Bitterness & Joy
A Phenomenal Mirror – Lesson 14 of the “Overcome” Christian Recovery Curriculum
Let’s jump right in and rip the band-aid off, shall we? Can you trust your heart to lead you correctly in every decision life may throw at you? How do you know your answer to this question is truthful and accurate? The simple answer to both questions: you can’t. The heart is responsible for many things that are wonderful; poetry, love songs, weddings. As well as many things that are horrible; jealousy, divorce and murder. The spiritual heart, as it turns out, is a phenomenal mirror that reflects the inside of the person of whom it dwells within. Follow along in this lesson of the “Overcome” Christian recovery curriculum to learn more.
We will use a fundamental engineering maxim and an analogy to illustrate this concept of form following function. Imagine a plain water bottle. It’s intended function, its purpose is to act as a container for liquids, specifically for water. That is its main function. While in a pinch, it may make a useful funnel when you are stuck on the side of the road and need to add oil to your car, or it can even hold pre-mixed pancake batter on a camping trip. But by and large it best serves its purpose as a container for water, regardless of its form.
So, with that basic premise, how is a water bottle and a 55-gallon drum any different in function? One major piece we took for granted, the ease of use. At times it is easy to focus on the forest and miss the trees. Some pieces of knowledge we take for granted and never really question why we have those beliefs and where did they come from? And even more poignant, what function does it serve? Our spiritual hearts are much the same. We know it is there and we know what it is supposed to do, but don’t really know what questions we need to ask for it to reach its full potential, as God designed it.
Our application tonight will be a reiteration of a previous application and for some it will be the single hardest thing they will ever have to give up in their entire life. So, trust me when I say this isn’t going to be easy. It is one thing to cover bitterness when life is good. It is a completely different subject when you have just been reminded of why you are bitter to begin with. It is a strange animal when you can’t see God because of the storm that has surrounded you and you have to rely on your faith that He is who He says He is.
A Relational Heart Disease
The Hebrew word for heart translates to the inner man, the mind, the will. It is the same idea for the Greek word that Jesus uses in Luke 12:34, which translates to the thoughts or feelings. So, if we take this metaphysical concept for the heart, it is the central part of us that is responsible for generating much of who we are, how we perceive life and what we do with life. The heart was created to generate compassion, mercy, care and love, not hate and strife. It was created to house the spirit. And what’s more, we are completely incapable of judging another person’s heart. Only God is able to discern what is within the heart. This truth makes the next set of observations all the more complicated.
Since bitterness is a relational heart disease, it just doesn’t manifest on its own. When our spiritual heart is diseased it is no longer capable of guiding us and we become more reactionary in our decisions. What may be a feeling of love today can just as easily become hate tomorrow. The heart is equipped to evolve and mutate based on what we feed it; projected expectations and fulfillment from other sinners, impatience to have our demands met and inconsistent emotional reactions. A diet based solely on these inputs results in feelings and thoughts such as:
- Don’t these people see how much I have sacrificed and worked on this, how can they not care? I give up.
- I’ll show them. They will miss me when I am gone.
- How could you God? Why did you allow life to turn out this way?
- Why did I trust you? You have hurt me for the last time. I will never forgive you.
- Over my dead body.
- Hurry up, why are you so slow?
You have to understand the why, what, how of the disease to properly treat it. In other words, what is the root cause regardless of the form it takes. We all want to be accepted, feel important, respected by someone else. And when those feelings aren’t met, we are hurt. We feel angry and rejected. Sometimes we get over those feelings quickly, but sometimes, dependent on the offense and the offender we may choose to wallow in our bitterness. Wallowing results in festering and further infection. That infection is commonly called a grudge. But in actuality it is a lack of forgiveness and showing of grace, especially when the offender is a loved one.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?Jeremiah 17:9
In attempting to understand that which by all accounts is non-understandable, I ask you to open your bibles and interact for a moment. Go to Jeremiah 17. Pick up at verse 5 and go through verse 8. In these verses, God is describing the folly of trusting in man. The futility of trying to find value and appreciation from other people. Since bitterness is relational and does not operate in a vacuum, we must not act surprised when other people fail at validating us. God’s design was not built that way. We are trying to make it function in a means that was never intended.
Likewise, in our anchor verse, God also describes the folly of trusting and following one’s own heart. As Proverbs 14:10 says, “The heart knows its own bitterness…” Why? Because it keeps a record of all the wrongs that have been done. It keeps a tally and corresponding payment it expects. And until that payment has been made, it accrues interest, making it a debt that can never be paid.
However, in verses 7 and 8, God describes what it is like to trust in Him, to joy. Joy is not happiness. Happiness is based on circumstances and situations. Joy is not based on your bank account or how much your spouse approves of you. Joy is a peace, a contentment, an ease of the soul. It is always in development and isn’t dependent on the world to sustain it. It is a confidence in God being who He says He is, in control and not subject to changing His mind like we are. Joy is found in Jesus and it is a peace that guards your heart:
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.John 15:11
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:7
“Overcome” Christian Recovery Curriculum
Application – The example has been given
There are many moments in recovery and your walk with God that make absolutely no sense in the temporal realm of the day to day steps. As we progress down that road, the truth never changes, but our understanding should expand and evolve as we are stretched through faith, obedience, experience and introspection; vital components needed to take our next step in this lesson. Begin with the following question:
What has robbed you of your joy?
During this time of introspection, pay close attention to your heart as offenses are brought up. This is a good first step at learning how to discern your heart. Do you find yourself justifying feelings or emotional reactions to past hurts? Do you find yourself speeding past certain memories of events? Do you find yourself eager to do what you can to repair the relationship? The answers to the questions are a good reflection of the temperature of your heart.
What we are attempting to do, on a much smaller scale is to model the same forgiveness Jesus showed to us on the cross. He was willing to die to cover our wrongs. He was willing to die to reconcile us to an eternity with Him in heaven. He was willing to lay aside whatever debt and pay it on our behalf, all because the relationship was that important to Him. He chose to forgive. We must also choose to forgive.
The “Overcome” Christian recovery curriculum is part of the discipleship program at First Contact Ministries in Hendersonville, NC.
Did you miss the other lessons in this series? Click see the entire Overcome Christian recovery curriculum series.
We always look forward to meeting new people at our Tuesday night support group meetings at 6:30 pm, located at Mud Creek Church in Hendersonville, NC. Our classes are designed to teach biblical principles for addiction recovery through discipleship. Our goal is to show the love of Jesus by supporting those who need it most.
For more information or to purchase “The Resistance” by Josh Staton to use as a Christian leadership book, or curriculum for an addiction recovery class, please visit: The Resistance: Becoming A Servant Leader Through the Beatitudes Christian Leadership Book