This summer our sunday school class read through Dr. Rob Reimer’s excellent book Pathways to the King. It is full of rich exhortations and steps to greater intimacy with God and I highly recommend it. The last chapter is Persist and the author references Hebrews 12:1-2a:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
Dr. Reimer admonishes us to persevere in our faith by 1. throwing off everything that trips us up, and 2. fixing our eyes on Jesus. I had a picture in my mind of an Olympic athlete who has trained many years for one race, and then stumbles and falls just short of the finish line. How sad and tragic that would be! In the list of things that can entangle us or cause us to stop running the race, Dr. Reimer includes bitterness. He says:
…For example, some of you are entangled by bitterness. Hebrews 12:15 tells us that we shouldn’t let a bitter root grow in us. Bitterness is one of those things that can easily entangle and ensnare us. It can be really subtle. People get hurt and upset; sometimes it is because they have high expectations and they are hurt and disappointed. They let a root of bitterness start to go down into their souls.
The problem is, the author of Hebrews says, it defiles many; it wrecks us and others around us. It’s like a weed in a sidewalk. While it seems pretty inconsequential, if you ignore it, sooner or later, you start to notice that the sidewalk is heaving where the weed is growing. Who would have thought that a little weed could disrupt a big piece of concrete? The weed doesn’t seem that strong, but it is – and it is the same with the root of bitterness.
Over the years, I have sat down with people who had a root of bitterness. I have appealed to them: “You must deal with this root. If you don’t deal with this, then eventually you will quit coming. It will ensnare you, entangle you, and trip you on the way to the finish line.”
I can remember being across from one man at various breakfast tables, pleading with him to deal with bitterness in his life. But he ignored me. He said the right words: “Yeah, yeah, I know.” However, he took no action, and the root kept growing. I again appealed to him. “Make a list of the people who you are angry with. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you who to put on the list. Don’t ignore his promptings. Deal with everyone. Pray blessings on every one, like Jesus taught us.” He said, “I will. You’re right. I will. I’ll do it.” But time went on, and I went back to check on him. “Have you started making the list?” He averted his eyes and said, “No not yet, but I will. I’m thinking about it.”
Sadly, he never did deal with his bitter root, and he has wandered from the faith. I’d like to say that is the only time I’ve ever seen that happen, but it isn’t. I’ve seen the pattern way too many times. Whatever is hindering you and ensnaring you, don’t deny it, excuse it, blame it on someone else, or rationalize it away. Don’t spin it; just deal with it. Bring it before God, confess it to some other mature followers of Jesus, and persist down these pathways until freedom reigns!
This is a sober warning. Some who allow bitterness to remain in their lives will eventually wander from the faith! Even those who don’t abandon their faith altogether remain a poor testimony of Christ. We must treat this as serious business!
Bitter people are often blind to their own sin and how it affects others. They wonder why people are slowly drifting away, why relationships are strained. And because they are blind to their negative influence, they blame others and become angry or hurt, which of course adds fuel to these tension-filled situations!
We must remain vigilant, examine ourselves and ask the Lord to shine light on any sin we’re not aware of. And He has promised to be faithful, to forgive and heal and restore. He’s a good and kind Father!