Today is the third day in our 40th week, reading the Bible through in a year. Our scriptures* today are: Jeremiah 17-20; James 1.
Jeremiah had had enough! God had called him to prophesy to His people, and had said that the task would be difficult. He would declare God's judgment against them, and call for their repentance, but they would not listen. God had asked him to do some strange things in order to illustrate His Word, and people had mocked Jeremiah. God had told him that he was not allowed to marry a wife, nor to have sons and daughters, and that this loneliness and barrenness would be a sign that Judah would have no immediate future (16:1-2). The prophet had been willing to endure even that. But this was too much! The chief priest, Pashur, had put Jeremiah in the stocks. In Jeremiah 1:19, God had promised the prophet, "They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.” Yet, Jeremiah felt that God had not upheld His end of the bargain.
In chapter 20, we find Jeremiah vacillating between fear and faith, despair and dauntlessness. In verses 7-8, Jeremiah accuses God of deceiving him.
7 O Lord, you have deceived me,
and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
everyone mocks me.
8 For whenever I speak, I cry out,
I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
Then, immediately after he cries out against God, he declares that God's Word is like a fire within him, that he cannot contain (v. 9). Jeremiah feels hopelessly betrayed by God, yet is energized by God's holy fire.
9 If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
Next, in v. 10, he turns his eyes back to his troubles:
10 For I hear many whispering.
Terror is on every side!
“Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”
say all my close friends,
watching for my fall.
“Perhaps he will be deceived;
then we can overcome him
and take our revenge on him.”
But he responds to these troubles with faith:
11 But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble;
they will not overcome me.
They will be greatly shamed,
for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonor
will never be forgotten.
12 O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous,
who sees the heart and the mind,
let me see your vengeance upon them,
for to you have I committed my cause.
Sing to the Lord;
praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
from the hand of evildoers (vv. 11-13).
The problem is that Jeremiah's faith and encouragement don't last long. In vv. 14-18, Jeremiah regrets his very birth, saying:
14 Cursed be the day
on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
let it not be blessed!
15 Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father,
“A son is born to you,”
making him very glad.
16 Let that man be like the cities
that the Lord overthrew without pity;
let him hear a cry in the morning
and an alarm at noon,
17 because he did not kill me in the womb;
so my mother would have been my grave,
and her womb forever great.
18 Why did I come out from the womb
to see toil and sorrow,
and spend my days in shame?
In his depression and discouragement, Jeremiah has forgotten that God has already told him,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations...
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord (1:6, 8)."
Jeremiah had had enough. He'd had just about all he could take. He needed God's reassurance. Perhaps you're in a similar place right now. Difficulties of many kinds have been piling up on you, and you feel like you're getting more than you bargained for. You'd like to tell God, "I didn't sign up for this!"
Jesus' brother James has some encouragement for Jeremiah, and he has some encouragement for you. In 1:2-4, 12, he writes:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing... Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
In other words, God is working His purpose out in your life. You may be going through terrible times, but God knows something you don't know yet. He knows that you're going to come out all right in the end. In fact, you'll come out of this struggle, better than you are today. You simply need to remain steadfast, trusting God for the strength you need to endure. And God will bring you through it, into His blessing.
Later in the book of Jeremiah, God would tell the people
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare[b] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile (29:11-14).
God tells you the same thing. Even as you struggle, God is working His purpose out. He promises to get you through, and God is always faith. His promises are always true.
If you have some time (44 minutes), I hope you'll check out this great sermon on James 1, from Calvary Chaptel Houston.
Mindful of Trials - James 1:2-8 from Calvary Houston on Vimeo.