Not long ago, at a flea market in Piedras Negras, Mexico, I spoke with the saddest man I’ve ever met.

For 27 years, he had served as a pastor—not just a pastor, but one of the most prominent pastors in his city. He had given his life to teaching, preaching the Gospel and planting churches. He was well-known throughout his city as a spiritual leader.

At that point, he had a terrible experience. His wife left him for another man. He had given his life to the things of God, so why would the Lord allow such a terrible thing to happen? The pastor turned the blame inward and upward, rejecting God and everything he held dear. He turned to alcohol and lost it all: his ministry, his family and in other words, his life.

In a short time, this man went from prominent pastor to homeless person. When I met him, he had been living on the streets for 20 years. Begging was a daily activity, and finding a piece of cardboard and a place under a bridge was his nightly chore. He never slept alone, though. A pile of bitterness remained with him. And bitterness always grows. It grows until it weighs you down, consumes you like a fire and breaks you. In the end, bitterness will destroy you inside and out.

In John 10:10, we see there are two plans for every person’s life. The enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy. And Jesus came so that we might have life and life abundantly. The enemy wants to steal the fruit of the spirit from you. You remember the list in Gal. 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” 

I have seen so many people in this journey called life who have allowed the enemy to steal their joy or peace. They go to church and sit through service after service, singing the hymns and praying the prayers, but something is missing, and they know it.

If your life looks like this, the enemy has stolen your fruit of the spirit. He wants to destroy your witness. You’re saved and belong to Jesus, but because of past sins, you feel you have no testimony to share.

But Jesus wants to give you, your family and your children life. And by “life,” I don’t mean “existence.” Jesus wants to give you a purpose for being alive each day. He wants to give you overflowing, abundant, abounding, LIFE! He not only took away your eternal damnation, but He also wants to give you something incredible: abundant life.

As our Mexico Christmas Break team talked to the homeless man, we could tell the abundant life had left him a long time ago. The students began to explain the vastness of God’s forgiveness. There is nothing from which He cannot save us. As the team unfolded the greatness of our God, something happened. You could see it in the man’s eyes: a ray of hope.

Hope is the bottom rung of the ladder that leads us out of bitterness. The man began to weep uncontrollably. The bitterness that had filled him for so long came pouring out like Niagara Falls. The team held him as he sobbed. When he could sob no more, joy took over, and he began to praise God. A radiant smile filled his face, and the burden he had carried for almost 20 years was gone.

When God takes something away, He replaces it with something else. As we walked away, our new friend was still standing in the flea market, praising God at the top of his voice.

I know some of you have been carrying around bitterness or disappointment for years. You know who you are. Can I tell you something? These burdens are not yours to carry. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28). And the psalmist said, “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.” (Psalm 55:22).

If you’re carrying a load of guilt or bitterness, Jesus is asking you to give it to Him. He’ll exchange that and anything else you’re carrying. Wouldn’t that be a great way to start out the New Year?

I know someone who has already done that. His exchange happened in a flea market. Yours could happen in your living room. Today, Jesus wants to meet you and exchange your load for His rest.

It’s the opportunity of an abundant lifetime. Don’t miss it.