“All will disappoint but Jesus.” So said my late mentor. All includes your local postal carrier.
A few weeks ago, I received a special hand-printed post card from my mail lady on a Thursday. The card came in the aftermath of a few inches of snow we received the previous Tuesday evening. Because of an early morning meeting I had on Wednesday, I was not able to shovel (better yet—sweep, blow) my driveway and sidewalk until after work on Wednesday (which I did most enthusiastically). So Thursday I received this card informing me of my homeowner’s responsibility to keep my sidewalk and walkway to the mailbox clear.
I have to confess, I was a bit miffed. I appreciate the good folks of the USPS, and my mail lady is a fine representative of that institution. She gets the goods to us “rain, sleet, or snow.” I can also appreciate cleared walkways. I’m a runner.
But give me a break! She’s done my mail for over 7 years and knows I don’t play around with the snow.
That episode reminded me of how easily we as human beings can get offended. Someone fails to thank us for a gift. Somebody else does not say “Hi” to us. A fellow driver makes us miss the light. Our boss’ tone is not always the nicest. Our pastor did not visit us when we were in the hospital overnight.
It is not just the big things that can get us bitter. Small things can too.
In Hebrews 12:15 we read this warning: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Bitterness is bad.
It affects everything you do. You become negative, cynical, and judgmental. You lack compassion and sensitivity to others. Bitterness breeds rebellion towards authority. You complain a lot. You are temperamental and short-fused. You suffer from anxiety. Bitterness is at the root of a host of sinful attitudes and behaviors including drug addiction and alcoholism.
So how can we reduce our risk of getting bitter in a world where “all will disappoint but Jesus?” Our life and those we love are at stake.
Bitterness is very much associated with our sense of our rights. We build up for ourselves a mental picture of what our life should be—of what we should get, of how people should treat us—and when those expectations go unrealized, we get upset, angry, bitter.
Pride is at the bottom of this. Proverbs 13:10 declares, “Contention cometh only but by pride” (KJV). Pride causes us to think we have certain rights, and when those rights are violated or disregarded by others, we get mad. Some of our perceived rights may include:
- the right to be appreciated
- the right to be respected
- the right to a good reputation
- the right to personal property & space
- the right to be served
- the right to physical comfort
- the right to make our own decisions, and so on
The prouder we are, the more rights we claim; and the more rights we claim, the more opportunity there is for us to be hurt.
In a discussion about forgiving others, Jesus reminded the disciples of the sobering and unflattering truth that we are all “unworthy servants” (Lk. 17:10). That is, we have no rights. We are someone else’s property. In fact, we are unworthy servants meaning “unprofitable, useless, miserable.” This is so difficult to understand, especially for us as Americans who learn all about individual rights from an early age. (Our culture is so obsessed with personal rights that the very first thing a suspect is read when arrested are his rights.)
Listen to how Paul identified himself over and over in his letters: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:1). The word for servant that Paul uses comes from the Greek word doulos which occurs 125 times in the NT. It is the second most frequently used term in the New Testament to describe the relationship between God and the believer (only mathetes, the Greek word that we translate “disciple,” is used more frequently).
We must humble ourselves. We must not think of ourselves more highly than we should, but rather think of ourselves with sober judgment (Rom. 12:3). We set ourselves up for anger and bitterness when we fail to see ourselves as “unworthy servants.” Our pride tells us we have rights and others have the responsibility to respect those rights. We are so wrong. And the result is that we are so easily offended.