Friday, 2 March 2018

Freedom from Bitterness

Speaker: Mike Connell

In Exodus 15, we follow the journey of God's people who came out of the slavery of Egypt to the promised land. When they met difficult circumstances we see what was in their heart - all the "fruit" of bitterness. If the fruit is there, the root is there. Test yourself. Do you think like a slave or a son? We can focus on injustice and choose to be bitter, or respond to God's provision and embrace grace.

We’re going to look in Exodus chapter 15. We did a story out of the Old Testament just last session, it was a different one. A different one, but it’ll point to the same person – Jesus Christ. So, we’re going to read in Exodus 15: 22-26.

“22So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water.” A desert, no water – that’s a big problem.

23 Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. 24 And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 So he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet. There He made a statute and an ordinance for them, and there He tested them, 26 and said, “If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you.”

So, this story is the story of bitter waters made sweet. I want to speak about the root of bitterness. I was in Singapore one time, and a young man came up on an alter call and he had a very severe pain in one shoulder. He came up on a word of knowledge – God show me a particular pain. As he came up, I felt the Lord showed me he had bitterness in his heart towards his father. The problem was not just a physical pain, it was a spirit of infirmity.

So, I spoke with him – said, “How do you get on with your father?” He said – “Well I love my father.” Then I listened to the Lord again, I said “Isn’t it true that your father is away a lot of the time? He’s been away for all the important events in your life, and that actually, you’ve become angry and bitter at him.” He bowed his head, and said “That’s true.” I said: “What’s happened, is your bitterness has opened a door in your life for a spirit of infirmity. You are sick in your body because you are sick in your heart, and you have power to make a decision over the sickness in your heart. You can choose to forgive. You can bring grace into the situation instead of judgement.”

So, he prayed a simple prayer and forgave his father. I commanded the spirit of infirmity to come out, and immediately, he was set free. Then he told me, “Actually, I had pain not only in my shoulder, I had pain all over my body.” He said: “All of the pain is gone. The doctor had just told me last week my back in stiffening and by the age of 40, I can never bend.” Then he bent over, and he was quite free.

Here was a young man who had a life-threatening disease. The cause was a spirit of infirmity, and what lay at the root of it was bitterness living in his heart. When he dealt with the bitterness, came to the cross of Jesus Christ, and forgave, he himself was delivered and set free.

Now, we’re going to have a look at this story here in Exodus 15. This is a story from the Old Testament, and it’s a picture for us about spiritual truth. Sometimes spiritual things aren’t easy to understand or see. It’s hard to get words for it. So, all through the Old Testament, there are stories of God interacting with people, and when God interacts with people, there’s something we can learn from the interaction.

So, this is a story of the people of Israel, and they had been in bondage in Egypt for 400 years. They lived as slaves. Their life was very hard. They were beaten, they were abused. Their young male children at one point were put to death. They were forced into slave labour. They lived a very hard, difficult life, and it had been like that for 400 years. As long as anyone remembered, they had been in bondage, serving the Egyptians. The Egyptians were very hard taskmasters, and they beat them and whipped them, and abused them. So, their life was incredibly difficult until God delivered them.

God had made a promise that He would deliver them out of Egypt, and He delivered them with great power, delivered them out of the bondage of the Egyptians so He could bring them to promises He had for them. He wanted to take them out of the land of Egypt, of slavery, and bring them into a land of promise, of inheritance, of great provision and blessing. There was just this short journey through the wilderness.

Now, this story of God’s people in Egypt is also our story. It’s our life. Before we come to know God, we are born into this world in slavery to sin. We can’t get out of sin. We have no power to stop it. Like a disease working in our life, we have bitterness and anger and resentment. We have lusts burning, we have desires for things that harm us. So, every person born into this world is born separated from God, a slave to sin.

The Bible tells us that these Egyptians are like demonic spirits. Whenever there is sin, there are evil spirits. So, many people here today have lived a life bound in sin, tormented by evil spirits – spirits that torment the mind, the emotions, the life, the body. This was our life before we come to Christ, and if you’re still in that place, God wants to set you free. He wants to forgive your sin, break its power, and loose you from evil spirits. It’s just a simple choice to believe.

Now, I want you to have a look in this story. Here is what the problem was – the people had lived in slavery for so many years that they thought like slaves. When they came out of Egypt, God wanted them to know and be established that they are sons. They’re no longer slaves, but they are a son. They have a loving father, a father who provides. When they were in Egypt, they lived like a slave and thought like a slave.

Now they’ve set free, they are free people, but they have to choose to think like a free person. They have to choose to understand who they now are. They had spent so many years as a slave, they thought they were still a slave. They thought like a slave, they reacted like a slave, even though they’re free. This is true of many Christians. We live in slavery to sin, Jesus comes and sets us free, Spirit of God comes into our life, we become a child of God, but we still think and live like a slave. It all has to do with what goes on in your heart.

Here’s what the problem was – these people were bitter in their heart. They were very bitter; and God wanted to reveal Himself as the God not only who delivers, but also heals. So, if you watch people for long enough, they will reveal how they think. So let’s have a look at these people. Let’s see what they did.

It said – “They went through the wilderness 3 days, and there was no water.” No water. So they were quite thirsty, wondering where their next provision would come from. Now, if you read in verse 27, when all of this is over, they came to Elim where there were 12 wells of water and 70 palm trees and camped by the waters. So let’s have a look at the picture and then we’re going to talk about bitterness.

God has got them delivered out of Egypt, and over here He’s provided for them, and there’s a place where there’s wells, there’s water, there’s palm trees. So, when God is looking, He’s a loving Father, and He’s provided for them. There’s water, there’s wells, there’s trees – wonderful place. But from the people of Israel, they can’t yet see the provision. They can’t see God has promised to provide for them. They can’t see that there is water, and there is a place to rest. They can only see their circumstances.

The journey of walking with God is a journey of faith. It’s a journey of believing God is good. God is good all the time. Always, God is good. No matter what I’m experiencing, God is good. He loves me, He’s provided for me. So as they journey, no water – what to think of this? What does this mean? We’re still slaves. We’re suffering. God doesn’t care about us. Then they get to some water, they taste – “Woah, bitter. It’s horrible water.” So, they’re very disappointed.

Now, they don’t realise God’s provision is just down the road. They’re about to reach God’s provision, but just before they get there, it looks very hard. Looking at the circumstances, it’d look like God had forgotten them. What does this mean? I know what it means – I’m all alone. God’s forgotten us. It’s just like it was in Egypt – we suffer, we die. What happened was, the bitterness in their heart came up.

You don’t see life through your eyes, you see life through your heart. What is it? Whatever that’s in your heart will influence the way you view life. They had 400 years of slavery and they still were bitter in their heart about their slavery. When they were in slavery, they lived in lack, they lived in suffering. They lived in torment. They lived without hope. Now they’ve been set free, they have a loving father who will meet all of their needs.

But he also has a plan – not just to meet their needs, but He also wants to heal them. If they’re going to possess the land, they need to change their thinking. They need to stop thinking like a slave. A slave feels powerless. When a person goes through difficult situations and feels powerless, they get angry. They become resentful, and then they become bitter because they make judgements – it’s no use, I’m powerless. When a person concludes they’re powerless, they become bitter. Angry and bitter in what’s happening to them.

Now, when we’re set free to follow Christ, we have the power of choice. We can choose how we respond to life. Look what they did – how you respond in difficulty reveals what is in your heart. What comes out of your mouth reveals what’s in your heart. So let’s have a look at what came out. Let’s have a look at what they did.

It said – they complained against Moses. They were angry and resentful and bitter and they complained. Now, when people are bitter, when people have got bitterness in their heart, they are bitter because they feel powerless. Bad things have happened – hurt and angry and resentful. They become bitter – which is a sour feeling in the heart because they’re powerless.

When they were in Egypt, they were in slavery. But now they’re following the Lord, they have a power to choose. They can choose to believe God is good and will provide, or they can choose to believe they’re powerless and God is against them. They can choose to believe God is good and generous, they can choose to believe God is mean and causes them to suffer. When faced with a difficult situation, it will bring up to you what is in your heart.

So what does bitterness look like? Let me show you some of the signs of bitterness. Every tree has got some fruit on them. Bitterness is a root that goes into the heart. It feeds off anger and resentment and judgement. It feeds off unbelief.

Here are some of the signs:

1. Complaining. When a person is complaining, they’re speaking that there’s lack. They don’t believe that God is big enough to provide for them. They complain because something is being withheld from them. Or they believe so.

2. Blaming – when people are bitter, they blame others.

3. Bitterness can be seen on the face. Especially as people get older. If there’s joy in the heart, joy on the countenance. Bitterness in the heart, sour countenance. They get frowny and all sort of puckered up in the mouth. You’ve met some people who are like that. It affects the whole body. People who have bitterness kind of shrivel up. We’re not made for bitterness, so bitterness shows up in our life. Shows in the words we speak, shows on our countenance. Here’re some other evidence of bitterness.

4. Lack of gratitude. Instead of saying: “Thank You God. You got us out of here. You can provide!” “Why’s this happening to me?” So, lack of gratitude. A person who’s bitter never says thank you. They demand more. They want more and more.

5. Here’s another thing a bitter person can’t do – they can’t celebrate someone else having a victory. So he comes up to me and says: “Hey, I just go promoted. I got a big bonus. Big wage increase!” So if my heart is free, I’d say: “That’s fantastic!” If my heart is in bitterness, “How come he got that? I don’t like him. Why do they not think about me?” Or he comes and says: “Hey, I just bought a new BMW.” If my heart is free, “Hey, that’s great. Can we go for a drive?” If my heart is not free, “How come he has that car? He doesn’t deserve that car.” That’s what a bitter heart is like. You’ve heard people say that?

You notice in the story of the prodigal son, the elder brother could not come in and celebrate. He was bitter. He was not grateful for what he had. He was bitter. He couldn’t celebrate with his lost brother being saved. He was bitter – it showed on his face. He was angry. Bitter people get angry very easily.

I had one person I spoke with the other day, and I said: “Why have you come up on the alter call?” They said: “I’m angry.” OK. It’s showing. I said: “Who are you angry at?” “Everyone.” Wow. Everyone. I remembered that verse – “Don’t hang out with an angry man or you’ll become angry too.” Angry person has demands on people. So I said: “Who did you start being angry with? You got angry with one person and you never stopped being angry because you didn’t deal with one anger, it’s become a root of bitterness, now it’s spreading against everyone.”

So I asked a few questions. Get this, the Holy Spirit must’ve guided the questions because I didn’t have time to talk with him for a long period of time. I said: “Who’re you angry with?” He said he didn’t know; everyone. I said: “It started somewhere? Are you angry with your parents?” He said: “Yes I am.” I said: “Alright. Are you the eldest in the family?” He said: “Yes I am.” I said: “Were you born out of wedlock?” “Yes I am.”

I said: “Alright then. Now we know what the problem is. You are struggling with a deep rejection because of your birth situation and you’re bitter against your parents. The bitterness has flowed out of your life as anger towards them. A demand on them. Lack of gratitude. Lack of appreciation. This is what has gone on through your life till now, you’ve forgotten who you’re angry at. You’re angry at everyone. You’ll get sick, and your life is going to be a mess.” I said: “You need to repent and deal with the root of bitterness.”

So, bitterness has a fruit in people’s lives. You notice another thing about bitter – is that people make judgements. The prodigal son – he said to his father – “Hey, you never gave me a party.” Bitter people make judgements and this gets into their heart and into their life. Bitter people struggle for power. Bitter people continually go through cycles of defeat. You notice all of these people are bitter, and it shows up in their life. They’re bitter; they’ve been like that for years.

They were saved out of Egypt, but anger and resentment and bitterness lay in their heart. All it took was one setback to bring it up. When they suffered some lack, when they went through difficulty, instead of believing God is good and will help me, instead of choosing to believe God, they chose to be bitter and complain.

This is the same for us. God wants your heart to be free of bitterness. Bitterness grieves the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a gracious person. He is a forgiving person. So the Bible tells us – don’t grieve Him. Don’t cause grief to the Spirit of God by harbouring bitterness and resentment and anger and unforgiveness. Rather, be kind and tender hearted and forgiving. That’s who God has made you to be.

So notice what happened – when the people complained, they revealed their bitterness. Notice this – how to respond when you have a difficult situation. Moses did not try to appeal to them, didn’t try to fix it, he said – “Show me God, what is the answer to this problem of bitterness?” Notice this – God showed him something. God revealed something to him. God wants to reveal things to you. We’re going to ask Him to do that shortly. God had a provision to heal the bitterness. Not only had He provided water and a resting place, He wanted to heal them of the deep roots of bitterness. He had already provided an answer to heal them.

When Moses cried out, God showed him a tree. The tree was always there. The tree had been growing there a long time. What he didn’t know, was that tree could heal bitter waters. When he cast the tree into the waters, the bitter waters becomes sweet. God revealed Himself as a hero. Now listen, this is a picture for us. It’s a picture of the cross of Jesus Christ. Hundreds and Hundreds of years later, Jesus would die on a cross; and on the cross, He didn’t die angry and resentful and bitter. He showed what a man filled with the Holy Spirit does – He forgave.

So, this is what God wants you to understand. When we face difficult situations in our life, when we begin to discover we’re angry and bitter, come to the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross breaks that power of sin. Jesus broke the power of sin on the cross. He broke the curses on the cross. He broke demonic powers’ hold; and when He rose again from the dead, He manifested victory live.

Listen, when you come to Jesus Christ, you come to the same cross. To become a Christian is to trust what Jesus did on the cross is enough for me. That He died in my place, represented me. When He died, I died with Him. When He was buried, I was buried with Him. When He rose, I rose with Him. I need to take my bitterness, resentment, and anger and bring it to death on the cross. Bring it to death on the cross involves these things: Confessing the sin of my heart. Turning from it, and believing God can set me free.

In turning from the bitterness, I need to turn from holding things against people. I need to release grace and forgiveness. When people are bitter, they make a judgement that they are powerless, that they are victims, and they have a demand – you owe me something. God wants us to learn to handle it differently. Bring it to the cross, confess it, release forgiveness. You say: “Wow, this is the cross.” You see, Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but He also modelled how you deal with sin and bitterness. Forgive. Forgive.

So, if something bad happens and you find the feelings coming up, let them go, forgive. You either bring grace or judgement. You either become a sweet person or a bitter person. Your life is sour or sweet. See, sweet people are forgiving and gracious and loving and kind and tender-hearted. Now, that is the new person you are in Christ. Just got to stop living the old way, living out of the old mind-set that when someone upsets me, I get angry and resentful. No, I’m a new person. I bring the cross into this. That means – I let go. I forgive. I bless. I release.

God showed him a tree and when he brought the tree – the cross –into the bitter waters, the bitter waters were made sweet. Listen, every one of us has to make a decision – how we’ll respond to difficult situations in life. Some of you are resentful, angry, and bitter about what has happened to you. It will flow like a river through your life, grieving and limiting the activity of the Holy Spirit, and creating bitter fruit in your relationships.

You can make a choice to believe: “I’m now a new person – I am no longer slave to bitterness. I do not need to have bitterness rule my life. I do not let anger rule my life. I do not let hatred rule my life. I am a new person. I am a forgiving person. I release grace into the situation and I choose to love people rather than hate them; forgive them rather than judge them; show grace rather than bitterness. This is how I’m going to live my life”. Every time you choose to do that, you are bringing the cross into the bitter water.

Listen, all of us are going to have some tough situations in life. All of us will face painful situations. People let you down. People do bad things. Life deals up some difficulties. Happens to everyone. Think about Jesus. He’s the model. He was betrayed, He was rejected, He was despised, and He was abandoned by all His friends. Yet, He never reacted. He brought grace into it rather than bitterness.

Imagine what He could’ve said – He could’ve become angry and bitter. He could’ve said something like this: “Well I’ve had it with all these people on earth. I mean, I’ve given up heaven to come here and be among them. I was just born in a lousy manger. I’ve got animals all around me. My parents are so poor they can’t even have a decent house, and I’ve only got just shepherds and sheep around me. Then the government tries to kill me and we have to run away and live in another country. Then I come back, and all my life, people hate me. They don’t like me at all. I heal the sick, I cast out their demons, and then they yell out they want to crucify me. And my friend – I sleep with him, I share with him, I even trust him with the money, and he steals my money. Steals it! And he sells me out to my enemies. And then my friends all leave me. And then they whip me. I think I’ve had enough of all of this. I think I’ll just leave you all to it.”

But Jesus did not do that. You see, He taught us how to handle injustice. He taught us how to handle betrayal, unkindness, harshness, false accusations. You choose to judge, or release forgiveness? Become bitter? Or become sweet? You have to choose. The choices we make have consequences.

I want you to notice this before I finish. Those people never let go of their bitterness and never embraced grace, and they never received what God intended them to have. Bitterness will steal your future. Bitterness will steal God’s blessing from your life. You don’t have to be bitter. You choose to be. I’ll say that again – you don’t have to be bitter, you choose to be. You don’t have to be bitter – if you’re bitter it’s because you’ve chosen to be. That bitterness will extract a price – it will affect your relationships, your marriage, your children. It will go from generation to generation, it will steal away from you the blessings of God. The Bible says – Don’t fall from God’s grace and allow bitterness to come into your life.

Some of you sitting here, and you have been through some very painful situations. Home situations, abusive situations. You don’t have to remain bitter or angry; tormented by unforgiveness. You can make a decision to forgive and let it go and to show graciousness. You can choose to live as a son of your Father in heaven or live like a powerless slave. A powerless slave is bitter. A child of God is sweet. You choose how you live.

God has already made you one of His children. He’s already provided everything for you but if you don’t believe that, you’ll still think you’re a slave and be bitter. See, it’s how we think – what we believe in our heart. I believe God wants to set many people free today who are struggling with resentment, bitterness, anger, grief, and you’re harbouring it in your heart. God says – Let it go. Let it go. Take the tree and put it into the bitter waters and come out sweet and healed. Come to the cross with the issue, and let the power of God change you. Then you become like Joseph.

Joseph is a man who turned the bitter waters into sweet. He was betrayed by his brothers, sold as a slave, falsely accused, suffered in prison. When he came out the other end, God raised him up. He was like Nelson Mandela.

You know Nelson Mandela? He had 25 years in prison. When he came out, he chose to forgive. All those years. He chose to forgiven. When he came out, he hadn’t done a thing for 25 years except live in a prison. He was raised up to become the leader of the nation. Because of his achievements? No. Because of his character. When it was in his power to be bitter and angry and judge and pay-back his aggressors, he said - we need to walk together; we need to forgive. He set up a process of reconciliation in his nation and he will be recognised as South Africa’s greatest leader because he’s like Joseph.

When Joseph came out of the prison and was in a place of power and he saw his brothers, he said – don’t be angry; don’t blame yourselves. It was not you who sent me here. I see the hand of God making me into a great person. I see God used all of this to make me into a great person. So please don’t be angry with yourselves. I’m not angry with you. God has blessed me.

There’s story after story in the Bible of people who made choices – some became bitter and lost their destiny, some chose to embrace the cross, forgive, and experience God’s favour. I have just one question for you – what would you do with what’s in your heart? Bitter? Sweet? Judge? Forgive? What would you do? Whatever you do will show up in your life.

Want to make a decision tonight? You will remove the root of bitterness; forgive; and let God deliver you. You’re no longer a slave. You’re going to live like a son does – kind to people who don’t deserve it, who loves people and forgives them because their father’s like that. You choose that. Some people choose to give because they want to get something back. Even unsaved people do that.

I like to give because I’m a generous person now. Like my Father. It’s not about getting something back, it’s just who I am. I like to forgive. That’s who I am – living out of the new person and experiencing the blessing. Amen.

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