Jeremiah is one of my favourite people in the Bible. He was called by God at a young age and was given a tough assignment. He lacked natural confidence but God continually encouraged him. Not everyone liked Jeremiah and he had to endure some extremely difficult circumstances. Yet he remained faithful in bringing God's word and heart to the people he served.
Here is God's first message to Jeremiah:
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 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.” Jer.1:4-10. NLT
In many ways, Jeremiah is a prototype for prophets, preachers and pastors. Here are a few reflections on the life and ministry of Jeremiah that we can apply to ourselves, wherever God may have us serving Him.
Like Jeremiah, before we were born, God …
1. Knew us – yes, he knows (observes, notices, realizes) us inside and out, better than we know myself. He knows our weaknesses, sins and limitations. He knows our struggles, questions and doubts. He knows everything about us, yet he still loves us.
2. Formed us – not only are we made in his image, our shape is from him. Everything about us, he designed (like a potter) to perfectly fit what he has called us to be. Nothing is by accident or chance. Nothing is missing. We just need to discover, then develop what is already there. Yes, we need to curb the destructive habits and reinforce the positive ones.
3. Set us apart (to consecrate, make holy, sanctify, to dedicate, to prepare, to devote to) – we have a holy and sacred calling – specific, unique and important. To do anything else and to thereby neglect this calling is criminal activity, like ignoring our creator God and our Father.
4. Appointed us to a specific ministry (Jer.1:5) – he gave us to, set us in, and put us in this role. The only question is whether or not we will carry it out and, if so, how well.
Jeremiah's ministry was to be a prophet to the nations (Jer.1:5). A prophet is God's authorized spokesperson, mouthpiece, representative or ambassador. In a sense, all of us are called to be a prophetic people who know God's heart and mind, and then share that with others.
The promise. God will place his words in our mouth (Jer.1:6-9). We are not to be afraid of not knowing what to say. We have the promise of God's presence and protection (Jer.1:8). We are to go to where God sends us and speak what he tells us.
The anointing. God has touched our mouth – like Isaiah and Jeremiah (1:9). He has put his words in our mouth.
Our focus. Our ministry will have two parts: negative (to uproot/pluck up, tear/break down, destroy and overthrow) and positive (to build up and to plant). We can't do the latter without first doing the former. Idols and wrong foundations need to be removed before God’s true work can begin.
Our context. We live in turbulent times of great upheaval (political unrest and conflict) and transition (from monarchy to exile, from Jerusalem to Babylon).
Our sphere. We may even speak into the lives of key church and world leaders (of nations, Hebrew goyim = Gentiles, and kingdoms). Jeremiah worked closely alongside kings like Josiah. Leadership and the prophetic need to go hand in hand. When they do, long-lasting reformation is possible.
Our priority. Our #1 calling is to listen to God then speak what he tells us to. If we do nothing else, then this is enough.
Prophets, preachers, pastors, what do you see (Jer.1:11)?
[Picture: Jeremiah by Rembrant]