“Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”
I had a revelation the other day.
It brought a sweet sense of comfort from the Lord, and gave me freedom in an area that had been troubling me for some time.
It’s never good to feel condemned, or to feel accused of falling short of God’s best. It’s just not what Jesus intended for us. After all, the devil is the accuser of the brethren. I have to say, though, that the accusations that hurt the most come from brothers and sisters in the Lord.
A curious thing happens when a Christian – at least one in local evangelical circles – decides to start thinking for himself and questions the church authority he has submitted to for some time. He may suffer accusation, slander and gossip – even shunning – especially if he decides to confront issues in the church that he disagrees with. And if those are long-held doctrinal beliefs, then there’s usually hell to pay.
But aren’t we supposed to question what we believe?
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
I John 4:1
I John 4:1
Stupid me – I’m afraid that’s what I did when I decided to question certain doctrines and other matters I felt were creeping into my church.
I am not going to rehash all those details here, because that would be pointless, and hurtful to many people. But I do want to stress how hurtful it has been to me, to be told: “Now brother, don’t be bitter” or “Guard against that bitter spirit” or “I can see that you’re bitter about what’s happened.”
Every time I heard something like this, I checked my heart to see if I was holding any unresolved bitterness and sin. And that was part of the problem – I equated bitterness with sin, and it always brought condemnation along with it.
I just didn’t feel “clean” being bitter.
But I had a revelation the other day.
God spoke to me clearly, to let me know that the bitterness I’ve tasted is the same as if I’d unknowingly eaten something bitter, or had been forced to drink poison, or experienced something that pierced my heart like an arrow.
I’m not trying to sound like a victim here – I just want to convey the sense of freedom I experienced when I realized that the bitter taste in my spirit – in my soul – was not from anything I did. It was not sinful. It was not dirty.
The bitterness I felt was due to the heartache of a very painful experience – and the fact that this was not the first time, but the second that a local church’s authoritarianism had crushed my dreams and vision.
Of course, others won’t see it this way, and may even comment here about how wonderful their church is. That’s great. I’m just talking about my experience.
The truth is, though, I’m not alone.
I know many people who have suffered painfully in similar – and worse – fashion. Many have never returned to church – even after many years – and to this day people ask, “What happened to the old you?” or “When are you coming back to church?”
Most folks are well-meaning, but they’re asking the wrong questions. They’re not opening their ears and hearts to the cries of those who hurt and asking them what they’ve experienced.
But don’t do this unless you’re truly prepared to listen to the answer, and see the truth through the eyes of the one who’s hurt.
Because if you’re only going to argue with what you’re hearing; if you’re only going to argue in defense of your church and your pastor, then you may as well not ask. When you open that door and ask your friend to share their hurts and pain with you, and then you choose to ignore what they tell you because it may rock the foundations of what you’ve believed your entire life, then don’t even ask!
I can tell you personally, that it’s been too painful when I’ve shared my bitterness with “friends” who asked me to, then had those people ignore me to this day – almost two years later. This has happened on several occasions, and I have to tell you – it’s grievous. It has left a bitter taste in my spirit.
And it left a sense that I was in sin, because that’s what I had been told so many times.
But I am not in sin.
My bitterness comes from a righteous anger that wells up inside of me because I believe the Body of Christ is supposed to act like Jesus on earth. But when I see injustice, arrogance, self-righteousness and pride in the church – especially within the leadership – I tend to speak up. But that has only brought me separation – separation from people, dreams, vision and goals I’ve worked toward for more than 33 years. And that can be a bitter thing.
But I am clean, and so are you if you are not being hateful toward those who have hurt you. Your bitterness then is not a sin. Be free.
“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”
“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”
(Feel free to listen while you’re reading.)
YOU ARE MY SHELTER by Elisha’s Request
I received this devotional from a good missionary friend of mine the other day, and it suddenly seems relevant to the discussion at hand. Please take the time to read it, and apply as necessary.
Come Before Winter
“Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica-Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia.” 2 Timothy 4:9,10
“Come before winter.” These words have been rehearsing in my heart and spirit for weeks now. When Paul penned these words he was in prison. The cold chill of abandonment was upon him. He recounts how he was deserted in his faithful quest to preach the Gospel. Those who had been with him in the journey, those trusted friends had abandoned him. So his plea is to his most faithful disciple: “Come quickly and come before winter.” He needed his cloak and he needed his parchments. His time was short, death was drawing near.
I wonder if you and I can identify with Paul’s sentiments? No, we aren’t in a damp, cold and dark prison. Not in a natural sense. But there are many prisons. Some of us have been hurt severely by those we trusted most. And if we aren’t careful the winter of the heart can set in. It’s the season of the heart when it gets bitter cold. The sunshine becomes dimmer and dimmer. All the love and passion you have grown in your heart could be frosted over. And once that happens death isn’t far off. Does this seem extreme to you? It doesn’t to me. I have seen the face of bitterness on loved ones. I have also seen it in the mirror. It has a look all its own. It’s tense and hard and its poison springs forth in very short notice. It also cripples the person under its curse.
If anyone could have been victim to the winter of the heart it was Paul. Yet Paul knew the cure. Even with death at his door literally Paul chose to move forward. He encouraged Timothy and the church. He pleads with Timothy not to forget the gift the Lord has given him. Next he decides to allow the Lord to judge those who hurt him. He knew that only the Lord is the perfect judge of the heart of man. He asks that this abandonment not be held against them. Lastly, he proclaims faith in God’s goodness toward him. He knows that the Lord will strengthen him and preserve him for His Heavenly Kingdom.
Perhaps you are in the spring season of the heart. All that springs forth is good and loving and delightful. Please be mindful of those around you. If you see a brother or sister in pain take time to pray for them. Pray that the Holy Spirit will come quickly for them. Pray that He guards their heart from the cancer of bitterness. Pray He comes before winter. Paul asked for his cloak. We can ask that the Lord cover those we love with His cloak of love and righteousness. Only His covering will protect their hearts.
Father, guard our hearts from anything that is not of you.
Written By: Laurie L. Ferris