Shaping one to be fit, or well placed, in Christian ministry is a creative act of God. But sometimes we are broken in the process. In fact, we are often broken in the process.
Recently I was looking at Jeremiah 18 in preparation for a Bible study. You recall Jeremiah’s visit to the potter’s house and the example and instruction given him by God. The potter was shaping a vessel. It became marred in the potter’s hand. He broke it only to reshape it “as it pleased the potter to make it” (Jeremiah 18:4, NASB). This became a prophetic message for Jeremiah to proclaim to the men of Judah and residents of Jerusalem (18:11).
Fast forward one day. I went back to that passage and when I opened my Bible, my eyes fell on the bottom right side of my copy and Jeremiah 20:7 seemed to leap off the page. Here Jeremiah is saying, “O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived; You have overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.”
What happened between the message given at the potter’s house and Jeremiah seemingly ready to throw in the towel and accuse God of deception?
He gave out the message of the Lord. Rather than the people repenting, they rejected the message and plotted to harm him with their “tongue” (18:18). The gossip and rumor mills began to grind and Jeremiah was the grist. Again he prophesied. And this time the priest had him beaten and incarcerated.
Have you ever felt like Jeremiah must have felt? You hear a message from God through the text of Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit and you present it to the people. You can envision their accepting the message and responding appropriately. You have heard of others: Wesley who said, “I rode into town and I gave them Christ”; Spurgeon who preached to 6,000 as a 19-year-old; the great evangelistic crusades of Billy Graham and the mega-churches of today. You, too, are preaching God’s truth.
But something happens. No one repents. Instead, your motives are criticized and the tongues begin to wag. Oh, you are not physically beaten, but you are whipped in many ways. In my growing up years, I overheard adult conversations in which it would be said, “we must keep him humble”, referring to the pastor. I once heard Grady Wilson jokingly speak of his friendship with Billy Graham. Grady once told a story about Mr. Graham (he was one of the best at telling stories about their campaigns) and concluded, “if God will keep him anointed, I will keep him humbled.” What was in friendship and humor to them has often become a reality with which pastors must navigate.
How do you respond? Jeremiah wanted to quit and put God out of his mind. Then Jeremiah experienced what I believe is true of every God-called preacher. He experienced a “holy oughtness” that was undeniable. It was as if the message of God was a burning fire in his heart. He HAD to speak it out!
Jeremiah is one of my heroes. He never had a convert and someone was always after him. He was among the “others” of Hebrews 11:36-38. Yet he remained faithful to God. The book of Jeremiah and Lamentations are more than a record of God’s dealing with Judah. They are Jeremiah’s journal.
Most of us fare much better in ministry than Jeremiah. We see some fruit of our labor and most people are really kind and respectful. Yet there are days when frustration mounts and rides us like the Jackasses we sometimes are. And we accuse God. The evidence of our humanity is all around us.
The next time you are tempted to quit, let me encourage you to step back. Listen to your heart. If the message burns within you. know that God has called you and as Jeremiah discovered, He will sustain you.
Fulfill your calling – with a burning heart!