Just Say No!

This week, I am feeling strong. I’m feeling motivated. I’m feeling. . .defiant! Over the past few weeks, as I’ve processed my need to forgive and to focus on who I am in Christ, I’ve developed a new determination. I am not going to allow myself to be a bitter and unhappy woman. Bitterness is something that I have struggled with in the past, and I am sure I will have to fight it in the future. But that’s okay because I am in a fighting mood.

We have all had the misfortune of interacting with someone who is bitter. It is probably easier for us to identify the problem in other people than in ourselves. We all have our treasured excuses for our bad attitudes and hardened hearts. I know from experience that bitterness hardens the heart. To some degree, it can feel like it is making you stronger, like a tough shell around your heart to guard it from the world. But this is an illusion. I like to compare bitterness to rust. Rust makes steel appear to be thicker, but it is actually eating away at it and making it weaker. Bitterness in our hearts eats away at our compassion, kindness, and love for others. Like any sin, it also acts as a barrier that keeps us from fellowship with God.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Ephesians 4:31-32

Recently, as I was praying for the girls that I sponsor, it occurred to me that the opposite of bitterness is tenderheartedness. Compassion International gives prayer suggestions for sponsors to pray for the children. One is to pray that they will have tender hearts. When I think of the hardship that these children face, and the desperation that they see around them, I realize that it would be easy for them to become hardened. This puts the petty grievances of my own life into proper perspective. The good news is that our God is in the business of changing hearts. God can harden hearts, and He can also give a heart transplant. In Ezekiel 11:19b God said, “I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” I have been praying for God to work in my heart. I want Him to help me to be joyful and to keep a tender heart.

I know that I have responsibility for the condition of my heart, also. I must choose to have a good attitude and to look for where God wants me to show love and kindness. My focus should be on God’s faithfulness and not any trials or difficulties that I may be facing. I also need to learn to stop finding faults in others. I need blinders, like the ones they put on horses. I’ve been experiencing joy in my life, but I can feel the difference when I start focusing on the negative, whether it is negative things in my life, or things that I see in other people.

I have long been convicted by what Jesus said in Matthew 15:18: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” I talk too much, and I have a tendency to say things that I shouldn’t. I want to blame the fact that I am too quick to speak and don’t filter things well enough. But the problem isn’t a matter of speaking without thinking. What I am thinking is the problem! If my heart were right, I wouldn’t need a filter because I wouldn’t be thinking the negative things. I would still need to learn to be quicker to listen and slower to speak, but my words themselves would not be judgmental, harsh, or hurtful.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain blessing.

1 Peter 3:8-9

I know that people criticized Nancy Reagan for the ‘Just Say No’ anti-drug campaign because they felt it was overly simplistic. I don’t know what the related programs entailed, but I do know that thinking through your response to a situation before it happens is helpful. I am trying to do this so that I can catch myself as soon as my thinking goes bad. I want to say ‘No!’ to thoughts of resentment, jealousy, anger, judgment, and bitterness, and immediately turn to God for help. God help me to love. Take away these judgmental and evil thoughts from my mind. Cleanse my heart.

In this fight, I need to remember that God is my trainer, and He is in my corner. I am aware that resolve and determination can easily turn into self-sufficiency. Believing that I can accomplish anything without God will lead me into other sin.  I can already sense that the Devil is trying to make inroads in other areas, while I am focused on the attitude of my heart. I am praying for earnestness and true zeal. I want my life to be about God, and I want to honor Him. I am also convinced that this will make me happier.

I have a new resolve, and I don’t want to lose sight of it. If I am determined to overcome bitterness, I need to start at the roots: anger and unforgiveness; a judgmental spirit; jealousy; pride. It is a real challenge. I don’t know where my resolution will be a year from now, but while I’m in this ‘fighting mood,’ I am going to make as much progress on my heart as I can.

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