Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Exchanging Bitterness for Strength

I have a confession to make.  I recently found myself greatly disliking someone. They didn't measure up to what I thought they should be.  They did things that I didn't like.  They said things I didn't think needed to be said.  So, in all my Christian fervor, I decided I didn't like that person.  Did I mention that I go to church with them?  Isn't that great?  To dislike someone that you go to church with?  I think it makes God really sad when His children don't like one another, but for some reason I felt like I had the right not to like this person.  After all, the things they were doing and saying were wrong.  I spoke to this person as little as possible.  I avoided them whenever I could.  Whenever their name was mentioned in a conversation, I rolled my eyes to myself.  Even when they did things right, I found fault in them.   
Of course, all of my actions really hurt that person, right?  Nope.  My dislike and (dare I say) jealousy only affected me.  Rarely a church service went by that I didn't think about what that person was doing.  As I sat in my pew and thought what a hypocrite they were, I received pretty much no help from the messages at all, even when Preacher was preaching about exactly what I was doing!  What they were doing wasn't right, but now I was losing my joy, because I only allowed myself to dwell on their actions. 
So one day, after much struggling and, yes, arguing with God about my feelings, I decided I wasn't going to feel this way any more.  Many times before I had said, "I'm just not going to let it bother me any more."  But this time I went a step further.  I prayed for that person every day.  I tried to find things they did that were good, and remind myself of those things, instead of the things I saw that were bad.  It didn't take long before things changed.  Did that person change?  I don't think so.  But I had changed the way I thought about them, and that made the difference.  I could sit through a service, and have no bitter thoughts towards them at all.  I think I knew all along that would be the outcome of giving this issue to God, but in my stubbornness, I chose to hold on to my wrong feelings.  There is so much liberty and joy that comes from letting go of jealous, bitter feelings!
I wish I could say that I learned my lesson for good, but I'm ashamed to say that it's something I still struggle with.  Sometimes those feelings of anger and bitterness come back with a vengeance, and it's not always towards that one person.  It's so easy to let the wrongs of others, whether real or imagined, get under my skin and steal my joy.  It's a battle that I have to fight constantly. It's not enough to give it God one time.  I have to give it to Him over and over again.  You see, once Satan knows that he can use something to hurt us, he won't give up.  He'll use the same tactics repeatedly.  Since he can't have our souls, he'll settle for seeing that we have no joy while serving the Lord.  I'm so happy that He that is in me, is greater than he which is in the world!  I am learning (slowly, due to my stubbornness) that as soon as I recognize those feelings of bitterness and jealousy creeping in, it's time to give them to God. 
I say along with David, "Create in me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me.  Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit."  (Psalm 51:10, 12)  When I allow Him to create a clean heart and renew a right spirit in me, I will find joy in my salvation.  The Bible says, "the joy of the Lord is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10)  What better way to have weak, powerless Christians than for Satan to make them sad and joyless?  How hard is it to have the joy of the Lord?  Pretty simple.  "...ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full."  (John 16:24b)  I don't know about you, but I'd rather give up selfish, bitter feelings in exchange for joy and strength any day.  And every day.           

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