Beating Bitterness

By Dustin Neeley, A29 member and planter of The Crossing Church, in Louisville, Kentucky. He also runs “Church Planting for the Rest of Us,” a resource Web site and blog for church planters.

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 naturally occurring in pastoral ministry create a perfect storm of bitterness that can cripple a pastor, his family, and his church.

While most of us already know that bitterness is a sin, what many of us don’t know is how to effectively deal with 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 will lead to deep 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, it is a biblical command 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 sovereignty when things are in our favor, but it is equally true in the moments that hurt. 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 he is only a prayer away to help you deal with it.

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. 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.

How are you dealing with your bitterness today?