Sermon series: The Person God Uses
Discouragement is part of life. Discouragement comes most often when you do right things but experience poor results. You work hard, but you don't make progress. You show up to practice every day, giving it your all, but you lose every game. You spend time with your child - going out of your way to parent the best you know how - but she rebells.
Discouragement eats a hole in our hearts. It makes us want to quit, saying things we shouldn't say, shaking our fists at God. That's how Jeremiah felt. God called him to speak a harsh message to a rebellious people. He was obeyed. Yet on one occasion Jeremiah so angered an assistant to the high priest and chief security officer for the temple, Pashhur, that the man arrested Jeremiah, beat him, and threw him in jail, locking him in stocks so that his body was contorted, writhing in pain. Here was a man in deep distress. He endured physical, emotional, spiritual, and professional anguish. He walked into deep despair, all for doing God's will.
Jeremiah was released the next day, emerging with a sentence of his own. He gave Pashhur a new name: "Terror on Every Side." This name described the terror Babylon would inflict on Judah, specifically the fate Pashhur would suffer when God's judgment fell. He would die and be buried outside Israel, which was considered a judgment, for the Gentile lands were labeled unclean. But what difference would that make? He had been preaching lies in the name of God and encouraging idolatry in the temple. So, why not live in a land of lies and idols, and eventually be buried there?
Enough about Pashhur - it is Jeremiah's rise above discouragement on which we want to focus. In this last of his recorded laments, which is similar to Jesus' Gethsemane experience, we find the highs and lows of human emotions: grief and joy, despair and delight, perplexity and praise. Like Jesus, Jeremiah reminds us that even a faithful servant of God can become discouraged. Jeremiah lived above his feelings and fulfilled God's will.
We, too, can rise above discouragement. Here's how.
I. Be honest - tell God how you feel (v. 7)
Jeremiah was honest. He felt deceived by God. The word deceived means to be enticed or seduced. Obviously, God does not mislead or trick people, but Jeremiah felt that God had lured him into the ministry only to make him a laughingstock. He felt like a helpless girl who had been seduced and overpowered by a deceptive lover. He felt ridiculed and offended. His voice was not making a difference. He was crying out for the people to repent, yet they continued toward destruction and judgment. Jeremiah's intense lament was private – for God alone, not public.
God wants us to talk to him, even when we are angry, upset, and frustrated. He wants us to tell the truth. A lot of dishonesty goes on in relationships, even with God.
People ask me: Is it wrong to be angry with God? First, we must remember that anger is an emotion, and oftentimes emotions are neither right nor wrong: they just are. What we do with our emotions is a separate issue. People are sometimes surprised by the answer I give them: "If you feel anger toward God you should tell him. God is big enough and strong enough to handle your hurt and anger. So tell him about. He wants you to pour out your heart to him. He wants you to express what is in your heart."
Didn't Jesus pour out his heart to the Father in Gethsemane and on the cross? We should do the same. Hold nothing back when you pray. Tell the Lord exactly what's in your heart, especially the bad feelings. By pouring out these emotions we are freed from their hold, and we enter more deeply into the loving embrace of the Lord.
God does not want us stuck in anger or any other negative feelings we may have. This is why we should be honest with God in prayer. We should go before God as we are, not pretending to be someone we are not. If we are honest with God in prayer, we will feel a sense of deep freedom, and we will find ourselves having a deeper relationship with God and less discouragement.
To bottle up our anger - even anger toward God - does only harm, never good. To be dishonest - even in our prayers - clouds our relationship with God. God desires real people, honest and forthright, who pour out their hearts before him, bringing him all their motives and emotions. The truth is that God knows the depths of our hearts - our thoughts, our motives, our emotions - even before we speak them. So ,if we fail to be honest with God then we are only deceiving ourselves. Honesty with God is liberating.
II. Be obedient - keep doing what you've been called to do (v. 9)
Because of Pashhur's unjustified actions, Jeremiah was ready to let go of God and leave him out of all conversations. But he couldn't do that. He would not be at peace doing anything else. God's message was like a fire in his bones that he could not put out. He could not be quiet about it. Jeremiah did not preach because he had to say something, but because he had something to say. Not saying it would have destroyed him.
Do you know why most pastors keep at the task despite rejection and anger? Plain and simple, the call of God upon their lives keeps them going. I spent time with a group of pastors. We bemoaned the struggles of our vocation. One said: "Do you want to know what I tell everyone who comes to me asking if they should go into the ministry? I tell them, ‘If you can do something else, do it.'" Another pastor piped up, "You know why I don't do something else? Because I am called."
When you are called, you can't ignore that call.
The call comes first from the heart - internal - as a result of the continued drawing from the Holy Spirit. This conviction is as deep within the innermost being of a person. Eventually, it becomes unshakeable. It marks a person for life. In time the inward call of God is reflected outward, as the Christian community confirms it. No one can fulfill the difficult role of ministry adequately who has not been called and commissioned by Christ (internally) and the Church (externally).
Warren Wiersbe, former pastor and author, writes, "The work of ministry is too demanding and difficult for a man to enter it without a sense of divine calling. Men enter and then leave the ministry usually because they lack a sense of divine urgency. Nothing less than a definite call from God could ever give a man success in the ministry." (Howard F. Sugden and Warren W. Wiersbe, When Pastors Wonder How (Chicago: Moody, 1973), p. 9.
Four questions emerge to evaluate whether one has a call to the ministry. Is there confirmation from God and by others? Are instructional shepherding and leadership abilities evident? Is there a longing to serve God with one's whole heart? Is there a lifestyle of integrity? Ministry is more about being that it is about doing.
H.B. London in his book, The Heart of a Great Pastor, writes: "In those times when we stumble for our footing in the awful swellings of the Jordan, and the Evil One whispers in our ear, ‘Why did you ever decide to be a preacher anyway?' the right answer can only be, ‘Cause I was called, you fool!'" (H. B. London and Neil Wiseman, The Heart of a Great Pastor)
When called, obey. Obedience is difficult and painful, yet I suppose disobedience is moreso.
III. Be watchful - know that the Lord is with you (v. 11)
Jeremiah realized that he wasn't alone. "But the LORD is with me like a violent warrior" (Jer. 20:11). He was not on the losing side. He was going to win because the Lord was with him like a mighty warrior. God would deal effectively, in his own way and time, with his enemies.
Often in our discouragement we look inward - to our problems, our frustrations, and our situation - when we need to look upward to a God who has not abandoned us. He is with us. He accompanies us. He is a present-tense God.
Can you imagine the difference it would make in your outlook if you remained consciously aware that God is with you? Imagine going into a difficult board meeting knowing that God is beside you. Picture entering into a stressful presentation knowing that God walks with you. Envision confronting the status quo with the mighty arm of the Lord surrounding you.
Knowledge of God's presence can help us accomplish significant things despite our discouragement. It provides courage, valor, guts, strength, tenacity, and perseverance.
A. W. Tozer writes:
"The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God, and the church is famishing for want of his presence. The instant cure of most of our religious ills would be to enter the Presence in spiritual experience, to become suddenly aware that we are in God and that God is in us. This would lift us out of our pitiful narrowness and cause our hearts to be enlarged. This would burn away the impurities from our lives as the bugs and fungi were burned away by the fire that dwelt in the bush."
Living in the glow of God's presence will enable you to fight on despite discouragement.
IV. Be worshipful - praise God with your whole hear (v. 13)
Jeremiah's despair turned to joy, his defeated attitude turned to triumph, his dismay to courage. The key that unlocked the door to victory was praise. Jeremiah triumphantly proclaimed, "Sing to the Lord! Praise the Lord" (Jer. 20:13).
Praise is the one weapon in the Christian's arsenal against which Satan has no defense. When we praise God we acknowledge that he is in charge - he can do what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants.
Praise is more than just acknowledging God for the good that comes our way. Praise is accepting from God all that comes our way, both the good and the bad. The praise we offer when things don't go our way is far more precious to God than the praise we offer when all is well.
Praise does four things:
A. Praise recognizes a Provider
Praise takes our minds off our situation and focuses them on God. It gives God the right to rule and to reign in our lives how he sees fit. It acknowledges that God knows more about what he is doing than we do. It accepts that God can take all the bad stuff of life and make something beautiful out of it.
B. Praise acknowledges a plan
A few chapters later Jeremiah records God's words to Israel: "'For I know the plans I have for you' - this is the LORD's declaration – 'plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope" (29:11). God weaves a tapestry of our lives. We don't always see the finished product. Sometimes to get to the end we have our share of difficulties. When we realize God has a plan, we have two options: we can fight it, or we can embrace it.
C. Praise accepts the present
Praise is based on a total and joyful acceptance of the present as part of God's loving, perfect will for us. Praise is not based on what we think or hope will happen in the future. We praise God, not for what we expect will happen in our around us, but we praise him for who he is and where and how we are right now.
D. Praise releases the power
Prayer opens the door for God's power to move into our lives. But the prayer of praise releases more of God's power than any other form of petition. The Psalmist wrote, "But thou art holy, O thou that inhabits the praises of Israel" (Psalm 22:3 KJV). God actually dwells, inhabits, and resides in our praise. God's power and presence is near when we praise him.
When we praise God for the present situation as a part of God's plan, God's power is unleashed. This power cannot be brought about by a new attitude or a determined effort of self-will, but by God working in our lives.
Let me close with a legend that reveals the source of discouragement. Supposedly, the devil put his tools up for sale, marking each for public inspection with its appropriate sale price. Included were hatred, envy, jealousy, deceit, lying, and pride. Laid apart from these was a rather harmless looking but well-worn tool – discouragement - marked at an extremely high price. Why the costly price? The devil answered: "Because it is more useful to me than the others. I can pry open a person's heart with that when I cannot get near her with the other tools. Once inside, I can make her do whatever I choose. It is badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, since few people know it belongs to me."
Many people succumb to this infamous tool of Satan. Maybe you feel its effect now. You can rise above discouragement. Will you:
Be honest - tell God how you feel?
Be obedient - keep doing what you've been called to do?
Be watchful - know that the Lord is with you?
Be worshipful - praise God with your whole heart?