Friday, December 8, 2017
The Lord gave me this message: “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” “O Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!” The Lord replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said, “Look, I have put my words in your mouth! Today I appoint you to stand up against nations and kingdoms. Some you must uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow. Others you must build up and plant.”
God gave quite an assignment to a young one; one still wet behind the ears! Jeremiah responded by acknowledging his fear: I can’t do this, Lord; I’m too young. Nobody will believe me, listen to me; God, you’ve got to find someone else!
At least on some level I know what Jeremiah felt like when God’s call washed over him. It’s that sinking-feeling in the pit of your stomach that alerts you to the reality of a rough ride directly ahead. It is a feeling of vulnerability; your underside will be exposed and you have no choice. The scale was different for Jeremiah than Russell. I speak to a few dozen folks on Sundays and a slightly wider audience through the week. Jeremiah was a prophet to the world.
But while the audience may vary in size, the job doesn’t; a mouthpiece may blow a piccolo or a tuba, but the notes play the same music. And when you speak for God there will be words of judgment as well as words of encouragement.
This is my fortieth year of ministry, and there is no question in my mind that the butterflies of anxiety that accompanied the first realization of being called to speak God’s Word to people were authentic. It has been a rough ride; my family and I have been vulnerable to abuse from many different directions. Offsetting that has been the consistent care of God. Elizabeth and I (along with our children and extended family) have seen God work in marvelous ways to keep us safe, fed, and blessed in too many ways to recount. We’ve never missed a meal and stand blessed beyond measure!
At times I wonder how God could be so kind and generous towards the likes of me. This is particularly so when I think of servants like Jeremiah. He was the weeping prophet, steeped in sorrow over the sins of his nation. Jeremiah died in exile, a prisoner far from home. He never saw the victory God was working, and to which God had assigned him. Yet the man stayed by the stuff; Jeremiah never gave in to fear of what could be done to him in this body. He stood against unrighteousness, proclaimed God’s holiness, and never blurred the lines between the two.
Rewards in this life are shadowy; you always have to suspect the source. There are times a seeming reward, some windfall of money, praise, gift, or advance is a blessing. Upon closer examination it turns out to be a temptation, a trap! Other times the vulnerability issue, where your daily bread is in question may be threatened. But it is a gift, an opportunity to walk in stronger faith.
Trials, temptations, snares and toils; ministry can be a minefield. But after forty years I’m more certain than ever that the initial Jonah-response most preachers I know exhibited when God called them into ministry is the best preparation. It is during those times of self-doubt, questioning, trying to run-away, and the disciplining hand of Almighty God that we have that Go…Stand-Up…Say…and FEAR NOT heart for ministry planted deep within to sustain and strengthen us for the days ahead.
Forty years of walking by faith have taught me you need that!
Are you called? Are you worried about it? Trying to run from it? Good!