I was recently in a conference and was able to share a meal with a pastor. This pastor has been in the ministry since the early 90’s, is a former missionary, and has been at his current church for the last eight years. As I sat there in conversation with this veteran soldier, my ears perked up at his comment “You are going to be either bitter or gracious.” We were talking about working in the ministry and all the circumstances that one runs into during the long haul. I asked him what he did to keep himself from becoming bitter in the ministry. Here are his thoughts, paraphrased by me. I hope I do it justice.
1. Keep an eye out for bitterness and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you spot bitterness. Bitterness will come out through your words, a thought, or a reaction. Keep your eyes peeled.
2. Remember to forgive. Many people allow bitterness to to take over their life; they do not deal with it. Dealing with bitterness is not easy. Remember that we are to forgive as God forgives, and as he has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32).
3. Look for an occasion to be a blessing or at least gracious. Again, following our Savior’s example, we are to bless those that persecute us and do us wrong. Look out for a way that you can be a blessing in the life of that person toward whom you are tempted to be bitter. If that opportunity doesn’t present itself, then be gracious to that person.
I thought these were some good thoughts, but I knew, growing up in a pastor’s home, that the pastor is not the only one tempted to be bitter. So what does this pastor do when in dealing with bitterness in his children or wife?
1. Same as above, keep an eye out for it. Many times the husband is able to let things go quicker than the wife, and she will store up resentment in her heart against people that have criticized her husband or family. Just as in our life, bitterness will reveal itself in the lives of our loved ones. Keep your eyes and ears open.
2. Get it out in the open. Once you have identified a bitter attitude you must confront it. Don’t allow your loved one to continue on, but in love help them deal with this sin.
3. Ask questions. The pastor gave two questions that he uses when speaking to his family about attitudes of bitterness. First, “Is this attitude helpful?” Of course the answer is obvious, but bitterness blinds us to this truth. An attitude of bitterness does not bring any good into our lives and we need to be reminded of that. Second, “Does this attitude bring glory to God?” Again, obvious answer, but bitterness doesn’t care about God’s glory. Bitterness has only self in mind, and we need to be reminded that our lives are meant to be lived for God’s glory.
I was very thankful to have been able to sit with this pastor and glean from his wisdom. It was very helpful to me and I hope that when the days come that I need it the Holy Spirit will bring it to my memory. We are traveling down life’s highway and we are going to be either bitter or gracious. Which way are you heading?