Jeremiah 1:4ff :4 The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
I’m guessing this news came as quite of a surprise to Jeremiah. Here it was. God was laying out the whole plan for Jeremiah’s life. There would no longer be any wondering about why Jeremiah had been born. There would be no more back and forth about his purpose, about God’s plan for his life. He was born to be a prophet.
Now, take note of something. This plan of God didn’t evolve as God watched Jeremiah grow. It wasn’t an unfolding “aha” in the mind of God. God didn’t watch to see what Jeremiah would be good at in order to determine the direction in which to steer him. No! This Scripture tells us that that BEFORE JEREMIAH WAS BORN God set him apart for a special purpose.
Based on what follows, which we will look at in a minute, we can tell this wasn’t welcomed news to Jeremiah. “Prophet” wasn’t what he wrote down when the Kindergarten teacher asked the students what they wanted to be when they grew up. It wasn’t what Jeremiah listed for his major in high school or college. It wasn’t at the top of the list or even on the list at all. It’s not how he saw himself. It’s not what he was excited about, and he was fast on his feet, quick to think of ways to list why this wouldn’t be a good idea. He would be looking for a way out.
After all, being a prophet was very hard work. Jeremiah had grown up in a priest’s home, and he knew being a prophet was way more demanding than the duties a priest had. It’s not like priests just sat around and ate bon-bons and played video games. They did have a lot of work to do, but if you were a priest, every day was spelled out for you. You would do the same things over and over again. It was predictable. It was safe. It was a way to serve the people that the people were thankful for. But the person who was the prophet never had that sense of stability; never had the comfort of knowing what a day would hold.
The priest’s job was to maintain the status quo, to preserve what had always been. The prophet worked hard to challenge the status quo, to call out sin, to bring about change, to cause people to think about how things were and how they really needed to be if they were going to have a future with God. Not an easy task for sure! Prophets had to speak to lots of people at once, and the message they had to deliver was almost always one people didn’t welcome. At least a priest had a guaranteed income, a way to support himself. A prophet didn’t get support from the offerings and sacrifices people brought.
So, when Jeremiah heard God disclose all of this to him, I am sure he was thinking, “How did I draw the short straw? Why me?” And he immediately started making excuses.
Verse 6: 6 “Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak.”Jeremiah didn’t have confidence in his speaking ability and being a prophet was going to require a whole lot of talking. The thought of addressing the nation terrified him. Instead of being focused on what God was saying and instead of hearing the whole of what God had to say, Jeremiah quickly implied that God should consider someone else because he didn’t have the ability the job called for. Here we see Jeremiah’s first excuse:
I don’t have the ability. (I’m not a gifted speaker.)
Have you ever felt under-qualified to serve the Lord? Have you ever hesitated to sign up to serve because you didn’t think you could do the job as well as someone else? Have you ever run from serving God because you didn’t think you knew enough about the Bible and wouldn’t be sure you could answer every question you might be asked? Have you ever wondered if God really knew what HE was doing in asking you?
First of all, what makes us think that God counts on our gifts or abilities to do anything He wants to accomplish? Have you ever thought of that? Do we really think that God would be limited in choosing us because of a perceived or real limitation that we have? Do we think that if God calls us to do something, He would be risking it all because we can’t cut the mustard? Do we think we should warn God that He will be sorely disappointed in the outcome if we answer His call?
Listen, Our ability or inability aren’t what matter to God. Our obedience and faithfulness are. Did you ever think that God calls people to do stuff who can’t ordinarily do stuff so that He alone gets the credit? If your calling depends on your gifting or prowess, how is God gaining glory in and through your life?
Look what happens in verse 9 of our text: 9 Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I HAVE PUT MY WORDS IN YOUR MOUTH. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Because God has all-power, He can enable us to do what we could not otherwise do. God put the words in Jeremiah’s mouth! God gave him the message and ability to be His mouthpiece.
I didn’t go to school for this pastor-gig. I studied music. I didn’t dream of standing before people to preach the Word of God. This wasn’t on my radar—ever—until I was 35 years old. When God called me to preach, no one was more surprised than I was! I had only ever preached three sermons. But the call was so clear, so compelling, I couldn’t ignore it. By then, I had walked with God long enough to know there was no running from the call. I knew there wasn’t an excuse clever enough or big enough to get me off the hook. I knew that ability or preparedness could never be a factor in my obedience to God’s call, and so I said “yes” and y’all have graciously decided to put up with me every Sunday!
Do you know that everybody God used throughout the entire Bible was an ordinary person who found extraordinary help and strength from God when they needed it.
Well, that excuse wasn’t working so Jeremiah tried another one. Here is what he said at the end of verse 6: “I am only a child.”
With excuse number 2 Jeremiah basically said, “It isn’t the right time.” (I am only a child.)
Not only was Jeremiah arguing that he didn’t have enough life experience to be a prophet since he was young, but maybe he was also saying, “It’s not the right time. This is the time in my life when I am supposed to be carefree. This is the time in my life where I am supposed to live it up. This is the time in my life that I am not supposed to be burdened with responsibility. It’s just not a good time for me to be a prophet.” Have you ever felt that way?
At the time I said “yes” to God, Hannah was 3 and Josh was 1. I had a great job in a great ministry in Cincinnati, leading worship with people that I loved dearly. Thom had family nearby. I had a sister and parents who weren’t far away. Was this really the time to break away and move to a place where we knew no one? We had two choices. We could be obedient or we could be disobedient. Isn’t that what it boils down to? We had to trust God’s perfect timing in our lives. We didn’t get here until Hannah was 6 and Josh was 4. It was the middle of Hannah’s first grade year which complicated things even more. It was disruptive for her for sure. It was better timing when I answered the call and worse timing when the door opened for us to come here, but that didn’t matter. God told us to come. Answering the call of God will probably always feel like a disruption. It will never be convenient. It will call for sacrifice. The only alternative is disobedience.
I have heard this excuse used a lot—this excuse about it not being the right time to serve the Lord or it’s not the right season of life to make being in church a regular habit. Listen to these statements and see if you hear yourself in any of them: “I’m in college and am working part-time so I need the weekends to catch up on my sleep.” “Well, we are newly married and we are going to travel on the weekends so that we can spend as much time as possible.” “I have small kids at home, so it just isn’t a convenient time, God, to serve You, because they demand so much of my time.” “God, if you could just give me five to seven more years to get my career firmly established, then I’ll serve you.” “My kids are each in four different things, so there just isn’t time to make a commitment to help with anything at the church.” “We are taking on second jobs to pay for college, and with our kids at home for just a few more years, we don’t think we can commit at this time.” The excuses go on and on but can really be boiled down to the same sentiment. It is something we often just don’t want to admit. “God isn’t our priority, and we don’t have time for Him.” When we make these kinds of excuses we are basically saying, “Don’t bother me, God. I am busy.”
The excuse about it not being the right time to follow God’s call is often a smokescreen for just not wanting to obey. I have met a lot of “someday” Christians. “Someday, I am going to share my faith. Someday, I am going to get involved in the work of the church. Someday, I am going to get into a Bible study. Someday, I am going to start a ministry that God has given me an idea for.” If God is truly your priority then you will be able to have time to do whatever it is He asks and still have time for the things that God wants you to enjoy about life like your family, your work, and time for fun.
What was God’s response to this excuse that Jeremiah made? 7 But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.
Don’t let your age or season in life keep you from being used of God when He calls. David was probably only 17 when he killed Goliath and helped the entire Israelite nation move from fear to peace. Josiah became the king of Israel when he was eight years old. He moved from Tonka Trucks and Transformers to ruling an entire kingdom in a hurry. By the time he was 16, he was seeking God wholeheartedly and was reforming the nation, calling them back to the worship of God. Paul, the mentor of Timothy, told him not to let anyone look down on him because he was young. God said to Jeremiah, “Don’t say, ‘I am only a child.’” God uses the young.
Just this past week as Eli Cummings gave his heart to the Lord. He went home from the Ash Wednesday service telling his parents he couldn’t wait to tell his friends they should give their lives to Christ. He took extra bracelets to pass out to his friends. Many of you are here today because a child invited you and prayed for you to come. Eli has a message for all of us here today, so I am giving him a moment to share. Eli, come on up!
God used Abraham and Sarah in their old age, proving it wasn’t about their ability or the season of their life. They had a baby when Sarah was 90 and Abraham was 100 to prove that God only needs willing vessels! If you think it isn’t the right time to answer God’s call, just lean into the fact that God’s timing is perfect.
Not only was the timing in Jeremiah’s personal life questionable, but it was also simply a rough time to be a prophet in Israel.
I suppose there never is a time when serving God is easy, but some periods in history are especially difficult for spiritual ministry, and Jeremiah lived in such an era. Consider what the history of Judah was like during Jeremiah’s lifetime. Jeremiah was born during the reign of King Manasseh, who was the most evil King in the history of Israel. II Kings 21:9 tells us that Manasseh seduced the people of Israel to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord had previously destroyed before the Israelites. Do we understand how wick King Manasseh would have been? He led God’s people to do worse things, more vile things, more sinful things, more wicked things than the evil people that God said had to be destroyed because of their wickedness when the Israelites were taking the Promised Land. This is a bad time to challenge the King. He was the King of wickedness. He wouldn’t have welcomed Jeremiah’s message. And why would the people listen to what Jeremiah had said when the King was encouraging their wicked behavior?
Moving on in the text: 11 The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?” “I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied. 12 The LORD said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.” 13 The word of the LORD came to me again: “What do you see?” “I see a boiling pot, tilting away from the north,” I answered. 14 The LORD said to me, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. 15 I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,” declares the LORD. “Their kings will come and set up their thrones in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem; they will come against all her surrounding walls and against all the towns of Judah. 16 I will pronounce my judgments on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshiping what their hands have made.
Who would want to deliver this message? God used the image of a boiling pot to communicate his coming wrath. Jewish homes were equipped with large, wide-mouth pots for cooking or washing. This was a visual they would all understand. The strange thing that Jeremiah saw when God spoke to him was a large pot that was tilting. It wasn’t level. It was tilted away from the north. It could run over at any second, spewing the boiling contents on the people of the south, the people of Judah. The pot was representative of Babylon that was coming to invade and conquer Israel because of Israel’s rebellion and idolatry against God. This wasn’t cheerful news!
It would be one thing if God was sending Jeremiah to give Israel a pep talk, but this was no pep talk. This was a doom and gloom speech. This was a “You’re going down” talk. There was wasn’t a happy ending to this message. It would be one thing if Jeremiah could be like, “I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news. Which news would you like first?” But there was no good news. It was only bad news.
Excuse number three wasn’t one that was stated by Jeremiah, but it had to be going through his mind. Here it is:
I am afraid of what will happen to me.
We cannot let fear diminish our faith and we cannot let fear keep us from following Jesus. You are going to hear more about this next week.
17 “Get yourself ready!
What God is saying to Jeremiah is, “In spite of your fear, in spite of your inexperience, in spite of your feelings of inferiority, you need to get yourself prepped because I have a job for you to do.” This verse really means, “Gird up your loins” which means, get your long-flowing robes tied around you in a way that will enable you to move out at My command. Tie them up so you won’t trip on them. Tie them up because it is time to travel in obedience to my Word. Tie them up because it is time to do battle for the Lord.
In I Peter 1:13, Peter says, “Gird up the loins of your mind.” I Peter 1:13 NKJ
He isn’t talking about clothing here, but he is talking about living in a state of mental readiness. Most of our trouble today, when it comes to answering God’s call, is rooted in our minds, rooted in wrong thinking. We need to tie up the loose ends in our minds that tell us we aren’t good enough to follow God’s call. We need to eradicate those patterns of thinking that will cause us to question if we are a liability or an asset to God. We need to be ready for whatever God asks by living with our minds made up to obey Him. When you live mentally ready, mentally prepared, you won’t be focused on the “what if’s” and the potential danger you perceive that awaits you when you obey the Lord. You will simply be focused on the assignment He gives you. Look what God went on to say in verse 17 to Jeremiah:
Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. 18 Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land–against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.
We read in the opening of Jeremiah 1 that God knew Jeremiah. I would say that based on the 40 years of service Jeremiah gave as a prophet, that Jeremiah knew God as well. He knew God could be trusted. There was a relationship that allowed Jeremiah to exercise great faith in God’s plan. Do you know the God who will never fail you? Do you know the God who can empower you to do what you could never do on your own? Here is what I know: Real relationships with God, ones that are growing, are going to produce the fruit of faith. Faith is what enables us to be fueled forward when we don’t feel qualified. Faith moves us forward when we don’t feel ready for a task. Faith moves us forward when we are afraid.
Here is another thing I know for sure: God never issues a call without giving us a promise.
Jeremiah had many promises from God. God would put his words in Jeremiah’s mouth. He had the promise of God’s presence and notice something interesting. God said he was making Jeremiah invincible. He was going to be like a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall. That is pretty sturdy stuff there. The entire nation would oppose him and come after him, but he would remain standing. Jeremiah would confront kings, priests and people, and he would stay standing because God would protect Him.
Ephesians 2:10 tells us that God has created us on purpose for a special purpose; that He has a plan that was established in advance, good things for us to do for His glory and namesake, that were designed before we were even created. Just as God proclaimed a message through Jeremiah, He has a message to proclaim in and through our lives.
This Lenten Season, as you spend time growing your relationship with God, allow your faith to go deeper than it has ever gone before. Ask God to show you if you have been putting Him off, if you have been making excuses about why you can’t be “all-in” with Him. This morning, ahead of the ask, ahead of the assignment, ahead of the plan God may reveal to you, can you step out on faith and say, “Whatever You ask, wherever You lead, whatever You need me to do, I trust You.” This Lent, let’s give up excuses that keep us from delivering God’s message to this lost world!