Rejection is a real emotion that each of us will face or fight through at different times in our lives. Rejection can come into our lives with a one-two punch that can knock the wind out of us and steal precious time and energy from us. Rejection can carry negative and forceful messages with it. “You aren’t pretty enough. You aren’t smart enough. You aren’t worthy. You aren’t cool enough. You aren’t good enough.” And often times people respond to those messages in very counter-productive and destructive ways. Rejection is real. How will we handle it?
I’m sure it is hard for you to believe as you look at me now, but growing up I was never picked first for teams in gym class. Shocking, I know. J Every time the gym teacher divided us into teams and picked students to be captains and gave them the opportunity to go back and forth picking who they wanted on their teams, I was reminded I wasn’t team-worthy.
In third grade when I was crushing on a boy in my class, I made the mistake of asking him if he thought I was pretty. What we hear when we are in third grade can impact our lives for years to come. I internalized the negative message that I wasn’t pretty enough.
I had a major disappointment that was repeated throughout my college experience every semester until I was in the second semester of my junior year. It was very discouraging and felt very personal even though I found out later that it wasn’t. It was connected to my singing ability, something I had always been confident about and had been praised for until I got to college. Rejection shook my confidence and caused me, an extrovert, to become rather inward with my music passions and gift and my friendships.
When I embraced the call on my life to be a senior pastor and started to search for an open church and God’s will, it was three years of rejection letter after rejection letter after rejection letter. When you walk through that kind of experience, you can question if you really are called, if God really does have a plan, and if you should consider doing something else.
Perhaps as I was rehearsing some of my moments of rejection you thought of your own. Maybe you still felt the sting of those moments. I want to share some stories of real people from God’s Word today who all dealt with rejection. We’ll look at how they handled rejection and ask God to show us how He wants us to deal with it.
The first character I want to mention is a lady named Leah. Leah’s story is chronicled in Genesis 29 and following. A man came into Leah’s life, the man who would become her husband, not because he saw her across a crowded sheep pen J and fell in love, but because her dad tricked the guy into marrying her. How un-romantic is that?
The guy’s name was Jacob. He actually met Leah’s younger sister, Rachel, and it was “love at first sight.” Jacob didn’t waste any time having the talk with Rachel’s dad to ask for her hand in marriage. He went to her dad, Laban, and said, “I will work for you for seven years if you will give me your daughter, Rachel’s hand in marriage.” Seven years seems like a long time, but Genesis 29:20 says the time flew by and the seven years seemed like seven days to Jacob because of his love for her.
So, at the end of the seven years, Jacob asked for the wedding to take place. His father-in-law to be threw a party and presented his daughter who must have been disguised with a heavy veil of some sort to Jacob because it wasn’t until after their first night together that Jacob realized there had been a bait and switch. He had actually married the older daughter, Leah, which the Bible does say wasn’t beautiful like Rachel.
Now, Leah knew Jacob was in love with her sister, Rachel, but she went along with this deceptive plan of her dad. I guess her dad thought it was “now or never” and he had to get this girl married. We know the Bible is accurate in what it says about all that took place, so it isn’t messed up. Just the people in it (like us) are super messed up. Realizing he had been hoodwinked, Jacob told Laban he wanted to marry Rachel too and that he would work for him for another seven years if he would go ahead and give Rachel to him in marriage.
So, yes, there is a messed up polygamist situation here in Genesis 29. In verse 30 we read that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. How did she deal with that rejection?
Although polygamy was “culturally acceptable” it was never God’s plan. In addition to that messed up scenario two concubines got thrown into the mix. Eventually, Jacob had thirteen children from four different women. Whose kids do you think Jacob would treat the best? The ones he had with the woman of his dreams, Rachel, right? How did Leah deal with the rejection that would have caused?
Later in chapter 29 we read that Rachel, the pretty younger sister, wasn’t able to have kids at first, so Leah thought the way to win her husband’s approval and affection, the way to win over his love was through having his children. I believe she thought that by having babies with Jacob she could get him to love her. Not a good strategy, but one that is often used by young ladies today. Sadly some think, “If we have a baby he will have to love me.”
When Leah had her first baby she actually said, “Surely my husband will love me now.” She had another one and said, “Because the LORD heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” She dealt with rejection by trying to win her husband over through giving him children.
Later, in chapter 30 (14-18) we actually read that Rachel wanted something that Leah had. Leah told her she would give this thing to Rachel if Rachel would send Jacob over to spend the night with her. Here we see Leah was trying to deal with rejection by manipulating the situation in order to have a sexual encounter with her shared husband. “If I can just get him to sleep with me more, then he will love me.” Leah even told her husband he had to be with her that night because she had “hired” him (16) to be with her. She was responding to rejection by trying to buy and manipulate this man’s love. Would that really change anything? How would she deal with the rejection when he went back home to Rachel the next day?
The second character I want to mention is the young shepherd boy named David. So, back in the time of the Old Testament Kings, the first king, Saul, was on his way out. He was rejected by God, and the Prophet Samuel was told to go to Bethlehem to anoint a new king. I Samuel 16 tells us that Samuel got to the house where the next King of Israel would be living. He spoke to the man of the house whose name was Jesse, and he told him that one of his sons was going to be king. Jesse called his sons, and one by one they met the prophet for their king-to-be interview. As each one passed by Samuel, he heard clearly from the Lord that none of them was the person God had in mind as the next king. Seven boys were introduced to the prophet. None of them would fit the bill.
I am sure Samuel was confused. He was told the next king would be part of that household. He knew he had gone to the right place. So, in verse 11 Samuel asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” 12 So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.
I wonder when the Prophet Samuel left if his brothers and dad started talking about how they never dreamed the youngest brother was the one God had in mind. I wonder how public they were in front of David with their shock over him being the Prophet’s choice. I mean, they were all much more experienced and proven leaders than David. He was just a little boy.
I wonder how David felt when he heard that his dad had called all of the other brothers to the interview, but didn’t even think it would be worth a conversation with the Prophet to have David come in from tending the sheep. What does rejection say to people when they are passed over by a parent or other family members or when they are just passed over in general? Not considered. Not thought of. David could have decided to be “done” with his father then and there and decided to shut off his voice and quit listening to his authority, but he didn’t.
Just a chapter later in I Samuel 17 the story is told of how the Israelites were at war with the Philistines. A big giant-like bully was running his mouth against the Israelites and was challenging them to send people to fight him. David’s three older brothers were all at the battle line because they were part of the Israelite army. The boys’ father asked young David to take food and supplies to his brothers, and David, though he had been rejected and overlooked, dutifully obeyed. And when he got there, rather than a “thank you very much” they simply said, “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be tending those few sheep?” (vs 28) Not only was he rejected, but he was mocked and minimized in the process.
Fast-forward a bit and the story tells us young David actually became the one to defeat the giant and to give the victory to the Israelite army. King Saul who was still in place at the time started to sing David’s praises. However, when others joined in praising David and recognized his great military victory had surpassed other military victories of the then reigning king, King Saul rejected David and wanted to kill him. David could have concluded that if Saul wanted him dead that the idea about him becoming king one day probably wasn’t a realistic or good idea, and he could have taken off for some unknown land to begin pursuing a different career, but he didn’t.
David’s own son, Absalom, rejected his dad’s authority. He stood at the gate and tried to turn the heart of the people against him. David was rejected by his own son, and his own son was trying to get the people of his kingdom to reject him. (II Samuel 15:2) David could have concluded that if his own son didn’t want him to be king or didn’t think he should be king that he would just resign the kingship and hand it over. But he didn’t!
Perhaps his dealings with rejection led to the writing of many of the Psalms which deal with feelings of rejection and abandonment. One thing David knew was that God wouldn’t reject him. Psalm 94:14 “For the LORD will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance.” God won’t belittle us. God won’t berate us. God won’t laugh at us. God won’t dismiss or dis us. We are His, and He promises to never leave or forsake us or push us to the side!
The third character I want to talk with you about is Jesus Himself. In Luke chapter 4 He sort of officially launched his Messianic career by making a speech at the synagogue. Here, in His hometown of Galilee He unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and He announced His life’s mission. Verse 18: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him,
21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
The people were initially amazed, but then they started questioning Jesus’ authority and His assessment of why He had been born. How could He be a prophet? He was just a carpenter’s son. He wasn’t even a real Rabbi.
Jesus reminded them of some Old Testament stories where prophets ministered amazing acts of God’s grace to the Gentiles while the Jews were in unbelief. Well, that didn’t sit well with those gathered there. As verse 28 begins we read: 28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
That is some big-time rejection right there. Out of the gate, rejected! Off the starting blocks, rejected! His first big speech, and people tried to run Him out of town. How do you find the courage to go on?
It is a good thing Jesus didn’t have His identity wrapped up in the opinion of others, right? It’s a good thing Jesus didn’t waffle in confidence and think, “Maybe I should change my message and my mission. If it didn’t play so well at home it probably won’t play very well in other locations.” Jesus didn’t let their rejection of His message keep Him from proclaiming it!
Let me re-read verse 30 for you. “But He walked right through the crowd and went on His way.” How triumphant! How courageous! How determined! He didn’t run from the crowd. He didn’t try to defend Himself. He simply walked through them and got on with the business of calling His disciples in Luke 5.
Let me show you something. The beginning of Luke 4 is the story about Jesus being tempted by Satan in the desert. For forty days and nights Jesus went toe to toe with Satan. He had nothing to eat during those forty days. He had to be mentally and spiritually exhausted after battling the enemy, but Jesus emerged from the desert victoriously. Listen, when Satan can’t defeat you by going one-on-one in an open and vulnerable setting, he will often look for a covert, undercover method like trying to pit others against you. The people in Galilee were Jesus’ friends. He had grown up there. The buddies He had played with and gone to school with were there. There was a shared history. Since Satan couldn’t personally discourage and defeat Jesus one-on-one could it be that he tried to use other people in Jesus’ life to quiet His calling and derail His mission?
Have you ever thought that rejection might not just be the result of someone’s insensitivity or meanness or immaturity, but that in some instances it might actually be a tool of Satan to try to keep you from accomplishing God’s plans for your life?
It was critical out of the shoot that Jesus learned or knew how to handle rejection because it wasn’t the first or the last time He would face it. In John 6 beginning with verse 60 the caption for the heading in my Bible says: Many disciples desert Jesus. What a tough day that would be! He wasn’t too far into His earthly ministry, I mean this was just chapter six of one of the Gospels, but He had built up a following. A crowd had already started to walk with Him and learn from Him. How did He deal with that rejection when people started to bail on Him?
His message, although it was 100% the truth, wasn’t popular with everyone, and apparently wasn’t popular with many who had once decided to faithfully follow Him. And they didn’t leave quietly. Verse 61 says they started talking about Jesus in not nice ways. As people started to leave, Jesus looked at the disciples and said, “Are you all leaving Me too?” (Vs. 67) In that moment, it didn’t matter what the masses said about Jesus or to Him. What mattered was what His trusted friends would say. Peter answered with words that probably fed His soul and reassured His mind in that moment: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Jesus’ friend, Peter, brought a word of rescue to Jesus. Though He had been rejected by many, Jesus was able to hear from His core followers that they believed in Him and His message. How life-giving are a few words from even just one friend when we are dealing with rejection?
As I try to wrap this message up let me try to draw some conclusions.
- The way to deal with rejection is NOT to try to force people to accept you, or desire to be with you, or to manipulate the circumstances to try to persuade people to like you, want you on their team or in their group or to promote you in some way.
- The way to deal with rejection is NOT to give up on your God-given destiny and to doubt your God-given abilities.
- The way to deal with rejection is NOT to be defined by words that belittle and twist who we are and what we can be.
But here is what you can do:
- Rest in God’s love.
Before Jesus was rejected in Galilee, before He went toe to toe with the devil in the Garden, He heard the words of His Heavenly Father in Luke 3 at His baptism say, “This is my beloved Son, and in Him I am well-pleased.” Jesus knew what He had been sent to do, and because the Father loved Him and promised to be with Him, He knew He could do it no matter how many followed Him or rejected Him.
Not everyone will embrace who you are, what you stand for or how you go about living life. That’s ok. At the end of the day, you can be secure in God’s love and know that His plan for you can’t be messed up by any haters along the way. People will come and go into your life, but God will never leave you and His love will never fail you. You don’t have to earn God’s love, and you don’t ever have to fear that He will stop loving you. Let His love be enough.
- Acknowledge your feelings of rejection.
Jesus turned to the disciples to have a conversation about the fact that the crowd was dwindling. He was willing to acknowledge and talk about what was going on. Don’t pretend you are just “ok.” Rejection hurts. Don’t try to ignore it or minimize it. Talk about it with a trusted friend or counselor and get perspective on the situation like Jesus did with Peter. Find a way to process it so you can release it. The devil wants you hurt and offended when people reject you because he wants to get you off your game. He wants you to abandon your mission. Acknowledge and process your feelings so you don’t get stalled by internalizing anger and bitterness. Pray through your feelings, and ask God to give you His perspective on what you have gone through.
- Trust God’s plan.
Remember, Judas, one of Jesus’ twelve followers wound up betraying Jesus. God knew ahead of time what Judas would do. Even that rejection of Judas worked into God’s Sovereign plan. God’s plan for your life includes Him gaining glory in and through your life, and how you deal with rejection and even you having to walk through rejection from time to time could absolutely be part of His plan to move you in new directions and put you into the desired places so that His ultimate will in your life can be fulfilled.
Jesus knows all about rejection. Isaiah 53:3 says of Him, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
I guess you could say He is used to it. Many throughout history have rejected Him. Many that you know have rejected Him. Perhaps some of you here this morning have rejected Him.
Today, let’s take our rejection to God, and lay the sting of that rejection at His feet in prayer. Today, let’s ask God to allow His love to get ahold of our hearts and feelings and bring healing to our lives. Maybe commit to finding a friend that you can trust to talk your feelings of rejection over with, but more than anything, today, choose to trust God’s plan. In my three years of searching for a church to pastor, had any of those churches that passed on me (and there were several) said “yes” I wouldn’t be here today pastoring this wonderful church. God’s timing is perfect. His intentions for your life are perfect, and as it pleases Him, He will even allow rejection to be used in your life for your good and His glory.