Bitterness is a prison. It is self-destructive; it is spiritual suicide. That’s why it’s often been said, “The bitter person drinks a vial of poison and waits for their enemy to die.” Therefore, when counseling the bitter person, the warning of Jesus should not be neglected. Use it to direct the eyes of the bitter person away from himself to God and help him to unlock his self-made prison by walking in the obedience of forgiveness.
The heart that has been forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). This should mean that as we ponder the depth of our own sinfulness (like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears) and consider the greater depth of God’s forgiveness, we will grow in our love for Him. One result of this growth should be that our hearts are prepared to respond humbly when others sin against us.
In contrast, when we forget God’s grace, our hearts become proud, and we who have been forgiven much may act like one who believes he has been forgiven little. When this happens, the soil of our hearts is in danger of being fertilized and ready for bitterness to take root. We must, therefore, consciously practice the obedience of forgiveness. If we do not, a spirit of unforgiveness will grow into resentment, leading to bitterness. Bitterness then erodes the effectiveness of our prayers and may, in fact, reveal that something far more serious is wrong.
Therefore, when counseling a bitter person, be sure to bring the following warning from Jesus to bear upon their heart.
[Pray in this way:] And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors … For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions (Matt. 6:12, 14-15).
This post explains how you can minister this Scripture to a bitter person. Jesus’ words describe three characteristics of the forgiving heart and warn against the pride that actively works against the obedience of forgiveness.
The Forgiving Heart is Energized by a Healthy Awareness of Personal Sin, but the Proud Heart Thinks it is Superior to Others (v. 12a)
Jesus includes confession of sin as a necessary element of humble prayer. We ought to pray, “forgive us our debts.” A daily awareness of our sinfulness will lead us to regularly ask God for forgiveness, which is a healthy part of spiritual growth. When we remember that we are wretched, we will, in turn, praise God for the victory found only in Jesus (Rom. 7:24-25).
The bitter person, on the other hand, thinks himself superior to others. A shallow recognition of his depravity makes it difficult for him to imagine that he is quite capable of committing the very sins for which he stubbornly refuses to forgive his brothers and sisters. The unforgiving person has not lately thought about the gravity of his own sin.
In contrast, those with forgiving hearts humbly acknowledge their own need for a daily supply of God’s grace and mercy.