Grudges Are Poison

This week I am continuing the Lenten sermon series, "Walls: What Separates Us From God & Each Other?"

Once again, the subject matter has hit me pretty hard.  I needed to hear this sermon more than most people, I'm thinking.

I'll begin with a question or two...

Who has wronged you?  Think about them.  Picture them for a moment.  Do you feel your pulse quicken a tad?  What about the old blood pressure... starting to go up a bit?  What's up with those fists you seem to be clenching and unclenching?

Okay, what would you say to this person if they were in front of you?   I bet you've rehearsed it.

Listen, the reactions that we have when we begin to think about the people that we are holding a grudge against should tell us something about what it's doing to us.

Holding a grudge is like drinking bitter poison and hoping the other person dies.

It doesn't make a lot of sense, does it?  I bet that person that you were thinking of just then doesn't care a whole lot that your palms are sweaty and your knees are weak...  Sorry for the gratuitous Eminem lyric there.

I bet they're eating lunch somewhere.  Or watching a basketball game.  Or doing a million other things that have nothing whatsoever to do with you.  But there you are drinking that poison...

Grudges have the potential to truly kill us.  Bitterness is poisonous, and we need to be free of all of it.  And the only way we can be is by repentance and through grace.

Listen to this...

The way toward letting go of a grudge is paved with stones carved by grace.  

God can use even the worst things that people do to us to bring about resurrection moments.  But when we hold on to our grudges, when they become the very thing that defines us, we miss out on what God is doing in and through what is meant for evil.

If anyone in the Bible had a reason to hold a grudge, it was Joseph.

He was hated by his brothers.
He was sold into slavery to Egypt by his brothers, who then told their father that he had been killed.
He was thrown into prison after being falsely accused of attempted rape.

And then, as a result of his faithfulness in his captivity, he was given the opportunity to interpret the king's dream through God's power.  Joseph found himself the second most powerful man in Egypt.  He ran all of the king's affairs, and prepared Egypt for the famine that would rock the Middle East.  As a result of  Joseph's efforts Pharaoh became the most powerful man in the known world.

I have often wondered why Joseph never went back to Canaan.  Surely the second most powerful man in the known world could have secured a leave of absence for a bit, and then returned to see his family, right?   Why didn't he send word to his family that he was alive?

I wonder if he was holding a grudge.

Then Joseph's brothers show up in Egypt to buy some food.  When Joseph sees them, he is stunned by the emotion that he feels.  Imagine what that must have been like.  I am sure that he had rehearsed that speech a hundred times.

After a some strange mind games with his brothers, Joseph finally reveals who he is to them.

Read Genesis 45:1-7

So what can we take away from this?

First, what God has done is independent of the repentance of Joseph's brothers.  In other words, their turn-around wasn't required for God to do what God had in mind to do.

Second, Joseph realizes that nothing human beings can do can finally thwart God's purposes for your life.  They might try.  But they won't succeed.  God is in the business of turning what is meant for evil into good.

Third, sometimes we need to simply stay focused on what God is doing now.  We become obsessed with what has been done, and how God may have allowed something bad to happen to us.  We worry about the future as a result of this anxiety and we lose sight of the fact sometimes that God is doing amazing things right in front of us.

Why is this so hard for us?

Proverbs 27:7 says, "One who is full loathes honey from the comb, but to the hungry, even what is bitter tastes sweet."

I heard the story of a good Christian father whose daughter was raped by a man on her college campus.  The father became obsessed with getting revenge .  He even took to driving around the campus at night, looking for him and imagining what he would do if he found him.  Long after his daughter had received counseling and moved on with her life, the man continued to live in bitterness.  He finally decided that he wanted to kill the man who had harmed his daughter, and began driving around with his gun.  One day as he sat in his basement cleaning his gun, his young son walked in, saw what he was doing and began to weep.  The father then realized that his bitterness was transparent, and that his son knew what he was doing.  He repented of his bitterness on the spot, holding his son and weeping.

Ephesians 4:26 reads, "In your anger, do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry."

Sometimes anger is the only appropriate response to injustice and evil.
But when it takes over your life, it becomes sin.

Remember when we talked about the person who had wronged you, and you felt that church in your gut?

Grudges affect our health.  They have been linked to pain disorders, cardiovascular disease, ulcers, hypertension, and people who hold grudges make more visits to the doctor than those who don't.

So how do we let go of grudges?

First, you have to pinpoint the problem and ask, "Why am I dwelling on this?"  Determine what is really at stake.  Is it your pride?  Is it because you've grown accustomed to being defined by your grudge?  It's important to understand why you feel the way that you do.  Are you, like the person in Proverbs 27:7, not filled with things that are good, and so you are willing to consume even what is bitter to fill yourself?

Second, you need to define what forgiveness would look like in your situation.  Maybe it would look like humbling yourself to the person who has wronged you and letting them know that you forgive them.  Maybe they don't ever need to know, but you forgive them in your heart.  You also need to know that forgiving is not the same as forgetting.

Third, you need to recognize what your grudge is doing to you, and what it is keeping you from doing.  Grace is all around you.  Resurrection is all around you.  Are you missing out on some awesome things for you life by hanging on to a grudge?

The way toward letting go of a grudge is paved with stones carved by grace.

You have been forgiven.  You have been shown grace that you do not deserve.  God has done this, and the only thing that you are required to do if you want to be a follower of Christ is that you show the same grace to others---including those that would you.

Are you ready to walk on a path carved from grace, or would you prefer to continue on that stony, painful, rocky path that your grudge has you trudging on...?

It's time to decide which way you'll travel.

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