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Worship Wednesday – From Bitterness to Brokenness – Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God

Blog - Bitterness or Brokenness - oldpathsjournalPhoto Credit: Old Paths Journal

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, outcry and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and tender-hearted to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:30-32

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:10-13, 17

Bitterness. It’s been described as a poison concocted for the one who wounded you but you are the one who drinks it.

We may have situations in our lives that are truly grievous and undeserved. We rail against those situations, and the persons who created them, and our hearts are altered…hardened. It’s not intentional at first – almost like the formation of a scab or a scar. If not recognized and repented of, bitterness becomes its own enemy in our lives.

Blog - Bitterness - Lee Strobel quote - azquotesPhoto Credit: AZ Quotes

I have seen the damage bitterness can cause in the lives of others…we all have. It’s frightening to watch it grow in someone we love. My older brother struggled with a lifetime of losses. His regret at his part of them was taken over by blaming others. I will be forever grateful that he did not die in that place, but began reckoning with his bitterness before he died.

It’s a dangerous place to find ourselves – that hardening of our hearts in response to grave injustices, deep losses, and dreams dashed. No matter what the cause – whether the hits we take are from enemy or friendly fire – bitterness will not only hurt us but those who love us the most…and our fellowship with God who loves us best.Blog - Bitterness and Brokenness - Henri Nouwen - quoteaddictsPhoto Credit: QuoteAddicts

John Piper has preached and written so much about anger and bitterness (see links below). Don’t miss his  piece on battling the unbelief of bitterness. Here are his 4 points (gleaned from Ephesians 4:30-32 :

  1. Believe that what the Great Physician says is good advice. If he says, “Put away anger,” don’t ignore the counsel. Put it in your mind and resolve to keep it.
  2. Believe that you are forgiven, and that being forgiven by an infinitely holy God is an awesome thing.
  3. Believe that vengeance belongs to God, that he will repay those who do wrong.
  4. Believe that God’s purpose in all your trials is to turn the cause of your anger for your good.

We have beautiful trees in our neighborhood and seedlings pop up across our yard. Dave pulls them up regularly. The hardest ones to get up, he says, are the oak seedlings. They quickly and seriously drive a woody root into the ground, extending beyond the taproot, holding onto the soil, as if with a vengeance. Blog - Bitterness - airpotPhoto Credit: Air-Pot

As beautiful as oak trees are, the image of that stubborn and strong root reminds me of bitterness. It spreads and takes firm hold.

The writer of Hebrews talks soberly about resisting a “root of bitterness”.

“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness, springing up, causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”Hebrews 12:14-15 (12:14-15). John Piper again gives “warning not to treat holiness lightly or to presume upon more grace…[a bitter person] defiles many and can lead to the experience of Esau who played fast and loose with his inheritance and could not repent in the end, and find life”.

As much as we might feel justified in nursing our bitterness, it is a treacherous thing…a terrifying thing for those who love the one struggling with it. Our souls may cry out for justice, and God will do justice. What He requires of His children is “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). We cannot, with His blessing, exact justice without both administering loving kindness and practicing humility. Whew….

To get out of the burden and yoke of bitterness, we must allow God to break our hearts toward Him and the situation…a brokenness that will penetrate the hardness of heart and restore us to ourselves.

Piper prescribes a practical way out of the grip of bitterness:

“By the work of the Holy Spirit, God defeats temptation (like the temptation to be angry and depressed that you are suffering) by awakening joy through belief in the word of God which is at work in us. And that word is most centrally the good news that Christ died for us so that all the promises of God are Yes in him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

By the Spirit, we trust the promises which bring joy which defeats temptation. And all the while we are praying!

So now let me illustrate how this works. It helps me to have an acronym called APTAT.”

  • A – I admit I can’t in myself do what needs to be done.
  • P – I pray for God’s help.
  • T – I trust a particular promise He has given.
  • A – I act to do whatever God is calling me to do.
  • T – I thank Him for His help when I am done.

Worship with me to Keith Green‘s rendition of Psalm 51:

Create in me a clean heart, oh God
And renew a right spirit within me
Create in me a clean heart, oh God
And renew a right spirit within me

Cast me not away from Thy presence, oh Lord
Take not Thy holy spirit from me
Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation
And renew a right spirit within me

[Repeat x 3]

Don’t give up on God. He doesn’t give up on us.

[One last thing – for anyone out there who read this thinking of someone else…we all have it in us to wound others, sowing the seeds of bitterness. In a callous casual word, in a decision made with wide ramifications, and an act of preference, exclusion, or judgment. Examining our own hearts is always wisdom. Confession when needed and repentance as widely as the offense requires…may be a Holy Spirit response. Peace.]

Bitterness or Brokenness – Tony Shirley

SermonsandSongs.Org – A. W. Tozer – The Root of Bitterness

7 Bible Verses to Help Overcome Bitterness – Crystal McDowell

YouTube Video – Bitterness and Forgiveness – John Piper

The Word of God Is at Work in You – John Piper – [the video above is a portion of this sermon transcript]

Top 10 Christian Songs About Forgiveness

How Christ Conquered Bitterness – John Piper

Why Can’t I Overcome My Bitterness and Anger? – John Piper

Fighting Bitterness – Interview with John Piper

YouTube Video – Donnie McClurkin: Create in Me a Clean Heart