The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
January 31, 2016
Do you fully appreciate the high and holy destiny God has for you? Or is your grip on that reality unsure because you’re trying to hold on to it from the wrong end? Are you reaching for success and recognition rather than full and obedient faithfulness to your specific assignment from God?
Jeremiah was a giant of a prophet. So, when we hear his story, we might think it has nothing to say to the likes of us.
We’d be wrong. For he had to come to his sense of destiny by the same path we all have to travel – and that path passes by the detour of consideration of level of talent and achievement.
While Jeremiah was still a “boy”, to use the scripture’s term, the word of the Lord “came to” him, and revealed that his Creator had set His sights on him even before there was a “him” to set sights on and that his Creator had established plans for him even before he’d arrived on the scene. God declared, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.”
Entertain for the moment the possibility that God would say the same thing to you – even if your life’s work is not anything like Jeremiah’s. Entertain for the moment too the possibility that, though God has not “appointed you to be a prophet to the nations”, as He did Jeremiah, God has just as much assigned you to a special appointment in His overall plans.
Jeremiah’s first impulse was to evade his appointment. For he felt inadequate, unqualified, devoid of any competency to carry it out. He protested, “Ah, Lord God. Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But God waved aside the objections, and let it be known that Jeremiah’s capabilities were beside the point. For God would make Jeremiah the man for the job, and take him where he could never take himself. God would give him His own words to speak and His own presence to keep him going. God told Jeremiah, “You shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you … I am with you to deliver you.”
As Jeremiah heeded God’s call and walked in the way the Lord had laid out before him, he experienced God’s equipping for his appointment. The phrase, “the word of the Lord came to me”, runs as a refrain the length of Jeremiah’s life. Over and over again, God gave him the message he was to proclaim; and, though Jeremiah lacked faith in himself, he believed God every time He told him, as He did that first time, “Now I have put my words in your mouth”. That conviction made him confident that he had – from God Himself! – just the message for the people to hear – and in that confidence Jeremiah became bold, brave and unbending in passing it on even when doing so made him hated, led to his imprisonment and left him feeling like a failure.
How could Jeremiah not feel a failure after God had at his call encouraged him to have big expectations about his impact on the course of human events? God had said, “I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Yet, given his subsequent lack of success, Jeremiah must have wondered whether either he had let God down or God had let him down. For Jeremiah could see little evidence of his having exerted any influence over his own nation, let alone any other. Jeremiah’s ministry had begun in a time of optimism and hope when good king Josiah was renewing the people’s devotion to God and His agenda of justice and righteousness; but it ended in a time of doubt and ethical decay when the Babylonians were destroying the holy city Jerusalem and exiling the best and the brightest of the Israelites to a foreign land a thousand miles away.
Over four decades of prophesying, through the reigns of the final five kings of what was left of Israel, Jeremiah watched the words he spoke fall on deaf ears and his people plummet into moral and spiritual degeneracy. Though he warned them of the consequences, they ignored his pleas for repentance. How he must have struggled to keep viewing his destiny as high and holy!
So what can we learn from Jeremiah’s story?
First, we can learn that we can only truly evaluate God’s faithfulness, and our success in attaining our destiny, from the viewpoint of the largest perspective – and that means from beyond our earthly life. In his day Jeremiah’s life’s work changed almost nothing. Yet, over the centuries that followed, it has made a profound difference for good. Even now Jeremiah’s prophecies inspire, shape choices, enlarge faith, and energize people to work for the world’s betterment.
If in his day, Jeremiah did not “pluck up” or “pull down” any nation, and did not “destroy” or “overthrow” any kingdom, he still did “build” and “plant” – and his building and planting affected the future of many a nation and kingdom. Jeremiah “built” a foundation for a long-range movement of God that has altered societies, cultures and governments; and “planted” seeds of faith that, after their long disappearance from sight in the ground, have produced harvests of justice, compassion and love – for all to see.
The significance of any life is often not manifest while it’s being lived, and its impact only comes to light at a funeral – or many years after that. Many of the faithful’s contributions to God’s great plans are only seen long after they’re gone – as was the case with Jeremiah.
So we have to doubt our doubts and – by faith and faithfulness – keep on keeping on despite a lack of visible results.
The second lesson we learn from Jeremiah’s story is that the significance of our life’s work comes neither from the nature of the work nor the outcome of the work, but only from our faithfulness to the work.
God has recruited a large and varied community of people to work for the accomplishment of His will. To one person is given this one part of the whole task; and to another, that part. The value of someone’s part is not in its size or success, but in the person’s steadfastness in carrying out their part, come what may. If God has appointed you to straighten out the pews each week in the Sanctuary, or to pick up the trash around the church, then your faithfulness to that appointment is as worthy of honor as that of any pastor or minister of music. The value of our work is not in what we are doing but in why we are doing it, for Whom we are doing it and how we are doing it. If we are doing it with all our heart to honor God and doing all God is asking of us, however “great” or “small” the assignment He gives us, no one has a more exalted life’s work, not even God’s most celebrated servants.
Again, the significance of our work is not in its success, but in our steadfastness. Missionaries in Muslim countries may go years between converts, while missionaries in America’s South may see converts every week; but God honors them equally if they are equally giving, in the place God has chosen to deploy them, everything they have to carry out the appointment God has chosen to assign them. None of us can ever do anything greater than just doing what God is telling us to do right here and right now.
Thus, we all have a high and holy destiny. The only question is whether we will be faithful to it. Ours is only the doing. The rest is not our business! Let us pray.