Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Dannah Gresh: Do you find yourself keeping track of all your rights that have been violated? Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says you need to watch out for bitterness.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: If you don’t lay down your rights, you’re going to live as a bitter, angry, blaming, miserable woman. But you don’t have to live that way. Freedom comes when we lay down our rights. And then we replace bitterness with forgiveness, with love, and with giving of thanks.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgmeuth, author of Choosing Forgiveness, for Tuesday, January 26, 2021. I'm Dannah Gresh.

Bitterness will poison your relationships, your emotions, and even your physical appearance. Nancy’s been giving us insight into the life of Naomi, a biblical character who was marked by bitterness. It’s part of a series called "Ruth: The Transforming Power of Redeeming Love."

Nancy: Well, we finally come to the end of chapter one of the book of Ruth, but before we wrap up chapter one, I want us to just go back and contemplate for a few more moments this whole matter of bitterness.

When Naomi and Ruth come to Bethlehem, Naomi says to the people who knew her years earlier, but who now hardly recognized her, “Is this Naomi?” they said.

She said, “Don’t call me Naomi,” which means pleasant. “Instead, call me Mara,” which means bitter, “because the Almighty God has made my life very bitter” (Ruth 1:20).

Isn’t it interesting how bitterness even affects our physical well-being and our countenance and our appearance? You can look at some women today—now, don’t get nervous here—but you can look at some women and just tell that they’re bitter women.

There are lines of hardness and anger and bitterness that for some reason, I think, show themselves on our faces as women more than men do.

Naomi was hardly recognizable. She had been gone ten years, but she was an adult when she left. You would think she would still be recognizable when she got home. But I get the sense here that her bitterness had aged her much more than ten years. Now, she’d been through a lot. She had suffered a lot.

But you know, ultimately, what we have to realize is the outcome of our lives is not determined by what happens to us. Rather, it is determined by how we respond to the things that happen to us.

Naomi had suffered a lot. She had lost her husband. She had lost her sons. She was left alone in the world with just this widowed daughter-in-law. She had suffered.

But the outcome of her life and the state that she was in, the condition she was in when she arrived back in Bethlehem, was not so much because of the loss she had suffered as much as her view of God and how she had responded to those losses.

So I want us to look today at this whole matter of bitterness and how it affects us, how it affects others, and what we can do about it.

Now, often our bitterness is a reaction to people or circumstances that hurt us. When I was first putting my notes together for today, I wrote down “bitterness is caused by people or circumstances,” but then I had to go back and correct that. Bitterness is not caused by anything that happens to us. It’s the fruit of our reaction to what happens to us, to hurt, and to loss. And it does have an enormous effect both on ourselves and on others.

Not only our physical appearance and our health are affected when we become bitter, but our emotional stability. Bitterness puts us in prison, and it causes us to put up barriers and walls in relationships.

As you see Naomi coming back to Bethlehem, she’s not a real endearing woman at this moment. “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara. The Almighty has made my life very bitter.” I mean, she is a whining, complaining woman.

Now, whenever I’ve taught this over the years, invariably, someone will come back and say, “I think you’re being a little too hard on Naomi.”

She was a woman who had suffered a lot. But she was a woman, I believe, who had responded in bitterness, and as a result, she put up barriers and walls in her relationships with other people.

“Don’t get close to me. I’ve been hurt. I’m not willing to risk getting hurt again.” You’ve felt it perhaps when you lost some close friends or they moved away. Did you ever find yourself thinking, I’m just not going to get close to anybody else again. Because as soon as I get close to somebody, they leave.

Bitterness will cause us to put up those kind of walls. Eventually, bitterness overflows. We can’t keep it in ourselves. Eventually it comes out in our words, as it did when Naomi spoke to the townspeople. When we verbalize our bitterness toward God and toward our circumstances, other people become contaminated and poisoned with what’s been eating inside us.

That’s why the writer to the Hebrews says, “See to it that nobody misses the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness, springing up, trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Heb. 12:15, paraphrased).

Naomi comes back to town, and all she can do is talk about how awful God has been to her. Now, most of us wouldn’t say it in those words, but how do we respond when people say, “How are you doing? How's your day?" Are you one of those people who give an "organ recital"? Every organ is mentioned, every pain, every problem.

Now, people don't want to be around that for long. We don't want to be around it. Yet, I find that myself asking as I ready this passage. "Am I one of those people who is just is always having a bad day?" That makes people not want to be around us. It contaminates others.

How can we get free from that root of bitterness? Three suggestions here. First, we need to stop looking outward in blame. There’s no one else to blame. We have to stop saying, “I’m this way because so-and-so did such-and-such to me,” or “I wouldn’t be this way if . . . I had not been married to that man, or hadn’t had that parent, or my boss hadn’t done this to me.”

Stop looking outward in blame. Number two, look inward. We need to come to the point where we acknowledge that we really are bitter.

Now that’s hard to say. We don’t mind saying we’ve been hurt, because that suggests that somebody else has done something to hurt us; therefore, we’re a victim. We’re not responsible.

Women often say to me, “I’m hurt. I’m wounded.” But I hardly ever hear a woman say, “I’m a bitter woman.” Why? Because bitterness suggests that I did something wrong. I reacted incorrectly.

We have to come to the place where we take personal responsibility. You know, it’s easy to see this in others. We can often see, “So-and-so is just such a bitter person,” but it is often very hard to see in ourselves.

Don’t you agree? It’s hard to see when we have really become bitter. How can you know if you’re bitter? Well, two questions I think are helpful to ask:

  1. Is there any one whom I have not fully forgiven?
  2. Is there any person or circumstance in my life that I’ve not yet been able to thank God for?

Now, that’s a tough one. Is there any person or circumstance that, as I think back on it, I’m resenting it rather than able to thank God? Not thanking God for sin, but thanking God that He allowed this to come into my life, and He apparently intended that it should be for my good and His glory and my ultimate blessing.

And then having looked inward to acknowledge the bitterness, I need to accept personal responsibility for my actions and my attitudes. It’s possible that Naomi could not control the fact that her husband took the family to Moab, where all these catastrophes fell upon them.

But she had to come to the point where she was no longer blaming her husband, she wasn’t blaming Moab, she wasn’t blaming the doctor who maybe didn’t know how to take care of her sons so they got sick and died.

I think she had to come to the point where she realized she could not control her circumstances, but she could control her responses. She had to take responsibility for her anger and her blame.

We don’t want to look outward. We want to look inward, and most importantly, we need to look upward, to look upward toward God. When we’re hurting and when we’re bitter, isn’t that sometimes the last place we want to look? But it’s the first place we need to look.

What do I do when I look upward? First of all, I confess my bitterness to God as sin. No excuses, no blaming. I repent. I say, “Lord, I am bitter. I have sinned against You in my bitterness. Please forgive me.”

And then to realize as you look upward how much God loves you and that He delights in you. When He was bringing these circumstances into your life, He was not angry at you. He was working on your behalf to show His mercy and His love.

As we look upward and we get to know who God is, I believe we have to come to the place where we trust that God has a purpose in all that we have been through, and we trust Him to know what that purpose is even when we can’t see and we can’t understand it.

Let me read to you some verses in Psalm 119 that have really ministered to my heart along this line. The Psalmist is talking about how precious God’s Word is. And it’s easy to say we love God’s Word, but then when we experience affliction, we’re not always so sure that we want to come and look at God’s Word.

The Psalmist says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word” (Psalm 119:67 NASB). He’s saying, “Lord, You had a purpose in this affliction. You were using it to teach me, to give me a heart and a hunger for Your Word and for obedience that I might not have ever had if I had not been afflicted.”

He goes on to say, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119:71 NASB). He’s saying this is a teaching opportunity. These are pop quizzes. These are midterms. These are final exams, these afflictions.

And it’s good for me to have these tests. It’s one thing when you can look back and see what the purposes of God were, but can you say those words when you are right smack dab in the middle of the test? “It’s good for me to be afflicted, because that’s how I learn Your laws, how I learn Your ways.”

He goes on to say, “I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me” (Psalm 119:75 NASB). In faithfulness You have afflicted me.

I’ve heard so many women share precious stories of how God has used affliction as a teaching tool in their lives. I remember one woman sharing with me just a week or so ago some painful family issues she had walked through—issues with her marriage, with her parents, with her children.

She said, “I've been so lonely this past year. It's been so hard. But it's been so good. I think if I’d not had these circumstances, particularly in my marriage this year, I don’t think I ever would have gotten alone with God, in His Word, with my heart humbled before Him to receive what it was that He wanted to teach me about His heart and His ways.”

The truth is: If you and I are being afflicted in any measure, it is because of the goodness and the faithfulness of God. “It is good for me to be afflicted.” And the freedom from bitterness will come as we agree with this truth. “I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.”

And then as we accept God’s purposes, we can also realize that He has a provision of grace for every need.

A woman stopped me the other day and told me about another desperate set of circumstances going in her life. Then she said through tears, "God has been so faithful to me. God has been faithful to my family throughout this. God does have a provision of grace for every need."

It’s so important that we surrender our rights—surrender the right to be angry, to be bitter, to be loved, to have an easy life, to have things go our way.

If you don’t lay down your rights, you’re going to live as a bitter, angry, blaming, miserable woman. But you don’t have to live that way. Freedom comes when we lay down our rights. And then we replace bitterness with forgiveness, with love, and with giving of thanks.

That’s what Paul says in Ephesians chapter 4 “Get rid of all bitterness and rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice, and instead be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God, for Christ’s sake, forgave you” (Eph. 4:31, paraphrased).

Dannah: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth will be right back with the second half of today’s teaching. If bitterness characterizes your life, don’t let this day go by without dealing with it.

Earlier today, Nancy talked about the “root of bitterness” mentioned in Hebrews 12. In the Ruth Women of the Bible podcast, Erin Davis, Kristen Clark, and Gayle Villalba give us a picture of what that root can look like in our lives. Let’s listen to a portion of that episode.

Erin Davis: Gayle, do you have a garden?

Gayle Villalba: No, I do not.

Erin: Kristen, do you have a garden?

Kristen Clark: No. Plants tremble when I come around. (Sounds of laughter.)

Erin: Oh, good, I’m the garden expert in the group! I could talk plants all day long. But this describes bitterness as a root. You don’t have to have a garden to understand the root. So, with bitterness, you can’t just hack it off at the surface because the root’s still there, and it’s going to grow back up.

Kristen: And I have a plant like that in my backyard. I have chopped that thing down so many times. I have drilled down into the dirt . . . it still grows back.

Erin: It’s because you’re not getting all that root.

Kristen: I can’t find the root! It’s deep! There’s got to be a spiritual analogy for that.

Erin: There is! It’s right here in Hebrews because that’s exactly how bitterness works. But then it gives us this picture that that root springs out and defiles many. It becomes this plant that impacts many, many people. And we see that in the life of Naomi. Right? Her bitterness has implications beyond just Naomi.

So, I think sometimes we’re not sure what bitterness is, and so we might go, “Well, I don’t have bitterness.” So, a question for us to wrestle with is: What is bitterness? And I think of the word picture, like, sucking on a lemon. You know, that, like, sour taste in your mouth. It’s dry, and you can’t quite get over it. I wonder, do any word pictures or thoughts come to mind from you about defining what bitterness is?

Gayle: Anger turned inside. You’re punching yourself.

Erin: Versus anger turned outside?

Gayle: Yes.

Kristen: I’ve heard it put as being harbored hurt or just unforgiveness. You’re just not willing to forgive.

Erin: It’s that root, right? It just keeps brewing and brewing and brewing and brewing because you haven’t yanked it up. We’ve probably all experienced bitterness. I tend to think women gravitate toward bitterness really easily.

Kristen: Yes, unfortunately.

Erin: So when you think of your own lives, can you think of evidences of bitterness in your life? How do you know when that anger has turned inward. Gayle?

Gayle: Well, I lose my joy, and that is horrible. I think it sucks the life out of you. If I’m bitter, I can’t function effectively in anything. I’m just the type of person anyhow that it shows on my face if there’s something going on, and I’m not a very good pretender. It has residual effects, and my husband knows right away.

Erin: Absolutely. Kristen, when you think of your own life, what do you think of as the evidence there’s a bitterness problem?

Kristen: Yes, if I’m bitter toward someone or with God, I see it come out as control, wanting to control the situation, taking it into my own hands and become the judge that will now determine what the right punishment is or what the right circumstance needs to be. And so I just become very controlling, and I’m not surrendered, and I’m not entrusting it to the Lord. I’m trying to make happen what I think should happen.

Erin: You’re protecting that hurt a little bit. You’re justifying it.

Kristen: Yes.

Erin: For me, I know I’m bitter when I start replaying the tapes. When it’s, like, that tape is an old . . . whatever it is . . .  mp3. I just rehash that conversation and rehash that conversation and rehash that conversation or that hurt. I replay it and replay it and replay it. And, to me, that is just an indicator—“Hold up! There’s a bitter root there you need to deal with.” I think bitterness is always a loss of perspective because it’s us trying to be the judge. Right? Or it’s us thinking the other person doesn’t have value. And Naomi loses perspective here for a moment. She re-writes the story of her history. And Naomi says things about the Lord that aren’t exactly in line with God’s character. She lost perspective. I think we can know we have a bitterness problem when there’s somebody we can no longer see as a fellow image bearer of God.

Dannah: That’s a sobering reminder from Erin Davis and some friends. That was a portion of this week’s episode of the Women of the Bible podcast. You can hear the full conversation at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Nancy: “Now Naomi had a relative on her husband's side, from the clan of Elimelech, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz” (Ruth 2:1).

Just to recap: Naomi is the wife. Elimelech is the husband. They took their two sons into the land of Moab during a time of famine in Bethelem. Now Elimelech has died. Their two sons have married Moabite women and have died. Naomi is left as a widow. She's lost her two sons. It's just hard for me to even imagine the pain, the agony, the anguish this woman must have gone through.

But God has brought her to the place of coming back to Bethlelem. She is now accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth who said, "I want to follow you. I want to follow your God and your people." Her daughter-in-law has been converted. The two women come back to Bethlelem, and it is the time of the barley harvest. The the Scripture inserts just this little note that tells us something as observers and readers that Naomi doesn't know yet. But it gives us a little clue into what's happening behind the scenes.

Sometimes if you go to a play, you only know what is going on on the stage, but you don't know what is going on behind the scenes, behind the curtain. We have a God who does know everything that is going on—not only on the front stage, not only what we can see, but who knows all the parts and the pieces that are behind the scenes.

It says, "Now Naomi had a relative on her husband's side, from the clan of Elimelech [her deceased husband], a man of standing [he was a wealthy man, a landowner], whose name was Boaz" (2:1).

Actually, the chapter goes on and doesn’t say anything else for the moment about Boaz.

It just puts this little verse here to tell us that God has a plan in mind. Now, we need to go back before we move into the rest of the chapter and get a little bit of understanding about the culture and the Jewish laws to help us understand why it’s significant that there was a wealthy relative of Naomi and her husband who was in Bethlehem.

This takes us to a law in the Old Testament that’s very important to understanding our own faith. It’s the law of the Kinsman-Redeemer.

That phrase, kinsman-redeemer, translates a Hebrew word, the little word goel. It’s a word that means essentially “protector.” This is a provision of protection.

Now, as we’ve said in the past couple of weeks, there were two vital things that needed to be protected in Jewish culture—two things that God told His people were very important. One was the family name, the second was the family land, the family inheritance or possessions.

A goel was a man who would redeem his relative from trouble or from loss, would provide protection and restoration either of the family name or the family lands.

Let me show you how this worked. According to the law of Moses, the next of kin had both the responsibility and a right with regard to a needy or an impoverished relative.

Now, in order to have a kinsman-redeemer, a goel, you had to have a need. You had to be poverty stricken. If everything in your life was going fine—you had your mate and your children and your lands—you didn’t need a redeemer.

But if you lost some of these things that were important to protect, then God made a provision for a redeemer. As it related to the family lands, if a man had to sell his family lands because of poverty, the next of kin, the closest living male relative, had the right to redeem those lands, to buy them back, and to restore them to the one who had lost the lands.

He was the goel. He was the kinsman-redeemer. When it came to the family name, and we saw this in chapter one, a man had the duty when his brother died without children, to take on the widow as his wife, and to raise up seed, or children, for his brother who would then bear his brother’s name. The children would bear the brother’s name and would inherit the brother’s lands.

So it was a sacrifice to be a goel. You had to be willing to pay for this land. You had to be able to pay for the land. You had to be willing to take on this widow as your wife and to not have the children be your children. They would be really your brother’s children.

This was God’ s means, a gracious provision, of helping impoverished or needy Jews keep their family lands and keep their family name. Now, God did this not just for their own sakes, but remember, God had a bigger thing going here.

God had a bigger plan, a bigger picture. There was a Messiah coming. There was a Redeemer coming, a Savior of the world. This redeemer of the family lands and the family name just made it possible for that godly Jewish heritage to continue right up to the time of Christ.

This goel became an incredible picture of Christ, who came to earth to redeem us from our losses. As the story unfolds, we’ll see how he did that.

But as we look at this first verse in chapter 2, all we’re told is that "Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz."

Here’s Naomi who’s poverty stricken. She’s lost her family. There’s no hope of a family line being continued. She’s about to lose her lands. She comes back, and out of her poverty she’s going to have to sell her lands just to exist.

And yet, she has a relative who’s one of the wealthiest men in the land. Although, at this point, she doesn’t even know she has that relative, and she sees no connection between this wealthy relative and her great need.

Isn’t that often the way it is? God has a provision. God’s made a provision for us through Christ. God makes provision through His grace for our lives every single day to meet us at our point of need. He has the provision in place, but so often we can’t see it. We don’t know that it’s there. So what do we do? We have to trust. That’s the point God was trying to bring Naomi to, where she would trust that God did have a provision and a plan.

As I read this story, the story of Ruth really has an incredible plot. It’s a great story, and the thing I love about it is the reminder that God sees all the pieces. That God knows where all those puzzle pieces are.

I love doing jigsaw puzzles, and when I’m trying to assemble them, invariably, I get part way through and think, There have got to be some pieces missing from this puzzle. And invariably, they’re all there.

But when they’re spread out on the table in disarray and disorder, I can’t see how they fit together. But we have a God who’s already assembled the puzzle. In fact, it was never disassembled in His mind. He knows how it all fits together. He sees all the pieces. There are no mysteries in heaven. Now, this side of heaven, there are tons of mysteries.

I believe we have to come to the point where we’re willing to live with mystery—to live with some things that can’t be explained.

Jenny, I don't know why God took your husband and left you with four little boys. I know that you have embraced the will of God and your heart has trusted God. But I dare say that you don't have all the answers to that. And you won't, this side of heaven.

But I have also watched in Jenny a woman who is trusting in a God who has made provision. That doesn't make it easy. That doesn't mean there aren't tears. The doesn't mean there isn't a lot of loneliness and a sense of loss. But I've seen from the distance a woman who's drawing upon the resources of God to meet her at her point of need.

I think we’re told about Boaz in this first verse in chapter 2 so that later in the chapter when Ruth actually meets Boaz, we’re going to see that she thinks it’s a purely coincidental meeting. But the reader is going to know there’s no coincidence here. She didn’t just happen to land in that field of Boaz. God directed her there. God put that man there, and God sent her to that field.

It’s an encouragement to me to know that behind what seems to be chance in our day-to-day encounters, our day-to-day experiences and lives, there’s no such thing as chance. It’s all under Providence.

God’s providential knowledge and decree and love and care—it’s all under His control. I often say, and the older I get the more I mean it, I love living under Providence. I do!

Now, I don’t always love everything that that means for me. I don’t always love not knowing what God’s doing, but when I step back and worship and reflect on who God is and I see what He’s done, I’m given faith to believe that for the mysteries I’m now living, for the things I now cannot comprehend or understand, that He is providential.

He is sovereign. He is caring. He is overruling. He is orchestrating and weaving together the pieces of my life to make a great, redemptive story.

We can’t see the end of the story. We don’t know how it’s all going to fit together. But it will! God gives us just these little glimpses, just these little teases if you will.

“Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side from the clan of Elimalech, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz.” We don’t know any more than that yet, but as the story unfolds, we’ll see that that chance comment, that seemingly chance comment, is really full of meaning, full of providence and part of God’s plan.

So if you’re needy today, or you’re living in mystery, you’re living in the confusion or the hurt or the uncertainty of the circumstances that are going on in your life, take heart.

Be encouraged. There stands nearby a Redeemer, a Man of standing, a Man of wealth, a Man of influence, a Man who has the right, the power, and the willingness to redeem you and your losses. He knows your need. He loves you. He’s committed to you, and He intends to restore you.

Dannah: Naomi and Ruth found themselves in need, and God provided through a kinsman-redeemer. We just heard Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth explain how this picture reflects God’s provision for us through Christ, our ultimate Redeemer. Even when you’re in a desperate place or life seems out of control, God is orchestrating the pieces to write your story.

The story of Ruth is a reminder that God sees the big picture of life, and He is the author of our stories. To go deeper and see the details of God’s provision for Naomi and Ruth, check out our new study called Ruth: Experiencing a Life Restored. It’s the newest resource in the Women of the Bible series, and you can dive in to see a bigger picture of God’s character and His restorative work in our lives.

You can get this new study when you give any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Your donation makes a difference in the lives of women, and we are so grateful for your support. Visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959 and be sure to ask for your copy of the Ruth study.

What does it feel like to be a refugee? We’ll consider that tomorrow when Nancy picks up our study of Ruth. Now, she’s here to pray.  

Nancy: If you don’t lay down your rights, you’re going to live as a bitter, angry, blaming, miserable woman. But you don’t have to live that way. Freedom comes when we lay down our rights. And then we replace with forgiveness, with love, and with giving of thanks. 

Thank You, Father, for giving us just little glimpses into the intricacies of Your plan. We see so little. We understand so little, but we trust that You are in control and that You are sovereign.

You are weaving together an incredible redemptive story. It’s not about us. It’s about You and Your plan to redeem this world. Thank You for that plan. And when we cannot see, help us to trust. Thank You for the promise that when we one day see You face to face, that we will look back and say, “You have done all things well.” In Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants you to experience freedom in Christ. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.