Sweet Bitter Things
By Billie Marie Zal
“The full soul loatheth an honeycomb: but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.” (Proverbs 27:7)
When we are hungry we eat. But when we are full we do not desire anything. This is a fact not only in reference to the physical life, but also in reference to the spiritual life.
It was our Lord Himself who said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). In saying this, He promises that if we are hungry we will get food. We will get the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We will never be left to wander aimlessly about in our Christian life without the graces provided which will guide us through to victory, peace, and power.
From the looks of things today there are not very many hungry Christians. Or if there are they are not, in faith, asking to be filled. I suppose that basically, every child of God does want to be fed. Time and again I have had believers say to me, “I act in a certain manner and I don’t want to act this way, but I can’t help it.” Now behind this statement lies a desire to change, to be fed. Why then is the desire not fulfilled? Why does such an individual proceed from year to year without having ever experienced a fruitful, life-giving life?
The answer might well lie in the truth that in order to be fed we might have to eat something that we do not particularly like - something bitter.
It is a truth that none of us like bitter things. It usually takes a bitter dose of medicine to make us well, both physically and spiritually speaking. But bitter things can become the means of making life sweet and I, for one, can testify to this truth.
Life to me is sweet, though filled to the brim with bitter things. I do not have a reserve of “happy time memories” to draw upon as some folks might. Rather, there are far more bitter things to be remembered than sweet things. But being a child of God I can only conclude that He knew what He was doing when He arranged the course of my life from the moment that I was born.
As an example, I was not permitted to live in a state of mental oblivion concerning the
reality of eternity for very long. And so perhaps the first bitter thing that came my way happened before I was five years old. I might have mentioned it before, but it is important to me and so I shall mention it again. I received the revelation from God even at this young age that there was an eternity, there was death, and there was a hereafter. And I knew that the self that was “me” would not in its present state remain here forever. It was a frightening, fearful revelation for one so young. But I had always known, even as a little child, that there was a God who loved me and so I took this bitter thing into my being. Though it remained an awesome fact, still if affected my life in a wonderful way. Because I knew that life as I experienced it could not last forever I began to reverence the gift of life. I considered it a lovely treasure, for I realized that I might never have been born or even known that there was a God who loved me. And so from that day on, having tasted the bitterness of reality concerning death, I considered each day a special gift from my Father in Heaven. And life itself was sweet, though the reality of eternity was bitter to my flesh within.
This knowledge carried me through many troublesome times and formed the underlying foundation of all my responses toward created things. I would never take life for granted, thus I would reverence the gift of life in every living thing. I would be protected from satan’s insidious lies that I could do as I pleased with my life and never have to suffer any adverse consequences. It would be a sweet, palatable truth (once received) that would keep me hungry for more truth, and thus be filled time and again.
I am reminded also of the many bitter things that came to me as I grew into young womanhood. There was the death of a child-friend who lived next door. I had been terribly jealous of her because she had grown to love my mother, and so mother had let her play with my paper dolls while I was in my first school year. Discovering all my treasures awry I would be furious. However, I never outwardly showed my fury but I got back at her indirectly. Then, when she died I did not have the opportunity to ask her forgiveness for my hatred. I had not done anything physically to harm her, but I had stood silently by while older children teased and taunted her, and I had done nothing to defend her. I could not forget the hurt in her huge brown eyes as she looked beseechingly at me to help her resist the cruel teasing.
The crushing reality that I could never, in my lifetime, receive her forgiveness or even tell her that I was sorry came as a bitter thing into my young life, and as I mourned her I began to pray that God Himself would forgive me. Then, on one lovely, hot summer night when the moon was full and nature was silent, the love of God came flooding into my heart and I knew that He had indeed forgiven me. And I logically concluded that if she were with Him, then did not she also know that I was sorry?
The sorrow that had been so very bitter now became sweet. And this experience again was to transform my personality so that I would in the future embrace all creatures, both man and beast, who came my way with their hurts and their bewilderments. Because I possessed the forgiveness of God for my own meannesses, I could never deliberately be mean or cruel again to anyone.
As the years rolled by I was to experience many more bitter things. My teeth were not pretty and there was no specialist to go to. My complexion was bad, and there was not enough money for an expert on skin conditions to hover anxiously about, taking me through my next case of acne. Further, I was permitted by God (Who else) to live in a small “company house” sandwiched in between two large oil refineries that belched fire and brimstone (so it seemed to me) continuously. My heart would all but stop its beat when the fire whistles would begin their unearthly scream because I was afraid I would lose my daddy who worked there. I was deathly fearful of storms, and there were many violent ones in our area; because we had no storm cellar I would fold up in a huge featherbed, hands pressed tightly against my ears until the winds ceased. But I accepted these bitter things because I believed that God Himself permitted them. He could not rearrange every normal circumstance for my “peace of mind.” But in accepting adverse circumstances I could indeed receive His peace. And I loved Him anyhow. I still had uneven teeth and a bad complexion, I still hated disharmony, fires, storms, and the like. But underneath the surface of my nature there was being formed a core of deep, abiding peace - an acceptance that would see me through in time to victory.
Adulthood did not bring any fleshly compensations, but life was still sweet to me, no matter what. Friends fell away, my life was turned upside down, and loneliness visited me often. But God’s will was done and the day came when I was born again into His eternal Kingdom where all the answers are given to us if we go to Him for them. I realized now, after my salvation, that all the bitter things had led to a humbling of my nature so that I could worship God and love Him with all my heart, soul, strength and mind.
I hope that I have not presented you with a picture of a harsh, unloving God. There were many happy times: quiet days in our forest with my German Shepherd; nut gathering time with my folks in the Autumn; Christmas, always a wonderful time at our house; band trips and picnics, and parents who were always there. God was good to me. He merely wanted me to be well balanced, receiving the good with the bad, and thanking Him for His love in every circumstance. I do know that none of the “happy or sweet” things ever grew me up. Only the bitter things did that. And in growing up I can be a strength to others.
There is a great tendency in today’s society to refuse the bitter things either by denying
that they are there, or else by running away from them. Of course in both cases this attitude will create a mental illness. I have noticed that the members of our Lord’s Body are not exempt from these illnesses even though He promises to give us peace and power and a sound mind. And so if you find yourself excessively nervous or irritable, or unkind or unloving, why not examine yourself to see if there might be any one bitter thing which you are refusing to accept? There are so many bitter things that could be coming your way - some husband or wife who has rejected you, some friend who has betrayed your trust, some job that was denied you, some financial difficulty that you had never expected. . . or, more often than not, some child who has gone against every decent thing he was taught by you in your love.
All these bitter things CAN become sweet. They can become sweet if you are hungry for God’s smile and His approval and His love. For they are merely the stepping stones to your humble submission to His sovereign authority in your life. I can testify to that, for each day brings to me some very bitter things. And perhaps I am a vessel through which God’s power and life can flow through, to others.
(From the July, 1974 Wingspread)
First of all, Rodney and I want to thank all of you who sent us birthday cards. We received so many lovely cards, and it means a lot to us to be remembered.
My favorite time of the day is when we set down and read letters. I usually read them out loud and Rodney makes notes. We are so thankful for all of you who so faithfully keep in touch and share your life, spiritual growth, and questions with us. Sometimes questions are hard to answer. We are all different and our search for God takes many different roads.
Growing up I was alone a lot. I spent hours wandering thru the forest behind our house. I came to know where the different flowers would grow, where I could find berries to pick, and it was a place of wonder and amazement to me. Maybe living so close to nature is the reason I had no problem believing that there was a God who had created, and had control over all His creation.
But religion seemed to only be about a bunch of rules, and I rebelled. Looking back I now know that I rebelled against my parents and the rules of the Church. I still wanted to know how I could be accepted by God and know for a certainty that if I died today I would go to Heaven. Isn’t that what everyone wants - to know God in that personal way, where there is no
doubt you know you belong, and you’re accepted and safe? I think that is what everyone is searching for.
Maybe that is why Christmas is such a special time. People are kinder and more friendly. There is an atmosphere of peace and good wishes for all. Someone said that during World War II, late on Christmas eve in Germany, the shooting stopped as a soldier began to sing “Silent Night.” Even the enemy, in his own language, joined in the singing. And there was for a brief moment peace on the battlefield.
Luke, who is called by Paul, “The Beloved Physician,” is the only one of the Gospels that tell of Jesus’ birth, and also of His childhood. Luke had a compassionate spirit and no doubt he took a second look at the miserable condition in which the Son of God came to this world. We see the pictures of Mary and Joseph, and the Baby, and it looks so cozy and warm. But we do not see the misery and pain they endured those days before and after His birth.
The second chapter of Luke tells how they had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be taxed. It looks to me like this is at least sixty miles. We have no proof that there was a donkey for Mary to ride on. Maybe she had to walk with Joseph, and it took several days, maybe a week or more. We don’t know where they spent their nights, or what they had to eat or drink. We can only imagine what a hard, dusty, dirty trip it must have been.
When Mary’s labor pains began there was no room for them in the inn. That night there was no kindness shown. No one said, “here, take my room.” He came as it was foretold in Isaiah 9:6: “. . . and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” But there was no room for Him and no one to receive Him. What would we have done, had we been there?
Its something to think about. In most cases human nature thinks of self first, and it would not have been easy to give up a room on that cold night to strangers. After all, that night no one knew who they were, and they did not know that the Messiah, the Savior of us all, was about to be born.
Had Joseph and Mary gone to the temple in Jerusalem, they would have been received with joy. There was a man there named Simeon who was a just and devout man. He was waiting for the Messiah and God had shown him that he would not die until he had seen the Christ. Later, when Jesus was 8 days old he was brought to the Temple as was ordered by the Law. And when Simeon saw Mary and Joseph and the baby in the temple he took the babe in his arms and blessed God, and said, “Lord now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples, light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). As he blessed them he went on to say, “Behold this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against, yes a sword will pierce through your own soul also that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2: 34-35).
There is a song about how Christ had to leave the splendor of Heaven, knowing His destiny was a lonely hill of Golgatha. He had to humble Himself and come to earth, take on a human form, and be our kinsman. In order to save us He had to identify with us, feel our weaknesses, be one of us, tempted in every way as we are in order to be our Kinsman Redeemer.
This Holiday season let’s remember what it cost Him, and not forget to thank Him for the salvation He brought to us all.
Winter time on Baca Mountain
Prayer Requests for December, 2007
For Michael O’Barr in Tucson, Arizona, who asks us to pray for the Troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
For Anthony Grayson, Fallsburg, New York, who is working on his appeal.
For Frank Williams, Jr. on death row at Grady, Arkansas, who is waiting on an appeal ruling.
For Chris Harley’s daughter who is partying too much. Chris is at Florence, Arizona.
For William Holland, Menard, Illinois, who is working on his post-conviction appeal.
For Marlin Resinger, McAlester, Oklahoma, that his Interstate Compact request to be sent to Arkansas will be approved.
For Ponnell Buchanan, Dixon, Illinois, that the courts will restore his lost “good time.”
For Willie Scott, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who is being treated with radiation for prostate cancer, that he is healed with no major side affects.
For Francis Nolan Holland’s sister, Donita, who just had surgery for breast cancer. Nolan is at Tucker, Arkansas.
For Raymond Arterberry’s Mother who is 66 years old and facing a possible prison sentence. Raymond is at Granite, Ok.
For Michael Small’s cousin, Jeffrey Small who is in bad health and needs healing. Michael is at Menard, Illinois.
For Willie Harper at Menard, Illinois, who has stomach problems and has not been diagnosed yet.
For our neighbor, Colleen Brock, who broke her wrist and had to have surgery, that she will heal quickly.
For Robert Heffernan, Brickeys, Arkansas, that he’ll be able to walk on his own soon.
For Steve Oakley’s Mother, Faye Oakley, who has diabetes and is loosing her sight. Steve lives in Prairie Grove, Arkansas.
For Lonnie Burke, Mt. Sterling, Illinois, who is recovering from a stroke.
For Isaac Douglas’ cell partner, Donald, who is receiving chemotherapy treatments. Isaac and Donald are at Canton, Illinois.
For Sister Ann & all the Carmelite Nuns in Little Rock.
For Bobby Linscombe’s friend, Ron, at Iowa Park, Texas.
For Pastor Melissa Scott and her ministry in Los Angeles.
For all of us at Wingspread.
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