7 min read

Relationships are something that I believe we all want and need. We are usually taught and influenced at an early age how to behave in socially appropriate ways. Whether it’s values passed down to us by our families, or norms that we are taught at school, or how to socialize on a sports team, we are all trained to have different skills to interact with others.

Unfortunately, relationships can also get complicated. One of the things that we usually aren’t taught well is how to resolve conflicts in a healthy manner.

When conflicts become ongoing and don’t get resolve quickly, the tension keeps escalating; it doesn’t go away if you ignore it, it only gets worse. That’s why the Bible teaches us to resolve conflicts in a timely manner.

[25] “Settle matters quickly […]

Matthew 5:25 NIV

Throughout my life, I found it easier to cut relationships off rather than do the work to resolve them. The truth was that I didn’t have the necessary tools to know how to resolve relationships, nor did I understand the patterns of how I built most of my relationships that often led to me leaving when things got hard. I was always on the defense, waiting for the other party to make a mistake so that all my fears and mistrust could be proven true and give me a reason to leave. This kept me from building deep and genuine relationships.

It wasn’t until I studied the Bible to become a Christian that I was taught through the Scriptures that my bitterness was what kept me from getting resolved.

How do you respond when you face conflict in relationships? How much stronger would our marriages be, or our relationship with our family, roommates, co-workers or classmates if we were taught how to resolve our relational conflicts?

This devotional will answer three simple questions that can help us understand three important questions so that we can better resolve relationships:

  1.  Where does bitterness come from?
    2. How can I tell if I’m bitter?
    3. How can I overcome bitterness?

Where does bitterness come from?

[18] Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.

Deuteronomy 29:18 NIV

The Bible teaches us here that the root of bitterness is the absence of God. When our hearts turns away from God and look to other things to fulfill the needs that only he is able to fulfill, we will end up dissatisfied, angry and bitter.

[1] What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? [2] You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.

James 4:1-2 NIV

Relational conflicts arise when we want something that we aren’t getting. The Bible says we aren’t able to get what we really want because we are look to people instead of God to meet our needs.

Do you believe that God can meet all of your needs? Write down a few of the needs you think you have, and next to each one write down how you could turn to God to get that need met. The more you turn to God the less pressure you will put on your other relationships.

What are the symptoms of bitterness?

Whenever I start sneezing, coughing and running a fever, I can tell I’m coming down with a cold. Bitterness can creep up on us and be hard to detect, but luckily the Bible teaches us the symptoms we should be looking for if we want to determine if bitterness has a grip on us.

1) Aggression

[23] With bitterness archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility.

Genesis 49:23 NIV

Bitterness makes us aggressive. It makes us attack people with hostility. Being aggressive can look like being physically or verbally abusive. It can also show up in our thought life, like in violent or critical thoughts where we tear others down without them even knowing it.

How does being aggressive show up in your life?
How does it affect your relationships?

2) Blaming

[3] A person’s own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the Lord.

Proverbs 19:3 NIV

When we are trapped by bitterness, we don’t take responsibility for our actions and always end up blaming others. “No one understands,” and “They made me react that way” are statements I often find myself making when I am bitter. Bitterness makes us think that our life is the hardest and nobody can understand and relate. It also makes us rage against God and think God isn’t helping us.

What mistakes or choices have you been unwilling to reveal or take responsibility for?
Who do you tend to blame when things don’t go your way?

3) Unable to give second chances

[14] Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. [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.

Hebrews 12:14-15 NIV

The Bible is an incredibly relational book. It teaches us here that in order to have close relationships we need to put in effort to be at peace with everyone. It also shows us here that when we refuse to forgive and extend grace to others, bitterness is going to creep in and cause a lot of damage.

Refusing to forgive means we hold other’s sins against them, when we keep bringing it up even after they have stopped treating us that way, when we make a conscious decision to not trust or give our hearts again in the relationship.

Is there anyone in your life you have refused to forgive?
How does it affect your relationship with God when you refuse to forgive?

How to overcome bitterness

1) Pray

[25] And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Mark 11:25 NIV

This Scripture teaches us that prayer is the place where we deal with our bitterness and resolve our relationships. Forgiveness isn’t a feeling, it’s a decision to see our bitterness and the effect it has on God and the willingness to let it go.

What relationships have you given up praying for?
How much do you express hurt feelings to God through prayer and expect yourself to resolve those feelings there?

Make a decision to pray every day through hurt feelings when you are in the middle of a relational conflict. Pray until your feelings are genuinely resolved.

2) Express the emotions

[21] When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, [22] I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

Psalm 73:21-22 NIV

Before we turn to bitterness, we usually experience a tremendous amount of pain and sadness. Unless we make a decision to express those emotions to God and to friends, bitterness will have the best of us.

Are there any painful emotions have you have been suppressing?

Make a decision today to express our emotions to God and friends.

3) Take responsibility

[22] Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.

Acts 8:22 NIV

Bitterness is a sin that we need to take very seriously. It destroys our ability to be close to God, to be forgiven for our own sins and have lasting relationships.

Make a decision today to take responsibility and apologize to God and relationships for how we’ve been bitter. This will lead to relationships that, rather than withering in the face of conflict, will grow from it.

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