Yesterday our church services featured about 25 cardboard testimonies. A cardboard testimony is exactly what it sounds like: People come forward with short testimonies written on cardboard. One side tells the struggle they faced; the flip side tells how God helped them overcome seemingly impossible odds.
The stories were as varied as they were remarkable – stories of addiction, abuse, death, divorce, life-threatening illness, infertility, perseverance, all knit together with the common thread of redemption.
I watched the parade of testimonies with an overwhelmed heart. I had my own story of overcoming, and I could feel their pain and their joy. The feeling throughout the sanctuary was the same.
But one woman left the sanctuary embittered and not encouraged. “That’s not my story,” she told a dear friend of mine. Her father had been an abusing, self-gratifying, evil man. Her own life ended, in her mind, when her mother died.
“You just haven’t gotten to that point in your walk yet,” my friend reassured her. “You’ll get there.”
“No, I won’t,” the lady insisted. And it was on that note that the conversation ended. My friend walked away confused and stunned.
The lady, it seems, is holding onto her bitterness as a child clings to a security blanket. Her pain has become an old familiar friend, her anger so well-nurtured that she cannot abandon it now. She keeps her wounds hermetically sealed from the healing balm of redemption.
I’ve lost someone like that. She held her heartache close to her bosom, and it eventually destroyed her heart and her mind. But what people like that fail to understand is that overcoming is the greatest insult to our abusers and oppressors. Our enemies – who act on behalf of man’s greatest enemy, Satan – feed on our anger and our bitterness. That is their common language. Our victory is their defeat.
Many years ago, I was in the midst of a valley, and that day the Lord brought me to Habakkuk 3:17-18: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” That day, like so many since, I chose to praise despite my circumstances.
When my fig tree fails to bud, I remember previous crops – how time and time again, God has allowed fruit to develop in the midst of my spiritual desert. I remember the times when I had only the faith of a mustard seed, and God sprouted that minute seed of faith into a tree onto which birds could rest. (See Matthew 13:31-32.) Then, like the birds, my song of praise rises up, and it’s in those times of praise-filled expectation that God breaks through. The fig tree buds. My faith is made sight.
God blesses our praise. He does not bless our complaints, our curses, our criticisms, and our excuses. (Open your Bible to any part of Exodus for biblical evidence of this truth.) He blesses faith despite sight. If we committed as much airtime to praise and prayer as we commit to venting our frustrations, imagine how the darkness in our hearts would give way to God’s light.
What heartache do hold close to your bosom? What bitterness do you cling to as a child clings to a security blanket? What pain have you allowed to become old familiar friend? Let today be the day of your deliverance, my friend. Commit your bitterness to our sweet Savior, and recommit it every time the enemy brings the taste of bile back into your mouth.
Your pain is greater than you: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). But here’s the good news: “Greater is He who is in you than He who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).