As most of you know, ministry is tough.
And it isn’t just the long hours and fallen world that make it tough. It is also the emotional toll that it takes on the pastor and his family. These obstacles, unresolved conflicts, wounds from the past, and other difficult interactions that naturally occur in pastoral ministry can create a perfect storm of bitterness that can cripple a pastor, his family and his church.
While most of us already know that harboring bitterness is a sin, what many of us don’t know is how to effectively address it in a gospel way.
Here are a few suggestions to help:
1. Take it all to Jesus
Many times when we struggle with bitterness, we get angry with ourselves for struggling at all. We say things like “I’m a pastor. I shouldn’t feel this way. I need to just get over it…” While this may be true in smaller instances, many times, in the midst of our “manning up,” we are simply pushing down toxic emotions that will only fester and come back later to further harm us. We need to follow the example of the Psalmists and take all of our emotional rawness before God. He already knows what is in our hearts and the deep confession of both our sin and our hurt can lead to even deeper healing.
2. Forgive the offending party even when they don’t ask to be forgiven
While it is optimal to seek full reconciliation in person, in some situations that’s not possible. Even so, we should seek to forgive those who have wronged us in light of the good news that we, ourselves, have been forgiven. As we depend upon God to do this, we will experience His power in a profound way.
3. Turn off the movie in your mind
When we have been wronged, it is common for us to replay the situation in our minds over and over—to say that hurtful thing we wish we had said in the moment, to do that thing we wish we’d done. But every time the movie plays, it is our old heart rolling the film, not our new one. We need to see these moments as temptations from the evil one and flee from them immediately. Nothing good comes from them.
4. Filter the experience through the lens of Scripture
It’s easy to preach God's sovereignty when the sun is shining but it is equally true in the the rain. As we walk through the process, we begin to see that even these offenses have a purpose in God’s process of making us more like Jesus. Remember that nothing has escaped His sovereign hand and Jesus is only a prayer away to help you deal with whatever you are facing.
5. Pray for the person who hurt you
When we get to this point, we know the Gospel is really taking root in our hearts. Sometimes, by God’s grace, this happens immediately. Other times, it may take years. Either way, it is both the example and call of Jesus to us to pray for those who have hurt us. Through his Spirit at work within us, we have the resources we need to fulfill His commands.
Beating bitterness is tough, but if we don’t, it will beat us.
But if we go to God and allow Him to bring both conviction and healing, we, our families, and our churches will be better for it.
Is bitterness beating you today?