Jeremiah 20:7-11 is a poignant picture of the vexing call of God.
So often we send a false message to young people in the church, one I remember getting as I sensed my own call to ministry and began to answer: if you want your life to go well, to be enriched, to be beautiful and good, answer God’s call. God will never lead you down a path that does not bless you.
This is not Jeremiah’s experience. He hears God’s call and feels bewitched by it. God’s call truly is to him as a fire in his bones. When he does not follow God’s lead, speak God’s word, he feels the restlessness of not being in the will of God for him. Yet he is called to speak up against injustice, against oppression, to warn the people the way they are living is a dead-end. And the people are comfortable and happy, thank you very much. He is a downer to their party. A party pooper and a buzz kill.
“Come on, Jeremiah!” “What is his problem?” they said.
Jeremiah faced persecution, distress, suffering. Ultimately the people didn’t listen.
I truly want to believe what I heard as a young person that following God will bring, in this life, comfort and security. I want to believe the righteous person will see success, the wicked brought to ruin, as certain Psalms and Proverbs suggest. The book of Jeremiah, though, calls this into question. It suggest you can be faithful to the call of God and not see any material success. In fact, you can face rejection, expulsion, arrest. You can be faithful and, like Jesus, not just have your message rejected but be strung up for the cause of justice and truth.
Jeremiah and Jesus were faithful, but in earthly terms it did not bring material success.
This can sound like bad news at first. But it also can be encouraging. I can’t speak for you but there are times in my life I was faithful to what I felt burning in my bones, what I was certain was God’s word. And though I was as faithful as I knew how to be, it didn’t work out. The people were blessed, but the church plant didn’t succeed. The ministry I labored at couldn’t pay the bills. The family I sought to support and counsel wouldn’t confront their issues and it all blew up in their face.
I think you may have been through this yourself. You gave, helped, supported that person who was struggling to get by. And they still stole your stuff and fell back into drugs.
You worked as hard as you could on your marriage, and he or she still was unfaithful to you. The marriage fell apart though you were faithful.
Your church has loved, served, and been a highlight of God’s love in the community. And yet it still has to close its doors.
We can feel in those moments full of shame and guilt. We can feel we were not enough, though in our hearts we know we were as faithful as we knew how to be. We can begin to sit and list our “if only’s”, wondering what is wrong with us that we could not succeed.
Hear the word of encouragement in Jeremiah – God is saying, I never asked you to succeed. I never asked you to do what could not be done. I merely asked you be faithful in what I have given you. If you have been as faithful as you know how, as loving as you are capable, know I see. I know. And the seed you have sown, though it dies in the ground now, is not over. It will grow into a plant that blossoms to bless others.
This is what happens with Jeremiah. He dies not seeing any good come out of his prophecy. But ultimately his promise of a new covenant for all, where God’s ways are written on the heart, is exactly what Jesus brings about in his life, teachings, and example. Every week we break bread and drink the cup of new covenant, we celebrate the fruit of Jeremiah’s faithful work and Jesus’, which both appeared failures in human eyes yet through the Spirit continue to work healing in the world.
When you feel a failure but know you were faithful, know your God is faithful too. You may not see it now but God will honor your faithfulness.