Back in June, I was asked to preach at Forest Community Church, and I chose as my focus Jeremiah 20:1-13. As I prepared my sermon, I found several sources that deal with this difficult passage, and I wanted to acknowledge that what I say below comes from readings in several commentaries, books, and sermons. In other words, even though the delivery was my own, I recognize that a lot of the material below stands on a foundation laid by fellow Christians in their study and in their journey to follow God. I hope this sermon blesses you, and if it does please feel free to use these materials to encourage others to follow Christ in all that they do.
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 seem to keep on losing. You spend time with your child--going out of your way
to parent the best you know how--but she nonetheless rebels.
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.
Jeremiah 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. 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
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 youngster 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 may feel a sense of deep freedom, and we
may find ourselves having a deeper relationship with God and less
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. But honesty is only one part of this story. If we are going to be honest with God, we should also expect him to be honest with us. And God honestly expects us to obey him. Another way to rise above discouragement is to obey what God has called you to do.
II. Be obedient - keep doing what you've been called to do
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, for some pastors the call of God upon their lives keeps
them going. The story was told of some pastors who bemoaned the struggles of
their 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, it is difficult to 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 a solid foundation. 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 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.
When called, obey. Obedience is difficult and painful, yet I
suppose disobedience results in more difficulty and pain. All Christians are called by God to follow Christ. We are all called to love God and to love others. This call can be difficult to live out, but if we are called we must also obey. Obedience can help us rise above discouragement. When discouraged, go back and get our obedience up to date. While we are checking our obedience, let's also remember the One who is with us. Let us be watchful to see God's hand in all of our situations.
III. Be watchful - know that the Lord is with you
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
Can we imagine the difference it would make in our outlook
if we remained consciously aware that God is with us? 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 us to
fight on despite discouragement. As we acknowledge God's presence in our difficulty, we should remember to come with an attitude of worship. Knowing God is there can help us rise above discouragement, and entering into a mindset of worship can fuel our souls with his peace and encouragement.
IV. Be worshipful - praise God with your whole heart
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.
A. Praise recognizes a Provider
Praise takes our minds off our situation and focuses them on
God. It reminds us that God has 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
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
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
some us feel its effect now. We can rise above discouragement. Will we:
Be honest - tell God how we feel?
Be obedient - keep doing what we have been called to do?
Be watchful - know that the Lord is with us?
Be worshipful - praise God with our whole heart?
Thanks for reading!
Labels: Discouragement, Forest Community Church, Jeremiah, Jeremiah 20:1-13, Lament, Pashhur, Rise Above Discouragement