Jeremiah preached to the citizens of Jerusalem and Judah that they must repent. He told them God was judging them and that they must yield to God's tool for punishment—the Babylonians. This appeared to be a very unpatriotic message. Jerusalem and Judah did not like Jeremiah's message and therefore they did not like Jeremiah.
It appears that no one in Scripture, other than Jesus, suffered more for the sake of his message and yet was as true to his calling than Jeremiah. No one in Scripture more perfectly exemplifies how to be faithful to a difficult vocation of public ministry with perseverance and steadfastness. By how he lived and what he wrote, Jeremiah still speaks to godly leaders today.
What did God teach Jeremiah that enabled him to be so consistent and strong in the face of the difficulties and adversities, the personal persecution, death threats, and imprisonments he experienced? What about this man made him such a stalwart tower of unshakable strength? Is there something in his belief system that we can learn and adopt? If we think like Jeremiah thought, could we too become bold, brave, and courageous?
1. Jeremiah Understood That God had Made Him the Way He was. 1:5
Jeremiah knew that God was intimately involved in his pre-birth creation and development. "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" (Jeremiah 1:5, emphasis mine).
David had the same insight. "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb" (Psalm 139:13).
Isaiah too believed it about himself. "And now the Lord says—he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength" (Isaiah 49:5, emphasis mine).
Isaiah further believed it was therefore inappropriate to be critical of the Creator. "Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?'"Isaiah 45:9–11). Isaiah believed in self-acceptance based on a knowledge of God's creation process.
From a biological and medical standpoint, we understand the human reproductive process today much more clearly than Jeremiah, David, or Isaiah did. But those ancient men knew something that we sometimes forget—that God is in control of the process. He manages every intricate detail of the creation of each new baby. You only need to compare yourself with your biological siblings to glimpse of the vast possibilities of differences—even between siblings of the same biological parents. Who made you the way you are?
Every baby girl is born with hundreds of thousands of eggs already in her little ovaries, each with the potential to eventually be fertilized and become a living human being. Beginning at puberty, one or more of these eggs move down fallopian tubes from the ovaries to the womb each month and position themselves to be fertilized by a sperm. Who says to those tens of thousands of eggs in the ovaries, "You stay there. Don't move. Now you, egg, you are the one, you come over her to this tube and slide down to the womb. Who decides which egg becomes a baby?
A man's body can produce 500 million sperm in a day. From 75 to 900 million sperm are deposited in a woman's body at one time. In a man's lifetime, his body will produce millions of billions of sperm, each with the potential to fertilize a human egg. Who says to those millions of sperm, "You swim slowly. Just take it easy. Now, you, you sperm, you swim quickly and get over here real fast?" Who decides which sperm will reach the egg first? Among the number of eggs produced by your mother, multiplied by the number of sperm produced by your father, there was one chance in trillions that you would be become precisely the way you are. Yet it happened. You are the only person just like you.
Jeremiah, David, and Isaiah stated that God personally, carefully, with individual attention to every detail creates every baby. Am I to believe that Jeremiah was created by God and that I am a mistake? Do you believe that God made David the way He wanted David to be, but there's something inherently wrong with you? Each of us is a unique creation, masterfully designed, just the way God intended us to be. The shape of your nose, the size of your ears, your temperament, personality, mathematical ability, musical ability, linguistic ability—all of it was deliberately combined together into one person—you—when God made you. When you get a chance, tell someone, "God did a good job when He made me. He did a good job when He made you too."
Throw your shoulders back and hold your head up high. You are a masterpiece, intentionally placed in your generation in your geographic location. Paul preached that God "marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands" (Acts 17:26). You are God's person, placed in God's exact time in history when He needed you and in the exact family neighborhood, nation, generation and setting in which God intends for you to operate. Do not let any person, or any spiritual being, rob you of the dignity, joy, confidence, and courage God intends for you to enjoy as you go about fulfilling His purposes for your life. What you do with what God has made you to be is now your choice and responsibility. Will you study, pray, work hard, improve yourself, grow close to God? These are your choices, but for God's part in creation, He did a good job. So be confident. Be strong.
God told Jeremiah and Jeremiah understood that God had formed him in his mother's womb. This certainly contributed to Jeremiah's confidence and courage. If you and I understand the same thing, we too will be bold and brave in our generation. God needs you to be confident and courageous today just like Jeremiah was.
2. Jeremiah Understood Tearing Down as Preparation for Building 1:10
"See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant" (Jeremiah 1:10).
God told Jeremiah to do six things: uproot, tear down, destroy, overthrow, build and plant. You and I like to jump past the first four to the fifth and sixth in Jeremiah's list—build and plant. It is fun to build and plant; to accomplish and see the good results of our work. But God taught Jeremiah—Jeremiah understood a simple principle: if you want to build and plant well, then before you build, you must uproot, tear down, destroy and overthrow whatever is in the way. Before the house in which you live or the church building in which you worship was constructed with the size and shape it has, the land had to be cleared; whatever was on the building site had to be removed. It may have been trees, rocks, a mound of dirt, or an earlier structure. Only after the ground was cleared and prepared for the foundation was it possible to start building. Otherwise, the new structure would either have to be built around the obstacles or it would crumble for lack of good foundation.
The same principle of tearing down before constructing something new applies to the individual who wants to build strong character, unshaken and unshakable faith, confidence in God, and continuing and prevailing maturity, growth, and development in Christ—becoming a disciple and soldier of Christ. Works of the flesh must first be uprooted, torn down, destroyed, and overthrown. In a New Testament parallel passage, Paul says, "You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22–24). Any attempt to build character on a cluttered or unprepared site, where evil characteristics linger, will result in a shaky foundation or malformation.
If you want to bear the fruit of the Spirit and glorify God with good works throughout your long and fruitful life, you must deal with the negative issues and hindrances, as well as build the positive issues and beautiful behaviors that glorify God. How can you build faith, confidence and courage if you have not dealt with the doubt, fear, and secret sins in your life? How can you build love when you have hatred in your heart? How can you build joy or gentleness when you have a complaining and unkind spirit? It is essential to tear down some sinful strongholds before you construct an edifice that honors God; first prepare the site, then build the building. Jeremiah understood this and that is one of the reasons he was strong. He learned from God he first needed to uproot, tear down, destroy and over through the hindrances.
The same is true of building God's church—a spiritual entity. Maybe you want to start a church, but spiritual forces already occupy each geographic area of the world. They do not yield easily to an invasion by an agent representing the kingdom of God that wants to move in on their turf. Spirits do not get old and die; they have been alive occupying territories for centuries. These invisible forces are arrayed in their assigned territories against God's kingdom and Church must be dealt with before we can gain entrance into their territory. They must be uprooted, torn down, destroyed, and overthrown.
According to 2 Corinthians 10:4–5, we are able to cast down every evil imagination that exalts itself against God. "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." If we do not demolish the dark forces before we proceed, we cannot successfully build the kingdom of God.
On the island of Cyprus (Acts 13:6–11) and in the city of Philippi (Acts 16:16–18), Paul had to deal with evil spirits in order to make progress in his work.
According to Jesus, the advance of the Church will continue in the face of spiritual resistance, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. "I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it" (Matthew 16:18). But those statements are made on the assumption that the Church is on the move, on the offensive, taking territory. We are the aggressors and we shall win. The gates of hell (death) cannot resist God's Church.
"Lord, we come against the powers of darkness in this place and ask you to break their influence and authority. May the spirits of witchcraft, superstition, and devil-worship be broken, uprooted, cast down, destroyed and over thrown. May every hindering spirit at work in this place yield to the sweet yet powerful presence of the Holy Spirit and may the Holy Spirit so fill this place that the forces of evil will no longer be able to bind, blind, discourage, and hinder God's people. Let God arise and His enemies be scattered and may His enemies flee before Him. In the strong name of Jesus Christ the mighty warrior we pray, AMEN.
As we wrestle against rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, we are preparing the spiritual atmosphere to give place to the building of the kingdom of God and the Church. This spiritual preparation must take place before we can fully succeed in church planting, evangelism without reversion, permanent kingdom growth, physical health, and victory. Jeremiah evidently understood this and it gave him courage and boldness. He could build and plant successfull
3. Jeremiah Appreciated the Difference between God's and Human's Value Systems
Imagine that as long as I walk on the left side of this room I am walking in earthly life and that when I step across a line in the middle of the room to the right side I am stepping into eternal life. Now, further imagine that when I step across the line and see what is important in the eternal side, do you suppose I might discover some new things that are import there that I did not know were important? Might I have some regrets about what I valued and what I did while I was back there on earth? What if you could know what would be important after stepping across the line of death into the eternal state even while you were still alive on earth? Might you want to begin to value things here according to the value system we will live by for eternity? What if you could know in advance so that you could so live your life on earth in such a way that when you get to heaven you have no regrets about how you lived on earth? We can know. Jeremiah knew.
We find in the book of Jeremiah the clearest and most concise statements of the difference between earthly man's normal sense of values and God's eternal value system. God has a different sense of values from ours. Humans may see certain things on earth as important, but God knows what things are important to Him. Human beings may value pleasure, recognition, position, material possessions, physical strength, athletic ability, human knowledge, or the intellect to assimilate and use knowledge etc. But what if we were able in this life to know what God valued? Imagine if it were possible to make decisions now so that when we left this life and entered into the next one, we would have no regrets about what we valued and what we held lightly, and how we used our time and money while here? We can know. Jeremiah knew.
This is what the Lord says: "Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let those who boast boast about this: that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23–24)
The Bible says we are to get wisdom, so wisdom itself is not wrong and obtaining wisdom is not wrong; it is valuable. But Jeremiah says not to boast about wisdom, so I will get wisdom, but I will not boast about it. I will rather use it for an eternal purpose promoting things that are kind, righteous and just.
The promises of God include physical healing, which implies that health and physical strength are of value. Having or seeking to obtain health and strength are not wrong. But Jeremiah says not to boast about strength. So I will strive for health and strength, but not boast about it. I will rather use my strength for an eternal purpose doing what is kind, righteous and just.
God's promises of provision include financial blessings if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, use our finances in God-glorifying ways, and do not make obtaining money our major goal in life. So having money is not wrong. Being rich is not wrong. But Jeremiah says not to boast about riches, so I will seek to gain money and use it with an eternal purpose of kindness, righteous and justice in mind. If I will do all these three things correctly I will have no regrets when I step through death into the eternal state.
This kind of teaching does not cause any one of us to jump and dance in the aisle, but it does cause us to adopt the attitudes and behaviors on earth that will position us so that when we get to heaven we will jump and dance for eternity.
Wisdom, strength, and riches can glorify God when used correctly. But God's Word says that none of these three is worth boasting about. If we are going to boast, it should be in our understanding and knowledge of God, realizing that He delights in kindness, justice, and righteousness.
God likes it when we help people and are nice to them. He is pleased when we are just, which includes punishing wrong as well as rewarding right deeds. God takes pleasure in our doing right things. Jeremiah understood this. That is how he could serve God so tenaciously in spite of the severe opposition he faced. Jeremiah's sense of values was consistent with God's, so he kept serving and speaking faithfully. Because he was renewed from within, he could resist conformity to exterior social pressures. Jeremiah was evidently totally immune to peer and social pressure. The reason for this is that his sense of values was based on what God taught him about what to boast about and what not to boast about; what to value and what not to value; to value kindness, righteous, and justice, and not boast about wisdom, strength and riches. Because of this Jeremiah could be courageous, confident, strong, bold, resilient, and steadfast.
4. Jeremiah Submitted to God's Plan and Wanted God's Correction
In this section we will connect two verses from different places in the book of Jeremiah which, upon examination, can easily be understood to be extremely connected conceptually and need to be connected together also in our minds. In the first one (10:24) Jeremiah asks God to discipline him and in the second one (17:9) Jeremiah states that the human heart is undependable as a means to distinguish whether we are right or wrong.
"Discipline me, Lord, but only in due measure—not in your anger, or you will reduce me to nothing" (Jeremiah 10: 24). "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). By putting these two verses—discipline me, Lord and the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure—together we can understand Jeremiah's wisdom as he shows us by his own example how to deal with our own deceiving hearts by asking God to discipline him.
It is to our advantage to receive God's refining corrections. Would you rather have the ego-satisfying feeling you get from thinking you are right even when you are wrong, or be corrected so that you are corrected and become right and therefore are more useful to God? We all like to feel right, but wouldn't you rather be right than to continue to only feel right? . . . even though the process of becoming right is painful and humbling?
Jeremiah tells us our hearts are so deceitful, we do not adequately comprehend how deceived by them we are. If we knew, we would not be deceived. Since we are deceived, we do not know. There are faults and sins in our lives of which we are not aware. Jeremiah had the courage and wisdom to ask God to shine His light into every corner, box, closet, and cupboard of his heart so that he might be rid of them. "Discipline me, Lord," he asked.
Our accuser, the devil, is happy to tell us how bad we are, but he intends our destruction. He will shake his accusing finger in our face and tell us "Don't ever expect God to bless you. You have sin in your life. God will never bless you. Don't expect that God will answer your prayer. You have sin in your life. God will never answer prayer for you."
What is a person to do to defend themselves against such plausible accusations? Do what Jeremiah did. Ask God to discipline you. That is productive. He will forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. Then, the next time the accuser assaults you, you can jump up and confidently look him right in the eye and say, "You do not know what you are talking about. I confessed that sin already. I am forgiven and cleansed!" It is far more productive to ask God to reveal our sin to us, because He will forgive and cleanse us. Then we have a defense and, as clean tools in the Master's hand we can be more fruitful for Him.
If you join Jeremiah in asking God to discipline you, you have access to the most accurate insight, the wisest counsel, the kindest critique, the gentlest correction, and the most perfectly well-intended and executed refinement process ever known in human experience.
I dislike correction. But I dislike fruitlessness even more. I dread being told I am mistaken. But I dread being less than I could be even more. I fear finding out what I have been doing wrong. But I fear even more continuing in my pride what I could change were God to correct me—even if He corrects me through another person. I would rather someone told me what I needed to hear than for someone to tell me what he or she thinks I want to hear. If I have the reputation of being willing to be corrected, there is a better chance that people will tell me what I need to know than if I have the reputation of stubbornly clinging to my own old and mistaken thought patterns, behaviors and opinions.
Jeremiah understood that because the heart of man is deceitful he needed God to discipline him. Such a person has no need to fear anyone including the devil. This may be one of the reasons why Jeremiah was confident, courageous, bold, and brave in the face of unspeakable affliction, opposition, persecution, and hardship as a prophet of God.
5. Jeremiah Understood Development through Difficulties
Do you want to eventually have more influence than you have now? Do you want to eventually be more successful in God's eyes than you are now? Do you want to eventually handle bigger tasks, carry more responsibility and be a sharper, better tool in God's hand than you are now? If so, then you need to know the process God uses to get you from where you are to where He and you want you to be.
God taught Jeremiah with a perfect logical sequence. God contrasted two things that are relatively easy with two things that are more difficult. The lesson in both of the comparisons is the same, though the imagery is different. In the first image, a runner races against other runners more easily than he runs against horses. In the second image, a runner runs more easily in the safe country than he can run through the thick bush. In both instances, God is saying that the present level of difficulty we are experiencing is easy compared to the race we must run if we expect to have more influence, success, or responsibility; if we can't do the easy thing, we have no right to anticipate doing the hard thing
If you have raced with people on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan? (Jeremiah 12:5)
When we experience reversals it does not mean that God does not like us; it means God is working on us to prepare us for more responsibility. When difficulties arise it does not mean that God is through with us, it means God believes we can develop to be a better tool in His hand. God knows that if we are going to succeed we need some training.
We just read what God asked Jeremiah. What might God ask us? "If you cannot fast and pray and see your way through to victory in the comparatively small problem you are experiencing now, how do you expect to be able to fast and pray your way through bigger challenges? If you cannot keep your attitude right and pray for those who persecute you when the attacks are small, how do you think you will be able to turn the other cheek and be kind to people when they are really vicious with you? If you cannot keep your mind on things that are pure, holy, and of good report now when the temptations are small, how do you think you will be able to keep your mind on righteous things when huge temptations come your way again and again?"
We each need to learn to handle our present challenges without complaining. God is complimenting us when he provides a training program that will stretch us to become more influential, fruitful, effective and successful in His eyes. He needs us to be useful to Him. Learn how to interpret adversity. Experience how God builds His workers and work with His plan without complaining. If you do, you too will run against horses and through the thickets by the Jordan.