For Bitter Or Better

By Joanne Putnam

Have you noticed today how some people seem to walk around with a chip on their shoulder just waiting for someone to knock it off? As the kids say, “They have an attitude.”

Everyone is a victim today. Everyone wants their rights. if someone hurts them or offends them, they want to hurt back. They want to make them “pay.” They want to offend them, as they’ve been offended.

The business world has developed Assertive Training Classes, designed to teach you to get and keep the upper hand so that you’re never at any one else’s mercy. They teach you to be forceful, to push your own agenda regardless of others ideas or feelings. Even fast food ads tell you to “Have it your way!” Many people today just plain have an attitude and the world encourages them to do so!

Zig Ziglar, a popular motivational speaker, says that we need a “checkup from the neck up!” He says we need to “Get rid of our stinkin, thinkin!”

Attitude is something we deal with on a daily basis. Our attitude affects how we act and react in life. It affects the things we do, the things we say and the responses we make to thousands of situations in any given day. What drives you crazy today may not bother you tomorrow; it all depends on your attitude or your frame of mind at the given moment.

Some offenses are very minor. You consider the source, realize the culprit is having a bad day, brush it off and go on your merry way. However, not all offenses are quite as simple to deal with. Some offenses cut to the core. They destroy your love, your hope, your faith and your trust. They seek to destroy the very foundation of your existence.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all been offended. Some have bounced back. Others are still wounded.

If you’ve never experienced what I’m talking about, you will someday. You will face an offense so great that you won’t be able to think of anything else. You will wonder how you can even go on with your life. You will be offended.

God has designed tools to help you get through excruciating offences. Tools that will help you deal with any situation you may currently be going through or something you may face in the future, because offences will come.

“Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” (Matthew 18:7).

“Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!” (Luke 17:1).

Impetuous Peter once asked the Lord, “Well, how many times do I have to forgive my brother, seven times?” He probably thought that was an incredulous amount.

What did Jesus respond with? “No Peter, you need to forgive them seventy times seven!”

Satan uses whatever device he can to draw us away from God. One device that he uses very effectively is offenses. Some offenses have literally paralyzed people. They were so hurt and devastated that their life was basically frozen in time.

I’ll never forget the first time I met Annie Fitch. Annie was a big-boned, tall woman in her sixties, with rounded hunched over shoulders. Her scraggly hair was pulled back to reveal a toothless grin. This was hardly the robust, beautiful lady that had once been engaged. When her fiance¬†broke up with her, her life came to a standstill. She fell into a deep depression that never released its powerful grip on her. She became a recluse, choosing to stay home with her parents rather than continue to work at the promising job that she held. As far as she was concerned, her life was over.

One author, John Bevere, calls offenses The Bait of Satan. In the Greek, the language the New Testament was written in, an offense is described as a trap, a snare, cause of displeasure or sin, occasion to fall or stumble, an offense is a thing that offends, a stumbling block.

When you think of it, traps have two components: they are hidden and they are baited. Offenses are subtle deceptions. They are hidden in places and circumstances that we would never expect and baited with things that frequently are our weaknesses.

Satan uses offenses to trap people, to shift their focus off God and to put it on their hurt, their wound, and their problem.

So the question isn’t, “Will I be offended?” But rather, “How will I respond to offenses? What will my attitude be?”

John Bevere tells the story of men catching monkeys in Malaysia. The men set traps but the monkeys were too smart for them and never went in the cages. The men decided to try a new tactic. They put the bait in the cage and closed the door. The monkeys thought they were safe because the cage door was closed, so they put their arms through the bars and grabbed the bait. The bait was too large to fit through the bars and they refused to let go of the bait in their hands, so the hunters were able to go right up to them and capture them!

The same thing happens to us in regard to offenses. Satan baits the trap with some situation that bothers us or offends us. If we fall for it and don’t deal properly with it, we can be caught in the devil’s snare and our soul can be destroyed.

Look at the trap he set for Job. Everything he had; riches, houses, animals, even his children, were all destroyed in a matter of hours. His wife, feeling her own agony and seeing the agony of her husband, told Job to curse God and die. But scripture tells us that Job maintained his integrity with God and through it all, did not succumb to the bait of Satan that could have destroyed his soul.

Offended people produce much fruit: hurt, anger, outrage, Jealousy, resentment, strife, bitterness, hatred and envy. They respond to situations with insults, verbal attacks and the wounding of others. They thrive on division, separation, broken relationships, betrayal and backsliding; and they feel justified in doing so. Because they have been hurt, without even realizing it, they go on to hurt others who had nothing to do with hurting them.

A couple of years ago I went through a period of time where I found myself being very negative, critical and non-cooperative. My family, especially my husband, became very frustrated with me. I knew I was edgy but I didn’t realize how I was coming across to my family.

Finally my husband confronted me with, “Okay, what’s going on?” I honestly didn’t know what was going on! After much prayer, God revealed to me that I had been offended little by little by a series of events that had happened. I was allowing myself to respond with a very negative attitude. I wasn’t necessarily responding negatively to those who had “offended” me, I was responding negatively to those closest to me, those who loved me the most.

When God revealed to me what was happening, I repented for allowing the offending situations to get to me. I asked God to help me to be aware of situations that I might not handle appropriately and to help me to have the right attitude in all things. I also apologized to my family and asked them to forgive me. Believe me, it made all the difference in the world! No longer did I allow things to bind me and bombard my heart and mind with unpleasing thoughts. God freed me to once again enjoy the peace of mind that only He can give.

We are all vulnerable, but Pastor’s wives seem especially open to attack. Parishioners say very cutting and critical things to a Pastor’s wife that they would never dream of saying to their Pastor. Pastor’s wives “often don’t feel they can defend themselves. Many times they don’t share these negative things with their husband because they do not want it to bother them. Internalizing negative comments coupled with the demands on their time, relationships and finances can cause a powder keg to develop without her even being aware that there is a serious problem.

Unfortunately, it is usually the people we are closest to that can hurt us the most. The emotional attachment we feel toward loved ones, those we have nurtured, been intimate with and bonded with, seem to offend us the deepest. Lawyers say that the most bitter cases they deal with are those of divorce. Historians tell us that the bloodiest wars that are ever fought, are civil wars.

So what is it that keeps us from letting go of our offenses? Pride! We don’t want anyone to think they have gotten the best of us. Pride keeps us from admitting there is a problem in the first place, yet it seethes on the inside. Pride causes us to feel as if we are the “victims” in many circumstances.

Categories Of Offenses

There are two basic categories of offenses:

* Those who truly have been treated unfairly and have been offended.

* Those who believe that they have been treated unfairly.

Read very carefully, and think about the second statement above. Many people are offended because of what they perceive happened to them. Either they draw conclusions from inaccurate information, or the information is correct but their conclusion is distorted. It may not have really happened in the manner that they think it happened, but they become embittered nonetheless.

As I said before, we are going to be offended. We must ask ourselves: What are we going to do about it? How are we going to respond?

Last year we had a situation happen that was very frustrating. It seemed like it was one of those tests that God sends you through just to see how you will handle it! I had returned a laptop computer to the manufacturer to have some work done on it. When it didn’t arrive for quite some time, I called the company to see why the delay. They informed me that it should have been delivered to my home at least a month earlier. They had completed the repairs within twenty-four hours and it had been sent back to us. They decided to make an inquiry with the shipping company and found that our neighbor had received our computer and signed for it over a month earlier! A neighbor who had not spoken to us for over three years because of another situation! A neighbor who wouldn’t even wave when we passed her on our lane!

To make a long story short, when we did get the computer back, absolutely nothing worked! The hard drive was crashed and the computer had to be returned to the manufacturer to be completely refurbished!

When I first found out where the computer was, guess how I felt like responding! You’re right! I thought, “Boy I should march right up there and give her a piece of my mind!” But I didn’t! What I did do was pray for her! She is a very lonely woman who feels like everyone is out to get her. In her own way, she felt she was getting revenge for the way people treat her. It is interesting to note that this lady has no friends. Her only child, a daughter, left home in high school and they no longer speak to one another. This same lady once told someone that when she dies she wants to come back as a bird so she can (poop) on everyone that has (pooped) on her. How very sad to think that anyone can become so bitter.

So Why Do We Have Offenses?

Jesus said, “I counsel of thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire…” (Revelations 3:18). Gold, free of alloys and impurities, is soft and pliable. God wants our heart to be soft and pliable to Him, not hard! Impurities are what make gold hard. God puts us through the fire and if we allow him to, He refines us with afflictions, trials and tribulations. The heat of the trials separates the dross and impurities from our lives. It takes the impurities of unforgiveness, strife, anger, revenge, envy and hatred out of our heart.

You can’t see the impurities of gold until it is tried in the fire. We don’t really know how we will respond to trials and offenses until we go through their fire.

God always sees the impurities. He allows us to go through trials so that impurities can come to the surface, we can repent of them and receive His forgiveness and purification.

When we are offended, our tendency is to see ourselves as victims and blame those who hurt us. We then justify our bitterness, unforgiveness, and all the other junk when it surfaces. God wants us to see our own condition. We can only be released from the trap when we realize who is really holding us there. Just as the prodigal son “came to himself,” we have to “come to ourselves.”

Do you remember those woven straw finger holders we used to get at carnivals? You put a finger in each end and then tried to pull them out. They were stuck weren’t they? No matter how hard you tried, you just couldn’t get them out until you did the opposite of what you thought you should do, which was push your fingers towards one another. The same is true spiritually. When we defend our position, our “right” to be offended, we draw the trap tighter. When we give our situation to God to deal with, we release the stronghold and are freed from the trap!

Have you ever thought what it would be like if we didn’t have any expectations of anyone else? If we had no expectations on others, we wouldn’t be offended or let down, would we?

Jesus told us that many would be offended. “And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24: 10-13).
He told us to love our enemies, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44).

From personal experience, I would have to say that most of our offenses probably come from family members, brothers and sisters in Christ and leaders in the church. “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle” (Proverbs 18:19).

Genesis 50 gives the account of Joseph, a young man whose brothers hated him and decided to kill him but ended up selling him to slave traders. He ended up in prison through no fault of his own, but eventually became second in command in Pharaoh’s Egypt. Many years later, he came face to face with his brothers. They shook in their boots when they realized who they were standing before. But, Joseph knew that God had allowed it all to happen for a purpose. His response to his brothers was, “But as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

Many people become angry with God when something happens in their life and they feel that God could and should have prevented the situation but didn’t. Their anger separates them from the very source that desires to comfort them and to heal their broken heart and wounded spirit.

God said that we go through trials to “perfect” us, to “refine” us as pure gold. Always remember, no one can take you out of the will of God, only you yourself can do that. Satan has his greatest heyday when a person becomes angry with God and chooses to defile themselves.

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (I Corinthians 10:13). We resist the devil by refusing to be offended.

Joseph’s problem was with his brothers. He refused to allow what they had done to him to destroy his love for them or his love for God. He put things in the light of God’s word and will for his life and regardless of what happened, allowed God to help him go on and do his best in every situation.

David’s problem was with King Saul, his spiritual leader and father image. Saul was the first king of Israel. God chose Saul to lead Israel and he did a very good job until a young man named David came on the scene.

Israel was doing battle with the Philistines. But they were fearful and afraid. They were “shaking in their boots.” The Philistines were giants and none of Israel’s soldiers were willing to take the threatening challenge handed out by Goliath: “And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul? choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us. And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together. When Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid” (I Samuel 17: 9-11).

David couldn’t stand to see the armies of Israel challenged in such a manner, so he took his slingshot, got five smooth stones from the brook and went after the giant. He slew the giant with the help of the Lord and went on to be the greatest warrior in Israel.

Saul became jealous to the point that his heart turned to stone and his entire focus of life became bent on destroying David. He was angry that Israel looked to David as a mighty warrior. Saul wanted the credit and admiration.

Saul was a selfish leader. Unfortunately, like Saul, there are still selfish leaders today who are only concerned about their own goals. They view God’s people as resources to serve their own personal vision rather than the vision as the vehicle to serve the people. They feel that the success of their vision justifies the cost of wounded and shattered people. Justice, mercy, integrity and love are compromised for their own success. They make decisions based on money, numbers and results. They feel people are expendable because they are “furthering the gospel. After all, they have a church to protect.”

These men recognize godly qualities in people and are willing to use them as long as it personally benefits them. They consider people simply human resources to be used and disposed of when their usefulness is gone or they appear to be receiving more glory than the leader.

Men who are “serving a vision” are not serving God. They are serving their own ego. Just as Saul, they are suspicious of young men because they are personally insecure in their own calling. This breeds jealousy and pride.

Saul enjoyed David’s success until he perceived it as a threat to himself, then he demoted David and watched for a reason to destroy him. David searched his heart to make sure that he was right in his actions. People who were rejected by their father or their leader tend to take all the blame on themselves. They become imprisoned by tormenting thoughts of, “What did I do?” They constantly try to prove their innocence to their leaders. Unfortunately, the more they try to prove their innocence, the more they feel rejected.

We once saw a minister that was resigning his church. The Assistant Pastor was his most likely replacement. The congregation loved the Assistant Pastor. He had developed a-very vibrant youth group that was approaching adulthood. For some reason the Pastor did not want this young man to take the church so he rigged the election and did all sorts of things to discourage the congregation from voting for the assistant. Because the young man kept a right spirit about the situation, God intervened and a man from another state invited him to come to assist him in a very large church. Even though one man meant it for evil, God meant it for good. Had this young man become bitter over the situation, I doubt that he would be in the ministry today.

Many young men are called to assist older men or to come to spend a period of time before the church would be turned over to them. We experienced this first hand. A Pastor we had known for years asked that we come to assist him. He said that he was really “burnt out” and needed help. He alluded to the fact that he would be retiring in a few years. He told us that he couldn’t give us the money to move, but he could loan us the money and when my husband became Pastor, the debt would be erased.

We felt very strongly that it was the will of God to go there. Within a few months the Pastor was quite “revived” and decided that he could pastor another ten years! In the meantime, we were unable to find jobs to support our family and finances were very tight. The church was not able to give us any money because it was small. A family in the church felt lead to give us one hundred dollars a month, which my husband cleared with the pastor, and it literally bought our groceries. The Pastor, without our knowing at the time, refused to allow my husband to preach at other churches. Protocol stated that if a pastor wanted someone else’s assistant to preach in their church, that they would clear it through the local pastor. In most situations, this is rarely refused. This man, knowing our financial need, refused to consent to our ministering in other churches.

When we had been there almost a year, church members began approaching my husband and asking when the Pastor was going to resign. Because we were not at liberty to share anything with them, coupled with the fact that the pastor was “revived” and planning to stay another ten years, we realized it was time to leave. We immediately made arrangements to pay back the loan and began seeking God as to what we were to do.
When we told the pastor we were leaving, he was very angry with us. He would not allow us to say good-bye to the church. We were told not to come to church the next day. We later heard that he told people that we took tithe money from people in the church and that we never paid back the money for our moving expenses.

We had a choice as to how we were going to respond. Many emotions come into play when you are treated like this. You are hurt, you are angry, you are confused. And, if you are not careful, you will respond in a way that will destroy your spirit, your witness and your soul.

David had several opportunities to kill Saul, but he knew that he had to let God deal with his enemy. Today we don’t try to “kill” people physically, but we do try to kill them with our tongue. When we try to “get back” at someone, even though what we speak is truth, we go against God’s principles. “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

We try to avenge ourselves for selfish reasons. What we have to understand is that judgement will come, but it needs to come from God. Don’t let it be by your hand. Humility and refusing to avenge ourselves, are the keys that free us from the prison of offense. When we humble ourselves, we can truly love those who offended us, and desire the best for them.

God tests his servants with obedience. He deliberately places situations in our path where we would look justified in defending ourselves. People may even encourage us to defend ourselves. But if we retain our integrity with God, He will bring us forth as “gold, tried in the fire.”

Some people, who see problems coming, leave. They go somewhere else to avoid the situation, never maturing to the point where God can use them and develop them. The character development that comes only as they work through conflicts with others, is lost as the cycle of offense begins again. People who are unwilling to remain in a situation long enough for God to refine them, become “Spiritual Vagabonds.” Leaving the situation is not the answer. When something is not dealt with properly and unforgiveness remains, every “next” relationship will be hindered because everything is strained through that offense — the next church, next job, next marriage…

I heard the story of a man who was moving to town. He wanted to know how things were in the town so he thought he would take a trip to the local barber. When he sat in the chair, he told the barber that he was thinking of moving to that town and wanted to know how the people were.

“Tell me,” the visitor inquired, “Are the people in this town cranky and hard to get along with? Are they gossipy and nosey?”

“Well,” answered the barber, “tell me now, just how are the people in the town you come from?”

“You know, the town I come from, the people are gossipy and nosey. They are just downright mean and hard to get along with!” the man said.

“Well,” said the wise barber, “that’s exactly how the people are here.”

Later that day, another man came into the barbershop and asked the same question, “You know, I’m thinking of moving to this town and I was just wondering, how are the people here?”

“Well,” said the barber, “how are the folks in the town you’re coming from?”

“Oh, the people in the town I’m coming from are wonderful! They are kind and considerate. They try to watch out for each other and everyone is just so friendly!”

“You know,” the barber responded, “folks in this town are just like that.”

The wise barber knew that the way each man evaluated their present situation, is the how they would appraise their next situation.

Trials And Tests Reveal The Heart

Trials and tests “locate” a person spiritually. They reveal the true condition of the heart.

Some people believe God owes them something. When things don’t go the way they think they should, they get mad at Him. Offenses will reveal the weakness and breaking points in our lives. Offenses will eventually purge those who are not truly planted in Jesus. Job had every opportunity to be offended by God, but he maintained the position, that everything he owned had been obtained by God’s help, so how could he be angry when God took it back.

Jesus himself offended many people. He offended his own family. Many disciples left him because of his preaching. Jesus offends people today when He doesn’t do what they think He should do and when they think He should do it! “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Matthew 11:6).

Again, we will be offended. When you are offended, what will your response be? Will you harbor it deep in your soul? Will you allow it to “color” and “stain” everything you do? “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalms 119:165).

Not dealing with offences properly, creates a wall that separates you from God’s presence. It becomes a stronghold that will make you bitter. A root of bitterness will spring up that will defile you and destroy you. It will make you hate people. “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). Bitterness is unfulfilled revenge. Roots that are not pulled out quickly and are allowed time to grow, get entangled with other roots and grow deep, making it even more difficult to pull them up. Eventually you reap a harvest of anger, resentment, jealousy, hatred, strife and discord (spoken of as evil fruits in Matthew 7:19-20).

God wants us to respond to offenses as little children do. They get upset with one another but their anger doesn’t last. They quickly forgive and go on. Their parents may still be upset about the situation, but the children have completely forgotten it.

If you feel you have been offended, you must immediately forgive! Satan wants you to think people are your enemies. He wants you to let the wound fester. He wants the wound to become like gangrene that eats you alive. His entire mission is to steal, to kill and to destroy the very existence of your life. Unforgiveness allows a stronghold to develop in your life.

God wants the wound to be cleansed so it can heal. Antiseptic disinfects and cleanses. It may sting at first, but it makes things heal much faster and leaves fewer scars.
Take the time to read the story of the debtors, found in Matthew 18. Jesus said that if we were not willing to forgive, we would not be forgiven. God only forgives us to the degree that we have forgiven those who have hurt us. (Mark 11:24-26; Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 6:37; Matthew 6:12)

Unforgiveness will keep you from maturing in God.

The way we forgive, is the way we will be forgiven. The love and forgiveness of God is the key to freedom from the baited trap of offense. True forgiveness is relinquishing your right or desire to hurt the one who has hurt you. When you have truly forgiven someone, you can pray for him. You can bless them. You can do good to them as Matthew 5: 43-44 instructs us to, even if they hate you, even if they persecute you. Forgiveness is a choice!

How about you? Have you had a chip on your shoulder? Is there someone in your life that has offended you so deeply that you don’t believe you can ever forgive them? Regardless of the situation, whether it is recent or in the past, God can help you to forgive them.

Picture the person in your mind. Ask God to release them from the blame for what they have done to you. In your heart and mind, cancel the debt they owe you. Take the chip off your shoulder and lay it at the foot of the cross, the cross Jesus died on to make atonement for your sins.

Ask God to cleanse your mind from constantly dwelling on the thoughts that encompass the situation. And when Satan comes to bring it up, rebuke him in the name of Jesus Christ, reminding him that the situation is covered by the blood of Jesus!

This article “For Bitter Or Better” written by Joanne Putnam is excerpted from her book Growing In All The Right Places.

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