Today is Friday, April 3. My name is Gina. Thanks for sticking with me for another week in our Lent journey. I’ll be sharing today’s scripture reading, reflection and prayer with you.
Theme: People don’t always welcome truth
Scripture: Jeremiah 20:7–13
On March 30, we talked about how obeying God takes risk, and it doesn’t always result in a happy ending or a protection from pain or loss.
March 31, we talked about the right way to complain to God.
In today’s passage, both devotionals come together in the story of the prophet Jeremiah.
His story starts in Jeremiah Chapter 1, when Jeremiah tells what happened when God first called him:
The Lord said to me, “I knew you before you were formed within your mother’s womb; before you were born I sanctified you and appointed you as my spokesman to the world.”
“O Lord God,” I said, “I can’t do that! I’m far too young! I’m only a youth!”
“Don’t say that,” he replied, “for you will go wherever I send you and speak whatever I tell you to. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I, the Lord, will be with you and see you through.”
Then he touched my mouth and said, “See, I have put my words in your mouth! Today your work begins, to warn the nations and the kingdoms of the world. In accord with my words spoken through your mouth I will tear down some and destroy them, and plant others, nurture them, and make them strong and great.”
Jeremiah spent his career warning God’s people of the coming destruction, a consequence of their lust for false gods. He warned them that if they did not throw themselves completely on God’s mercy and forsake the bloodthirsty idols they worshiped – worship that included child sacrifice – Babylon would conquer them and take them into exile. Their nation would be no more.
Who wants to hear bad news? Who wants to be confronted about their bad behavior and told their choices are going to yield very painful outcomes?
The religious leaders and the people of Jerusalem and Judah certainly didn’t. So, they persecuted Jeremiah relentlessly. There were death threats. Plots to kill him. He was arrested, beaten, put overnight in stocks by the very priests who claimed to be the spokespeople for God Himself. He was later dropped into a deep, dry well, where he sank into the thick mud at the dark bottom. Jeremiah warned of destruction. The false prophets of the established religion preached good news, peace, and prosperity.
When he languished in prison for his obedience and faithfulness to God, Jeremiah complained bitterly. He gave what the Bible calls a lament.
Biblical laments typically start with a complaint, then beg God for relief, and finally end with a proclamation of trust in God and His faithfulness and goodness, despite what has happened so far.
That is what we see in what we read from Jeremiah today, as he shows us how to complain to God.
Jeremiah goes directly to God and accuses God of deceiving him. When God first called Jeremiah, He had promised in chapter 1, “And don’t be afraid of the people, for I, the Lord, will be with you and see you through.”
No doubt, Jeremiah felt he’d been lied to, sitting there in chains, sore and bleeding from his beating. Why shouldn’t he fear this painful treatment? If God had let this happen to him, would God allow even worse? And where was God anyway? Hadn’t he promised to be with Jeremiah and get him out of things like this?
“I have to give them your messages because you are stronger than I am, but now I am the laughingstock of the city, mocked by all,” Jeremiah complained.
He goes on to describe the burden and depressing nature of the message he was given: “disaster and horror and destruction.” His preaching was so consistently about “doom and gloom” that people gave him the nickname “terror on every side.” Nobody wanted to be around him anymore. His own friends began plotting to kill him just to get relief from the constant negativity.
Even worse, when Jeremiah resisted the message, tried to pretend he had nothing to say, and keep his mouth shut, that didn’t work either. He bitterly moaned, “And I can’t quit! For if I say I’ll never again mention the Lord—never more speak in his name—then his word in my heart is like fire that burns in my bones, and I can’t hold it in any longer.”
His conviction about the coming disaster left him with no choice. He felt he had to warn people, even though their response was to mock him, avoid him, and punish him for telling them a hard truth.
How do you know you’re a prophet, or that God is giving you a prophetic word? You may know God is speaking, and not you, when you don’t want to speak the word. When you know you will likely pay a high price for proclaiming a hard truth. When it’s very possible that people will be threatened by what you have to say, and attack you rather than praise you. When people willfully misunderstand you, twist your words, attack your character, and accuse you of false motives, you may very well have a word from God.
When you read about all the prophets in the Bible, few of them had happy lives or have happy endings. Anybody who truly understands what it means to be a prophet doesn’t want to be one.
This was certainly Jeremiah’s experience.
So, Jeremiah goes to God and complains directly to him. But, in the very face of his legitimate questions, in spite of his painful reality that stood in direct contrast to what he expected from God, Jeremiah concludes that he ultimately trusts God, no matter what God has allowed to happen.
Jeremiah insists: “But the Lord stands beside me like a great warrior, and before him, the Mighty, Terrible One, they shall stumble.”
He asks for relief when he says, “O Lord Almighty, who knows those who are righteous and examines the deepest thoughts of hearts and minds, let me see your vengeance on them. For I have committed my cause to you.”
And finally, after his night imprisoned in painful stocks, he worships God: “Therefore, I will sing out in thanks to the Lord! Praise him! For he has delivered me, poor and needy, from my oppressors.”
Jeremiah models for us how to complain to God: bringing our accusations directly to God, as part of our open and honest communication in a loving relationship. We lay out, without self-censoring or guilt, how and why we feel wronged. Then, we can ask God for relief. Finally, we express our confidence in God’s love and goodness and power by worshiping Him, and declaring we believe that He is with us and will ultimately fulfill His promises to us.
God may ask us to do something hard. We may need to give up our safety and security, our reputation, an important relationship, or the convenience of a quiet and peaceful life to obey God. We may be asked to speak hard truths to people, communities, or nations whom God is desperately trying to save from their own self-destruction.
I remember when a close friend was going through a very hard time. One night, in tears, she poured out her fear and despair to me. It was the first time in our friendship that I had the powerful sense God wanted me to ask her to make a decision to accept Christ into her life. My heart was pounding as I shared with her about Jesus and asked if she would consider letting Him help her through these hard times. Immediately, she stiffened. The conversation quickly came to an end. And after that night, our friendship was over. She cut off contact with me. I tried repeatedly to re-establish contact, but she never allowed it; she didn’t want to hear about God. I grieved the loss of such a good friend, but I have never regretted offering her the chance to know God like I do. I know I would have regretted for a long time if I hadn’t.
God is love, but sometimes His loving truth feels painful and difficult to people who are careening down a path of self-destruction. People don’t like to hear hard truths or face what we call in English, “tough love.” But it’s necessary for some to be saved. Are we ready to accept the consequences of being God’s messenger, and equally to preserve and deepen our relationship with God through our honesty with Him?
- Have we avoided speaking messages about God’s good and perfect justice and judgment because we fear alienating people or receiving a negative response? Repent now for declining opportunities to warn people about the consequences of their choices, and preventing them the choice to find salvation in Christ.
- Do we ourselves prefer only to hear or dwell on positive and comfortable messages about God, and close our ears to hard or difficult truths? Reflect on what you might be afraid of or why you might want to avoid that discomfort.
Our just and loving Father,
You are good. You are loving. You want everyone to forsake reckless paths of destruction and come to You for life and healing in abundance. And yet, sometimes Your message makes us uneasy, uncomfortable, anxious, or even upset because what we need to do to be transformed by You may at first be painful. We may have to give up things that have made us feel secure, or things we are addicted to. Surrendering to Your lordship for some of us feels really like we have to die to ourselves. But this very difficult decision to forsake ourselves is necessary so that we can become new creations at Your hand.
Give us the courage and strength to hear the hard things You have to tell us. And when You give us a hard or confrontational word for someone else, give us the courage, and even more, Your love that will compel us to deliver that message in truth and love. No matter the consequences.
Strengthen us in the face of ridicule and rejection for standing firm in Your truth and love. And deliver us through the difficult times we may experience for faithfully obeying You.
Thank you for never leaving us, no matter what happens. And we proclaim our worship for You, that Your goodness, faithfulness, wisdom, power, and love are everlasting.
We pray this in the name of Jesus, who proclaimed many hard truths and was murdered for His obedience. Thank You for raising Him from the dead and giving Him the ultimate vindication and victory over His enemies, just as You will do for us.