By Pastor Bryan Niebanck
The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.Jeremiah 18:4
I went to Nicaragua in 2015 on a mission trip. While there, the group that I was with did some tourism as well. One of the highlights of that trip was swimming in a volcano. It had been inactive for a couple hundred years to the point where the crater had become a pool of water. We had to drive up the mountain and then all the way down into the crater to where the water level was. It was big enough to have waves, and it had a natural heater below the surface. I brought a rock home that came from the bottom of that water. It was a rock that was formed from hardened lava. And I have since always been able to say that I have swam in a volcano.
One of the other places that we went was a potter’s workshop. We each got to try our hand at molding clay with the potter’s wheel. None of us were professionals, and when we were done with it the potter would toss it into the scrap heap, telling us that he would mold something with it later. What was amazing was that something that seemed to be a mistake and unsalvageable was in fact salvageable.
This reminds me of a story of a man molding nativity figures. He was given the assignment of carving these figures out of wood for a widow and her son, and the project was asked to be finished by Christmas Eve. He made sketches and he kept throwing the sketches into the fire. He then started carving, and he was disappointed in how they looked. He could not get it right until he took out a picture that had been tucked away in a drawer. It was of his own wife and child, who had both passed away a few years back. He imitated the love that they shared with one another when he carved Mary with the baby Jesus. The project was not going well, but it turned out to be the best project that he had done, for not only was it a success, but it made the once gloomy man happy once again (The Christmas Miracle of Johnathan Toomey).
Consider your own life. When have you been working on something that did not seem salvageable? Were you building a barn that kept falling over? I’ve felt at times that my tepee fire structure is unsalvageable when I cannot get it to stand upright. You know what happened? I gave up and let the sticks lie flat, and then the larger fuel logs that I brought ended up forming the tepee. Old wood in a structure that falls down can be repurposed. Perhaps you were working on a paper that just would not be accepted. It seemed like the situation was unsalvageable, but God promised you that you would make it through in the end. Maybe it was that first cut of pie – the first cut is always the messiest. But it always tastes the same. It is salvageable. What is your story? And where is God’s promise in that story?
God promises to make all things new. Even when you think your own relationship with God is unsalvageable, God promises to make it new if you promise to also do your part in seeking God. When Jeremiah was first called by God, he believed that he was too young for the job. He did not think that he was qualified. Yet God told him that God would be able to use him despite his youth, and that Jeremiah needed to trust God’s workings. Whatever reason you have for believing that you cannot be used, God has another answer. You are not too young or too old. You are not too liberal or conservative. You are not too strong or too weak. Jeremiah prophesized, “The vessel [the potter] was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to him” (Jeremiah 18:4). Even something spoiled can be made into something better. We may lament the fact that something is spoiled, but it is not the end of the story. When I was in Alaska, my group visited the Great Alaskan Bowl company, and I could watch a man making bowls through the windows into the factory. The bowl looked great, but there was a lot of wasted wood from what had been cut out. But that is not the end of the story. The scrap wood is repurposed to be cut into woodchips or mulch. Everything is used for a purpose. God reworks the scraps into something good.
First, know that God can use the scraps and repurpose anything for God’s purposes. God promises to make all things new. And second, you need to show God trust for God to work out those new things in you. If we cannot trust God, what we should be lamenting is not the wasted scraps and the mess-ups, but the fact that we have a broken relationship with God.
Jeremiah finished the prophecy in the potter’s house with this: “Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings” (Jeremiah 18:11). You might be saying now that there is a lot of this “Turn from your evil ways” in the Old Testament and it is a thing of the past. This message is not for us. And while our ways may not be classified in today’s connotation of the word “evil,” they are often “misled.” I think the same message could apply if we are misled. Both distance us from God and that is the real problem at hand. Whatever the reason, God calls us to lament any broken relationship with God. God also tells us that we should repent after that because there is always a path forward to repair that relationship.
You do have to want it. You do have to care about seeking God. When I look up definitions of the word “lament” in the Oxford dictionary, there are actually three definitions: 1) a passionate expression of grief or sorrow, 2) a song, piece of music, or poem expressing sorrow, and 3) an expression of regret or disappointment; a complaint. So, a lament can be an expression of grief that we do not have a better relationship with God. It does not always have to come in form of a complaint. There are also plenty of songs expressing sorrow in the Bible, especially within the Psalms. There is biblical precedence for lament. And I included lament as a fifth form of prayer following the ACTS acronym because lament does not really fit in under any of them. It is not adoration. It isn’t a confession. It is not thanksgiving either, nor supplication. It does not have to be making a certain request of God. It is just, pure and simple, an expression of sorrow. To be a form of prayer, it is an expression of sorrow that is made in God’s presence.
When you lament in God’s presence, God shows us that there is a way of healing. Human emotion is real, and we need to feel free to express whatever emotion that is. The difference between being responsible with it or not is whether or not we take it to God first before doing something else with it.
The last verse of the Psalm selection from today seems to me to be a very powerful statement. The Psalmist concludes, “I come to the end – I am still with you” (Psalm 139:18). Whether the Psalmist was praising, giving supplication, or lamenting is beside the point in this case. The fact is that the Psalmist came to the end of an expression of his emotion, and he recognized at that end that the most important thing to note was that God was still with him. Nothing can separate us from the love of God if we are seeking God’s presence. We may lament and we realize that we are still with God because God is hearing our thoughts. God is caring about the content of our expression. And what’s more, lamenting keeps us close to God. Complaining without God doesn’t. You may recall the Israelites who basically did nothing but complain to Moses for forty years in the desert. They were complaining without taking it to God. It only drew them away from God farther. If you complain without God on your mind, it will most likely just draw you farther away from God.
Remember that God can repurpose anything to make something new. That includes your prayer life and your relationship with God. We have gone through the five major types of prayer to help you understand why each type is important. We cannot rely just on one and we cannot rely on turning to them only once a week or once a month. We need to continually turn to God every moment that we can, and we do that with prayer. If you assess that your relationship with God could be stronger at any point in your walk with the Lord, go ahead and lament that. Let God hear your distress over this realization! And then, do something about it. Repent from the mistakes you have made and promise to do better. Show God that you follow through on your promises. Show God that you can be better in your commitment to the Lord in your prayer life. Show your dedication. Show your commitment to complete it. For God has always shown His dedication to us. May all honor and glory be to God. Thanks be to God! Amen.
18:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
18:2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.”
18:3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.
18:4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
18:5 Then the word of the LORD came to me:
18:6 Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
18:7 At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it,
18:8 but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it.
18:9 And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it,
18:10 but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.
18:11 Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
139:1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
139:2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
139:3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
139:4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.
139:5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
139:6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
139:13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
139:14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
139:15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
139:16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
139:17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
139:18 I try to count them — they are more than the sand; I come to the end — I am still with you.
14:25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them,
14:26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.
14:27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?
14:29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him,
14:30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
14:31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?
14:32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.
14:33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.