What's Holding You Back: Bitterness
Bitterness is defined as “anger and disappointment at being treated unfairly, resentment.”
There are many times in life that we can experience the disappointment at being treated unfairly. There are many times when we may feel anger and resentment at individuals or situations because of unfair treatment. I’m sure we can all name stories. In fact, I can name a few stories. For fear of sidetracking from the very message that I feel God has for all of us, I’m going to refrain from sharing my own personal story today. Instead, I thought we should talk about someone else who had experienced some drastically unfair treatment and chose not to submit to bitterness. Let’s talk about Joseph!
Joseph’s story spans quite a number of chapters (mostly Genesis 37-50). Today, I specifically want to focus on chapters 37-41.
Joseph was a dreamer. He dreamed big, God-sized dreams that happened to make people very angry. In fact, in Joseph’s story, we view multiple people who experience disappointment in being unfairly treated and we also view multiple people who took drastically different responses to said disappointment. Some let theirs turn into bitterness with murderous intentions. Others let theirs turn into forgiveness and an understanding of God’s plan and His will.
Joseph’s God-sized dream was that his whole family would one day bow down to him. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always interpreted Joseph’s intentions in sharing this news with his brothers and his family to be a bit antagonistic. I wasn’t there, I wasn’t experiencing Joseph telling me these things (mostly because I’m not his brother and we’ve lived a few thousand years apart), but I’ve always questioned the attitude with which he spoke of his dreams. Regardless of his attitude, the part to notice here is how his brothers just absolutely hated him (Genesis 37:4-5, 8, 11, 18). His brothers saw their father’s favoritism towards Joseph (the youngest) and they just hated his guts. Some wanted him dead.
Instead of killing Joseph, his brothers ended up selling him into slavery. From here they were sold to Potiphar who was an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian. Everything Joseph put his hands to, he succeeded at. God’s favor was with him. So Joseph had already experienced being betrayed by his own family. In the home of Potiphar, he’d be accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Because of this, he would find himself in prison. Soon, two other prisoners (the baker and the cupbearer) would be thrown into the same prison as Joseph. Both of these new prisoners ended up having strange dreams, which Joseph interpreted. Both interpretations would be revealed as true within three days time. Yet, the chief cupbearer would forget his promise to Joseph and what Joseph did for him for two whole years!
Eventually, the chief cupbearer would remember his mistake when Pharaoh starts having unexplainable dreams. The cupbearer remembers Joseph and suggests that Pharaoh have Joseph interpret his dreams. Once Joseph successfully interprets Pharoh's dreams, Pharaoh appoints him to second in command, his only boss would be Pharaoh himself. Joseph’s original dream about his family bowing down to him would come true. It only took thirteen years to come to fruition!
Please read the original story in Genesis. My version is quite boring compared to what is written!
Let’s focus on three blessings Joseph experienced because of his attitude of forgiveness and dependence on God.
God's presence. Multiple times in my Bible it mentions "The Lord was with Joseph..." Now, while it doesn't say "God's presence was with Joseph," I would wish to point out that it's hard to be with someone without them experiencing our presence. Had Joseph submitted to bitterness, it would have been hard for God to use him in accordance with God's plan and purpose for Joseph's life. Think about it, when we get too focused on the wrong thing (anger, bitterness, hatred, disappointment), we have a very hard time focusing on God, His presence, His favor, His plans and purposes, His will, etc.
God’s favor. This one is closely linked with our God's presence verses because they're mentioned in the same sentence. Take Genesis 39:2, "The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master." I think there are a few things to notice here, first, the Bible mentions multiple times that whatever Joseph put his hand to, he was successful. This was because of God's favor. Because people saw that Joseph was so successful, it focused them on the fact that the Lord was with Joseph (Genesis 39:3) and allowed them to view Joseph favorably.
God’s timing. "Crucible for Silver and a Furnace for Gold, let the Lord test the heart of His child." It's an old song by Delirious? that took a long time for me to fully understand what that whole line meant. The understanding came when my family took a trip to Bannack, Montana (which is the coolest ghost town you can ever visit). While there we learned about how a crucible was the refining/purifying process for silver, and the furnace was the refining/purifying process for gold. We can look at these thirteen years of Joseph's life as he waited in places that were the FURTHEST from the throne and appreciate God's timing. We can appreciate the purifying process that God took Joseph on. God humbled Joseph. He was absolutely true to His promises. We learn about how being faithful in the small things can prepare us for being faithful in the big things. I would even be willing to bet that God purified and refined Joseph's heart.
On the subject of God's timing, there is one part of Joseph's story that I do want to highlight:
While reading this, I'm drawn to these verses. It's so easy to try to take things into our own hands. In other stories in the Bible, you can see where speaking up can be used by God to get us out of trouble. In this instance, we see that speaking up didn't really do any good to Joseph. Why? Because God wasn't finished with him yet. I don't know why God would have Joseph wait two more years because this isn't specifically mentioned in the Bible, but I do want to point out that Joseph didn't step into power until God wanted Him to. Who knows, maybe God used those two years to prepare Pharoah's heart for receiving his second-in-command from prison.
By choosing forgiveness (Genesis 45:4-7; 50:19-21) Joseph turned his back on bitterness. By choosing forgiveness, he got his brothers back, he got his family back. He had "every right" by human standards to hold onto a hatred for his brothers because of injustice. But Joseph didn't conform to human standards, he conformed to God's standards. God's standards allowed for peace, genuine forgiveness, and the ability to wish his brothers well.
In the end is bitterness even worth it? Is bitterness worth sacrificing God's presence, His favor, and the growing (waiting) season as we wait for the fulfillment and purposes of His timing to be revealed? Is it worth hanging onto grudges against our loved ones?
Choose forgiveness. Choose God's standards. You won't regret it!
Let's DISCUSS! Comment Below (or on Facebook)!
What does Joseph teach you about bitterness and forgiveness?