Metaphors about plants, roots and soil are common in Scripture. A vine is a frequent illustration for Israel. Jesus taught about faith and the kingdom of God using stories about seeds. Judgment is often described as the ploughing of fields or the separating of weeds from crops.

This agricultural imagery makes sense when you consider the times and cultures in which the Scriptures were inspired and took shape. Yet these agrarian images are powerful in all times and cultures because they connect our minds with deeper concepts. They speak intuitively to life and vitality, growth and maturity, and ideas of identity and being.

Hebrews 12:14-15 counsels believers to live in peace with others and to pursue holiness. Yet it also warns of the bitter root that “grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Bitterness can so easily rob us of joy and peace and instead suffocate with jealousy and grief, often destroying the delicate ecosystem of trust in Christian communities. Having experienced first-hand the difficult struggle of uprooting bitterness once it's taken hold, I'd like to share some ideas for tearing out the bitter root and cultivating a heart of holiness.

Get New Soil (Give Thanks)
Deliberately choosing gratitude in the midst of suffering and loss leads to the truest peace. All life is an experience of goodness intermingled with pain. Our attitude impacts our ability to discern God's presence in the midst of the chaos. Choosing to intentionally recognize and rejoice in the love and care of the Lord is the important first step in overcoming bitterness. Thanksgiving can develop the fallow soil of self-pity into a new and rich environment.

Fertilize (Pray For Your Enemies)
In my experience, bitterness is often caused by betrayal. In those times of tenderness and vulnerability, we must turn to the power and fuel of the spiritual life—prayer. Yet, praying for ourselves will only get us so far. Intentionally praying for our enemies, both real and perceived, turns our hearts more fully to the heart of God. In his strength, overcoming hate and hurt with love and compassion sows a powerful catalyst for new growth into our hearts.

Get Your Hands Dirty (Bless and Serve)
Once the soil of our hearts has been improved, growing something good still takes effort. Relationships are messy and even with forgiveness it can be very difficult to trust others. However, we can plant the seeds of peace and holiness by reaching out in service to those around us. In sharing, giving, listening and being a blessing, we foster the continued growth of Christlike holiness in our hearts and begin to bear good fruit once again.

Bad Root, Bad Fruit
Jesus said that we recognize a tree by the fruit it bears. If we allow bitterness to spread in our heart, we can easily begin to bear the ugly fruit of dissension and discord. We must regularly tend our hearts to ensure it doesn't take root.

The call to follow Jesus is really a call to die to ourselves and be adopted into a new identity—a new life that reflects the one who conquered death for us. We are to draw our sustenance, energy and vision from being rooted and established in Christ himself. In purposefully nurturing our God-given identities, we find many opportunities to till and cultivate the hearts of others, and this is the good fruit of the Holy Spirit in us.

Cadet Jonathan Taube is currently enrolled at the College for Officer Training in Chicago. God has grown a deep passion in his heart for discipleship, world missions and incarnational expressions of the gospel. You can keep up with his journey at

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