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A Lonely Urgency

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Teaching through the writings of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah has shaped my understanding of the Christian life and pastoral ministry in our day.  As I write this, I pray that you too may find fellowship with Jeremiah and encouragement in the lonely urgency you feel regarding the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jeremiah Was Chosen.

In the opening chapter of the Old Testament book that bears his name, Jeremiah received a calling from God into an appointed prophetic ministry. He lived in difficult days during which his homeland of Judah would be invaded by the fierce Babylonian army and his people taken into a 70 year exile. He was young, inexperienced, and afraid when his calling came. I pray that if you are reading this and you are also “young, inexperienced, and afraid” to serve the Lord, listen to God’s words to Jeremiah and take courage, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord” (1:8). If his calling wasn’t intimidating enough, his job description was even more so, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:9–10). What I mean is this, Jeremiah’s ministry would see double the “tearing down” that it would the “building up.” As we read on in the book, we discover that Jeremiah was chosen as a prophet to clear the land and people of unrighteousness and injustice, only then would it be ready for planting and building.

Jeremiah Was Lonely.

As I studied through Jeremiah’s writings, I remember coming to the realization that no one listened to him. Jeremiah 37:1 is one instance where the reader sees this, "But neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land listened to the words of the LORD that he spoke through Jeremiah the prophet”; however, this theme is threaded throughout Jeremiah’s life. You can feel his loneliness in the ministry of the word when he writes, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words become to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me for you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” I should add that the Lord does comfort Jeremiah in the next verse. However, don’t miss the very clear reason for his loneliness—God’s word was in him, and God’s hand was with him. Jeremiah’s delight in God was the reason for his human-to-human loneliness. He did not live in a time when the surrounding culture delighted in God and his word. He lived in a time when people would rather believe lies of their own making and cast prophetic utterances into the fire to keep themselves warm (e.g., ch. 36). He was appointed by God for loneliness among men in order to make a record of God’s testimony against Judah’s sins, the divine righteousness in decreeing the exile, and keep the hope that one day God would restore his people. At a later time, the prophet Daniel while in exile would read Jeremiah’s words, repent on behalf of the people, and cling to the Lord’s promise. The prophet endured loneliness in his day in order to give truth and hope to a day that would come later.

Jeremiah Was Urgent.

Even in his loneliness, Jeremiah maintained urgency regarding his ministry in the word of God. He wrote, “I have not run away from being your shepherd, nor have I desired the day of sickness” (17:16). He stayed the course, true to his calling, and maintained a spirit within him that while indignant about the sins of his people, still remained filled with compassion for the Lord’s people. His constant preaching and visions about the depth of Judah’s depravity and the pain of the exile weighed heavily on him, yet he could not stop preaching the word given to him by God, “For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (20:8–9). The ministry of the word was a matter of uncontainable urgency for Jeremiah. He had to speak.

Calling Lonely Christians to Urgency Today

If you are a Christian, feeling the urgency of the gospel message and its eternal implications and value, I wonder if you can identify with Jeremiah. I hope he serves as an example who encourages you in your faith today; I know that he certainly has encouraged me in ministry. Let me offer three applications from what we’ve learned here about Jeremiah: 

  1. Take courage in the truth of God’s providence in giving you life and existence in such days as these. I believe that your lifetime on this earth is not accidental or random. While I doubt many of us have had such a specific and clear call as Jeremiah, I think that a general observation and truth from Scripture is that God is intentional in history and among the people of the earth to accomplish purposes. So, like Jeremiah, you are alive at the right time—regardless of what the local, national, or international circumstances may be—or better yet, because of the local, national, and international circumstances, you are alive for such a time as this. Don’t be afraid; don’t cower behind lack of experience or youth; take courage in God’s providence.

  2. Loneliness due to loyalty to God is not wrong or bad. If you have maintained pure sexual standards in a culture that continually competes for how deep it can dive into the pool of sensuality and have experienced rejection, ridicule, and loneliness because of it, you are depositing temporary suffering for later glory both in the pure heritage you build here and in eternity in the hereafter. If you are a pastor, seminary professor, or Christian worker who has maintained loyalty to the word of God and to the miraculous activity of the divine presence in history as recorded in Scripture and are experiencing criticism, made a laughingstock, and feeling alone in your service to God as it seems no one listens to you in these days, you are depositing the truth of God’s word for another generation who will come along and believe, like Daniel did with Jeremiah’s words. In due time, God will foil the accusers and false prophets. Consider what Jeremiah wrote in Lamentations, “‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Lam. 3:24–32). Choose loyalty, even when it costs human-to-human loneliness, for remember that the Trinity’s fellowship can strengthen and sustain you in such a state.

  3. Lastly, remain urgent in the ministry of the word of God. A few themes in Scripture are helpful here. Sometimes belief, revival, or reform skips a generation, but it strikes red hot in the next one (e.g., King Josiah). Many of the faithful (e.g., Heb. 11) carried the promises their whole lives and died still looking on with hope toward the time of their fulfillment. The Bible repetitively teaches that in every generation—even the most agnostic, atheistic, or idolatrous of them—a remnant continues to flourish, no matter how small. Consider that the general impression we get from Jeremiah’s ministry is that no one listens to him; however, we know later that somehow the faith made its way into the heart and soul of a young and promising Daniel, to Nehemiah, to Ezra, to Mordecai, and to Esther, all of whom would remain faithful throughout the exilic period. Even if it seems like your city, town, or village is empty of anyone who cares about the gospel and the Scriptures, learn by way of example what Jesus said to the Apostle Paul, “And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.’ And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:9–11). His persevering urgency in the ministry of the word for a year and a half established the church in Corinth.

I believe that Jeremiah is in eternal fellowship with the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus too knew (1) that he was appointed for such a time of earthly ministry in God’s providential plan, (2) that loneliness due to loyalty to God is a reality of ministry, and (3) sustained urgency in the ministry of the word reaches the remnant and extends beyond one’s lifetime. Drink often from the fellowship of the Trinity. He will sustain you in your lonely urgency for his gospel.

Posted by Rex Howe