was stewing in my own juices. My husband had abandoned me with a 2-year-old and tons of debt so he could suddenly start a new life with a woman about half his age in a foreign nation. I was shocked and dismayed. I was enraged and vengeful. I was bitter—beyond bitter—and it didn’t take the gift of discerning of spirits to see it.
I would tell anyone who would listen what a low-down, dirty, good-for-nothing, cheating infidel my husband was. When the grocer at the checkout line asked me how I was, I would share my sad story. When my hairdresser asked me how things were going, I would tell my depressing tale. I was always ready to rehearse and rehash the devastating wrong. I hated him, and I was mad at God.
I felt justified in my stance. After all, there was no excusing what he did, though one of his friends actually tried. I felt righteous in my indignation. I felt morally justified in my rage. And it was eating away at my soul. It was poisoning my life. Worse than pouring salt on a wound, stewing in bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness was like throwing acid on my already raw emotions.
Within a year I faced another betrayal that landed me in jail for a crime I did not commit. I was beaten and bruised by a bad cop along the way. A close friend took a financial reward for the betrayal, kind of like Judas did. That left me more vengeful than ever as I plotted and planned on that jail bunk how I would repay every enemy who was working to destroy my life. Of course, I had no idea this was all Satan’s plot at work.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my jail time was prophetic. My natural imprisonment was merely a manifestation of my spiritual imprisonment. When the jailers shackled my hands and feet to transport me, it was a mirror of the spiritual shackles that were binding me. In that jail I got saved—truly saved. Immediately and supernaturally I forgave. I began to take pity on those who had persecuted me, falsely accused me, and abused me. I began praying for those who despitefully used me—without ever having heard the Sermon on the Mount.
When I surrendered to the Lord and released those whom the devil used to try to kill, steal, and destroy my life, the Lord took pity on me. My heavenly Father started fulfilling the Romans 8:28 promise to work all things together for my good. He vindicated me of the false charges, and I was set free on day 40, the number associated with trials in the Bible. I was a new creation in Christ. Old things really did pass away; all things really were new (2 Corinthians 5:17).
You may not ever be abandoned and jailed, but you will have opportunities to get offended, resentful, and bitter in your life—many times. How you respond to mistreatment is one of the most important aspects of your spiritual life. When we respond the right way, we climb higher—or go deeper—in the Spirit. When we respond the wrong way, we get bitter. Over time, that bitterness will defile our spirits and dull our ability to sense the presence of God or hear His voice. Bitterness is deadly, and it’s easy for the people around you to discern. Where true humility lives, though, bitterness can’t take up residence.
Biblical Warnings About Bitterness
Resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness are related—and the Bible has plenty to say about this trio of tormenters. First, let’s distinguish between these three emotions that open the door to slaughtering spirits that will wreck your walk with God. The following definitions come from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary.
Resentment is “a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury.” The residue of resentment builds up over time if we are not quick to forgive. Once when I was in prayer, the Lord showed me three people I had resentment against and I didn’t even consciously know it. You can also be resentful toward places and things.
Bitterness is associated with being angry or unhappy because of unfair treatment that causes painful emotions felt or experienced in a strong and unpleasant way.
To forgive is “to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong); to stop blaming (someone); to stop requiring payment.” It is, in essence, to give up resentment. You might say resentment opens the door to bitterness and only forgiveness can slam it shut. The Bible commands us to forgive and warns us what will happen if we don’t: we will be delivered to the torturers (Matthew 18:21-35). Unforgiveness gives the Enemy a right to torture, torment, and trouble your soul—and believe me, the devil will take advantage.
The writer of Hebrews warned, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (12:14–15 NKJV).
The Greek word translated bitterness in Hebrews 12:15 means “extreme wickedness; a bitter root, and so producing a bitter fruit; bitter hatred.” Bitterness is extremely wicked in the eyes of the Lord and correlates to hatred. It’s no wonder that bitterness opens the door to demonic oppression. The bitter heart is a darkened heart. First John 2:11 says, “Whoever hates his brother is in darkness, and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (MEV).
Bitterness, then, is connected to spiritual blindness and deception. That’s why Paul warned the church at Ephesus to “let all bitterness, wrath, anger, outbursts, and blasphemies, with all malice, be taken away from you. And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31–32 MEV).
The Enemy will set you up to get bitter, feeding your mind with the offense over and over again until you take the bait. Once you bite down on the bait, the devil has a hook in you and will pull on your mind, will, and emotions. Bitterness will break your heart, bully your soul, and beat its hateful drum in your spiritual ears until it defiles you.
Beware the Spirit of Offense
Bitterness isn’t always tied to major offenses. I have witnessed believers getting offended over slight corrections, unreturned phone calls, and even the way certain people say “Holy Spirit.” I’ve heard about believers getting offended over new relationships forming, being asked to sit out travel trips, or not being invited into a back-room meeting.
The Spirit of God showed me clearly that these aren’t isolated incidents. When I asked the Lord about this, He explained what is going on:
A spirit of offense is rising and running rampant through the church. Those who are easily offended are candidates for the great falling away. Those who cultivate and maintain an unoffendable heart will escape many of the assignments the Enemy will launch in the days to come.
For My people must band together in this hour and refuse to allow petty arguments and soulish imaginations to separate them. This is the time to press into community and relationship and reject the demonic notions and wisdom the enemy is pouring out.
The love of many is waxing cold. Brother is turning against brother and sister against sister in My body. You must come to the unity of the faith in order to accomplish what I’ve called you to do in this hour. . . .
Humble yourselves even among those whom you feel are your enemies, and I will work to bring reconciliation that sets the scene for unity from which the anointing flows. You need My anointing to combat the antichrist spirits rising in this hour.
Many of My people are wrestling in their flesh, engaging in works of the flesh, and otherwise letting the flesh lead in battle—and they are battling flesh instead of the spirits influencing the flesh. This is the result of offense. Forgive, let go, embrace your brothers and sisters despite their flaws and sins. I have.
How can you tell if you are easily offended? Here are some markers: you are quick to argue and defend yourself, you are quick to anger, you get your feelings hurt easily, you keep playing comments or actions over and over in your mind and growing resentful, or you don’t want to talk to a certain person anymore.
Remember, love is not touchy or easily provoked (1 Corinthians 13:5–6). We know that “good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11 ESV). . . . Ultimately, if you are offended, the only way to escape that trap is to spit out the bait. Forgive.
When Christians Hurt You
We expect to be mistreated in the world, but we’re often blindsided—and get our feelings hurt—when brothers and sisters in Christ don’t invite us to the party, talk behind our backs, or aren’t there for us in a time of need. If we’re not careful, that can lead us into bitterness.
When a pastor or a parishioner hurts you, the very first action to take is prayer. The hurt you feel is real, and pretending like you aren’t hurt isn’t going to bring healing. Sometimes when we get hurt in church, folks like to tell us we have no reason to feel bad and we just need to get over it. Half of that statement is true. We do need to get over it, but it’s not always true that we have no reason to feel bad. If someone is spewing malicious gossip behind your back and you find out about it, it stings.
No matter what kind of hurt you’re dealing with, don’t rush into a confrontation with the offender. Take it to God in prayer. Psalm 50:15 says, “Call on Me in the day of trouble” (MEV). That works for a troubled soul just as well as it does any other trouble. Tell Him how you feel and ask Him to heal your wounds. It may be that the Lord is going to deal with the offender directly and anything you say would just make matters worse. Or, it could be that the Lord will give you a graceful way to explain why you feel hurt. If you take it to God, He can give you the very words to say to your offender (Luke 12:12). And He can bring conviction to that person’s heart when you approach him or her in a spirit of humility (John 16:8).
Whatever you do, don’t retaliate. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who spitefully use and persecute us (v. 44).
With that in mind, don’t go around telling everybody what someone did to hurt you. And don’t make accusations against those who hurt you if you decide to confront the matter. Instead of saying, “You hurt my feelings,” say, “When you did that I felt hurt” or “When you talk to me like that I feel upset.” Own your feelings because they are your feelings. It’s very possible that your offender has no idea that what he said or did hurt you, and never meant to hurt you. If you approach the person in humility seeking reconciliation, your offender may be quick to apologize.
Peter exhorts us to “above all things, have unfailing love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 MEV). It could be that the Lord is working something out in you. Maybe you’re too sensitive. We always need to check our hearts. Is the person really being hurtful, or are we looking at it through filters of past hurts, rejection, or anger that cloud the truth? Ask the Lord. Or it could be that the Holy Spirit will bring conviction on the offender as you bless him outwardly with a heart of love.
You Can’t Heal Until You Forgive
It doesn’t matter how wrong your offender is; you have to forgive. Forgiveness is not for the other person—it’s for you. Forgiveness doesn’t justify what someone did that was wrong, nor does it necessarily mean the relationship goes right back to where it was.
If you don’t forgive, you end up bitter and resentful, and before too long you’ll end up hurting other people. The healing process can’t really begin until you spit out the bait of offense. I’ll leave you with this prophetic insight the Holy Spirit gave me once when I was extremely hurt in church:
When the feeling of hurt arises, the spirit of offense comes on the scene to fortify the pain, tempting you to hold on to the grudge in your heart. Therefore, the proper response to emotional pain of the soul is always an immediate confession of forgiveness from the heart. The alternative to forgiveness from the heart is the ongoing torment of the soul. So if you want to be free from your hurts and wounds, take thoughts of forgiveness, meditate on them, and confess them rather than taking thoughts of the hurt, meditating on them, and confessing them. This is God’s way—and it’s the only way that brings true healing. And while you are at it, pray for those who have hurt you. This process will cleanse your heart and renew your mind. And you will walk free from the pain of your past.