Jeremiah lived in difficult days. They were in fact the most turbulent in the history of Judah—the reigns of the last five kings before the nation went north into exile in Babylon.

With big changes afoot no-one could bank on a routine going-on, and young Jeremiah faced a future full of uncertainty. But he trusted God and steeled himself for new ventures in his service. Read the account of his call to the prophetic ministry in Jeremiah 1:1-19.

God had a surprise for Jeremiah, who was all geared up for being a priest. Instead, God called him to be primarily a prophet.[1] He was nudging him out of his comfort zone, which is always a challenge. Be prepared for God to do the same with you. If you say, ‘I can bake cakes but don’t ask me to teach’, or ‘I’m OK on the music but there’s no way I could take a children’s class’ you might be wisely staying within the bounds of your known expertise. On the other hand, you might just be holding shut a door that God wants to open. Especially if you’re young, stay open to unexpected options.

With Jeremiah the challenge concerned what he would be—a prophet. With you it is more likely to concern what you do. Stay open to whatever: going into schools to take assemblies and Religious Education classes; doing regular hospital visiting; giving a year to reaching street kids in India; setting up a ministry to asylum-seekers; doing evangelism in local pubs; being a musician or singer in the church; getting involved with the children’s work or youth work; organising catering for church events; studying to become a biblical scholar; becoming an administrator.

God, having given Jeremiah a surprise, now reminded him of his sovereignty: he was in control of things. In fact he had had Jeremiah lined up for this prophetic role since before his birth.[2] God is sovereign also in his dealings with you. He knows you by name and even has an up-to-date tally of the number of hairs on your head.[3] What’s more, he has a job prepared in advance for you to do.[4]

Jeremiah’s reaction to the prophetic call was a strong sense of inadequacy: ‘I do not know how to speak; I am too young’.[5] In public speaking, which is any prophet’s stock in trade, he felt weak, and also inexperienced on account of his youth—he was probably still in his late teens or early twenties. You may well feel the same. Even men and women used mightily by God over many years go through phases of feeling useless. Arthur Wallis, who was in some ways a spiritual father to me, was a prominent Christian leader, author and teacher with an international ministry. Just a year or two before his death in 1988 he confessed to me one day, ‘ David, I’m not sure I’ve got any real ministry at all’. He was quite wrong. His ministry was outstanding. He may have felt inadequate but his competence came from God himself. So would Jeremiah’s, and so will yours.[6]

Speech was the major issue for Jeremiah. Many avenues of service will require you to open your mouth and speak, so it’s vital to face the issue. God will help you in this. He who touched Jeremiah’s mouth and put his words onto his lips can do the same for you.[7] But progress won’t all be supernatural; you will have to do your own bit, too, by yielding your powers of speech to God and speaking out boldly. You may even benefit from a bit of coaching.

When you do speak, speak positively. God chided Jeremiah: ‘Do not say, “I am too young”.’[8] The only thing you as a Christian can’t do is say, ‘I can’t’, because God will see to it that everything he calls you to do you can do, by his strength.[9] In fact the Lord’s commands are his enablings. When Jesus met the man with the withered hand he told him to do the one thing he couldn’t do: ‘Stretch out your hand’. Matthew records, ‘So he stretched it out...’ and he found himself healed.[10] What matters is the Lord’s command, not your adequacy or lack of it. So be bold in responding to him. Don’t let the curse-like pronouncements of your parents or your doctor hold you back. They may declare, ‘You’ll never be any good at anything’, or ‘You’ll never walk again’, but the God-factor can change all that.

Serving God is best when marked by simplicity. Don’t try to run before you can walk. Don’t over-complicate things. Notice how Jeremiah’s prophesying started with everyday, familiar things. God asked him what he could see. He didn’t screw up his eyes in a pseudo-prophetic way and reply with, ‘I see a world in turbulence, fraught with political and military uncertainties. I see the superpowers of Egypt and Babylon jockeying for first place...’ All that was true, but at the time Jeremiah happened to be admiring the blossom on a nearby almond tree, so instead he replied, ‘I see the branch of an almond tree’.[11] And to his surprise God said, ‘You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.’[12] You will have missed the point here, no doubt, because God and Jeremiah were enjoying a bit of Hebrew word-play that doesn’t come across in English. In Hebrew an almond tree is shaqed, and ‘watching’ (that is, staying awake and alert) is shaqad.[13]

All this almond-tree stuff was well-known to Jeremiah. God was starting him off in familiar territory. That is his way. Earlier, he had done a similar thing with Moses when, at the burning bush, he called him to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Moses must have wondered how on earth that could happen. How could he even expect Pharaoh to believe that God had sent him? Then God asked him, ‘What is that in your hand?’[14] Moses was a shepherd, and the thing in his hand was his ordinary shepherd’s staff. God asked him to throw it on the ground—to offer it to God, we might say—whereupon it became a living snake. When Moses picked it up by the tail, it was the staff again. The message is clear: it’s your everyday skills that God wants you to offer to him, and they are what he will use. Yes, he will infuse them with a supernatural dimension, but in the end the skills are yours and it is from that familiar territory that God will delight to lead you into pastures new.

The supernatural aspect of it can be quite scary. Once Jeremiah got into his stride with prophesying he found the implications frightening. His second venture into prophesying[15] found him foretelling God’s judgment arriving on Judah ‘from the north’. That was where Babylon, with its expansionist ambitions, was located, and its leaders were already eyeing-up Judah for invasion. He was frightened by his own words, but God reminded him that the ‘fear of the Lord’ must replace all other fears in those who serve him.[16]

All new steps of faith are scary. You will say to yourself, ‘What will people think if I contribute in the meeting?’ Or, ‘What if I prophesy and my contribution gets a bit mixed up and, when the church leaders assess it, they turn it down?’ Or, ‘What will people think if I go off to India and come back within a year because I can’t cope with the climate or the food?’

Far better to be scared of disobeying the Lord who called you. And when you bow to his will you will find, as Jeremiah did, strength from God to fulfil your appointed ministry. God assured that young man, ‘Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you.’[17] Notice the best bit: ‘I am with you’. Together, God and you are a majority in any situation. You may well feel weak and inadequate, but that will only serve to ensure that, when everything has worked out as he promised, the glory goes to the God who empowered you, not to you.[18]

With such assurances and promises to uphold him, Jeremiah placed himself on standby. God had said, ‘Get yourself ready!’[19] And ready he was, like a TV set on standby, just waiting for the ‘go’ signal to come from the control pad. Are you like that—ready for God’s command? Ready for anything, waiting for the word of the Lord through the Holy Spirit to come to you?

I don’t care if you are the most unlikely candidate for Christian service ever. God will use you if you place yourself at his disposal. William Carey (1761-1834) discovered this to be true. He was just a humble cobbler but he felt God drawing him towards the heathen of India who had never heard the gospel. He was a Baptist, and the leaders of that denomination poured scorn on his request for help to become a missionary. But he feared God first and eventually set foot in India, repeating to himself the inspiring motto: ‘Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.’ Within fifty years of his death there were over half a million Christians in India.

He was a Jeremiah in his generation. What about today’s generation? Could it be your turn?

Copyright © David Matthew 2010

 

JEREMIAH

New Steps Of Faith

 

This is one essay in the Windows On The Word series. Click the Next and Previous buttons to move through the series, and Up to go to the list. Footnotes appear in the right-hand column. Hover over Bible references to see the text.

 

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Jeremiah

The gist of this article

We all favour our comfort-zone, and God often uses us primarily within it. But he reserves the right to nudge us out of it from time to time, and that’s what he did with Jeremiah. You can learn a lot from how this young man reacted.

 

1. Jeremiah 1:1. Coming as he did from a priestly family, he would expect to become a priest himself. But God was calling him to be a prophet: Jeremiah 1:5.

2. Jeremiah 1:5

3. See Exodus 33:12; Luke 12:6-7

4. Ephesians 2:10

5. Jeremiah 1:6

6. 2 Corinthians 3:4-5

7. Jeremiah 1:9

8. Jeremiah 1:7

9.Philippians 4:13

10. See Matthew 12:9-13

11. Jeremiah 1:11

12. Jeremiah 1:12

13. The almond was thus the ‘awake tree’, so called because in Palestine it is the first tree in the year to bud and bear fruit—the first one to wake up, so to speak, after the long winter sleep.

14. Exodus 4:2

15. Jeremiah 1:13-16

16. Jeremiah 1:17

17. Jeremiah 1:18-19

18. See 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

19. Jeremiah 1:17