James Merritt - From Bitter to Better
Well I wanna say good morning to those of you who are in the room with us today, those of you who are watching online or by television, thank you for being a part of our service today. Just to go ahead and get into the message, we're in a series we've been calling No Hard Feelings. And it's all about our emotions, about those feelings, particularly those negative feelings that can wreck a marriage, and ruin a life, and remove all of our joy and all of our happiness, and if you missed last week we dealt with anger, and today I'm purposely dealing with bitterness. Because anger and bitterness are closely related. They're not identical twins, but they're next of kin.
And I wanna give you two major differences between the two, so you'll know. Anger leaves quickly, but bitterness lingers indefinitely. Most of the time you can count to 10 and you can kind of get past your anger, but you can count to a million and never get past your bitterness. Then anger is sometimes good, bitterness never is. We talked about this last week. The Bible says be angry but don't sin. Anger's a normal emotion. It can be good, if it's used in the right way, at the right time, in the right place, with the right person, for the right reason. Anger can produce good results. Bitterness produces no value at all.
Now, we can control anger. But bitterness controls us. Anger may control you temporarily, bitterness will consume you totally. Anger is about the present. Bitterness is about the past. Anger only takes up today, bitterness takes up your past, your present, and your future. Anger is above ground, bitterness is underground.
I can relate to the story of the pastor and the deacon and they went golfing one day, and after a few holes the deacon looked at the pastor and he said, you know pastor, you are the most calm, cool, collected, even handed person I've ever seen. You always smile. When I hit my ball in the rough, or the water hazard, or the sand, when I have a bad shot, when I hook it or I slice it, you've seen me, I throw my club, I stomp the ground, and frankly I think words I shouldn't even think. I see you hit those same shots, and you just keep on smiling. The pastor said, well that's true, but what you don't know is after I hit those shots, everywhere I spit the grass dies. Now bitterness is always something underneath that sometimes nobody sees.
Now what do I mean when I talk about bitterness? Let me tell you my definition. Bitterness is harbored hurt hidden in the heart. Harbored hurt, it's found a place to live, and it's hidden in the heart. Now of all the emotions I'm going to cover, all of the emotions, I believe this one may be the most dangerous. And frank, I'll tell you, I absolutely fear bitterness in my life more than anything else. I'm afraid of it; you know why? Bitterness is an acid that destroys its own container.
And I know right now I'm talking to people who are in bondage to the master of bitterness. Maybe you're bitter toward God, because of a tragedy that happened in your life, and he didn't prevent it. Maybe you're bitter toward a spouse, who left you for another person, or made you a single parent raising kids on your own. Maybe you're bitter toward a company or a business, that fired you with no severance although you served them faithfully for many years. Maybe you're bitter towards someone who physically or sexually abused you, and they've never admitted it, and they'll never be brought to justice. Maybe you're bitter toward a father that never gave you love and approval. Or maybe you're bitter toward a mother who loved another child more than she loved you. Maybe you're bitter toward a church, because of a bitter, bad experience that you had.
Well, God has a word to say about bitterness, and in a book called Hebrews, there is some strong warning about the danger of bitterness. And in the 12th chapter of that book we're going to encounter some practical wisdom on how to help you deal with your bitterness and how to get past your bitterness, and I promise you, if you will apply this advice, you may be bitter at the beginning of the message, but you'll be better after the message. It's hard hitting, but it helps, and it works. First of all, we must uncover the root of bitterness, that's the first thing you gotta do. You gotta uncover the root of bitterness.
Now here's what the author of Hebrews says in Hebrews 12. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God, and, now listen to what he says, that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. He uses a metaphor for bitterness, he calls it a root. Now you don't have to be a botanist to know that a root exists beneath the surface. You can see the trunk of a tree, the branches of a tree, the leaves of a tree, the fruit of a tree, that's visible to everybody, but you can't see the roots unless you dig underneath. A root is invisible to the eye, but it's just as real as the tree that it supports. And a root even though it's not very far from the surface stretches deep into the soil. Bitterness is just like that. Bitterness if it's in your heart, it's never far from the surface of your lips or your life, but it reaches deep into the soil of your heart. And just like any root has a seed, and has soil, so does bitterness.
Where does the root of bitterness come from? Remember what I said? Bitterness is harbored hurt hidden in the heart. The seed of bitterness is your hurt. The soil of bitterness is your heart. When people are bitter, they take their hurt, they allow it to plant itself in the heart, and then you know what does? It grows roots. But then what we do, we fertilize it, we cultivate it, we feed it, we water it, and it grows entangled in our life, and when that happens the fruit becomes as bitter as the root. The fruit will be negativity. It'll be a critical spirit. Being judgmental, always finding fault. Always looking for revenge, but it's the invisible root that's made visible by the fruit. And that's what's so interesting about bitterness. It's a root that you can't see, but it always bears fruit that you will see. Bitterness will find a root in your heart, but it will bear fruit in your life.
Listen, that's why so many people deal with issues like hair trigger tempers. Impatience, depression, hostility, a negative spirit, even physical ailments. There are people today I'm convinced, they go to doctors, they go to counselors, they go to psychiatrists, they go to psychologists, they go to therapists, but they never solve the problem. You know why? They deal with symptoms, and not the problem. Because to solve the problem you've got to literally get to the root of the problem, you gotta go to the heart of your bitterness because bitterness is always a problem of the heart. And I'm convinced there are a lot of people that go to doctors, and they're sharing the symptoms. Why am I so negative? Why am I so depressed? Why am is or hostile? Why am I so angry? But they won't admit that they're bitter. They don't admit the root underground.
Years ago, true story, in a tiny village in a remote part of Africa, children and adults began to get sick. They were overcome with nausea. Well several weeks went by, and the sickness spread, people started to die, and when the disease got back to the, when the disease got back to the main city in that area, they sent in experts to try to figure out what was causing the problem. Well they soon discovered the water was contaminated, but they didn't know why. The village got all of its water supply from a mountain stream that was fed from a spring, so the experts decided to go upstream go to the source of that water, try to find the source of the pollution. Well they finally came to the mouth of the stream but they were baffled, because on the surface, they didn't find anything wrong. So they hired some divers to go underneath the surface to get to the opening of the spring, to see what was going on.
This is amazing. What those divers discovered shocked everybody. Here's what had happened. There was a large mother pig, and her baby piglets, and they were wedged right at the opening of that spring. Evidently what had happened was they had all fallen in and they had drowned, and somehow they'd gotten stuck right there, and all of that clear, clean, pure mountain spring water was being contaminated as it flowed past the decomposing remains of those dead pigs. Guess what happened. When they extricated the dead pigs out of that, out of the floor, the mouth of that spring, the water began to flow clean and pure once again, and the disease totally disappeared.
You see the problem, the disease, the sickness, was not on the surface of the water, it wasn't even in the water, it was at the spring where the water came out. That was the root of the problem. Tell you something I've learned about bitter people. There's some of you probably doing this right now, you're bitter but you're going, I'm not bitter. I don't need to hear this message, I'm not a bitter person, 'cause very few people would admit that they're bitter. I cannot tell you the number of times I've dealt with bitter people in my own office, and they'll put their hand on a stack of Bibles and they'll swear, I'm not bitter. Well you can't see the root of it, but you can sure see the fruit of it.
So the first thing I wanna encourage you to do if you're bitter, admit it. Uncover the root of your bitterness. Then you can take this step. Understand the result of bitterness. Uncover the root of it, but then understand the result of it. See a bitter root always bears bitter fruit. Jesus said, by their fruit you will know them. If you're a bitter person, you will bear bitter fruit. If that root is allowed to grow up, here's what it will do, here's what your root of bitterness will do, it will cause trouble, and defile many. Cause trouble, and defile many. Here's what I want you to understand about bitterness. It will affect every part of your life. It will affect you on the inside, it'll affect you on the outside, it will affect you on the upside. It will affect your relationship with God, it will affect your relationship with others, and it will affect your relationship with even yourself. Bitterness will affect you mentally.
That's the first thing it will do. Bitterness will affect you mentally. As the root of bitterness grows, it will take up more and more of the soil of your heart. If you grew up in the deep south, you know what kudzu is, right? You know what, you've seen it, can't get rid of it, it's impervious to nuclear bombs. Bitterness is the spiritual kudzu of your heart. It will take over every single part of your life. And when you're bitter towards someone, you'll walk around all the time with that mental picture of that person. Everywhere that you go. You'll think about them all the time. You'll think about how they hurt you. And how you can hurt them. How you wish they could be hurt. You'll even spend waking moments thinking of how you can get even with them.
So when you've got an internal conflict because of an external conflict you've had with someone else, it will affect you psychologically, it will affect you mentally until you finally resolve it. I came across something the other day I'd never heard of before, I bet you haven't either, it's called the Zeigarnik effect. I'd never heard of this, true, this is true. It's called the Zeigarnik effect. This refers to the brain's process of keeping unresolved issues under active status. In other words, once you've got a task and you successfully complete that task, the brain will file that into a special memory and it no longer gives it priority attention. But, when you have a situation that's not been resolved, not been handled, not been taken care of, your brain is built in such a way it will keep an active file until that solution is found, I'm gonna give you a great example.
Have you ever seen a person, and you know them, but you could not remember their name? You know who they are, but you just couldn't remember their name? And about an hour or two later, you're just doing something else, and all of a sudden you go, oh yeah, that's John Smith. Why in the world did that name come back to your mind when you weren't even thinking about it? Because your brain wouldn't let it go. Bitterness has the same effect. Your brain, your mind, will never let it go until that bitterness is resolved. It will affect you mentally. It will also affect you emotionally.
Doctors now know that bitterness acts like a depressant. I got to thinking about this the other day, I've met a lot of bitter people in my life, you know a person I've never met? I have never met a happy bitter person. Never, I've never met a person that's bitter that was full of joy. Bitter people are negative, critical, judgmental, thought finding, I'll tell you something else about a bitter person. They have a victim mentality. I'm thinking about someone right now who is extremely, extremely bitter. Do you know how I know they're bitter? They play what I call the blame and shame game. It doesn't matter what's happened to them it's always somebody else's fault. They're never responsible for anything. They're always the innocent party. They never think they've done anything to apologize for, they think everyone else has done them harm, but they don't see the harm they've done to others, much less themselves.
I'm thinking about this person right now. And let me tell you, that's why bitterness is so dangerous. Bitterness will cause you to burn down your house to kill a rat. It will turn you into an emotional suicide bomber. You wanna hurt others but you wind up hurting yourself. My favorite definition of bitterness is this. A bitter person is someone who drinks poison and hopes the other person dies. True; bitterness will affect you mentally. It'll affect you emotionally. It will also affect you physically.
Matter of fact, bitterness, this is something I learned a long time ago, and this is why I fear it. God so designed our body, listen to this, God so, forget the mind, forget the emotions, God has so designed our body, it was never built to nourish bitterness. Your back was not built to carry grudges. Doctors now know there are over 50 disease ranging from ulcers to high blood pressure, that can be caused by bitterness.
There was an article that came out not long ago in the New York Times that declared this; researchers have gathered a wealth of data largely suggesting that chronic anger is so damaging, that means bitterness, chronic anger is so damaging to the body that it ranks with or even exceeds cigarette smoking, obesity, and a high fat diet as a powerful risk factor for early death.
In a study at the University of Michigan, there was a group of women, they were tested to determine which ones were harboring longterm bitterness. They tracked these women for 18 years, and the outcome was amazing. Listen to this. Women with suppressed anger, with that root of bitterness, were three times more likely to have died during the study than those who did not have any bit of hostility at all. There were two very famous clinical doctors, Frank Minerth and Paul Meyer, they researched 10,000 patients who were burned out. I mean totally burned out. They either had quit their jobs, or they'd just given up on life itself.
They diagnosed the top three reasons for their burnout, and the results were amazing. Do you know what they found was the number one cause of people burning out? Do you know what they found was the number one reason why people just flamed out? It was not stress. It was not overwork. They found out the the number one cause of physical and emotional burnout was bitterness. Being unwilling to forgive. Being unwilling to let that grudge go. It was the dominant cause of burnout. It will affect you mentally. It will affect you emotionally. It will affect you physically. But I'll tell you this, it will affect you spiritually. Such a detrimental effect.
He goes on to say in this scripture, make every effort to live in peace with everyone, you can't do that if you're bitter. And to be holy, you can't be holy if you're bitter. Because without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God. When you're bitter, inwardly, there will be nothing but turmoil. There will be tension with you and other people. Upwardly, there will be trouble between you and God. When you're bitter, you won't find peace, joy, or happiness. It doesn't matter where you look, it doesn't matter whether you look in the mirror, outside the window, or up to the sky, you will find no peace in your life. Bitterness is like a spiritual heartburn that you carry with you every single place that you go.
But here's the problem. It won't just be you that will be affected. Remember what he said about the root of bitterness? He said, it goes up to cause trouble and defile many. Here's the sad thing about bitterness. It's why I'm so afraid or it. Bitterness never hurts just one person. Never; bitterness, I've seen, listen, I've seen marriages destroyed by bitterness. I've seen friendships ruined by bitterness. I've seen lives wasted by bitterness. I've seen families divided by bitterness. And if you're going to defeat this monster that destroys everything in its path, you must not only uncover the root of it, you got to understand the result of it.
Now, you're asking the question; you don't know what I'm bitter about. You don't know how I've been wronged. You don't know how I've been hurt. You don't know how unfair and unjust life and people and circumstances have been to me. No I don't. But I hope you're also saying, help me. I'm in a prison I need to get out of it, what do I do? Well let's talk about how to undertake the removal of bitterness. We've uncovered the root of it. We understand the results of it, but how do we undertake the removal of it? See I heard someone describe bitterness as a prison, do you know what they pointed out? They pointed out, when you put somebody, think about this now, when you put somebody in the jail cell of your bitterness, you've got to guard the door 24 hours a day.
Think about that. You think they're the prisoner, you're the prisoner. And what you need to understand is this, the only way you'll ever get free of bitterness, listen, the only way you'll ever get free of bitterness, you've got to free the person that you're bitter toward, because here's what happens. When you open the jail cell of your bitterness and you let that person out, you just freed yourself. But if you refuse to open the jail door of your bitterness and you let that prisoner out, you're the one that will suffer. I want you to think about this. If you're bitter right now, let me ask you a question. Who's paying the highest price for your bitterness? You are; you're the one losing sleep. You're the one developing ulcers. You're the one who can't enjoy life. Because you live under the searing heat of bitterness everyday, you're the one who's miserable.
You know what? I got a secret for you. You're thinking about that person right now you're bitter about, they're not thinking about you. You're not even on their radar screen. They've already moved way passed you. They're not giving a thought to you. That's why the author of Hebrews says, see to it. See to it, make sure no bitter root grows up. As the great philosopher Barney Fife once said, you gots to nip it in the bud. I know it's not Barney, but the best I could do, but look, you gotta nip it in the bud. You gotta remember that bitterness is a root that's underground, and that means what? You gotta go after it. Get after it. Find it, dig it up, throw it away.
That's why the only cure for bitterness is what I call a spiritual root canal. I don't know if you've ever had a root canal or not, I have, it is not pleasant, but it's necessary, do you understand what a root canal is? It is a procedure that has to be done in order to save a tooth that's either decayed or infected. What happens is the dentist goes inside of your tooth, he removes the nerve and the pulp from that tooth, he cleans the tooth out completely on the inside, he removes the decay and infection, and then he will seal that tooth so the infection will never return. The only alternative is to lose the tooth. You either do the root canal or you lose the tooth. Well how is that done spiritually? How do you do it? How do you deal with it? How do you get that bitterness out of your heart?
Well first of all, you gotta forget it, step one, you gotta forget it. You gotta take whatever planted that root of bitterness in your heart, you gotta bury it. Ephesians 4:31 says this; get rid of all bitterness. Get rid of all bitterness. That word get rid of, it's a beautiful word in the Greek language, it literally means to bury. It literally means to dispose of. In other words, you've gotta get that get even feeling out of your heart. You've gotta bury that root of forgiveness in an unmarked grave and forget where you buried it. Forget it; then you can take the second step. You forgive it; first you forget it, then you forgive it. Doctors and psychiatrists, they know now the only cure for the cancer of bitterness is the chemotherapy of forgiveness. And someone once defined forgiveness this way, and I love this, the definition. Forgiveness is giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me, that's what forgiveness is. Giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.
Now, if you don't, as the author of Hebrews puts it, you will fall short of the grace of God. You say, well, what does that mean? I don't know all that it means, but I'll tell you this, what I believe it means, I don't wanna do. And I don't want you to do either. And I think what he meant was this. Until you go back to the cross of Christ, till you go back to the cross of Jesus, and you remember how the grace of God has forgiven you for all that you've done to him, you will never forgive others. So let me put it to you this way. You will never forgive someone for what they have done to you until you experience how God has forgiven you for what you've done to him. Never, never; someone who has experienced the grace of God and lives in the grace of God, has the power to forgive others by the grace of God.
I'm gonna say that again. Someone who has experienced the grace of God, and lives in the grace of God, has the power to forgive others by the grace of God. We can all relate to that story, and if you like, if you're one of those people that say I just live to get even with someone, you'll love this story. We can all relate to what happened to a soldier in Afghanistan; he was over there serving his country and he was in love with a girl back home, and they had agreed they would be faithful to each other. So he's there serving his country, this actually happened, and he got this Dear John letter from a girl that he was going to marry. They'd already agreed they were gonna get married, but she had found someone else. So he gets this Dear John letter. Well, to add insult to injury, I mean the guy was devastated, and to add insult to injury, this is what his girlfriend wrote him.
Now listen to this. Please return my favorite picture of myself, because I would like to use this photograph for my engagement picture in the county newspaper. Ladies, that's cold. That's just cold. Well he was hot, I mean, he was radiator hot. So he began to automatically think about, okay, how can I get even? Well his buddies came to his defense. When what had happened to their buddy came out to his platoon, they went throughout the barracks and they collected pictures of all the other soldiers' girlfriends, and they filled an entire shoe box with all these pictures of all these other girls. The soldier mails the photos back to his ex girlfriend with this note. Please find your enclosed picture and return the rest for the life of me, I can't remember which one you were.
Now, we laugh. And it's funny. But the truth of the matter is, you never get even. You never get even. As a matter of fact, think about this. When you try to get even, you know what you just did? You just pulled yourself down to the level of that person that hurt you to begin with. Now you can forgive, by the grace of God. So here's the bottom line. Here's the step I want you to take, here's the picture I want you to get. You can be full of bitterness, and empty of Jesus, or you could be full of Jesus and empty of bitterness, but you cannot be both. And I will tell you now, being bitter is no way to live, and being bitter is no way to die. But you can go from being bitter to better, by the grace of God, and it is best when you do.
Would you pray with me right now? With your heads bowed, with your eyes closed, I cannot deliver you from your bitterness, and you already know now, you can't either. But when you come to know the grace of God, and you experience the grace of God, and you're captured by the grace of God, it is the power of the grace of God that can lead you to forgive anyone no matter what they have done to you. And it all begins with you, accepting the love of a God that rather than being bitter toward us for what we did to him, and what we did to his son, instead sent his son to die for us, and to save us. If you've ever trusted in that Jesus right now, I just wanna give you the opportunity to do it. To make the greatest decision of your life, not just to be delivered from your bitterness, that's just one minor problem, I mean delivered from your sin. The sin that will separate you from God forever, and you could do it right now by praying this with me, right now, pray this prayer with me right now, right now pray it.
Lord Jesus, I'm a sinner. I'm lost, I need a savior. You died for my sins. God raised you from the dead, and I believe it in my heart. So I'm asking you right now, come into my heart, save me, forgive me of all of my sins. I receive your free gift of eternal life. And if you're a bitter person right now say this, Lord Jesus, right now by your power and by your grace remove that root of bitterness from my heart. I forgive that person, I forgive those people, I forgive that company, I forgive that church, I forgive anyone that's hurt me, I forgive them right now, just as you have forgiven me. Thank you for hearing my prayer.