Of all human emotions, bitterness is the one you ought to fear the most. It is emotional cancer. And I think more of us struggle with bitterness than we think. Today I want you to look at the garden of your own heart—what you allow to grow in your soul—and examine four attributes of bitterness out of Hebrews 12:
1. Bitterness begins with small seeds. Starting in verse 12, the writer of Hebrews described a discouraged believer as a runner on a track who's becoming exhausted—all because of people (see v. 14). People can upset us, offend us, and especially hurt us, even when they don't intend to. But we often fail to see that God uses difficult people to correct our course and chasten us (see vv. 5-11). Instead, we allow whatever a person said or did to hurt us to become a small seed planted in our heart that, when it grows, leads to bitterness.
2. Bitterness requires the right kind of soil. Verse 15 says we ought to be "looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God." Now, you can't outrun the grace of God (see Romans 5:20), but you can come short of it or lose sight of it. When you forget how gracious God was to you, then you cease being gracious to other people and your heart becomes susceptible to bitterness.
3. Bitterness develops deep roots: "Looking carefully...lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble" (v. 15). People who let a seed of bitterness grow in the soil of their hearts eventually develop a root system. And while this root system is hidden, it can be destructive. It will choke off your spiritual and emotional life, and it will hold back the power of God and block Him from moving. That's because hatefulness and holiness cannot dwell in the same heart.
4. Bitterness will produce bad fruit: "Lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" (v. 15). When the root becomes fruit, springing up through the soil, it grows in two different directions: toward you, causing trouble, and toward others, who are defiled by it. And it can ruin your relationship with God (see 1 John 4:20).
I am certain there's something in your past that you could use as an excuse to become bitter. But don't let that hurt take root in your heart and begin to grow. Don't water it with self-exalting thoughts. Don't fertilize it with other people's sympathies.
Whatever pain you've experienced, however anyone has hurt you, bring it to the foot of the cross and say, "It's Yours, God. I give it to You." Don't you think God can take all the bitter things that have happened to you and make you a better person because of them? Instead of letting that seed grow and branch out a root system, sink your life deep into the rich, inexhaustible soil of God's love for you (see Ephesians 3:17, NLT; Colossians 2:6-7). Life will go from bitter to better.