A few years ago I read a few books on the life of President Richard Nixon. I have always been interested in American history, especially Presidential history. I’m fascinated by the inside look at leadership at the top levels.
But the one enduring lesson I gleaned from Nixon’s life was his inability to forgive. It ruined his entire leadership. Since he lost to John Kennedy in 1960 in an election that was possibly stolen from him, he vowed to never let anyone steal anything from him again. So even as he won two Presidential elections convincingly, that wasn’t enough. He was convinced all kinds of people were trying to sabotage him. He couldn’t enjoy his success, because he led from bitterness. It’s something that has sort of haunted me since. And now that I have been a leader of a church, am a husband, and a father, bitterness is something I must keep a check on.
The truth is all of us get hurt and hurt deeply, often by people close to us. Often it’s out of nowhere and we are completely blindsided. What do we do with this? Well as Christians we’re commanded to forgive as Christ forgave (Matthew 7:12; Ephesians 4:32). I’ve learned that it’s not so easy. You don’t just hit the Staples Easy button and forgive. It’s a process that God does in you as you draw close to Him. It’s a work the Spirit does in you. It can’t be faked.
Personally I have found it important to be in the Word of God consistently and in tune with good Bible preaching. It’s vital to have God’s Word speak into your soul. It’s also important to surround yourself with other people who won’t let you grow bitter.
Often your friends who stick up for you will want you to sort of fight back and will give you all kinds of excuses to be nasty. These friends don’t help you much. It’s the friends who will listen patiently to you, who will hear your concerns, will be defend you if necessary, but will gently and sometimes forcefully remind you of the duty of a Christian to forgive.
The bottom line is that when we gaze at the cross, we see the effect of our own sin. We see what we’ve done to Jesus Christ. It’s infinitely worse than any abuse I’ve suffered. And yet God through Christ forgave me.
Leaders must model this. We must set the tone, not just in our preaching, but in our conversations. Do we try to continually recruit folks to our side? Do we carry a chip on our shoulder around with us?
As leaders, we are responsible for the cultures we create. And when we lead from bitterness, we create fear, enemies lists, and an overall sense of negativity.
Which is why we must constantly remind ourselves that bitterness destroys. It destroys our own souls and it creates unhealthy spiritual climates for those God has called us to serve.
Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). Dan is the author of several books, including Teen People of the Bible, Crash Course, iFaith, Real, Activist Faith, and his latest, The Original Jesus. Dan holds a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from Dayspring Bible College and has studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Angela have four children and reside in the Nashville area. They attend Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, where Dan serves as Pastor of Teaching and Discipleship.