June 2012 Newsletter

The Bondage of Bitterness

In this issue:

The Bondage of Bitterness

Lately I’ve been studying the life of Samson for a message I shared last weekend at my home church. What an amazing life. Samson had been empowered by the Holy Spirit with supernatural physical strength to begin the process of setting the Israelite nation free from the bondage of the Philistines. He literally had superhero strength. It was like a comic book hero of today.

But when we find him near the end of his days, we discover him languishing in a Philistine prison. His eyes have been gouged out at the end of a Philistine sword. The supernatural strength he had once experienced was gone. And his mortal strength was now used up in the task of grinding wheat for the Philistines. It would be the lowest point in his life. His days were spent blindly walking in circles with nothing to do but think about what could have been. And the thoughts haunted him greatly.

He had judged Israel for twenty years. He would eventually be listed with the great men of faith. But he had one fatal flaw. He could not control his eyes. In spite of the incredible strength he had been given, he did not have the strength to look away when he saw a beautiful woman. Over and over again we read that he saw a woman and then he allowed what he saw to dominate his life. He cast aside his anointing, his position, everything to follow the lust of his eyes.

So it is deeply ironic that the consequence he paid for this lifestyle is that the Philistines captured him and gouged out his wandering eyes. He had finally given up the secret of his great strength to Delilah. She had betrayed him and the trap was set. He rose from her lap, not realizing that his strength was gone, and attempted to defeat the enemy as he had before. But this time it was different. The Spirit had left him. Alone in his own strength, the enemy quickly overwhelmed him. They bound him in bronze shackles and dragged him off to the prison.

At this point, Samson has two choices. He could use the suffering he experienced as a catalyst for repentance, or he could choose to let his suffering drive him to a life of bitterness. Unfortunately, the latter is what he chose.

When we come to the end of his life, a tragedy unfolds before us. The leaders of the Philistines gather to celebrate the capture of Samson. About 3,000 people packed into the temple of Dagon, the fish god they worshipped. Finally, they called for Samson to entertain them. A young man led the blind waste-of-a-man by the hand into the center of the hall. Cheers rang out as he entered the room. They laughed and sneered at the hollow scars where his eyes had been. The humiliation cut deeply. He stood before them scorned, mocked, blind, and abused.

Samson asked the young man who had led him to place his hands on the two columns that supported the roof. He felt the cool stone beneath his weary hands. The chorus of cheers at his expense was deafening and it is unlikely that anyone heard the prayer that Samson spoke to God. It would be his final words. He called to the Lord and said, “Oh Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once more, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28, ESV).

Suddenly he felt something stir within him. He felt a strength returning that he remembered from before. He pressed his hands against the stone columns and began to bow his back with all his might. The people cheered all the louder at the hideous spectacle before them.

The first crack appeared in the column and began to grow larger. Samson pushed with everything he had. This would be it. There was no point in saving any strength. He grimaced, clenching his teeth, squinting his blinded eyes, pressing against the support with every fiber of strength he had remaining. The cheering quickly faded as the first column began to fall. Panic ensued. The screams of the men and woman filled the room as the second column fell and the upper floor of the hall collapsed with the roof. Dust swarmed the air and choked the cries of those still trying to escape. But only a few would. And in one final act, as the rubble fell, Samson killed more Philistines in his death than he did in his life.

But it could have been so different. Sadly, the final words of Samson reveal the true bondage in his life. Samson’s greatest bondage was not the bronze shackles that had bound his wrists. The greatest bondage in his life was the bondage of bitterness.

Samson could have used that time of suffering as a catalyst for repentance. But instead he chose bitterness. He went to his grave seeking revenge against someone who had hurt him. It was a sad epitaph for his life.

But do we do the same?

The bondage of bitterness is one of the most hideous forms of bondage I know of. Most of us know the sting of words someone spoke that hurt deeply. Or perhaps it was a spouse who crushed you with an affair or abuse. We were treated unfairly, and it was wrong. But the wounds can either drive us to God or from God. The choice is ours to make.

Samson could have used that time in prison to turn back to God. He could have humbled himself in utter brokenness and said “God help me, I’ve run from you but now I am running back to you. I need you. I’m sorry for my sin. I repent of my ways and turn to you. I know I’ve lived my life for my own pleasure. But today I turn to you, to give you my life for your pleasure, for your purposes.” But he doesn’t. Instead of turning his suffering upward, he turns it inward. It festers like a thorn, the pus of bitterness growing with every grinding step in the prison mill.

What is it that has wounded you deeply? Or should I ask, who is it? What are you going to do with it?

Sometimes God allows suffering in our lives to mold us more into the image of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul said that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28, ESV) We quote this verse when we face difficult days. It is a reminder that God is working out a plan for our lives. But what is that plan? It is conformity to the image of Jesus Christ. Look at what Paul says next. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29, ESV). God’s purpose for my life is conformity to the image of his Son, Jesus. He may allow any number of difficulties in my life because he wants me to look a little bit more like Jesus as a result. It is the gift of suffering. It is a gift because it is for our good.

But if we are not careful, we will squander the gift of suffering and instead use it to seek revenge. Revenge is an attempt to play God, to say that I know better than God what justice should be served. It is self-centered, not God-centered. It is a cancer in the soul. It never leads to God. It never satisfies. It is an infected pus that will spread like a fever through your life. And it is a bondage that will slowly kill you while you attempt to execute justice in someone else’s life.

Perhaps you are reading this today and the Holy Spirit is pricking your heart over someone who has hurt you deeply. You are struggling to forgive and forget. The wound feels too deep to ever be completely healed. I understand. My heart goes out to you.
But if you are not careful, you may end up like Samson, taking that bitterness to your grave. Gratefully, it does not have to be that way.

As difficult as it may seem, God asks you to give that hurt to him. He stands with open arms waiting for you to turn to him with all the hurt, all the shame, all the pain that has been heaped upon you. He waits to hold you in his arms, to comfort you, to take that pain from your weary heart. Will you surrender it to him today?

If this is you, if the bondage of bitterness has a hold on your life, today will you give it to God? Will you turn it upward instead of inward?

Ultimately, the hero in the story of Samson is God. God is a God of grace. God showed incredible grace in Samson’s life. He gives us the same. He gives us grace when we have blown it. He gives us grace when we have used the gifts he has given us for our own purposes and pleasure. He gives us grace when we sin. He is a God of grace. And it is the awareness of that grace that humbles me before a Holy God. I don’t deserve his grace. I can’t earn his grace by doing more good things than bad. And when I understand the multitude of times I have received his grace, it deepens my love for him. Then out of the overflow of that grace in my life, I am able to give grace to others who don’t deserve it either.

Grace is the key that opens the bond of bitterness. Today, God offers you this grace. He waits to pour it upon you in such a way that it will overflow your life and touch the lives of those who have hurt you, who also may not deserve it.

One life at a time, washed with grace, set free from the bondage of bitterness.

Till next month,

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