Anne Scheiber scrimped and saved until she had $5,000. Then she put it all in the stock market in 1944. When she died in 1995, her stock portfolio was worth $22 million.
But Anne Scheiber was a bitter and angry woman. For 23 years she was just a clerical worker for the Internal Revenue Service. Despite having a law degree, she was never promoted. She was convinced that the IRS had discriminated against her. (And they probably had).
Miss Scheiber never sold any of her bluechip equities. She just bought more. That way she kept her hated ex-employer (the IRS) from getting any capital gains taxes. Then when she died, her estate went to a non-profit. She made certain the IRS got nothing.
The IRS was not her only enemy. She blamed her brother who was a stock broker for her financial setbacks during the Great Depression. The magazine article in Money (January, 1996, p. 64), quoted her nephew: "She was bitter with my father for the rest of her life. In fact, she got more bitter the older and the richer she got." Sad, huh? All her money did not make her more content. It made her more bitter. She never outgrew bitterness either.
There are many people today who are like Miss Scheiber. Some had a hard childhood, and they have been bitter ever since. Others have had spouses, kids, jobs, churches, and so many more things that disappointed them. Still others feel God let them down with a disease, a handicap, a loved one's death, a broken promise, a failed marriage, a betrayal, a financial reversal, or some unfair circumstance. Anybody who has lived very long knows the disappointments that come into everyone's life. But sadly, many people become embittered by these things that are really a part of life while living on earth.
Bitter people believe that their life should have been different for them. Job (7:11) in his suffering said, "I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul." Remember when David and his men had their camp raided by the Amalakites? David's men blamed him for the kidnapping of their families and their losses. 1 Samuel 30:6 says, "... the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit..."
Bitterness is a sourness of the soul, a gradual atrophy of the spiritual mind, a self-poisoning of the heart. It is selfish. It is about needs, turf, and stuff. When others don't bow, don't agree, don't behave, or don't perform as people want them to do, bitterness is often what starts to grow. Sadly, once it starts, bitterness never stops growing unless you choose to stop.
Bitterness is one of the worst maladies of the soul. That's why the Holy Spirit inspired these words in the book of Hebrews (2:15): "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." Look at the verse again. Bitterness will cause you to miss the grace of God. Like a tree root, bitterness grows underground, going deeper and deeper into a person's soul. Bitterness will harm your happiness, corrode your inner life, corrupt your spirit, poison your relationships, and destroy your walk with God. Bitterness is something you have to stop!
So how does a person stop it? What should you do to prevent bitterness? This week I want to give you ten ways to prevent and end bitterness in your soul.
1. Start now.
Deal with your bitterness now. Ephesians 4:31 commands us: "Get rid of all bitterness..." Don't "stuff" it or try to ignore it. If you are bitter, something is wrong. Adolf Hitler was bitter toward Jews from his early life. He never dealt with it, and no one confronted him about it. That bitter root destroyed him, 6 million Jews, and millions more died on battlefields. Untold heartaches, damage, and tragedies come when people don't deal with their bitterness. So, start today! Eradicate bitterness from your life!
2. Have accurate expectations.
Proverbs 14:10 says, "Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy." Everyone has disappointments, hardships, and sorrows. So accept it and take life as it comes.
There was a man I knew who had several illnesses that hit him and his wife in their old age. Family, world events, and other things were greatly disappointing to him. He kept grousing that old age was supposed to be the "golden years" and how God had short-changed him. Well, God had never promised him a problem-free life. In fact, God had blessed him. He just didn't see it. He wasted his "golden years" on bitterness and missed many blessings.
I have a bookmark in my study Bible that I bought in the basement of Westminster Abbey. On it are the lyrics to an old hymn that Annie Johnson Flint wrote. They are profound:
God hath not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.
But God hath promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.
When we see life and God's promises accurately, we are less likely to be bitter. Jesus said, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33). Peace comes when you understand that life has problems, that God helps us in those problems, and one day God will end those problems in heaven!
3. Change your perspective.
You have to replace bitterness with Biblical thinking. David said, "I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes" (Psalms 119:99). Read the Bible every day. See how Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Nehemiah, David and so many others coped with life's problems. Read Psalms and Proverbs every day to get your outlook changed. Memorize key verses. Meditate on them. Have deep conversations with godly Christians about the concepts. Apply the principles to your heart and life! Change your perspective!
4. Learn to forgive.
A few years I read this quote and it has changed my life: "Refusing to forgive is like drinking a glass of poison every day and expecting the other guy to get sick and die." It is folly to harbor hatred, rehearse blame, and remember wrongs done. When you forgive, it doesn't mean that you agree with what they did, or ignore what they did. Forgiveness means that your give your resentment and anger over to God. It means you seek His help to overcome. When you forgive, it flushes the spiritual poison (bitterness) from your heart and helps you move on with God's grace to God's peace.
5. See the big picture.
Bitterness is the result of short-sighted vision. In the book of Ruth, Naomi's husband and her two sons died. Naomi was bitter from these tragedies. In Ruth 1:13, Naomi tells her daughters-in-law: "It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord's hand has gone out against me!" In verse 20 she says, "Don't call me Naomi." (which means "delight" in Hebrew) "Call me Mara" (which means "bitter" in Hebrew), "because the Almighty has made my life very bitter." Naomi did not see the whole picture. In fact, Naomi probably never saw the big picture until heaven. Perhaps then she would have seen that all her pain had a purpose and that Ruth's child would be in the hereditary chain that would lead to the Savior of the world. Folks, try to see things in the grander purposes of God!
6. Confess your sin.
Acts 8:23 tells us not to be like those who "are full of bitterness and captive to sin." Bitterness is like a festering wound. Confession cleans out the infection of bitterness. I pray Psalm 139:23-24 often, just to make sure I don't have the infection. It says, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Ask God to show you any bitterness in your life. Then confess it and move on with your walk with God! Confession cleans out the sin infection that causes bitterness. So confess your sins!
7. Think on things above.
When I was in seminary, one of my friends worked as a janitor in a shopping mall. He had a brilliant mind, but here he was cleaning some of the nastiest bathrooms one can imagine. I remember saying to him, "What a terrible thing that you have to waste your mind on such a filthy job!" I will never forget the answer he gave me. "Oh, my mind is not on the filth; my mind is on the Lord!" That is what David did when his men were bitter and talking about stoning him. 1 Samuel 30:6 is powerful: "...But David found strength in the Lord his God." Folks, people may disappoint, but God will never disappoint!
So, keep your soul away from bitterness. Center your thoughts on God! Let the Holy Spirit turn your mind from past hurts and injustices to replace it with gratitude and hope. Leave your grudges, your injustices, and your regrets. Instead treat others with kindness, meekness and gentleness. Give your disappointments to God. See the goodness of God and not the ugly things of this world. Let your mind dwell on things above, not on things below.
8. Pray until God acts.
In 1 Samuel 1:10, there is a childless woman who desperately wanted to have a baby. It says, "In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD." One of the best ways to get rid of bitterness is to use the PUSH principle (pray until something happens). Pray for people who are mean to you. Pray for circumstances to change. Pray for God to change your heart. It worked for Hannah. It will work for you too!
9. Protect your soul.
Proverbs 4:23 says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." Stay away from bitter people. Live generously. Put love, joy, kindness, generosity, and gratitude into your heart. Be vigilant about your soul, your attitudes, and your relationships. Be careful about your influences and the media. If you have a small root of bitterness growing, clean it out at once!
10. Choose to be happy!
One of my Plattitudes says: "When life gives you lemons, don't make lemonade. Make lemon meringue pie!" Choice pushes out bitterness so you can rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 4:4-8). Happiness is a choice, just as bitterness is. So get your heart right with God. Let God permeate your thinking until it soaks deeply into your life. Choose to let God have your life. Completely surrender your life, your attitudes and your mind to Christ. Then God will give you a happy heart in whatever circumstances you are in
Here at East Hills, we strive to help people fight bitterness. Every Sunday, we sing, we laugh, we pray, and we enjoy Christian fellowship. You will learn the Bible, quiet your heart, and grow in your faith.