's Soul Detox: Clean Living in a Contaminated World.
Like a master criminal needing support for a big heist, bitterness never works alone. Its insidious partners include jealousy, anger, hatred, disobedience, contempt, gossip, rage, and countless other tag-alongs. The job they're planning is to rob anyone they can of peace, hope, joy, forgiveness, and mercy. Instead of just inflicting one cut on our souls, bitterness and its gang litter our spiritual path with layers of crushed glass, leaving us to bleed a slow, agonizing death of resentful rage.
God's Word shows us clearly the dangers of bitterness: "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" (Heb. 12:14–15, emphasis mine). Though we can't control the outcome, we're called to do everything possible to live at peace with others, even those — or especially those — who have hurt us. The problem is that when you're filled with bitterness, as I was with Max [who molested my sister], you don't want to believe this verse applies to your situation — but it does. The writer to the Hebrews warns us to be on guard for the root of bitterness.
[The Root of Bitterness]
We must watch for it and do everything possible to fight against it. If we're not careful, if we allow bitterness to take root in our lives, then we might miss God's grace in our lives. Why? Because the root of bitterness defiles and poisons.
Bitterness works underground, slithering beneath the surface. No one can see the poison coursing through your veins. On the outside you might look normal. You can fool others for a while. But on the inside, our bitterness starts to boil. "I can't believe she did that to me. I wouldn't treat my worst enemy that way." "I am so angry I could kill someone. He's going to pay for this, one way or another."
Over time, our bitterness poisons our hearts. "I wouldn't be surprised if something really bad happens to him. He deserves it, you know." "If I ever see her, there is no telling what I might do." "I pray that God gives him what he really deserves." …
The more I meditated on Max's actions to my sister, the more polluted and contaminated my soul became. I became obsessed with making sure he paid for his wrongdoings. And guess whom my bitterness hurt the most? Me…
A little bitterness goes a long way. Add a little bitterness to any environment and watch it suffer… Bitterness never produces good results.
[How to Kill Bitterness]
The only way to remove bitterness from your life is to kill it at its root. And there is only one way to kill the root of bitterness: with forgiveness. Ephesians 4:31–32 says, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (emphasis mine)…
I remember arguing with God. "How can I forgive someone who did something so horrible? I don't want to forgive. Max deserves to pay." Though the memories of Max's abuse continued to haunt me, so did Christ's command to forgive…
Over time and after lots of prayer, I finally surrendered to the idea that forgiving the man who'd hurt my sister was the right and biblical thing to do. Even though I knew it was right, that didn't make it any easier.
I started by trying to pray for Max. You'd think that praying for someone else would never be hard. I don't know if I've ever done anything more difficult. "Bless Max," I prayed half-heartedly, not meaning one of the two words I prayed. That was a start.
Your prayers for others may or may not change them, but they always change you.
I've found that your prayers for others may or may not change them, but they always change you. As I tried sincerely to pray for a betrayer, slowly my bitter root started to die. To be honest, I don't think I even noticed it at first. But the poison that I'd been allowing into my heart started to subside.
- Craig Groeschel
Learn more about Soul Detox: Clean Living in a Contaminated World.
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