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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Poisoned by Bitterness

“For I see that you’re being poisoned by bitterness and you’re a prisoner of wickedness!” [Acts 8:23, ISV]

The story of Simon in Acts 8 is a fascinating story: after having public attention and admiration for his occult practices and “magic,” he hears the Gospel being preached by Philip, believes and is baptized. In Acts 8:13 Luke records that “he [Simon] became devoted to Philip.” It is not unusual for a new convert to latch onto the one who led he or she to Christ, but there seems to be more here than gratitude for having shared the message of salvation. Simon is overwhelmed by the miracles he witnesses. He has spent his life making money from his “magic” and now he is witnessing something more than just magic and is having a difficult time processing what is going on.

Later, when Peter arrives and lays hands on these new believers, they receive the Holy Spirit. Simon’s natural [old self] response is to offer to buy this new “magic,” for no doubt, that is how he had learned many if not all the “magic” he had practiced. But the Holy Spirit opens Peter’s eyes to see the motivation behind his request. Listen to Peter’s reply in verses 20-23:

“But Peter told him, ‘May your money perish with you because you thought you could obtain God’s free gift with money! You have no part or share in what we’re saying, because your heart isn’t right with God. So repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your heart’s intent may be forgiven you. For I see that you’re being poisoned by bitterness and you’re a prisoner of wickedness.’”

Strong words. The fame and attention he once had had now faded and these “new guys” with this “new magic” were taking the city by storm. He has been left out and now wanted back in and was willing to pay good money for a chance at the opportunity. This was more than a simple misunderstanding. This was greed. He was bitter over the loss of income, prestige, and certainly confused about how things in the Kingdom of God were handled. If it had only been this confusion, I don’t think Peter would have said what he did. The Holy Spirit of God goes to the root of the problem, his greed, his jealousy, his bitterness and candidly shares with him what is wrong.

Bitterness was poisoning him. He was a prisoner of old habits, old desires, and he had to come to the point where he realized what he was doing. At that point, God sends Peter, the restored leader of the apostles, who shares openly and directly. “You’re a prisoner of an unholy life and the bitterness in your heart is like poison and will kill you, Simon.” Simon’s response is a plea for Peter and Philip to pray for him for deliverance.

So, what’s all this have to do with worship? Great question.

Like many in public ministries, Worship leaders are put on pedestals, looked up to, etc. It is very easy to begin to believe all the positive comments people make [while trying to forget the other ones], and bask in the limelight. Then something happens, and all the attention begins to fade, and we are left with a choice: to believe that our real and ultimate approval comes from God and not from others, or to worry and become bitter over the situation.

In the case of Simon, perhaps the first problem was that he seemed to be more anchored in Philip than in Jesus. When we make other believers more than God intended, we are setting ourselves up for major disappointments. We can never receive from another person that which only God can give: acceptance and approval. Only God can meet those deepest needs in a relationship with Him. Simon had fixed his eyes on Philip more than Jesus. When we set our focus on others to meet our needs of acceptance and love we are setting both of us up for ultimate failure.

But that is not all. Simon had reverted to his old ways of thinking and acting. I will not try to debate whether or not he had truly been converted; Scripture only says that he had believed and was baptized, and the words used there are the same ones for others that had truly believed. Based on that, it seems that he had believed. But what had been a lifetime pattern of thinking was going to take some time to change. Old thought patterns have to be rooted out, named, and abandoned by replacing them with new one. If not, these older patterns of thinking would poison him.

Bitterness works like poison, choking out the life and joy of the individual until nothing of the former self remains. Worship leaders can become bitter from a multitude of issues: change of roles, change of financial conditions, changes of personnel, even changes in leadership and in the process lose the joy of rendering service.

What can be done? First, we need to be careful that we are “devoted to Christ,” not individuals. There are many wonderful men and women of God who can offer wonderful encouragement in our walk with God, but we must remember that even they have “feet of clay.”

Second, recognize bitterness for what it is: poison to your system. Admit your hurt to God, since He is only one that can change the situation if He so desires. Confess your bitterness and hurt to Him.

Third, repent, ask for forgiveness, for help. Bitterness breaks our fellowship with God, makes focusing on Him difficult because our minds keep replaying the hurt or words we would like to say over and over again. Ask God to help you refocus on Him, His power, His love. Thank Him for what He has done, for His great forgiveness and grace, even though we do not deserve it. Pray for those that might have been the cause.

Lastly, act in the power of the Holy Spirit to minister to someone in need. Remember what Paul said in Ephesians 4:31 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice,” as well as what the writer of Hebrews said in 12:15, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

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