Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Episode Resources

Learn more about Seeking Him.

Dannah Gresh: I think we all know what it’s like to be wounded by someone, and that means we all need God’s grace to forgive. Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Wounded people who don’t receive God’s grace become wounders often of other people.

Leslie Basham: It’s October 10, 2019. This is the Revive Our Hearts podcast with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, along with Dannah Gresh.

Dannah: We’re in a series called, “Experiencing the Joy of Personal Revival,” and Nancy paints a vivid theme of unforgiveness.

Nancy: Is there anyone here who has actually read Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations? Some of you maybe read it in high school? I see a lot of heads nodding. You remember that one of the main characters is an eccentric old lady named Miss Havisham.

Years earlier, on her wedding day, she was dressing for the wedding, waiting for 9:00 in the morning when her fiancée was supposed to arrive. It was a huge feast and a wedding cake that as all set up, all prepared. At exactly twenty minutes till nine, she received a message that the groom had run away with another woman and was not going to be coming to the wedding.

From that moment on, Miss Havisham made it her goal in life to get revenge on men. She refused to move on with her life, choosing instead to live in the past, but she continued to wear her wedding dress and her veil, even after they had become tattered and faded and yellowed. She never took them off. That’s what she wore every day.

All the clocks in the house were stopped at—you guessed it—twenty minutes till nine. She put heavy drapes on all the windows, so the sun could never shine in. She lived in seclusion with her adopted daughter. The cake and the feast were left to rot on the tables. Eventually they were carried off by mice and spiders. The mice could be heard running in the walls. (Are you getting the picture? This is a gruesome setting now, years later.)

The main character in the story is a boy named Pip, and he visits Miss Havisham. It’s her birthday, but she won’t let anyone mention it. She says, “On this day of the year, long before you were born, this heap of decay was brought here. It and I have worn away together. The mice have gnawed at it, and sharper teeth than teeth of mice have gnawed at me.”

Those “teeth,” of course, were the teeth of bitterness and resentment and unforgiveness. And what a picture this is of so many people today who are living in the past—being held hostage to offenses and wounds and situations that took place years ago. They refuse to move on. That person could be you.

You know exactly when it was that the clock stopped in your life—the day, the time, the place, the circumstances. It may have been years. But today you are living in a “heap of decay.” The teeth of bitterness and resentment have gnawed at you and worn you away and ultimately destroyed you.

Maybe it wasn’t years ago. Maybe it was just recently, but this is a picture of where you could end up, missing out on the life God wants you to enjoy today.

But here’s the thing: You don’t have to end up where Miss Havisham did. God wants to give you grace—G-R-A-C-E (we’ve talked about that in this series.) He gives grace to the humble. He wants to give you grace to move on. He wants to set you free from those wounds and hurts of the past.

Now, you remember that in the first part of this “Seeking Him” series, we had several sessions on how to experience revival in our vertical relationship with the Lord. In the second half now, we’re dealing with the practical outworking of that vertical relationship in our relationships with other people.

Last session, we talked about having a conscience that is clear, and that dealt with our offenses toward others. Today we want to talk about others’ offenses toward us. How do we deal with those? We may have had control over our offenses toward others, so we can see how we ought to clear our conscience. But if others have offended us, and we have no control over that—they wounded us; they damaged us; they wrecked our life in some way, big or small—we have no control over that. So how can we respond in a way that sets us free?

I want us to park a bit on this verse in Ephesians chapter 4, beginning in verse 30, where the apostle Paul says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” Now, he’s going to talk about offenses and how we deal with them, but the way that we deal with them could grieve the Holy Spirit who lives in us. He says, “Don’t do that. Don’t do that.”

And if you’re not going to grieve the Holy Spirit (we’ll talk more about the Holy Spirit in an upcoming session here), then, verse 31, you need to “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

So that first word: bitterness. Let this be put away from you. Bitterness is a response of anger or resentment to painful or difficult circumstances or people. That encompasses a lot. Right?

The circumstances may be a flood destroyed your house—and that had nothing to do with anyone. Or the circumstance may have been a person, a child or daughter or grandchild who wounded you, a boss, an employer, a friend, a professor, a parent, a mate. It can be circumstances or it can be people. And they’re either really hard, or they’re maybe even painful.

And we respond to those circumstances often in anger or resentment. “This shouldn’t happen to me. I’m angry. I’m going to hold this in. I’m going to resent this person or that circumstance.” And it becomes bitterness—bitterness in our soul.

Now, bitterness is yoked with some not-so-good bedfellows in the Scripture. As you look at verses that have to do with bitterness, you can see that it goes along in this one: 

  • In Ephesians 4 with wrath and anger and clamor and slander.
  • In other passages bitterness is linked with harshness.
  • It’s linked with cursing in Romans chapter 3:14.
  • It’s linked with jealousy in James chapter 3:14.

And it grieves the Spirit of God.

At the end of the day, no matter what the person, the circumstance, the “what” that caused my bitterness, my bitterness demonstrates a lack of trust in God. It demonstrates that I’m resisting His plan and His hand in my life.

And so the apostle Paul says, “Put it away from you. Don’t let any of it stay.” Instead, because you’ve got to put something in its place . . . You’ll see this many times in the epistles, particularly in the New Testament. Put something off, but then put something on, because if you just put something off but don’t put the right thing on in your life, you may end up with more of the bad thing than you ever dreamed of before.

So put off bitterness and wrath and clamor and all these things, but instead, verse 32 of Ephesians 4: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Now, there’s so much we could say about the subject of forgiveness. I’ve written a whole book on this subject of forgiveness. We’re just going to do one short session here, one week in the Seeking Him study, one lesson. This phrase, “forgiving one another” . . . We tend to focus on how others have wronged us.

But this phrase, “forgiving one another,” suggests that we all need to be forgiven. I need to forgive you. You need to forgive me. “Forgiving one another.” Others offend us, and we offend others—at work, at church, in our marriage, with the kids, with roommates. We all need to be forgiven, and we all need to forgive.

The writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews chapter 12, “Strive for peace with everyone.” Now, there’s some people who just aren’t willing to have peace. That’s why Romans 12 says, “As far as it’s possible, as far as it lies with you, live peaceably with all men.” You can’t control what somebody else is going to do.

But in Hebrews 12 he says, “Strive for peace with everyone . . .” Try for it. Go for it. See if it can happen. “. . . and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

And then he says in verse 15 of Hebrews 12: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”

The alternative to bitterness is what? Grace. We’ve talked about that in this series. It’s so precious to know that God has grace available for you and for me to deal with and respond to any circumstance that comes into my life.

Horrific, heinous things that people do against one another, that they have done against you, there is grace to deal with that. It doesn’t make it go away. It doesn’t make it not have happened. It doesn’t make you pretend that it didn’t happen. We’re not talking about that. But we’re saying it did happen, and you’ve got to respond. So the alternative to becoming bitter is receiving the grace that God wants to give you to deal with that circumstance.

And he says here, “See to it that no one fails to receive His grace.” I think this is saying that we have a responsibility to help each other walk in grace because sometimes we can’t see our own bitterness, or we can’t see the grace God’s wanting to give to us. That’s why we need each other.

That’s my goal in this session, to see to it that no one sitting listening to this session fails to receive or obtain the grace of God. I want you to receive it because I know if you don’t receive it, then the alternative is that you’re going to fall into bitterness. So see to it, be sure that no root of bitterness springs up. If it does, it will trouble many.

When I think of that root of bitterness, I think of walking through a woods. We have woods next to our house, and there are roots. Most of the roots are under the ground, but some of the roots grow up just a little bit above the surface. And if it’s not real bright outside, or you’re not watching closely, you can trip on one of those roots. And it’s not that big a deal, but it can do your face major damage. Right?

Bitterness is a root. A lot of times it stays hidden under the surface. But when it starts to come above the surface, those roots expand. They grow. They multiply. (And I’m probably not doing a very good job on the analogy here because the analogy will break down.) But he says when this root of bitterness springs up, it will cause trouble. “It will cause trouble, and by it many will be defiled.”

That word “defiled” means “contaminated, polluted.” Many will be contaminated. That many includes you. You’re going to be contaminated by this root of bitterness.

People who are bitter become hard and cold and depressed and negative and hard to live with. Those are the troubles that happen if you don’t receive God’s grace, if you let this root of bitterness spring up in your heart.

And others are going to be defiled because we become these cantankerous people that nobody wants to be around. We’re going to make the atmosphere of our homes and our work places toxic. You’ve been around people like this, and it just makes the atmosphere stink. It’s ugly. It makes people walk on eggshells once that bitterness comes up, bubbling up out of the heart, and begins to make its way into how people talk, into how they treat each other.

They say the most dangerous animal in the forest is the one that’s wounded. So wounded people who don’t receive God’s grace often become wounders of other people. So “many will be defiled.” Many will be troubled by this root of bitterness.

I remember having a conversation a number of years ago with a friend who is an author and a speaker. She was sharing with me a situation that her husband was going through with his business partner that was threatening to drive her and her husband into bankruptcy. It was vicious. It was awful. I don’t remember all the details now. I just remember this was something that was going to bury them, or it could have been.

This woman could have been seriously bitter. A lot of people in her circumstances would have been. But instead, as we talked about this, she was pursuing peace with that business partner. She was praying and seeking for a godly resolution to the conflict. 

Already there was this sweet fruit being born in this woman’s life and in her husband’s life. Instead, if they had been bitter, you would have been seeing the toxic effects of bitterness. But what was she doing? Even in the midst of it, before seeing how it was going to end up, before knowing the outcome—Was their business going to go under? Was her husband going to lose everything?—she was drawing on God’s grace.

She couldn’t control the outcome, but what she could control was her response. She said, “God has grace He wants to give my husband and me in this circumstance, and I’m going to obtain it. I’m going to receive it.”

It reminds me of that old hymn written in 1787, and one of the stanzas read:

When through fiery trials they pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee . . .

Imagine that! You’re walking through this fiery trial, and God’s saying, “Trust Me, the flame isn’t going to hurt you.” Well, there’s a testimony to that in the Old Testament—the three Hebrew young men in the middle of the fire.

The flame will not hurt thee; I only design Thy dross to consume,
[That’s all the stuff that’s not gold, that’s going to burn off.]
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

What is does God say? What gets you there? The grace of God.

My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.

("How Firm a Foundation," John Rippon, 1787)

So the hymn writer was saying, “See God’s hand in your circumstances. See His purposes. See His design in your life and in the life of others—designs that you can’t see fully. But one day you’ll look back, and you’ll say, “Oh, God had a purpose in that, and His grace really was sufficient.”

Look beyond the immediate circumstance, to the ultimate outcome that God wants to bring about in your life. And know that in that context, this trial is a good thing. It’s a gift. (What do I always, always say?) Anything that makes me need God is—what?—a blessing. Receive this trial as a gift from God, and then come boldly to His throne of grace, as Hebrews 4 tells us to do.

And what does God say you’ll receive when you get to that throne of grace? He says you’ll receive grace, but He says you’ll receive something else first—“that you may receive mercy.” That’s what we need first. Right?

You say, “No. It’s the other person who needs mercy.”

No, you need mercy, too. Because if you don’t get God’s mercy, you’re going to be just like that other person. “That you may receive mercy.” We all need that. And then that you may receive grace to help in your time of need. It’s your need. It’s that difficult situation, that fiery trial that makes you a candidate for God’s grace. Call on Him for grace to endure, and He will protect your heart from that root of bitterness.

The country of Rwanda is a small country, smaller than the state of Maryland. It’s population is approximately twelve-million people. In the spring of 1994, ethnic violence broke out in Rwanda between two tribes. (Some of you remember this clearly.)

The two tribes had a long, complicated history that went back for generations. And by the way, if you didn’t know who was from which tribe and you didn’t know these people, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. They had so many similarities, so many things in common, but there was bad blood between these two tribes.

In what became known as the Rwandan Genocide, one of the most brutal genocides in history, the majority Hutus undertook a mass slaughter of the minority Tutsis. In a hundred days, 800,000, some say as many as a million people were murdered in 100 days. It was about 8,000 people a day.

They used machetes, clubs, guns. It was vicious. In some cases, ordinary Hutu citizens were forced to kill Tutsis who had once been their friends and neighbors. These people knew each other. Children were recruited into militia groups. It was horrific. But you can read about something like that, 800,000 people . . . That’s a lot of people, but it doesn’t seem so personal. Let me make it a little more personal for you.

A woman named Immaculée Ilibagiza was just twenty-three years old when the call went out over the radio for the Hutus to rise up and kill their Tutsi neighbors. The Hutus called the Tutsis cockroaches, and they said, “We need to exterminate all of them.” That was the goal—to exterminate all of these Tutsis cockroaches, as they called them.

Well, Immaculée, who was a college student at the time, fled to the home of a nearby Hutu pastor who was a friend of her family. He agreed to take her into his home at the risk of his own life. He was thinking that the Hutus wouldn’t come to a Hutus’ pastor’s house to look for this Tutsi woman. So the pastor hid Immaculée and six other women in a tiny—and I mean tiny—bathroom. It was 3’x 4’—twelve square feet—in a corner of the house. He sheltered them there for the next ninety-one days throughout this genocide.

At one point, they finally pushed a wardrobe against the door so they would avoid being detected. Not even his family living in that house knew of the women who were hiding in the bathroom. The women in that bathroom, they could not stand up at the same time. Some sat on the floor with their backs against the wall, and they held the smaller ones on their laps. They couldn’t shower. They change clothes. They couldn’t make any noise above a whisper. They could hardly eat anything.

When Immaculée went into that bathroom, she weighed 115 pounds. When she came out, she weighed sixty-five pounds, ninety-one days later. She could see the bones in her skeleton. And sitting holed up in that bathroom, all she could think of at first was how she could get revenge, how she might become a soldier when she got out, and throw bombs and destroy the Hutus. She said, “It physically hurt me. I had a stomach ache, and my blood was running out of anger. Anger and hatred became obsessive. Like a sickness literally, and it came for me. I was tired.”

She wrote a compelling book called, Left to Tell. In that book she tells how she struggled with the issue of forgiveness while holed up in the tiny bathroom. She said:

I said the Lord's Prayer hundreds of times, hoping to forgive the killers who were murdering all around me. It was no use. Every time I got to the part asking God to "forgive those who trespass against me," my mouth went dry. I couldn't say the words. My inability to forgive caused me even greater pain than the anguish I felt in being separated from my family, and it was worse than the physical torment of being constantly hunted.

Did you catch that? Her inability to forgive was the hardest hardship she endured during that miserable three-month period.

And the feared Hutu militia did come by that house, repeatedly, looking for any Tutsis who might be hiding there. They ransacked the house on more than one occasion. Miraculously, they never found the seven women who were hunkered down in that bathroom.

One time there were forty to fifty Hutu men who raided the house. At one time they were in the house. They were milling about. They were drunk. They were violent. They were raucous. They were singing, laughing, shouting. They tore up that house trying to find any Tutsis, intending to kill every single one of those “cockroaches.”

It was a terrifying experience. The women in the bathroom could hear when one of the killers put his hand on the bathroom door, but for some reason he didn’t turn the knob. It was after that that Immaculée said, “Let’s push this chest up against the door.”

She says in her book:

I began to pray for the killers and then stopped. I desperately wanted God’s protection, but I believed in my heart that they deserved to die. I couldn’t pretend that they hadn’t slaughtered and raped thousands of people. I couldn’t ignore the awful, evil things that they’d done to so many innocent souls.

“Why do You expect the impossible from me?” I asked God. “How can I forgive people who are trying to kill me, people who may have already slaughtered my family and friends? God, I will ask You to punish those wicked men, but I cannot forgive them. I just can’t.”

[Finally, she heard the killers leaving.] I resumed my prayers. It was no use. My prayers felt hollow. A war had started in my soul, and I could no longer pray to a God of love with a heart full of hatred.

I asked God to help me, [It’s a great first step. “God, I can’t do this. Would You help me?”] and I heard His voice: “Forgive them; they know not what they do.” I took a crucial step toward forgiving the killers that day. My anger was draining from me. I’d opened my heart to God, and He had touched it with His infinite love. For the first time, I pitied the killers. I asked God to forgive their sins and turn their souls toward His beautiful Light.

That night I prayed with a clear conscience and a clean heart. For the first time since I entered the bathroom, I slept in peace.

Now, while Immaculée was in hiding, her mother, her father, and two of her three brothers (her third brother was out of the country at the time, studying abroad, and didn’t even know this was going on) were killed by Hutu soldiers. Her father had been shot one week into the genocide because he was trying to get food for some refugees in a nearby stadium.

After the genocide finally ended, Immaculée knew that she had a piece of unfinished business. The man who had overseen the troops and who had looted her parents’ home and plantation and who had killed her mother and brother, that man was now incarcerated in a local jail. She felt she had to visit him there.

The man was brought out. He was all disheveled. He looked miserable, pitiful. She remembered him as a well-dressed Hutu businessman who was known to her family. She tells how she looked him in the eyes, then touched his hands, and said what she knew she needed to say: “I forgive you. I forgive you.”

Forgiveness, by the way (it’s another long story) became a huge part of how that country actually rebuilt itself—not just individuals, but collectively, forgiving, forgiving, forgiving, and getting those who offended to acknowledge the crimes they had committed.

She says in her book:

I resolved that when the negative feelings came upon me, I wouldn't wait for them to grow or fester. I would always turn immediately to the Source of all true power: I would turn to God and let His love and forgiveness protect and save me.

There’s a big clue there to walking in forgiveness, and that is, when the negative feelings do come, don’t wait for them to grow, to fester, or to build up, but turn immediately to the Source of grace—grace—grace. Put away all bitterness, instead forgive one another. See to it that no one fails to receive the grace that God wants to give.”

I want us as we close to pray together that prayer the Lord Jesus taught us to pray, the prayer that Immaculée prayed many, many times—hundreds of times perhaps in those ninety days. She tripped over that one phrase, but you don’t have to trip over it today if you will trust God for grace to put forgiveness in your heart.

And so we pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever, amen” (Matt. 6:9–13 KJV). Amen. Amen.

Dannah: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth will be right back to pray.

Maybe, as she’s been speaking today, a specific person has come to mind, someone who’s hurt you deeply. Maybe you’ve decided that it’s even impossible to forgive them. I hope you’ve been challenged today. Forgiveness is not only possible, it is your path to freedom and joy. Nancy writes about the power of forgiveness in her workbook, Seeking Him.

Would you embark on a journey of joy by letting God transform your heart and your thinking in the area of forgiveness, honesty, repentance, clearing your conscience, and so many other important areas? Seeking Him will help you explore each of them.

We’d like to send you a copy when you support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts with a donation of any size. Visit ReviveOurHearts.com to do that right now, or call 1–800–569–5959.

Can you be free if you’ve engaged in sexual sin? The answer is, “Yes.” Nancy will be back tomorrow to talk about it, so join us again for Revive Our Hearts.

And now, Nancy’s back to pray.

Nancy: I just wonder if there are any here who would say, “I know there’s something or somethings I need to forgive, but there’s a battle going on in my heart.” You’re feeling what Immaculée was in that little closet, that bathroom: “I just don’t know how I can.”

Oh, Lord, how I pray, how we pray together. Your Word says, “See to it that no one—no one—fails to obtain the grace of God.” I want to pray for these sisters who’ve lifted their hands, and maybe others who didn’t even have the courage to get their hand in the air, but they are struggling to get the grace to forgive, struggling with that root of bitterness. I don’t know what the issue is, but I know that You know.

So we bring them to Your throne of grace. I pray that You would give the mercy they need, the mercy we all need, and the grace to forgive.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants you to find true freedom. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

Join the Discussion