I want to challenge you NextGen leaders with something that all to often is a stumbling block for people heading into full-time ministry: bitterness. I’ve been involved in full-time ministry with my family’s ministry (wagnerministries.org) since I was 14, and one thing I’ve learned about ministry is this: there will always be opportunities for you to take offense at someone.
Has someone ever wronged you? Have you ever just wanted justice to be done because you have been cheated? When I was in 5th grade, one of my best friends at church owed me some money. For a few weeks I pestered him about it, and he never repaid me. Within a few weeks, he went from being one of my best friends to my mortal enemy. I just couldn’t get over the fact that he owed me money; I got resentful towards him and didn’t want to have anything to do with him. Fast-forward a few years: I was in Bible College, and one of my friends was in desperate need of $800 to go on a missions trip. I lent her the money, with the promise that it would be repaid. It wasn’t. It was like my experience in 5th grade was being repeated all over again—and this time it involved a lot more money than before! For a long time I got bitter towards this person, thinking, “Who do they think they are? They’re going to pay for being dishonest and taking advantage of my generosity!” I got really bitter towards her.
I think often of a story told by Pastor Sharon Daugherty at Victory Christian Center, when her and her husband, Billy Joe, were young in ministry and asked a seasoned minister, “Can you give us some advice for getting started in ministry?” Without a thought, the minister turned around and told them, “If you don’t get bitter, you’ll make it.” Those words struck me one day as I was harboring bitterness in my heart towards this person who didn’t pay me back what was owed me. And then I was reminded of a similar situation in the Bible. When the Apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the church in Corinth, there were so many issues needing to be addressed. Sexual immorality was rampant in their culture, and was invading the church as well. Paul had to address marriage, the way they worshipped, and even the way they ate their food. One of the issues Paul wrote to them about was overlooking offenses when they had been cheated.
The Corinthian Christians were bringing lawsuits against each other, and it was actually DAMAGING their witness among the unbelievers because they saw these Christians tearing each other down. With this in mind, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:7, “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” I often just want to read the Bible and have it make me feel good, but one particular day those words struck me so strongly. “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?”
Don’t you just hate it when the Bible convicts you so much? One of those convicting verses for me is Proverbs 19:11: “It is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” We often want grace for ourselves, but judgment for everyone else. We want those who have wronged us to be brought to justice, but when we wrong someone we want to be shown grace. I’m sure glad that Jesus doesn’t treat me like I often treat people. The truth is, Jesus’ example for us was to overlook offenses and wrongs, even if the other person is not remorseful or sorry for his or her actions.
Forgiveness is a one-way street; and you might be the only one who participates in it! Jesus’ love was demonstrated towards us while we were still dead in our sin. In his example, he taught us that we should overlook offenses even if the other person never seeks forgiveness or pays us back. Forgiven people must forgive people. It took me a long time, but I eventually settled it in my heart that I was going to forgive, love, and hope the best for this person who had wronged me—because that’s what Jesus has done for me, and continues to do for me every single day. And let me tell you, when you don’t have any bitterness in your heart towards people, it is a very freeing feeling. There is something special about honestly wishing the very best for someone who has hurt you deeply.
So next time someone wrongs you, treat him or her like you know Jesus has treated you. Why not just overlook the offense? If you are cheated, you can be okay. If you are hurt, you can be okay. Forgiveness is a one-way street. Always take the high road, even if you’re the only one walking it.
Jesse has been involved in international ministry since the age of 14 and in recent years has done a great deal of youth ministry in the United States as well. He is a graduate of Victory Bible College in Tulsa, OK, and is currently attending Oral Roberts University. He is also the author of the book, "Brave", which has blessed many young people in their walk with Jesus.