Life will never make sense if you don’t know your purpose. I think that’s true. That means, of course, that finding your purpose in life is important. I was reading some studies this week about this and found some interesting research.
There is a good indication, for example, that people who have a strong sense of purpose live longer. In one study that began in 2006, researchers looked at people over the age of fifty; the average age of the sample group was actually almost sixty-nine. They asked them questions that were tied to the person’s sense of purpose. Then the sample group was tracked for a number of years to see what happened.
Over time the data revealed that the stronger the participants felt they had a purpose in life, the lower their risk of dying. Actually, the way they worded that is a bit problematic because essentially, we all have the same risk of dying. It’s 100% but I think what the results meant to say was that the risk of dying within a particular time frame was significantly reduced for people who had a strong sense of purpose. That makes sense to me. I know, and you probably do to, people – especially men – who work productively all their lives and were in good health but then they retired and two years later they were dead. I’ve often wondered if it’s because they had no clear purpose once they retired.
Having a purpose not only increased life expectancy, it was also linked to other aspects of well-being such as lower risk of disease, better sleep and healthier behaviors. So people with a sense of purpose not only live longer, they also live better.
At the same time, other research shows that a lot of people don’t really have a strong sense of purpose.. It’s odd that I could not find any data on how many people do or don’t feel a sense of purpose but I could find all sorts of articles about how to find your purpose so obviously someone is asking that question.
THE POTTER’S HOUSE
So here’s my question for you. What’s your purpose in life? That question really is at the crux of today’s Scripture reading from Jeremiah 18. It’s a familiar passage to many people – the story of the potter’s house. It starts like this in Jeremiah 18:1-4 (NIV):
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
What we have in this story is Jeremiah being directed by God to go visit the local potter. It wouldn’t have been hard to do that. Pretty well every village needed one because it was the potter who made the cups, plates, pots and bowls that everyone used on a daily basis. So he was a valuable craftsman to have around.
What Jeremiah observes is exactly what we might expect. The potter takes a lump of clay and plops it down in the centre of the potter’s wheel that is spinning round and round. And then with his hands he begins to shape it. But it doesn’t come out quite right so he smushes it down and starts again. The story doesn’t tell us how many times the potter does this. All we can assume is that he works the clay until it is exactly what he wants it to be.
The imagery in the story is not difficult to understand. In fact, it is pointed out in Jeremiah 18:5-6 (NIV) which says:
Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.
God is the potter and we are the clay and, if we let him, God will mould us into what he wants us to be. I think that’s true. When I look back at my own life I can see God shaping my own path. After all, I didn’t start off as pastor just like many of you didn’t start off doing what you’re doing now. But when I look back to how I got here, I can see how God provided the skills that I would need to do what I do now.
I started piano lessons when I was seven and music has come very handy over the years. During high school and university, I had a part-time job selling shoes at Agnew-Surpass Shoe Stores. That’s where I learned how to interact with people. Then after university, I worked as an accountant. That’s where I learned organizational skills and about how to handle money. After than, I joined the Canadian Forces where I learned about leadership. And then at seminary, I learned a bit of theology which has also come in handy. All of those life experiences were helpful.
The point is that I can see God’s hand nudging me in various directions because he knew that was where I would learn the skills I would need for this calling. I not alone. I think God does that for all of us. Sometimes we listen and sometimes we don’t but I believe that God provides the opportunity because – and I’ve said this countless times before – God will never ask us to do something that he has not already equipped us to do.
And that is not only true of our jobs. It’s also true of our families and our hobbies and our work for the Church and ministry of Jesus. God equips us to do what God wants us to do. God takes the clay of our lives and moulds it into what he wants it to be for the service of his kingdom.
The story in Jeremiah also teaches us something else. Just as each individual piece that the potter makes is unique and different, so too God makes each one of us unique and different as well.
What’s the potter making in this story? He’s making a pot and I expect he made lots of pots. But is a pot the only thing the potter makes? No. The potter also makes plates and bowls and cups and baking dishes and all sorts of other things. Why does he do that? Because different things have different uses. You can’t carry water on a plate. It’s tough to mix bread dough in a cup. You get the message.
Again, the same holds true with us. Not all of us are teachers. Not all of us are musicians. Not all of us are leaders. Not all of us are mechanically minded or good with our hands. That’s because God did not mould us all with those skills. And yes, we can learn skills to a point but we also know that somethings just come more naturally to us. Do you know why that is? I can’t give you a biblical reference for this but I suspect that it’s because the things that come easier to us are the gifts and talents that God most wants us to use in life. That’s why when people talk to me about not knowing their purpose, one of my very first questions is, “What are you good at? That might a clue to discovering what God wants you to do because God has given you that gift for a reason.”
BE WHO GOD MOULDS US TO BE
There are two mistake, however, that people often make. The first one is they try to be something they’re not. You know what I’m talking about because most of us have tried that at one time or another. Think about it, what did you want to be when you were young. When I was a kid, the two most popular things that my friends wanted to be were an RCMP officer and a garbage man. For some reason, those two professions appeal to seven year old boys. That’s because the RCMP officers have really cool uniforms and the garbage man gets to collect lots of treasure that people throw out. We talked about that a lot when I was a kid but do you know how many of us grew up to be RCMP or garbage men? Nobody. That’s because as we grew up we realized that was not where our gifts were. That was not who God moulded us to be. So the bottom line is don’t try to be something you’re not.
That’s the first mistake people often make, trying to be something they’re not. The other mistake is that people try to make others into something that they’re not which usually translates into trying to make people just like them. To tell you the truth, that’s pretty normal because all of us have this latent sense somewhere in the back of our brains that if only everyone else could see things the way that we see them then the world would be a better place.
I know that some of you have heard of something called the Meyes-Briggs personality sorter. It’s one of a number of tests that people can do that tells them something about their personality, and how they process and share information. One of the things it looks at is how people like to live their lives and it breaks people down into J’s and P’s. J’s like to be structured and organized. They value being on time. J’s love to make to do lists. They wake up on the morning and take a look at their lists and their schedules to see what they have planned for the day.
P’s, on the other hand, are the opposite. They are more flexible and adaptable. P’s shun to do lists. Sometimes they’re on time but they don’t put a high priority on deadlines so sometimes they’re not. P’s wake up in the morning and say, “I wonder what today will bring?” And they’re happy just to let it come.
And here’s the funny thing. Right now you’re all sitting there trying to figure out if you’re a J or a P. And maybe you see a bit of both in yourself which is normal because most people are not on the extremes. Most people are somewhere in the middle. But you also probably show a preference for one or the other.
Here’s the other interesting thing. If you’re married and think about your spouse, you’ll realize that they are probably the exact opposite of you because typically J’s marry P’s. That’s because we tend to complement each other.
Where J’s and P’s come into conflict is when they think everyone should see the world just like they do. We experience that with our four children when they went to school. Education is an interesting profession because, like all other professions, it tends to attract a certain personality. If you were to guess, would you say that most teachers are J’s or P’s? Most teachers are J’s which is okay because most ministers are J’s as well. Teachers are organized. They like lists and schedules and for things to be in on time. And that’s good because when you’re dealing with twenty-five or thirty students on a daily basis, you really do need to have a fairly clear plan in place.
That comes out in various ways in the classroom. Our children, for example, came home with timetables and homework journals and lists of things to get and things to do. Why? Because that’s how teachers work and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Problems occur when we realize that only half the students are J’s. The other half are P’s. That’s true in our family. Andrew and Rebekah are the J’s and John and Stephen are the P’s. Rebekah, especially, likes order in her school work. She kept meticulous homework journals and even created her own colour code to organize it properly. John and Stephen, on the other hand, usually didn’t do that because they probably didn’t even know where they homework journals were.
Here’s the thing, we can’t turn J’s into P’s and we can’t turn P’s into J’s. To be honest we can teach P’s some J skills and we can teach J’s some P skills but we can’t change the someone’s basic personality. And why would we want to because that’s how God made us and both are important. Imagine a world where everyone was a P. Nothing would get organized properly or happen on time. Now imagine a world where everyone was a J. It would lack spontaneity and the ability to change on the fly when things don’t go as planned because P’s a quite comfortable in chaos. We both need each other in this wonderful place called creation. Rather than trying to change each other, we need to value the people that God moulded and created us to be.
WHAT WE DO MATTERS
But then Jeremiah comes out with a warning in Jeremiah 18:7-10 (NIV):
If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.
Basically what it says is this. If a rebellious nation that was going to be destroyed turns from its sin, God will not destroy it. On the other hand, if a nation that God was about to bless turns its back on God, God will not bless it. What Jeremiah is telling the people is that what they do matters. The way they live their lives is important. We are not puppets on a string that walk through a pre-made script of life that cannot be changed. Our decisions and our actions mean something because God’s behaviour can be effected by what we do.
The bottom line is that we can change God’s mind. God sees what we do, if we live faithfully or not and adjusts accordingly. Now think about this; if we can effect what God does, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, just imagine how much we can impact the lives of others if we use the gifts and talents God has given us to use for his glory.
What we do matters. People watch those us of who call ourselves Christians and wear our faith on our sleeves. If they see us fail to live up God’s standard, they will see us as frauds and hypocrites. But if they see us living holy and righteous lives filled with grace and generousity, they will wonder and maybe ask what it is that makes us different. And when that happens, we have the opportunity to introduce them to Jesus so that God can mould the clay of their lives too.
I want to end by going back to yesterday’s historic tennis match between Serena Williams and Bianca Adreeascu. Clearly both of those women have some God given talents that they have practiced and honed to the point that they are among the best in the world. If you watched that game, I want you to go back the very end of the match where Williams was unable to handle Adreeascu’s return. Do you remember what Andreeascu did? She dropped her racket, took in the moment and then clenched her fists in victory and then she demonstrated something else that none of us knew about her. She crossed herself, and sent a kiss up toward the sky. What was she doing? She was thanking God for all that he had given to her and she was recognizing that her victory would not have been possible had God know moulded her into the person she is today.
In that moment, she showed the world that she is a Christian and that she loves Jesus. And in doing so she witnessed to the power and love of God and encouraged the millions watching that performance to turn their hearts to Jesus as well. What we do matters.
God is the potter and we are the
clay. May we open our lives to God’s transforming power so that he can mould
each of us into who he wants us to be.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you, O God, out the deepest yearnings of our hearts. We come seeking your strength and wisdom as we journey through life. We come with our needs but also with our heartfelt thanks.
We thank you for the summer which is quickly passing. The sights and sounds of another season will soon be upon us as school buses are once more on the streets and children are off to classes. Summer vacations are over, that yearly pause that we value so much. The sweet corn is nearly finished for the years. Soon the leaves will be falling from the trees and birds will be flying south. While we can, we thank you for the warmth of your sun and the life of the summer.
We look forward to a new season of activities around the church. Encourage us to seek new opportunities to minister to others with new programmes, studies and music. Enable us to break free from the confines of our own making and help us to explore the possibilities that exist around us.
Our prayers are lifted to you for those who are sick in body, mind or spirit either at home or in hospital. We remember, especially, Sohan, Sharon, Shad and Jacqui. Grant them your peace and your special Healing Spirit.
We remember also those who mourn and lift up to you the family and friends of Jack Lawson. Strengthen them, O God, in their times of sorrow and through this sadness help them to be drawn into your presence.
We pray for travelling mercies for this long weekend of the summer. No doubt the highways will be jammed so keep us extra careful and diligent.
We also lift up in prayer all those
who are returning to school this week, whether they be teachers, staff of
students. May this be the beginning of a good and worthwhile year for all. We
lift all of our prayers, O God, to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
September 8, 2016 / /Pentecost 13 / Proper 18
Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18; Jeremiah 18:1-11; Luke 14:25-33; Philemon 1-21
CALL TO WORSHIP
Come to us, O God, in our worship.
Come to us, O God, in our gathering.
Come to us, O God, in our living.
Lay your hands upon us and give us peace.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
You, O God, are the Potter and we are the clay. Come to us and mould us into a image of your glory. Give us the courage to trust in you for you are the one who knows and sees all. Your hands created the peaceful valleys and mighty mountains. Your Spirit breathed life into all living creatures. Conform us to your will. Transform us by your love. Inspire us in our worship. Be our God for ever and ever more. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
You, O God, are the Potter and we are the clay. There are time when we rebel against your hand. You call us to be one thing but we desire something else. Our imperfections are all too obvious. We are filled with greed, anxiety, lust and hatred. We hold grudges for past wrongs. We fail to seek reconciliation with those whom we have harmed. Remake us, God of Mercy, when we become cracked, chipped and broken. Forgive the sins of which we repent and remould us into your image. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The one who made us will not forget us. Confess, Repent and believe that God forgives our sins. God takes the brokenness from our lives and remakes us into vessels of beauty.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
The cost of our discipleship is small, O God, compared with the benefits of the life of faith. We give our gifts freely and gladly asking for the insight to use them wisely for Jesus’ purpose and ministry. Amen.
God is the Potter and we are the clay. May we live with God’s hand upon us, allowing ourselves to be moulded by the Master Designer and Artist of all Creation.