Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish- Psalm 25:17 NIV
It’s a big temptation (Hebrews 12:15, Ephesians 4:31, Acts 8:23). It’s an even bigger problem.
Seriously. Life in a chaotic, sin-sick world just kind of invites the sin of bitterness.
Anyone who lives long enough we will be treated badly by someone for absolutely no reason at all. At some point, the people we thought were trustworthy will turn out to be anything but. Bad things happen to people who least deserve it and most of us will lose someone we love long before we feel its time for them to go. If we experience enough loss, hurt, pain and/or betrayal, before long, bitterness becomes rooted in our hearts and our souls begin to suffer.
The book of Hebrews warns against bitter roots because bitterness distorts God’s image within us. The Bible teaches the defiling that comes as a result of bitterness goes on to cause all kinds of harm to those in our sphere of influence (Hebrews 12:15). The writer of Hebrews gives the WHY of avoiding bitterness but says nothing about the HOW of staying free of bitterness.
David shows us the how.
If there is anyone in all of the Bible who had a whole horde of one-hundred-percent legit reasons to become super bitter and didn’t, it was David. David was marginalized by his Father (1st Samuel 16:1-11) and despised by his brothers (1st Samuel 17:28-29). His first wife turned out to be horrible (1st Chronicles 29). Saul hunted him down like an animal and attempted to murder him out of simple jealousy (1st Samuel 17-31). On top of all that it took a good, solid fifteen years for God to fulfill the promise He made that David would be king (1st Samuel 16:1-13). Rather than allowing the disappointment, confusion and betrayal he experienced to turn him into a bitter person, David instead, chose to become a better version of himself at every turn.
The life of David teaches us five things about avoiding bitter roots:
Always tell God how you feel–
Even a cursory reading of David’s psalms reveals an outrageous level of honesty on his part. David told God in no uncertain terms how much he loathed his enemies (Psalm 140:1-5). He frequently asked God to avenge the injustices done to him (Psalm 35:11-17, Psalm 109:6-15). He reminded God all the time that it was His job is to judge the wicked and he wasn’t above telling God He needed to get on it (Psalm 5:3-6). He also openly accused God of deliberately hiding from him (Psalm 10:1, Psalm 13:1). In all this David models a healthy way for Christians to handle potentially destructive feelings. He didn’t attempt to crush his feelings or attempt to hide them. He didn’t pretend like he was somehow above having a bad day or going dark. Instead He worked through every negative, ugly feeling he had with God until he got to the point he could genuinely praise God for His goodness (Psalm 10, Psalm 35, Psalm 59, Psalm 140, Psalm 109). When we take our fears, frustrations and disappointments to God He does not turn away from us, nor does He judge us for having feelings, even really, really negative feelings. Instead He comforts us and empowers us to process through our feelings in a way that prevents bitter roots.
It’s okay to feel but feelings should never run the show-
It could be argued that David was very vocal about his most negative feelings. However, he never let those feelings drive the bus. David chose to what was right and pleasing to God even when he had been legitimately wronged and had good reason to seek revenge (1st Samuel 18:9-11, 1st Samuel 19:1-9, 1st Samuel 24, 1st Samuel 26). David understood that revenge does not bring us relief from our pain. It only compounds it (Leviticus 19:18, Romans 12:19).
Listen to those who have your best interests at heart-
In 1st Samuel twenty-five David was insulted in a big way by a horrible man named Nabal (1st Samuel 25:1-11). David spent some time reflecting on the situation and before long became angry and bitter towards Nabal (1stSamuel 25:12-13). He headed back to Nabal’s house to exact revenge. On his way there, David met Nabal’s wife Abigail and she gently but firmly reminded David he was better and God had more for Him than petty revenge (1st Samuel 25:23-31). David immediately saw the wisdom in her rebuke. He reversed course immediately and God blessed him for it (1st Samuel 25:32-35). God often brings a voice of reason into our most bitter moments. It is wisdom to heed those voices.
Learn to praise God in the dark-
David understood one danger of bitterness is that it can easily turn our hearts against God. If we allow bitterness to run its course we will begin to see God as the cause of our pain rather than the source of our comfort. Making the effort to find the good and then praise God for it acts as a protective shield against bitterness (Psalm 23:4, Psalm 71:20-22, Isaiah 49:13).
Never hold a grudge-
No one in all the Bible (except Jesus) was more willing to forgive than David (Matthew 6:15, Colossians 3:13). His willingness to let go of grudges enabled him to avoid the sin of bitterness and feel compassion and even love those who had done him wrong. David’s willingness to forgive is a key reason He was called a man after God’s own heart.
I have done my time in the pit of bitterness.
I have also (by the grace) of God escaped bitterness in situations that by all rights had every reason to make me a bitter angry jerk. Through it all I have learned it is way easier to prevent bitterness than to pull oneself out of it.