When Discouragement Comes Knocking!

Dr. Gary Glanville Sermon #14 “When Discouragement Comes Knocking!”

Preparation Hymn: Be Still My Soul

Closing Hymn: All Hail The Power Of Jesus Name

When Discouragement Comes Knocking!

In February of 2016, 36-year-old Jake Booth from Fort Myers, Florida, was hospitalized following some complications with pneumonia.  After his heart stopped for 15 minutes, he was placed in a medically induced coma.  Later, when the medicine was eased off, Jake never woke up.  For 48 days he remained in a coma.  His body mass dropped nearly 100 pounds.  At one point the family was counselled to let him go, to stop feeding him and unplug the equipment helping to keep him alive.  But his wife would not give up.  And then the day finally arrived when Jake Booth opened his eyes.  Guess what his first words were that shocked everyone when he spoke.  Of all the things a person could say after 48 days in a coma, Jake said – “I want Taco Bell.”

I don’t think Taco Bell would be the first thing on my mind, but I am pretty sure what was on the mind of Jake’s wife with tears of joy as she thought to herself, I’m so glad I didn’t give up on my husband

Last week if you will recall, the word I wanted you to hold on to was the word “endurance,” the idea of persevering, going the distance, not giving up in the midst of all that is happening in life.  Well the word that I believe God wants me to talk about today, is the word “discouragement.”  Because oftentimes your ability and my ability to persist, to see something through, to finally have success with a project or goal is challenged by discouragement.  You could be making great progress one day and the next day discouragement walks into your life and stops you dead in your tracks. 

Think about all of the crazy things that have happened in the last 3 months while we have sheltered in place.  Can you think of anything that might be considered discouraging news?  How about unemployment numbers, the economy, our personal finances, flooding, school, graduation, wearing a mask, feeling isolated, can’t touch people, and not knowing if an invisible virus is going to have a resurgence?  Over the past week we have watched on the news people protesting in 380 major cities in the United States.  In this country, people are allowed to protest and voice their beliefs.  What has been so discouraging and troubling has been the rioting and looting and the potential health issues with the virus.  Anyone tired of the same doom and gloom news day after day?  How about commercials that are repeated twenty times over telling you to wash your hands and stay six feet apart?  We have focused so much on a virus we have forgotten that people all around us are dealing with other health scares and surgeries and treatments.  Or maybe what’s been discouraging for you is the fact your grocery bill has gone up big time because for most of us, all we do is hang out at home eating food all day long.  (And our waistlines can prove it can’t they?)  And probably the biggest complaint I hear from so many folks is the fact they need a haircut.  They need a barber.  They need to go to the beauty salon.  All that shaving and trimming and touch-up coloring we’re experimenting with at home only goes so far, doesn’t it?  We’re ready for the professionals. (Up North – June 10th)

Well, today, I want to tell you about someone in the Bible who had to deal with discouragement all of his life and yet, somehow, he remained faithful to God because he believed God would remain faithful to them.  My hope is that you will be encouraged today and not discouraged, as each of us learns how to continually press forward with God’s help.  Because all of us from time-to-time will encounter discouragement.  Life is like that.  Not every day is apple pie and roses.  But God wants to be our source of strength in the midst of whatever is happening to get us through with victory.

           So, let me introduce you to Jeremiah.  At the age of 20, Jeremiah was called by God to speak to the southern kingdom of Jews known as Judah. (Israel – northern kingdom) Reluctant at first to begin, Jeremiah told God he was too young and not a gifted speaker.  But God told Jeremiah, don’t worry about that, I will tell you what to say.  When others come against you, do not be afraid, for I will deliver you at the right time.

           Known as the weeping prophet, Jeremiah shed tears for his people because of their apostasy and idolatry and their unwillingness to repent from their sinful practices and return to God.  Now Judah still followed the rituals and held to the externals of religion, but their hearts were far from God.  The Lord was not their first priority.  They blended their beliefs with other pagan lands such as cutting themselves so they would bleed.  They sacrificed their children by fire to the pagan god Molech.  They put graven images in the temple of the Lord.  They defiled God’s word and would not obey it.  The Sabbath was not honored with reverence. (Q:  Do we see Christianity today being blended with other beliefs, being watered down, where God’s Word is not honored and obeyed?)

           And year after year, Jeremiah would tell the people to repent, that judgment was close at hand, that Judah would be overthrown by Babylon and held captive for 70 years.  But the people of Judah would not listen.  So, Jeremiah could only weep because he knew judgment would come upon his people.  And though Jeremiah sincerely poured his heart out to the nation of Judah, the response to Jeremiah was laughter and hatred, persecution, beatings, prison time, his body tortured in the stocks.  Jeremiah was banned from the temple to worship and speak, he was thrown into a cistern to die (starvation) as he sank in the mud, his scrolls that he wrote were burned, his brothers deserted him, scores of people wanted to take his life.

           Do you think Jeremiah ever had a reason to become discouraged?  Do you think if you were him you could go on this way for 40 years with no one listening to your message while so many wanted to do you bodily harm?  How in the world did Jeremiah hang in there and remain faithful to his calling from God?  And yet, amazingly, he did.  God knew He could count on Jeremiah to preach an unpopular word to those who cared more about what was popular in the secular culture, what was politically correct for their day.

           And then on top of this, God told Jeremiah he was to never marry or have any children.  He was to remain lonely, an outcast from his people who viewed celibacy as abnormal.  Because you see a good Jew always got married.  A good Jew blessed by God always had children.  Marriage and family were a part of the Jewish way of life.  And because God told Jeremiah not to marry, Jeremiah was separated from normal gatherings, not allowed to comfort people in their mourning at a funeral or rejoice at a feast or a wedding event.  He was destined to be odd, isolated, and looked upon with disdain.  And we wonder, “Why God?  Why do this to one of Your own?  You called him to serve You.  Why make him stand out this way so his own people would think he was strange?”

           But God had a reason.  God always does.  God wanted to communicate a message through Jeremiah’s life.  God wanted to give the nation of Judah a visual prophetic word and it was this:  When God told Jeremiah not to marry or have any children, Jeremiah became a symbolic warning to the nation of Judah that family life in the future was going to be disrupted.  Instead of life with abundance and joy – death would overtake them.  Instead of festivities and rejoicing with friends and family, sorrow would fill their days through slavery and exile to a foreign land.

           Can you begin to sense the agony Jeremiah felt in his heart, knowing all of these catastrophic events would take place during his people’s lifetimes, and yet, he was powerless to avert it because they would not listen to God’s warning?

           Have you ever cried for a son or a daughter; how about a spouse or a grandchild knowing they are doing something outside of God’s will?  You see them drifting away from the Christian faith or from the knowledge you have taught and shared.  They start making bad decisions, doing things that will cause them more harm down the road.  But sadly, they will not listen to the wisdom you have to offer, though so much pain could be avoided from the school of hard knocks.  Or does is ever seem to you that society is slipping further and further away from God’s truth?

This was Judah for Jeremiah.  These were his countrymen, his brothers and sisters he wanted to protect but they would not heed his warnings.

           So, in the midst of all of this, as I am sure Jeremiah was greatly discouraged, God gave Jeremiah a special, visual sermon to encourage him.  It’s also a message that I believe God wants us to learn from and be encouraged by as well. 

           Let’s read together from Jeremiah 18:1-6. 

The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord saying, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so, he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. 

Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.  

           During the darkest days of Judah, when Jeremiah was discouraged, wanting to resign his commission, was tired of being a laughingstock and ridiculed for what God told him to preach – God told Jeremiah to do a very strange thing.  The Lord said, Jeremiah, go down to the potter’s house, for I have something I want to tell you.

           So, Jeremiah obeyed God and went directly to the potter’s house and watched the potter spin his wheel while making something brand new with the wet clay.  [Playdough] In the process the potter detected a flaw.  Something was spoiled about this new clay vessel the potter was creating, so he flattened it down and started all over again.

           As we all know, one of the amazing properties of wet clay is the ability to begin again, to start all over from scratch, whereas clay which is hardened and dry can only be thrown out.

           And while Jeremiah was watching all of this, the Master Potter, God, was going to make a visual analogy.  God told Jeremiah, the clay is the house of Israel, speaking of Judah’s roots to Jacob (later named Israel), who have spoiled themselves and now I must begin again with a new people, a remnant who will follow Me and listen to My voice.  I also want you to hear this Jeremiah, because just as the potter is still at work creating, so am I.  I am still at work in this world at the wheel of life and history.  So, don’t give up.  Don’t quit.  Don’t be discouraged.  I will do something new because I am God.  So, hang in there and know I am working.

           Here are three quick points and a challenge that I think we can apply in 2020 from this story of the potter.

           Number one, we, like Jeremiah, need to hear that reminder from God when we are discouraged – don’t give up, don’t quit, I will do something new.  This is especially true during those times when life seems very confusing, or we don’t understand, or we wonder where is God in all of this?  God are You still watching over me, because sometimes it sure feels like You’ve taken a vacation?  What direction do You want me to take in my life?  What is it You want to do?  Lord, all my immediate dreams have changed or gone down the tubes.  I’m hanging in there but this is not how I envisioned my life. This was not the plan I thought You had for me.  I need to know You are there, because when all else fails, I need to know You will not fail me.

           Perhaps a verse from David’s Psalm 23 (v.4a) can be a life line when we feel this way – “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me;….”

           A second point I like about the story of the potter is the whole concept of beginning all over after a mistake has been made.

           How many times have we made mistakes and God says here – put your life back on My wheel and I’ll begin something new again?  It won’t be exactly like before.  It will be slightly different, with new twists and turns, but we can begin again.  All is not lost.  I will make something new of your life.

           How comforting and amazing it is to know God is willing to use marred clay to carry out divine plans.  God wants to use us if we will step out in faith.  If we are willing to be reshaped by Him.

           Which brings up a final point about the potter and his wheel.   Who is the master designer?  Who is ultimately in control?  Is it the clay or the potter?

           Lord, I’ve got this neat idea how we could do things!  If we shaped the pot this way and put these striped bands of color over here, we could really have a masterpiece!  As a matter of fact, God, I think I have enough intelligence and natural abilities and determination to see this project through all the way to the end.  If You would like, You can take a coffee break or work on another project while I finish up this one all by myself.

           Well, believe it or not, God is not interested in coffee breaks or other projects, God is interested in you.  God wants to design the clay of your life, but always needs an invitation from us to say Lord, take my life, mold me as You see fit, shape me as to the design which You know would be best for the kingdom work.

           And I believe with all sincerity we oftentimes with good intentions and noble motives and a pure heart step out on faith and we do try it God’s way, don’t we?  But then we do something really dumb, which the enemy of our soul loves, we make a comparison to someone else’s clay pot don’t we?  We notice their pot is bigger, more elegant, more attractive to the eye. 

And what happens when we compare?  We either get envious or angry or discouraged, don’t we?  How come our church is not like so-n-so’s church?  How come I don’t make as much money as that person or have the same advantages?  How come my business, my work schedule, my retirement, my schooling, my… you fill in the blank, is not like so ‘n’ so’s?  Let us remember, the Master Potter has an overall plan which needs vessels of all shapes and sizes.  One is not more important than the other, for all are needed because all our important.  God will use you in your circles of influence to speak to people I will never meet or talk to, but you will.

           What God asks from us is faithfulness to the calling we are given, not necessarily success in the world’s eyes.  You see, in the world’s eyes, Jeremiah was a failure.  However, God wasn’t looking for successful people.  God was needing faithful people.  The good news is, if you remain faithful to God, in whatever task assigned to you – your success will be measured in God’s eyes, not the world’s, and God is the One Who will be passing out the final rewards.  Know this, God will come through in the end, because God always does.

           As the Apostle Paul told the church at Galatia: “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.”  (Galatians 6:9)

           Here’s my challenge:        

           Let us not cease from standing up for righteousness, for standing up for Jesus Christ, even if it means swimming against the tide of the majority for 40 years like Jeremiah.

           Let our lights shine before others in such a way that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father who is in heaven.  (Mt.5:16)

           Let us press on, knowing God will use all things for good, even our moments of discouragement.  For God can teach us great and marvelous things if we will not quit; believing we have a faithful Lord who stands with us all the way.

When discouragement comes knocking on our doors, it’s in those moments when we the need the Lord to answer the door for us and carry us through.