The Danger of Self Pity
Topic: Sanctification Passage: Jeremiah 15:10–15:10, Jeremiah 15:15–15:21
I want to talk to you this morning about the danger of self pity, and particularly self-pity in our service to the Lord. I am going to take this lesson from Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet.
I hesitate to use Jeremiah as an example of this because he is one of the most heroic servants of God in the Bible and this episode of despair and self pity should NOT be the main thing you know about him! He is one of the greatest examples in the Bible of faithfully standing for God when the whole culture has rejected God.
He was given an assignment from God, to call the people of Judah to turn back to God and to warn them that if they did not, God would judge them for their idolatry, by sending them in to captivity in Babylon. By human standards his ministry was a failure. No one responded to his message! He saw no visible fruit from his ministry. He was despised. His own family and friends turned against him. The people plotted to assassinate him. Through all of this he served God faithfully for 40 years.
Yet for a period of time, he fell into self pity and said some things that he should not have said. In Jeremiah chapter 15, this great prophet of God, sinks to one of his lowest points emotionally and spiritually. He feels abandoned by God and mistreated by people. His prayers are filled with complaints and despair. It is good that he expresses these feelings to God. (It is good to tell God your griefs and sorrows) Yet he crosses a line and falls into such self pity that he makes rash accusations against God, for which he is rebuked and comes close to losing his privilege as God's spokesman.
This passage shows us how hard life can be. But is shows how wrong self pity is. This passage can act as a mirror to show us our own self pity (maybe you will see a little bit of yourself in Jeremiah). And it shows how much God opposes it, SO THAT we might turn away from it. Jeremiah DOES repent of his self pity and God reassures him of his love for him and his presence with him in a powerful spoken word. These may be words you need to hear just as badly as Jeremiah did.
Self pity means pity for ones self. It is a self-absorbed unhappiness over one's own troubles. Self pity is a disagreement with God over how life, and He has treated us. It has been called the most destructive vice a person can have, even more dangerous than pride. But of course it is a kind of pride, a kind of worship of ourselves and our comforts. And being angry that we have not received the kind of treatment or blessings, or whatever that we felt we should have.
Because self pity is SO damaging, Satan delights to sows the seeds of self pity in our thoughts. When Jesus explained that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and that he must be killed, Peter said, “Far be it from you Lord! This must never happen to you”. Literally 1) “may God pity thee,” i. e. “give thee a better fate,” or (2) “pity thyself.” Jesus viewed these thoughts as coming from the devil and said, “Get behind me Satan”. When you hear a voice saying you should not have such hard things happen to you, or that you deserve better, it is likely coming from the devil.
I specifically mention self pity in serving the Lord, because for many, who have followed Jesus for many years, this is precisely the area of life that can provoke the most bitter and most dangerous kind of self pity. I did so much for Jesus and now look what I get! In your line of duty to the Lord, whatever it is, in your home, at work or in the church, there is a danger that you can so magnify your personal costs and painful things that you begin to be unhappy with God, over your situation.
Why can't I get a good night's sleep like everybody else? I just can't take it any more. Why do things like this always happen to me. Why is it always my fault? When is it going to be my turn? When are some other people going to step up and help – I can't do everything. Why do they see such success and I struggle and see very little?
If we do not carefully cultivate an attitude of gratitude, we can lose the first joy we had in our salvation. Jeremiah looked back to the beginning of God's speaking to him, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight..” But that memory of past joy was spoken in the middle of a prayer where he accused God of making his pain unending and his wounds incurable. And he accused God of failing him, of being “like a spring that fails”. I received your word with joy and yet it has turned out like this!
Jeremiah is not the only one of God's servants in the Bible to fall into this kind of self-absorbed despair and complaint. Moses, Elijah, Habakkuk, Job had their moments too. If the greatest of God's people struggle with this at times, that tells me it is NOT that uncommon. And we may struggle with it too.
What were the circumstances of Jeremiah's self pity?
First: God did not do what Jeremiah wanted him to do. God did not answer his prayer.
Jeremiah sees the people suffering drought and famine, under the effects of God's judgment. In 14:7 he questions God, “Why are you like a stranger in the land?...Why are you like a warrior powerless to save?” Why do you abandon us? Why don't you do something? Have you ever been there? Vs 10 God, tells him that things have reached a point where he will not relent. The people do not restrain themselves from evil. And God says, “Do not pray for the well-being of this people”.
But again Jeremiah prays one of the most earnest prayers for Judah in 14:19-22. “Have you rejected Judah completely? Why have you afflicted us? We hoped for peace but no good has come... O Lord we acknowledge our wickedness...Our hope is in You...O Lord our God. But the Lord said to Jeremiah, “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me”, I would not answer that prayer. God had already decided that Judah had to experience judgment for her idolatry. That was hard for Jeremiah to deal with as he saw and wept over the coming disaster.
When your prayers are not being answered in the time or way you wanted it can tempt you to despair and self pity. When it doesn't seem like God is responding.....When it doesn't seem like God is using his power to do what seems like he should to you...
Second: On top of this disappointment with God, Jeremiah was being severely mistreated by the very people he was praying for, and wonders how God can let that happen.
He was mocked and rejected. He was put in prison. They plotted to kill him. He feels that God has not protected him. He feels so low over this that in 15:10 he says, “Alas my mother, that you gave me birth, a man with whom the whole land strives and contends! I have neither lent nor borrowed, yet everyone curses me.”
The NET translates it this way: “O Mother, how I regret that you ever gave birth to me.” Woe is me, or how terrible for me, my mother that you gave birth to me. I wish I had not been born! “Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame”. That's pretty low. And that's how low we can sometimes get in some seasons of life. Perhaps you wouldn't admit it but, maybe some of you have felt that low at some time. I'm not saying it's a good thing – in fact I think it is clear that Jeremiah is showing self pity in this and needs a change of perspective.
The last half of the verse tells why he felt this way. I am “a man with whom the whole land strives and contends! I have neither lent nor borrowed, yet everyone curses me.” Jeremiah said, “Nobody likes me!”. Often it has been said that the best way to ruin a friendship is to loan or borrow money. Jeremiah says, I haven't done that yet I have no friends! The whole land has turned against me. That is a fact, yet God wanted Jeremiah to believe what he told him in the beginning: “I have made you like a fortified city, like an iron pillar, like a bronze wall to stand firm against the whole land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue”, declares the Lord. But he forgot that promise and indulged in his unhappiness over his troubles.
Third: Jeremiah feels he has paid a big price for living a righteous life.
He speaks of how much he has suffered, how he loved God's Word, how he kept separate from sinners. These are all good things that Jeremiah did, but he speaks about them in a mood of self pity.
Chapter 15:15, “Think of how I have suffered reproach for your sake”. He feels he must remind the Lord how much humiliation and mistreatment he has endured. God, don't you see what people have done to me? Don't you care?
Verse 16, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight”. When God spoke to him at the beginning, Jeremiah was thrilled. He is saying I had the right response to you! But what do I get for it?
15:17 “I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them: I sat alone because your hand was on me, and you had filled me with indignation”. I didn't party and carouse with evil people, I kept myself separate from them, I suffered loneliness because I belonged to you. There is a loneliness in righteous living! But the Lord God is our friend and Helper and Savior, and he will never leave us or forsake us so that we confidently say, “what can man do to me?”. That means man can't hurt me! Do we believe that? Instead of this perspective, Jeremiah felt sorry for himself.
It is good to be righteous, to suffer; it is never good when we start to feel sorry for ourselves for being righteous, or for suffering, or for being good.
Then Jeremiah's self pity really starts to come out in verse 18: “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable”. He felt hurt and wounded. “My pain never ends”. Life seemed like a long dark tunnel with no light at the other end. We go through things in this world, even as believers that bring so much emotional pain! But it is over the top to say “I am incurable”, and “there is no end”. That is refusing to believe that God can heal, and save and comfort you. And he can.
Up to this point God has just listened. But then Jeremiah goes too far. He begins to accuse God of not being good. “Will you be to me like a deceptive brook? Like a spring that fails?” There was a time early in his ministry that he declared that God was a fountain of living water, now in a time of despair he questions if God is a fountain that has failed. God you promised and you did not deliver! You deceived me into the ministry!
There is something right about taking our feelings of despair or discouragement to God and telling him just how we feel. But there is a point where our self pity and complaint crosses a line and begins to become dangerous, self destructive, and an affront to God. At this point Jeremiah's emphasis on his own suffering, his own righteousness, was becoming self-absorbed, self-indulgent, excessive and dangerous.
After listening to the things Jeremiah said, “Jeremiah, You need to repent!” Verse 19, “Therefore this is what the Lord says, “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me”. The Lord tells him indirectly that he has been suspended! “Your words of self-pity and complaint and accusation, have jeopardized your ministry as a prophet!”. Now its serious!
So what is the solution to self-pity. How can we get this evil and destructive attitude out of our hearts?
You need a confrontation that leads you to repent.
If anyone could justify self pity it might be Jeremiah. Yet God would not let it go without dealing with it. God is NOT okay with it! God is merciful to you. He loves you. He remembers you in your sufferings and hardships. But if you think you can go on and on in your complaint about how hard things are, you are wrong. God will find a way to correct you, NOT because he doesn't love you, but because he DOES!
Some of us need the voice of the Lord to break through to our hearts and say, “Hold on. That's enough”. That's what the Lord did for Jeremiah. He interrupted his outpouring of self pity and said, “You need to repent”. Some how you need to hear the Lord say, My son, or my daughter, you shouldn't be talking like that. What is God saying to you about this?
Vs 19 “If you utter worthy, NOT worthless words, you will be my spokesman”. The Lord calls Jeremiah's complaints worthless words. Sometimes we need to hear that! The way you are talking, the words you are speaking in self pity are worthless words. They are NOT good words. You may not have someone who loves you enough, or is bold enough to tell you that, but if you listen in your heart, you MAY be able to hear the Lord's loving rebuke. Your response is to repent. You say, “Lord, you are right. I needed to hear that. I turn away in revulsion to that kind of thinking and speaking!”.
Something that helped Jeremiah was for God to show him the severe consequences that would come without a change of his attitude. He jeopardized being God's spokesman. What GREAT privilege Jeremiah had! He was the mouthpiece of God for his day. He had the promise of God. And in his self pity he forgot it. Do you realize how much you are jeopardizing when you allow yourself to indulge in self-pity? You could lose your voice for God! You could render yourself ineffective in ministry to others.
See the great privilege of belonging to God and being used by God even if it is hard.
The thing that awakened Jeremiah from his mood of self pity was this privilege. “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me...If you utter worthy words, you will be my spokesman”. The reward of repentance is serving and speaking for the Lord. It is a great privilege to serve the Lord, in your home, in this church, in your neighborhood.
God did not promise Jeremiah things would suddenly be easier. He promised him ministry. If you repent of your self pity, I will be able to use your life! You will have something to say. You will open the way to fruitfulness, again. What greater blessing than to be used by God. That is a cry in the heart of every believer.
Open your heart to listen to the Lord speak to you about his love and protection.
In your pressing circumstances, in your hard things. God promises himself to you. To Jeremiah he said, “I will make you a fortified wall of bronze, to this people; They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue you and save you”, declares the Lord. “I will save you from the hands of the wicked and redeem you from the grasp of the cruel.” vs 20,21 You FEEL abandoned but I HAVE NOT ABANDONED YOU! Stop talking like an abandoned person when you are not!
Much of Jeremiah's complaint was about his persecutors and how horribly mistreated he was. But God said, I will make you amazingly strong. The people will still fight against you. But they will not overcome you. FOR I AM WITH YOU TO RESCUE YOU AND SAVE YOU. Today God is with you to rescue you and to save you. That is all you need to hear to pull you out of the quick sand of self pity.
Instead of self pity consider the great sufferings of others and especially Jesus.
It seems as Hebrews 12:1-2 was written to people indulging in self pity. The author has just listed all the men and women who believed God through incredible suffering. “They were tortured, some were mocked and flogged, still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were put to death with the sword. They went about in sheepskins, destitute, persecuted, and ill treated, they wandered in deserts and mountains and in caves and holes in the ground...(Think about that and then can you indulge in self pity that you didn't get enough sleep last night, or that your car needs a brake job, or that someone looked at you funny at work, or that you've got too much laundry to do, or maybe even that you've have some really serious problems! So did they!) and he goes on to say, “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us, (Just maybe that sin that so easily entangles us is self pity!) and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross..... Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” We grow weary and lose heart because of self pity and self focus. If we know that we are followers of one who suffered, that changes our perspective on everything! And he said, “If any one will come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”. That means that each day, we are prepared to die to our own self interests, our own self preservation, our self promotion, and follow. And we do it for the joy set before us!
We overcome self pity by accepting self denial as a normal part of every day life following Jesus. May the Lord use these things to set us free from the deadly disease of self pity.