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Drawing Close to God Amid Bitter Circumstances

This week the blog is sponsored by Baker Books and is adapted from Stephen Viars’ new book Overcoming Bitterness: Moving from Life’s Greatest Hurts to a Life Filled with Joy.

Do you have any bitterness in your life? As a pastor attempting to shepherd our church family through a worldwide pandemic, I have had a front-row seat to many stories of sadness, heartache, and disappointment. It has been difficult to watch my brothers and sisters suffer, along with many other members of our community.

Personally, I have struggled to properly handle government lockdowns, budgetary pressure, and a variety of competing positions in our congregation about masks, vaccines, and appropriate ways to minister in these uncharted waters. How does our sovereign God want us to respond to such challenges?

We certainly do not have to back away quietly as if our faith is incapable of facing such realities. In Scripture God often uses the word bitter to describe the experiences of his children. We are told that Joseph endured bitter attacks from his brothers (Genesis 49:22-26), that the Egyptians made the Hebrew’s lives bitter with hard labor (Exodus 1:13-14), and that Hannah was provoked bitterly by her mean-spirited rival (1 Sam. 1:6).

However, we do not have to give bitter circumstances the final say. Wise Solomon warned us that “the heart knows its own bitterness” (Proverbs 14:10). In the power of Christ, we can learn to process these episodes of suffering in our hearts in ways that moves us toward the Lord in greater dependence and faith.

This often begins by following the example laid out in the psalms of lament. To be honest, speaking to the Lord in this fashion does not come naturally for me because I fear displeasing the Lord by sinfully complaining. But ignoring pain and disappointment becomes like silt in a river where my relationship with Jesus becomes less vibrant and free-flowing.

Speaking authentically to the Lord is like dredging up the silt. It communicates that we believe we can trust our sympathetic Savior with our deepest feelings and questions. Doing so often allows God’s people to think more carefully about the desires and thoughts of our hearts that have become out of tune with God’s divine purposes. This in turn leads to repentance and an even deeper sense of joy and satisfaction in his abundant grace. The beauty is that bitter circumstances prepare our hearts for a fresh taste of the sweetness of our Savior.

Perhaps that is why God organized the Passover meal to purposely include bitter herbs, a kind of lettuce indigenous to Egypt. He wanted them to be reminded of the hardness they faced during that period of cruel enslavement. They were literally to taste the pain and heartache of that experience.

But then came the sweetness of the lamb, their God-given source of salvation. Precious blood had to be shed to cover their sin. Imagine the explosion of tastes in the worshippers’ mouths as they joyfully contemplated a kind of grace and compassion that overcame their bitter circumstances.

Followers of Jesus know the ultimate Hero of this story. When you next face disappointment and loss, do not ignore or run from the sadness and hurt. Instead, let the pain draw you into closer communion with the One who died so you could know him fully.

Overcoming Bitterness: Moving from Life’s Greatest Hurts to a Life Filled with Joy is available now wherever good books are sold.

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