One of the foundational teachings presented at Elijah House is called, “Bitter Roots” That may sound like a travelogue about north Idaho (believe it or not, Elijah House is situated in the “Bitter Root” mountain range), but it’s really more of a travelogue about the sin in our lives. Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” The NIV Study Bible says that “bitter roots” include pride, animosity, rivalry or anything else that is harmful to others.
A long time ago, I took college botany. I actually majored in Bible, but science classes are part of a well-rounded education. Recently my wife has pointed out that I’ve become a little too well-rounded — but “Hey,” she says, “you’d look good on radio!” Botany was one of the few classes I actually got an “A” in (botany is the study of plants and all the tiny details about their roots and fruits, etc.).
Now I want you to use your imagination. Picture a diagram of a tree. At the bottom, you can see the roots curling around in the soil, and as you move your eyes upward, envision the trunk and the branches, and there at the ends of the branches are the fruits. They could be apples or oranges — anything. Now hit the zoom-in button, and we’re rushing forward right into the interior of the roots, trunk, stems and fruit. One thing I learned in Botany is that there’s a tube going all the way from the roots up to the fruits, called the xylem, which conducts water and mineral salts throughout the tree or plant.
Now zoom back out again, and look at the whole tree. Picture the xylem carrying capsules of nutrients up from the roots to the fruits. In my mind this looks like little elevators going up, up, up — straight to the fruits of the tree. Whatever is in that root is going straight up to give that apple or whatever fruit its taste.
I’m sure all of us have taken a bite of produce and spit the mess right back out. Yuck! Sometimes fruit may look good, but taste quite awful! Keep in mind, Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” We are like spiritual trees, and we get most of our “nutrients” from our “roots.” Bitterness doesn’t start in the fruit; it begins deeper, all the way down the elevator in the very beginnings of the plant. Most of the time, roots are buried — but the fruit is what gives everything away. This bitterness isn’t something that the orchardist wants to cultivate. But because we have sin in our very beginnings (our roots), poison is produced, and this rides that elevator all the way up to the produce of our lives, that we call bad fruit. Don’t get me wrong — there is very often good, tasty fruit in our lives. We may be generous, kind, helpful, sacrificing or loving — but most often, prayer ministers need to recognize and focus on the bad fruit in clients’ lives in order to facilitate healing through Christ.
How is this bitterness or defilement produced? Often, by our sinful reactions to being hurt, our condemning judgments against those who have hurt us, and our refusal to forgive. These all have the power to defile not only ourselves, but also those with whom we interact every day.
In the phrase, “…to cause trouble and defile many,” the Greek word for “defile” is miaino, which means, “to stain…hence, to pollute, contaminate, soil, defile” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). That’s what our sin often does to those around us and why many are motivated to seek out help. They are often sick of their own defilement, or as is often the case — they’re sick of defiling others.
To locate our most significant bitter roots we need to take the next elevator ‘going down’. A prayer minister is like a passenger that takes the ride with you. We get in at the fruit level and hit the button that takes us down, down, down to the sin that’s at the source. When we ask Jesus to forgive us of our sin, we are appropriating his grace and power to bring that sin to death. By appropriating His power through prayer, we are enabled to cut off the sinful supply that wants to take the next lift up. Our sin is rendered ineffective at the cross, and as a result, the bad fruit dies.
I encourage you to spend some time on that fruit level. Get to know it well. Take a few bites, and if it tastes bitter, consider inviting a trusted friend or prayer minister to visit the lower level with you. James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins one to another and pray that you might be healed.” You’ll soon realize that Jesus is there with you, for, 1 John 1:9 states, “If you confess your sins, he is faithful and just to forgive you of your sin and cleanse you of all unrighteousness”.
If you need help getting from the fruit to the root, we have some “elevator operators,” called prayer ministers, who are available to help. We love pushing people’s buttons!