“As It Seems Best to God”
Series: “Plans for God’s Good Future”
Dr. Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Senate, once made a speech in which he contended that many people today suffer from a malady he called “Destination Sickness.” Of course, you won’t find anything of the sort in any medical textbook. “Destination Sickness” is a disease of the soul – one that people contract when they focus all of their time and energy in the wrong direction; for example, in the pursuit of position and possessions as the most important concerns of everyday existence. Halverson describes such a person in this way: “He’s the man who’s become a whale of success downtown and a pathetic failure at home. He’s a big shot with the boys at the office and a big phony with the boys at home. He’s the status symbol to society and a fake in the family.” He concludes that “Destination Sickness is an illness peculiar to a culture that is affluent, but godless” (“A Day at a Time”).
Does that description sound familiar to anyone today? Do you know of someone who is all bent on climbing the ladder in life without being aware of how the ladder they’re climbing is propped up against the wrong wall?
If you do know of folk who look like that, then you know how they should be pitied, not parodied. They should elicit our compassion and not our congratulations because while they are doing what seems best to them, they are missing the mark on what constitutes a truly meaningful and productive life.
So, how does a person make sure that the path he or she on is one that will lead to purpose and significance? That is a question that the prophet Jeremiah was led to answer, not just for himself but also for the good of the nation God had called him to serve.
You know now from our time in Jeremiah over these last several Sundays that God had raised him up to minister to the people of Judah at a time when they were on the verge of experiencing a “Destination Sickness” they could never have anticipated, one in which they would be displaced from their homes and businesses and taken to the land of Babylon, where they would feel as if they could no longer sing the Lord’s song in that “strange land” (Ps. 137:4). So, in this section of Jeremiah’s prophecy, God inspires him to go down to a potter’s house, where God will show Jeremiah what will be necessary for the people to be in a place where they might overcome their looming sickness and instead find themselves in a better place, one that would enable them to know the good future God has for them to know.
The image of the potter is, of course, a fairly familiar one throughout the Bible, in both Old and New Testaments, and for good reason. While today we have disposal plates and cups we can use and then throw away or recycle, in ancient times they had nothing of the sort. All of their plates, all of their cups, and all of their utensils were made out of clay. A potter would carefully fashion them and when one would break, it would require the potter to form a new one. Little wonder that archaeologists today are always digging up pottery shards of one type or another. They were a staple in everyday life, and the potter, consequently, was one of the most valuable persons in the community.
Surprisingly, the art of pottery has basically remained unchanged over these thousands of years. Even today, the finest pottery you can buy is not mass produced; it is handmade. Today, the potter works with clay in much the same way as potters did thousands of years ago, because clay is simply water and dust mixed together. The potter takes the soft clay and begins to beat it and shape it and mold it. He then throws it on what is called a revolving wheel; and while that wheel is turned, the potter caresses it, holds it, pulls it, and shapes it until that soft mass of material begins to take shape into something that when finished is an exquisite work of art. That’s why when God called on Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house, He was preparing Jeremiah to see a spiritual picture of what God was committed to doing on behalf of His people.
Imagine how Jeremiah must have been moved by what the potter did when the clay he had been working with had become marred, spoiled, corrupted in his hands. Instead of throwing it away and starting over with a new lump, this potter continued to work with the seemingly ruined clay, working it and shaping it in a fashion that seemed best to him. It was when Jeremiah realized what the potter had chosen to do with the imperfect clay that God gave him a message to take back to His people. “I can do with Israel what the potter does with the clay. I can uproot and tear down and destroy a nation, or I can build it up and plant it. So, understand that I am preparing a disaster and devising a plan against you. But if you turn from your evil ways, I will reconsider and do instead the good I had intended to do.”
What surprises me about this passage is the manner in which it strikes such a delicate (and to my way of thinking) a beautiful balance between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Too much of the time we have viewed those two principles as being in opposition to one another so that if God is sovereign, then humans have no say-so in how life unfolds; and on the other hand, if humans are responsible creatures who can in some way frustrate the purpose of God, then God is not sovereign. But notice how Jeremiah phrases the matter. As the potter, God has a purpose that He wills to accomplish, a shape that He wants His people to take. God is capable of doing anything God pleases. And yet while no one can limit what God can do in his life, one can in fact limit what God will do in one’s life. In other words, your future lies completely in God’s hands, but you will determine which course of action God will take through your obedience or your disobedience.
I find this to be a most comforting way of understanding my role in how God’s good future plays out in my life. Left to my own schemes, I can too easily make a mess of things. All kinds of flaws and imperfections show up in my soul – flaws and imperfections which I could never be able to correct. But when I relinquish all illusions of self-determination, illusions that take me in a direction that only make my soul sicker, and place my trust in what God wills to do in and through me, then I am freed to hear and experience the good news of how God is ever working on my behalf to make possible in me that which I could never achieve by own terms and in my own power.
You may be here this morning and nothing much in life seems to be working out for you. There’s a lot going on right now in your life that you can’t wrap your mind or your heart around. Everything seems to be pointless and purposeless. But might it be that you have simply not reached the place where you have yielded yourself sufficiently to God so that, as the Apostle Paul promised the Philippians: “He who began a good work in you might be faithful to complete it?” (Phil. 1:6) All that may be standing in the way is your reluctance and your refusal to allow God’s purposes to be formed in you. But all of that can be changed, and all of it can be changed today.
About a hundred years ago, a church had come together one night to talk about its future. Things weren’t working out for the church as everyone had hoped. And everybody in attendance seemed to have a different idea about how to get things on the right track. Consequently, the church was at a dead end in terms of how to move forward. So, they decided to open up the gathering for prayer. One elderly lady stood up and prayed this prayer: “It really doesn’t matter what you do with us, Lord, just have your way with our lives.”
There was another lady at that meeting named Adelaide Pollard, who was moved by the other woman’s simple prayer. She herself had been going through a difficult time. She had felt God leading her to become a missionary, but she couldn’t find the funds to make that calling a reality. So she was discouraged and despondent about her own life as well as the life of her church. But as she left the meeting and returned to her home, she couldn’t let go of the prayer she heard that night: “It really doesn’t matter, Lord. Just have your way with us.” So, Adelaide Pollard took out her Bible and began reading and meditating on Jeremiah 18, and before going to bed that night, she had composed her famous hymn: “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.” You know the words: “Have thine own way! Thou art the potter; I am the clay. Mold me and make me after thy will; while I am waiting, yielded and still.”
You look through the Scriptures and you see countless stories of folk who found that to be the case in their lives, folk like Abraham and Joseph, David and the disciples, and the Apostle Paul. Each of them required some reworking on God’s part to be in a place where they might be used in His service and know the joy that comes from it.
Why not add your name to the list? Be a faithful soul and trust in God to form and shape you into the person God needs you to be. Only then will you be able to walk the path that in your heart seems best to you because only then will it mean you’re on the path that, more importantly, seems best to Him.