Gleanings in Jeremiah : 3 : Not up to it?
Jer 1:6 Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”
I think I have commented at various times on how I have watched people receiving personal prophecies. Very often the response is, “Who me? You’ve got to be joking!” but no, God is not joking because He can see the future and He knows what each one of us can become with His enabling. That response often comes from a low self esteem, the sort of response that Gideon gave to the angel commissioning him – I’m a nobody. But often it is also the response we find here and we also see in Moses at the burning bush – I don’t know how to do this.
Jeremiah’s ‘disclaimer’ had two parts. First, “I do not know how to speak”. Now that is a pretty reasonable answer in most cases in life because few of us have been trained to speak. Teachers and politicians perhaps, but the rest of us…… It would have been harder if God had said, “I am going to make you a preacher,” for on our modern model for being a preacher you need to have a good knowledge of the Bible – well, Jeremiah was a priest so he did probably have a good knowledge of the Law – so perhaps he would only need a little help with some confidence and ability to put a ‘sermon’ together!!! But a ‘prophet’ is a completely different ball game all together. Don’t prophets challenge the failures of society or, more particularly here, the failures of God’s people to be God’s people, so how do you go about doing that?
The second part, “I am only a child,” perhaps explains the first part. I’m too young to have learned how to speak for you. That is true but every day that comes means you are getting older so why shouldn’t the Lord start with you now? What has age really got to do with it, when you come to looking at what He is going to ask of you. The Lord reject his reasons (excuses?): “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.” (v.7) That is what a prophet is all about – going where God says to go and saying what God says to say. Once you are hearing God – and Jeremiah is – how hard can that be?
Now whether it is a calling to be prophetic or to be an evangelist or to be a Pastor, it works the same: you go to those God sends you to, and you do or say what He gives you to do or say. But I don’t know how to! Well actually it all hinges on you learning to hear Him, and if you have heard His call, then you know you are plugged in and can do it. For the rest of you life and ministry, it’s all about being sensitive to Him and simply responding to Him. Is it that simple? But what about the outcome? Well maybe it is a little more complex than that but not much. You will learn on the job and as long as you listen to Him and obey Him, you’ll be fine. The outcome? That’s down to Him. How people respond to the word you bring is down to them and from then on it’s them and Him; you just do your part – listen and speak.
Yes but…. No ‘buts’ “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.” (v.8) You will not be alone because I will always be with you and you don’t need to worry, I will rescue you when it goes pear-shaped – and it will, but don’t worry about that because I know all about it and I can deal with it! Gulp.
“Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.” (v.9) A symbolic gesture. You have been touched by God and now everything is different because He has imparted something to you that will change you. You now have an ability – His ability – and you will be able to do what He says. Now comes the big bit: “See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (v.10) Wow! This is not just personal prophecy stuff in the local congregation; this is national and international stuff. How can this be????
But what does it involve? Two things, the first negative and the second positive. Before we move on, please note that this is NOT the role of the local prophetic gift, this was a unique calling of a prophet, not just as prophetic gift. The guidance for personal prophecy in the local congregation is speaking “for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:13) We let the teacher or the evangelist, in a more general way, bring the wider teaching that convicts. The prophetic gift in the local congregation MUST come in love and MUST strengthen, encourage or comfort.
But let’s look at Jeremiah’s calling. First the negative things: “uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow.” Uproot and tear down are words usually applied to a plant and a building respectively. Destroy and overthrow tend to be more general words that could apply to people. In Jeremiah’s day there were false religious beliefs and religious practices that ran contrary to the Law and the revealed will of God. These things needed uprooting, pulling out so they would die, they needed tearing down so they no longer existed and people could no longer turn to them. These religious systems needing destroying and overthrowing. Until this happened there could be no building up of the nation, no planting a new future.
There is always a false belief in the sinful heart of mankind – that we can keep the old ways and still be blessed by God. That is deception, for the old has to be uprooted, torn down, destroyed and overthrown. It cannot be allowed to exist if you look for the blessing of God. He cannot bless you if you insist on holding on to your old ways. The coming about of a Christian in the New Testament reveals this again and again. When Jesus spoke about being ‘born again’ (Jn 3) he was referring to a completely new life. The apostle Paul, referring to us being ‘in Christ’ now said, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) There it is – the old has gone; it is a work of the Holy Spirit so that now the new has come. The same message comes through again and again. It is not just a nice makeover, it is a totally new life. That was Jeremiah’s message in a somewhat different context, and it is ours today.