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Unforgiveness breeds Bitterness
All the passages below are taken from the book, “Living Water” by Brother Yun and edited by Paul Hattaway. It was published in 2008 by Zedervan, USA.
Out of the depths I cry to you, 0 LORD;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
If you, 0 LORD, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared. (Psalm 130:1-4 NIV)
Have you ever been treated unjustly? Has someone hurt you without cause?
Unless you have been living in an isolated cave all your life, the answer to these questions will surely be yes.
The world is full of bitterness and unforgiveness. It could be said that whole spiritual and political structures are founded and based on bitterness.
There is just one solution to the threat of terrorism in the world today. Military power will never solve the problem, for you cannot overcome a spiritual disease with guns and bombs. The only hope is for a genuine God-sent revival to sweep millions of people into the kingdom of God, changing individuals from the inside out and replacing hate with love, and bitterness with forgiveness. The living water of Jesus can enter communities where terrorism is fostered, bringing new life and hope through the cross of Jesus Christ.
As I have traveled around the world meeting numerous Christians, I have become aware that many have long struggled to forgive other people who have wronged them. I believe it is only through relationship with Jesus Christ that we can start to walk in the freedom that comes from a life of forgiveness.
Unforgiveness soon becomes bitterness, and nothing will choke the streams of living water that are meant to flow from your life more than a root of bitterness. The root can grow so large that a person's whole personality is twisted and deformed by it.
The first step for anyone to become whole in Christ is to accept responsibility for their own sins and failures. There is no point in blaming anyone else, regardless of what terrible things have happened to us. When someone hurts us, our natural response is to pull back and withdraw. We are created in such a way that we want to avoid pain. But then something takes place that requires us to make a vital decision. When we pull back from a person who has caused us pain, we must decide whether or not to let bitterness into our heart.
Bitterness is what happens to you when you will not forgive. Bitterness is to hold on to an injustice that has been done to you. The Bible indicates that when a Christian is destroyed by bitterness, it not only ruins them, but it ruins other people as well: "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many" (Heb. 12:15). A bitter person tends to spread the poison in their heart to others around them. Friendships often break up through bitterness, and then mutual friends are forced to choose sides, which leads to more trouble and pain.
Bitterness is a toxic root that grows in the garden of your heart if left unchecked. Usually we do not see the root, just the surface problem. Many people spend a lot of time and effort trying to beautify the outside of their lives, pulling up the surface weeds when really they need to go below the surface and dig up the root.
The verse in Hebrews about a root of bitterness starts by saying, "See to it that no one misses the grace of God" (12:15). Another translation talks about "pulling back" from the grace of God. Bitterness does exactly this. It causes a person to pull back from the grace of God.
The first time I was arrested for the gospel in China was very difficult. Somehow in my heart I thought that as a servant of God I was entitled to special treatment in prison. I did receive special treatment, but not the kind I was hoping for! I was severely beaten until my whole body was covered in blood and bruises, and much of my hair was torn from my scalp.
For a time I harbored bitterness against the men who had done this to me, but the gracious Lord Jesus taught me that there is absolutely no point in withholding forgiveness towards anyone, regardless of what they have done. Unforgiveness would only achieve two things. First, it would harden my heart and cause a root of bitterness to take hold, and second, my relationship with Jesus Christ would be damaged. I came to realize that self-righteousness had risen up in my heart. In effect, I was saying to God, "Everybody else should get what they deserve, but don't we have a special relationship, with grace for me?"
It doesn't work like that.
Jesus taught, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Matt. 5:7). God wants us to forgive others of their offences as He has forgiven us of our sins and offences. In fact, Jesus ties our forgiveness to whether or not we are willing to forgive others. He said, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matt. 6:14-15).
There is only one way to dig out the stubborn root of bitterness from our hearts.
It is to forgive.
Too many of God's children have lost their way and live in spiritual captivity because of unforgiveness. They can't hear God's voice, and their lives lack direction and joy.
How are we to forgive others? The apostle Paul told us, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Eph. 4:32), and "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Col. 3:13).
We are to forgive others the same way that the Lord Jesus forgave us. How did He forgive us?
And without keeping a record of past wrongs.
Don't think that the person who has wronged you must first ask for forgiveness before you can give it. This is a dangerous way of thinking. Even at the very moment that the angry crowd were baying for His blood, Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
I know many disciples in China who have spent decades of their lives in prison for the sake of the gospel. Despite unmentionable cruelties being done to them, these men and women are free! Long ago they forgave their persecutors, even though the prison guards and police officers never came to them and asked. Dear friend, even if somebody has committed the most heinous sin against you and has never admitted it or shown the slightest inclination to do so, you still must forgive them. If you can forgive them from your heart, you will be free, and the prison doors that have kept you confined will be opened.
Reconciliation requires two parties to come together and sort out their differences. Forgiveness requires only one. We forgive not to set the other person free, but to set ourselves free. If that person wants to be free, they will have to go to the Lord. We don't have to carry the burden of bitterness anymore!
Forgiveness does not mean that people who have committed heinous crimes will get away with it. Not at all. Rather, forgiveness is the act of releasing our own desire for vengeance and leaving it in God's hands. Listen to what the Bible says:
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." (Romans 12:18-20 NIV)
The gospel is about restoring our relationship to God, and also about restoring our relationships with other people. When we fail to show this in our lives, our witness is rendered powerless. In effect, our mouths would be claiming that God can forgive our sins, but our actions would be showing that we are unwilling to extend that forgiveness to others.
`If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners' do that.... But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:32-33, 35-36 NIV)
You may be reading this book and thinking, "You don't understand. I have a right to feel the way I do. All this forgiveness talk is easy, but I have tried it and it didn't change me much." Other people have told me, "You can't ask people who have been through the most horrific situations to forgive those who did these acts against them! You can't put this extra burden on the victims."
People who think like this have never understood what forgiveness is all about.
Forgiveness is not a burden. It is an offer.
I have also had some difficult experiences in my life. I have had sharp metal needles jabbed under my fingernails until I passed out from the pain. My legs have been smashed by prison guards. On one occasion my body was so destroyed that when my family members came to the prison, they did not recognize me. They told the guards they had brought out the wrong man, and only when my mother noticed my birthmark did they realize it was me. I have been lied about and denounced by other Christian leaders so many times, I can't recall. Yet by the grace of God, I have freely forgiven all of those who brought pain into my life.
Joseph was another man who could easily have become bitter. Did you ever think about what he faced? As a seventeen-year-old boy, Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery in a foreign land. In Egypt he was falsely accused of attempted rape and spent years rotting in prison for a crime he didn't commit.
All of this happened to Joseph after God had given him a vision.
I'm sure Joseph struggled with bitterness. I'm sure he often thought, "How could my brothers do this to me?" There were countless ways that Joseph could have justified any bitterness he felt in his heart, but he didn't. Faced with all these temptations, Joseph was able to realize that he belonged first and foremost to God, and he chose to live according to the laws and principles of His kingdom.
During those years of struggle, God was forming a message in Joseph. Joseph was learning about forgiveness. Later, he would not just be able to speak about forgiveness; he would be a living testimony to it.
You may have heard a hundred sermons on forgiveness before, but the only way those messages will become a reality in your life is if you receive an opportunity to forgive someone.
Joseph had a choice. Either he could become bitter and hardened by his experiences, or he could become like soft clay in the hands of the Potter. He chose the latter. We know that Joseph did not become bitter, because he was well liked in the prison. Bitter people are never well liked.
God eventually turned Joseph's situation around, and he was miraculously promoted from the prison to the second in command in all of Egypt. The Bible says that "Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh King of Egypt" (Gen. 41:46). It had been thirteen long years since Joseph's brothers had mistreated him.
We cannot find a trace of bitterness when Joseph finally came face-to-face with his brothers. He could easily have used his new powerful position to get revenge, but we read of nothing but love for those who had wronged him. Joseph's brothers were afraid and on one occasion even asked, "What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?" (50:15). They need not have worried, for such was the change God had brought about in Joseph's character that he struggled to hold back the tears of joy when his brothers stood before him.
Joseph had become a broken man with a deep trust in God. He was able to tell his family, "`Don't be afraid.... You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.' And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them" (50:19-21).
Whatever painful experiences you have had in your life, I encourage you also to freely forgive, because Jesus has forgiven all of your sins and offences.
Jesus invites you to walk with Him on the path of forgiveness---the path of freedom. Forgiveness is a great gift that God has given us so we can survive in an evil world where people hurt us, betray us and do terrible things to us. When we have learned to live in a flow of forgiveness, we will be living in freedom.
Dear friend, I encourage you to put this book down and spend some time in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to show you if there is anyone you hold unforgiveness towards in your heart. You might consider getting a pen and piece of paper and writing down the names of those who have wronged you in the past, whom you have yet to fully release to the Lord.
Then ask God to forgive them by name, and ask Him to help you release those people into His hands and to set you free. A heart of bitterness and unforgiveness is like a prison. It not only binds others, but it also destroys you. Jesus is the great gardener, and He is able to uproot even the deepest root of bitterness in your heart.
I exhort you in the name of Jesus Christ to get rid of all bitterness and learn to forgive, before the bitterness develops a deep root that is difficult to weed out of your life. The Bible says, "If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such `wisdom' does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice" (James 3:14-16).
Praise the Lord! He can set you free.
Jesus wants your life to have living water flowing from it, bringing blessing and refreshment to others around you. Forgiveness is an essential step in the process of becoming a vessel of blessing. As you head into the future with your past wiped clean, ask Jesus to teach you how to walk in forgiveness, so that future offences will be quickly put aside and handed to God.
Then you will truly be free! [31-39]
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