What we relinquish to God, He accepts and changes.
Bitterness is hard to destroy. God’s Spirit must be given the freedom to act, and He can’t act in you without your permission. Paul wrote, “Let all bitterness…be put away from you.” (Eph. 4:31) That’s hard. But God gives us the power to do it.
If God is sovereign (and He is) and if He loves you (and He does) and if you have done everything you can (and sometimes you have), then don’t do anything more. Simply be still.
Jesus’ final shout on the cross was, “It is finished!” That was a shout of relief and joy. Among other things, He was saying, “I have faced and experienced all that the Father has given, and praise the Father, it is over.” You see, when you are hanging on a cross you can hardly do anything except hang on the cross. The nails won’t let you get off, and the pain won’t let you cover it with clichés. Crosses, though excruciatingly painful, provide some of the greatest joy in this world once they are accepted and experienced.
Several years ago I went through some of the most trying days of my life. My Dad was divorcing my mother after 35 years of marriage and I was driving to meet him for a week of bow hunting in the mountains of Colorado to try to talk him out it.
It was late at night and on the way to the camp, I got lost on an old logging road and was running low on gas. I began to think about how I could get some white gas out of my camping stove before I ran out when I down shifted and snapped the stick shifter off inside the console. I couldn’t believe it. I was so furious that I ripped the console off the floorboard and found that I could still shift the one inch nub. Feeling anxiety rising in my soul I resumed my journey to the hunting camp.
I was almost there and traveling entirely too fast for the rugged terrain, when I hit a rock in the road that jarred the jeep so hard that it bent the rim on my right front tire and knocked my battery out of its place over onto the alternator where the fins acted as a skill saw and cut a gash into the side of the battery spraying battery acid over the entire engine. The jeep whined and spewed out steamed created from the acid on the hot engine block, but I was there. I was a bit harried and edgy, but I was there.
We decided to be in the woods before sunrise the next morning however, in my hurry to leave Denver; I hadn’t taken time to buy a hunting license. I had planned to go down to Meeker the next day to buy a bow hunting license, but it was opening day and I decided to go with my dad on the first hunt of the season and then go to town in the afternoon. The odds of me killing an animal were virtually negligible and the possibility of being caught without a license this far back in the woods were very low. We set out about 4:00 in the morning. We didn’t see deer all morning and mid-morning decided to go back to camp for breakfast.
As we topped a little hill, there was a green game warden truck parked at a gate. When we got close, he asked to see our hunting licenses. Of course my dad got his out and I froze. I didn’t have one. The game warden checked my arrows for blood and hair. And was going to write me a ticket for hunting big game without a license (a $750.00 fine and no hunting for years in Colorado) I was embarrassed and ashamed.
Eventually he reduced the ticket to hunting small game without a license which carried a much less severe penalty.
Back at the hunting camp over breakfast—I tried to reason with my father about divorcing my mother. I was not successful. His mind was made up. He had his reasons that didn’t make sense to me. He frustrated, angered, and disappointed me. I had a hard time accepting the break-up of that relationship. I could feel bitter bile rising in my soul. It was a dark time. Looking back, I am not sure I was trying to save their marriage as much as I was trying to protect my heart from the pain the divorce was causing me. My efforts were probably more about me than them.
As I was leaving the camp and coming down the mountain, I turned a corner and hit an oncoming Nissan Pathfinder head-on. No one was hurt, but I couldn’t drive my jeep. The entire front end was caved in. I had to walk about a mile back up to the hunting camp. I was embarrassed to ask for a ride down to a payphone to call for a tow truck and the Colorado State Highway Patrol. The officer cited me with a traffic violation and gave me a ride into Meeker.
It was a Saturday evening and I was scheduled to preach the next morning and so I needed someone to make the 3 hour drive to come get me. I made the call for my ride and went to a café to get a bite to eat, drink coffee, and study my sermon notes for the next morning. I took a deep breath, sipped some really bad coffee, asked God forgiveness for breaking the law—thought about the events of the last few days, the trauma, the disobedience—my Dad’s and mine—my poor jeep…
I finally muttered, “Jesus! I just hand it all over to you. This is beyond me.”
And then do you know what I did? I started laughing. If you had been there you would have thought that I had finally and completely lost my mind. I laughed until tears rolled down my cheeks. It wasn’t bitter laughter, nor was it the laughter of cynicism. It was a free and freeing laughter.
What else could I do? When I finished laughing I noticed a difference. My situation was still as bad as it had been before. Nothing had changed…..except me.
Satan hated my laughter. He had some plans that were thwarted by it. He wanted to make me bitter. But because the laughter reflected my acceptance of suffering, it made him bitter.
Better him than me!