?“It should have been my church,” he said with anger. He spoke about a certain plum church in the Northeast where once he was a candidate for the pastor’s job but which instead had called someone he considered a friend. “You would think that he knew I was a better fit there. Now, give him a couple of years and watch him fail!”
It was bad enough that this pastor was blinded to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, God had called another to that place; but now he was speaking ill of a former friend and seemed to be secretly hoping for the pain that failure brings. The sadness of the moment was compounded by the fact that he was already the pastor of a fine church that many another pastor would have been thrilled to lead. As a result, he was very unhappy there. What is worse, the incident he was recalling had occurred more than five years before and-he still was not past it.
“Resentment,” according to an old saying from where I grew up in my native Ireland, “is like taking poison and waiting for your enemy to die.” In the course of my ministry to pastors, I have heard similar sentiments expressed many times by people who are called to be spiritual leaders. “See to it…that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). Spiritual leaders they may be called to be, but they never will be as long as they carry hard baggage from something that happened long ago.
A teacher once instructed each of her students to bring a clear plastic bag and a sack of potatoes to school. They were told to remember every person against whom they held a grudge. For each person they refused to forgive, they chose a potato, wrote on it the name and date, and put it in the plastic bag and carried that bag with them wherever they went in the days ahead. At first, the students went along with the plan. Some of them even thought it was fun. However, as time passed, those bags seemed heavier and heavier. Lugging them around was no fun, especially as the potatoes became old, moldy, smelly and began to sprout potato eyes.
Carrying an old bitterness is much like that experience. If we are not careful, our inability to get over our list of imagined slights of imagined foes and move on will mount up and burden us, and life will become increasing unpleasant.
A rattlesnake, if it is cornered, will sometimes become so angry it will bite itself and die of its own poison. That is exactly what harboring resentment against others is-biting oneself. We think that we are harming others in holding these spites and hates, but the deeper harm is to ourselves. As comedian Buddy Hackett said, “I never carry a grudge. You know why? While you’re carrying a grudge, they’re out dancing.”
Resentment is never the baggage of the truly godly person and should surely never be part of the load of a pastor. Can you imagine any more tragic sight than that of a professed Christian leader remembering old grudges and defending his or her sense of having been wronged? Such a leader is a denial of the message of the cross we are called to preach and live. The only cure is to do business anew with the One who calls us so that we may die to ourselves and rise again with Him in newness of life. So if this month’s column brings back a bitter memory for you, resolve in Christ’s name to get over it and go preach. You-and your message-will both be better for it.

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About The Author


The Rev. Dr. Leslie Holmes is professor of ministry and preaching at Erskine Theological Seminary in Columbia and Due West, SC. A Presbyterian minister, he was most recently senior pastor of Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church in Augusta, GA. Dr. Holmes has served churches in six states, including Saxe Gotha Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC, and First Presbyterian Church in Pascagoula, MS. He has taught preaching, worship, and pastoral leadership on six continents and throughout North America. He is the author of several books.

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