Overcoming bitterness can be hard work, but in the end, it's so worth it. While bitterness is a burden to the soul, forgiveness and patience bring freedom. Let's take a look at Psalm 37 as it teaches us how to overcome bitterness with patience.
I know what you are thinking: Combat bitterness with patience? I don’t know how to be patient either… I’m right there with you, I promise. That’s exactly what struck me about this passage. Here is a little secret: It’s about mindset. We are about to fix our eyes on Jesus!
Let's read Psalm 37:7-9:
“7 Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.
9 For those who are evil will be destroyed,
but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.”
When you approach a passage like this one, here is how I suggest you start:
- Pray for God to give you understanding and open your heart to hear what He has to say to you.
- Determine the genre of the text. Psalms are wisdom literature/poems. Going in, we should expect a lot of figurative language that needs interpretation.
- Check out the context. In the case of Psalms, I highly recommend reading the whole Chapter to get a feel for the flow and overall content. You’ll be better able to discern the few verses I’ve chosen for this blog post.
The first six verses of Psalm 37 actually tell us a lot about the subject matter we are exploring today: How in the world can we remain calm and collected when we have been wronged?
Verse 1 urges us not to be upset or even jealous because of sinful people - ever gone down that road? Verse 2 reminds us that the life of these evil doers is short and will soon be over.
Verse 3-5 encourage us to:
- Trust in the Lord and do good.
- Delight in the Lord.
- Commit your life to the Lord.
What happens when we do those things: God will provide everything we need. He will make our good choices stand out among the wickedness of the world.
In other words: We don’t have to worry about our reputation. (Isn’t that what our bitterness is about sometimes?) He will take care of it.
That’s when we arrive at today’s passage, which essentially reiterates this same concept with a slightly different emphasis. You will see this often in the Psalms: Same or similar concepts are re-iterated to emphasize a point.
Repetition is how we learn, right? There is something here that the Psalmist does not want us to miss. Even the directives in verses 3-5 are very similar in nature (trust in, delight in, commit to the Lord).
We see a similar concept in the next two verses:
7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. 8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.
What are our directives here?
- Be still before the Lord.
- Wait patiently for the Lord.
- Do not worry when evil people are successful in their wrongdoing.
- Do not get angry.
- Turn away from wrath.
- Do not worry.
We find a repetitive list of warnings against a certain type of behavior and mindset. Worry and anger should not occupy our minds, even when we are wronged. That’s what we may consider bitterness. It’s not God’s will for us.
Why? Check verse 8 again. Those thoughts only lead to evil.
Instead, what should be our focus? Verse 7 tells us. Be still before the Lord and wait on Him. The NIRV puts it this way: “Be still. Be patient. Wait for the Lord to act.”
Your situation may seem unfair to you now, but you do not see the full picture that God sees. He knows. He is just. He cares for you.
I don’t know how your particular scenario will play out here on earth, but I do know this:
9 For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.
You can rest easy that God will bring about justice. Beyond that, I want to challenge you even further.
Remember that, ultimately, salvation is granted to those who repent from their sins, who love and follow God. Don’t forget that you, too, have hurt others and have been forgiven by the God against whom you sinned first and foremost.
While fire and brimstones - and yes, justice - await those who have not repented and turned to God, I hope that our heart and prayer will always be for those who have wronged us to come to know Jesus as their personal Savior.
Tell me, how has God worked in your heart to teach you this lesson already? Is this a new challenge to you, or has God been working in your heart for a while? How might being patient for God to act allow you to put your bitterness aside and focus on the Lord instead?
May God help us all to overcome bitterness!