Safety or Suffering?
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…” Thus Jeremiah receives a call from the Lord to be a prophet. This verse is comforting – it reveals a God who is in control. Despite my best efforts and the illusions of control I create, life has a way of bringing me back to reality. And the reality is, I’m not in control. Serving a God who sees everything and never takes his hand off the wheel is freeing.
But there’s another, more sobering, lesson to learn from the call of Jeremiah. Being a prophet for the Lord is seldom a glamorous job. Though he may find listening ears from time to time, the work comes at a cost. Often that cost is very near and dear to the prophet. Jesus reminds us “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown” as he dealt with being rejected by his friends (Mk. 6:4).
Jeremiah is told his family & countrymen will attack him. “They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you” (Jer. 1:19). There’s a lot of comforting news in that verse but the fly in the ointment, to me, is the first part. “They will fight against you.”
The follower of Jesus should not expect to be applauded for his faith or admired for his values. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” Jesus says (Mt. 5:11). “In this world,” Jesus promises, “You will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). For millennia Christians have been a hunted minority. The church father Tertullian wrote “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
As a group, we evangelicals are not known for our willingness to suffer. While many who passed the faith down to us went to the gallows singing hymns and praying for their executioners, how many of us are willing to lose even a paltry thing, like a job, for the sake of the gospel? To the contrary, for many the avoidance of suffering has become the meaning of life. We fill calendars with things we hope will make us happy, stable, and affirmed and lament we’re just so busy. We flock not to politicians who challenge our character, but to those who prey on our fears. Without thinking we join in the ghastly chants of a worldly chorus cheering “Bomb them!” “Deport them!” “Defeat them!”. A fear monger says, “Follow me, I will keep you safe.” A godly man says “Follow me, I will make you good.” One wonders if the godly have given up on the political arena. Perhaps it’s for the best if they have.
The message of Jeremiah is a call to repentance. Few heed that call. Jeremiah ends his career, apparently, a failure. Nevertheless the Holy Spirit preserved his story, and his call, for you and me. You aren’t called to be a winner; you’re called to lose it all, should it come to that, to honor your King. “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mt. 16:24). Whatever fight comes against you – and if you’re following Jesus fights will come – know that it does not come as a surprise to the Lord. He’s got you. He’s in control. Rest easy. Fear not. Therein lies true joy and abiding peace.