I find the Old Testament book of Jeremiah to be utterly fascinating. It’s one of the best examples of a personal and intimate relationship between man and God in the Old Testament. And I can so easily relate at times to Jeremiah who is frequently called the “Weeping Prophet.”
God called Jeremiah, and gave him a specific mission that he was born to do. The whole exchange in Jeremiah 1 is great, but 1:4-10 is particularly great:
4 The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
6 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Isn’t that Just Awesome? If God came up to you and told you that He had set you apart before you were ever born, and hand delivered His words to your mouth on what to speak, you’d be unstoppable! I particularly like the part where God not only gives him the mission and the words, but the authority over nations and kingdoms as well. This story is going to be amazing! Jeremiah is going to go take names and kick butt and show Israel that they need to repent or risk the wrath of God.
This is God’s mission, He’s planned the strategy and the tactics, He’s written the sermons, He’s got this. EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE AWESOME AND GO WELL.
Except, no. Not at all. It doesn’t go well at all for Jeremiah. Jeremiah pleads with Israel, with words straight from God, to repent from their evil ways. But instead of listening, there are plots to kill Jeremiah, false prophets saying that everything will be dandy, he is thrown into a cistern and into stocks, and worst of all, NOTHING IS HAPPENING. Nobody is repenting, nobody is listening, his words fall on deaf ears and all that God had planned and given to Jeremiah seems to be useless.
Jeremiah becomes so frustrated, he throws a temper tantrum in Jeremiah 20, telling God that He deceived him, that His words have brought him nothing but ridicule and shame, and Jeremiah wishes that he was never born. “Cursed be the day I was born!” Jeremiah 20:14 says. He even goes on to curse the guy that came out of the delivery room when he was born with cigars saying, “It’s a boy!” (seriously, it’s one of the best rants in the Bible, you need to read it!)
But, it gets worse. Jeremiah keeps preaching, begging the people to listen. The people keep ignoring him and doing their own thing. Jeremiah has to stand and watch his country get invaded and decimated by a foreign occupying force, the very fate he foretold and God warned about. Jeremiah is carried away to captivity. And that is the context in which we read the very famous Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you, not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.”
The context of that isn’t in the middle of when things are going awesome and just about to get better. But literally at the bottom, the bottom of hopeless despair. This was God’s mission, God’s plan to get the people to repent and they wouldn’t budge.
There are some really important take aways from this whole ordeal I think are important to remember:
There are no guarantees to results. Jeremiah’s mission was God given, his authority supernatural, and his words, Divine. Jeremiah was playing by God’s playbook, with God’s resources, and God’s strategic planning. But his mission to get Israel to repent to avoid God’s judgment ultimately failed, he was repeatedly plotted against, mocked, and even thrown in a cistern. Jeremiah’s ministry is probably not the kind of success any of us are looking for. But God was still in it. We can be faithful to God and just trust the results to Him, even when those results don’t look promising.
God can use anybody. Even sad, depressed prophets. Even boys. I love how one translation phrases Jeremiah’s early resistance to God’s calling as, “Hold it, Master God! Look at me. I don’t know anything. I’m only a boy!” (Jeremiah 1:6)
What did Jeremiah expect God to say? “Oh, you’re right, I hadn’t noticed. I think I have the wrong address. Good day, old chap.”
A common argument with God is, “I can’t do it, I wouldn’t know what to say, they wouldn’t listen to me, and I’m too young anyway.” This is repeated in some variation throughout Scripture. Moses tried to back out because he didn’t like public speaking. Jeremiah backed out because he was too young. And Paul encouraged Timothy to not let anyone look down on you because of your youth. (1 Timothy 4:12)
God used all these folks powerfully and effectively even though they didn’t think they had it in them. And they were right. Without God at their side, they couldn’t have accomplished anything.
God is still personal. Lots of people seem to live under the mistaken idea that the God of the New Testament is a decidedly different one than the God of the Old Testament. This is seen powerfully in Jeremiah’s life as they interacted on a one on one basis and had an actual, real relationship. God was rich in mercy to Jeremiah, answering his objections, working with him through the difficulties of the mission God called him to. It’s nice to know that God is still involved, and that has never changed.
God’s work isn’t a magic happy pill. This is a huge reason why I love Jeremiah so much. So much in life we think if we’re doing the right things, we should be always happy with no trouble and nothing but success. Yet Jeremiah sees no progress getting made, and is put in stocks by one of the priests in God’s Temple, and finally has enough and tells God he’s sick of it and wants no more. But Jeremiah perseveres and … is eventually carted away and thrown into a cistern.
Here Jeremiah thought everything was going to go great because he was going with God, and it all falls apart. And, just to show you that Jeremiah is a real person, he had a real response: sadness, frustration, annoyance.
I’ve never been thrown into stocks, or thrown down into a sewage-filled cistern, but there are plenty of times I just think what God is asking me is crazy. Or when I see no success, I just want to quit and to give up and have nothing to do with it. My default state is to tend to get frustrated and annoyed and eventually depressed that I’m not making the progress I was meant to make. It’s cool to know I’m not the only one.
And despite the lack of success at the stated mission, God still used Jeremiah to speak and act powerfully in the history of Israel and Judah. God’s purposes prevailed. Jeremiah’s effort felt futile, but was still used by God mightily and powerfully.
Let’s remember this in our own lives and our own ministries. Outcomes are not guaranteed. We want to quit, but God will still use us if we press on.