Bitter Strongholds

Attribution Some rights reserved by girolame

The words came out of her mouth fast. Anger tinged her voice. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. She always knew better than I. Every self-help book sat on her shelf at home. To my inquiry, she could name five of the most helpful authors, her energetic words breaking the sound barrier and buzzing my ears. I walked away in relief after that conversation, embracing the silence, and so tired from the effort.

How is it that with all the self-help books available not one could help this woman recognize her own unforgiveness?

Another disaster occurred when she railed against church during a meeting. The negativity acted like a cold someone passed on to another, spreading before I can find the antidote. Before long, the conversation became more about how bad church was than what God was doing in their lives.

Some people didn’t return to the next meeting. The negativity didn’t encourage anyone that day. That woman’s anger left us feeling as if someone had pushed our head under the water and we couldn’t draw in air. If you presented a problem to her, she could name a book that could help with your situation, but she didn’t know how to recognize the bitterness building a stronghold in her soul. This is not a new story.

I encounter this behavior with people still bitter from church. What I find to be more truthful is that their own intolerance of others imperfections tends to keep them away from church, or they didn’t like the teaching because they wanted to create their own god by mashing together pieces of scripture to match their idea of God. That’s also the problem with not going to church. Where’s the iron to sharpen iron? Where’s the growth in the long suffering? Where’s the dying to self if all you have is yourself? Where’s the fellowship during good times and trials? Where is the learning that comes from knowing how to get along with other less-than-perfect sinful human beings? Where is the friends who come calling when you feel alone who share your beliefs?

Some of the pain we encounter can be redeemed through Christ. Pain helps us learn and grow if we allow its work, and as another friend pointed out, there is joy as we abide in Him through trials. Trials of all sorts help us grow.

“Based on this faulty definition of the abundant life, I lived in discouragement, disappointment and depression every time I perceived that God was not supplying the abundant life that I felt He had promised. Our definition of abundance here in our prosperous country is vastly different from the perception of abundance in a third world country. So what is the abundant life? I believe the abundant life is the life that is always in the process of being conformed, molded and transformed into the image of Christ, which more often than not, requires dying to all of my perceived images of fulfillment, all of my thoughts of “happiness,” all of my desires for material contentment.” Kathleen Beard states. And she should know about trials and not going to church, then returning with a stronger spirit. You can read her response here to a blog I posted.

I’m sure there are personality and gossip issues in house churches located in places unfriendly to Christians. I wonder what they do about it? Do they leave? Do they stop coming? Or do they learn to grow and handle it, learning to love one another in spite of a difficult personality or a potential gossip problem through accountability? We have the freedom to attend or not attend church and to switch churches in our country because the Bible and its Word are everywhere—some taught by less than ethical people and some taught by people whose words ring with its truth. Information is within our reach, and we think that church can run itself. And so we judge it and those within it without first overcoming the plank that exists in our own eyes.

Change begins by a whisper, Julie Garwood wrote in one of her secular romances via a character who was trying to change an unbendable society. Change begins by a whisper, and then becomes a shout as it grows in power. If we want to change people, first we must recognize we have no power to change people. Only Christ has that power and we do this through prayer. The prayer warriors are the most important ministry in any church. Without prayer, church is just another concert—a place we gather with friends, have coffee, and leave again to be Sunday Christians. You’re not doing anyone any favors by bashing church, especially to unbelievers.

I love what a Facebook friend quoted. She quoted Ava Pennington who said, “When we become dissatisfied with our own church or critical of another, let’s remember one small point: even if we found the perfect church it would cease to be perfect the moment we entered the front door.” How is it, I ask now, that we are quick to point fingers of blame at everyone else, but seldom reverse that finger to ourselves?

I can’t be the only one who has instinctively gone to blame, before I felt the godly sorrow at realizing my contribution to something. There are many self-help books available for every personality ailment, but if we are not growing in Christ another author is making a quick buck on us and their mission has been for naught.

Kathleen Beard also said in the same blog, “I believe the key to joy is found in praise—praise when there is no reason left to praise—praise when everything has gone bad. I am learning that there is something truly supernatural about praise—it breaks something loose in the Heavenly places. I am also learning that there is something truly supernatural about loving our enemies—blessing instead of cursing. Speaking a blessing, such as the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:24-26 over someone, including over myself, is a powerful thing. I am watching long bitter strongholds breaking into pieces in my life and in the lives of others as I speak blessing into them.”


Today examine your blogs, your conversations, your tweets, and your emails, even your thought –life. Is there a pattern? What can you do about that pattern? Does your heart carry unforgiveness?


Dear Lord, I pray for the hearts that hurt and still hurt that are in denial. It’s easy to overlook our own shortcomings and see the mistakes of others. It’s easy to walk away rather than invest in a relationship. If there is any abuse in a church, I pray the people abused understand that sometimes you have to walk away, but you can always start over. Help me find the plank in my eye, Lord, when I want to push the blame off to someone else. In Jesus Name, Amen