“God turned up” Meditations: 23 : To Jeremiah
Jer 1:4,5 The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “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.”
Most human beings at some time, be it ever so fleetingly, ask the question, “Who am I?” Some people go through life struggling the whole time to find out who the ‘real’ them is. We have self-awareness or self-consciousness and this seeks to put us in a framework of living and give us meaning. Some of us might start from, ‘I am a son (or daughter)’ and that may not be good news in their life context. Others might say, ‘I am a mother (or father)’ or we might go on to define ourselves by our job or career or special title. We like to know who we are.
Jeremiah was a relatively young man when God turned up. We don’t know how the Lord came and spoke to Jeremiah; he simply records, “The word of the Lord came to me.” That phrase crops up a number of times in Scripture and unfortunately no one defines it. Somehow the sense of God speaking to him came. You know you are hearing from outside you when what comes cuts right across your natural thinking. Jeremiah obviously recognises who it is speaking to him, and he queries what he is apparently hearing: “Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” (v.6). He feels too young and he feels inadequate as a speaker. I have had similar ‘conversations’ with the Lord where the content of what comes is completely contrary to anything I would naturally think.
Given time to think about this, I suspect that Jeremiah would have felt strangely comforted and assured by these words. “Before I formed you in the womb.” We would normally think of being formed in the womb as a natural product of the coming together of our father and mother, of something that automatically happens after conception, natural growth, but the Lord lays claim to involvement in Jeremiah’s formation. Perhaps in the reality of eternity we will learn something that Scripture hints at – it isn’t just a ‘natural process’ but a God process.
But it goes on, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” i.e. even from before conception God knew Jeremiah, knew all about him, who he would be and what he could do. God knows our potential from the very makeup of our genes, from the very things we inherit from those who went before us, and He knows what He can do with us. It’s not only nature plus nurture; it’s nature plus nurture plus God! And God knows that possibility before it happens. When we doubt our capabilities when the Lord appears to call us to a task, remember these things; remember that He knows your makeup and your past and He knows what you are capable of with His help. Oh yes, when God calls it is with full knowledge of who we are!
Indeed He carries on, “before you were born I set you apart. I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Now remember that this isn’t because of Jeremiah’s natural abilities because we’ve seen already that Jeremiah doesn’t feel much about his capabilities. We saw the same thing in Moses’ calling; he too felt utterly inadequate: “Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Ex 4:10)
The Lord had an answer for Moses and He has an answer for Jeremiah: “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. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.” (v.7,8) The crucial element of this instruction is found in the words, “whatever I command you.” Put another way, He is saying you say what I will give you to say. It’s not down to you. I will provide the words. To Moses the Lord had said similar words: “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Ex 4:12)
Jesus similarly told his disciples not to worry about being persecuted: “do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Mt 10:19,20). In other words when we are on God’s business we are to simply trust Him to provide the words we will need. He will provide!
Thus when the Lord turns up and calls Jeremiah, we see these most important things. First, the Lord knows us completely and He knows what he can do with us, what we are capable of with His help and guidance. Second, what we are to do isn’t down to us; it is down to Him for He has plans for us and also has the grace to enable us to do what He’s called us to do. Perhaps Paul caught something of this when he wrote, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Let’s be reassured as we step out in God’s calling on our lives. We know who we are – God’s people on a mission!