When your place is in the shadows..

Cursed be the day I was born!

Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?

(Jeremiah 20.14&18)

My splendour is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.

(Lamentations 3.18)

The prophet Jeremiah is not perhaps our favourite personality in cast of bible characters. He has a name for gloom, for predicting disaster and generally spoiling the party! It is quite true that much of his writing is filled with warnings of judgement to come, of rebuke to a stubbornly rebellious people from their long-suffering God. Jeremiah spoke the heart of God; a broken heart, a jealous heart, which could no longer hold back the tide of invasion, destruction and exile which would finally destroy the last hold of idolatry from the heart of the people whom He loved.

But do you ever think about the cost which this ministry was to Jeremiah? As you take the time to read his words – both the long prophesy and also the devastating book of Lamenations which follows it – you find a desperate man, bereft of comfort and wrestling with the God who called him to this appalling ministry.

In his words, his grief, anger and despair, I find comfort for my own struggles. Am I the only follower of Jesus who is disappointed with some of the ways that God has chosen to direct their life? Does everyone else really live in the sunlight all the time? I beg to doubt it, and I thank God that in the words of this faithful prophet, we find permission to speak our pain; and comfort that we are not alone in it.

Very few of us are called to such a difficult path as that which faced Jeremiah – and that alone should give us cause to rejoice, and to see that we are greatly blessed to have been spared much pain! The point is that Jeremiah was doing exactly what God had called him to do, and yet his life was incredibly hard and sad. How often do we fall into the trap of thinking that a difficulty or sadness in our lives is a sign that we should be changing something, “fixing it” in any way that seems good to us? I believe this can be a very clever distraction and even a trap for us, by which the devil distracts us from faithful obedience into a fretful dissatisfaction with God, and even outright disobedience.

God is not primarily in the business of making life easy for his children. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t, because the bible never promises that He will. Instead, we are assured that we will suffer; we are told that the world will hate us for Jesus’ sake; we are reminded that until the coming of the new creation, there will be sin, pain, death and suffering of all kinds. God is in the business of calling his people, of making all things new, and only he can see the full picture of which our lives are a tiny part. He is building a kingdom, making the name of his son known throughout the world and creating disciples. My role in the process will not be clear to me, and indeed I may feel it is completely insignificant if it has any value at all. BUT.. if I am making choices about my life directed by God’s word, desiring always to obey and glorify him then I will be a useful tool in his hand and bring him pleasure through my service.

So, whether it is a job which becomes incredibly difficult and challenging to sustain – seeming to call for qualities which I do not possess – or a relationship which drives me continually to my knees in prayer for strength to go on giving love, forgiving hurt and trusting God for the future; in all and any such callings, I have the example of Jeremiah to draw on in my struggles. What did he do? Over and over again, and often in the midst of a prophecy, he turns to God in his agony and pours it all out. First the pain, the anger of being in such a difficult position; and then his determination to trust God to be good and to be faithful to him.

Heal me , O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved, for you are the one I praise. 

They keep saying to me, “Where is the word of the Lord? Let it now be fulfilled!” I have not run away from being your shepherd; you know I have not desired the day of despair….do not be a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster.

(Jeremiah 17.14-16)

May we know and share the faith which allowed Jeremiah to cling to God in the darkness and to continue in faithful submission to the calling which he had received. Our Lord quailed in Gethsemane at the prospect of pain which lay before him, but chose obedience – may we by His strength be enabled to do likewise.

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