Jeremiah 20:8-9 “Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”
Have you ever milked cows before? In some ways it is not the most pleasant work in the world: the smells, the hours, the sweat make this a task worthy of Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs.
In other ways, honest labor like this provides a good sense of job satisfaction. The dairyman enjoys a sense of progress as he works through the herd. Surprises are relatively few. He knows what to expect, more or less. Compared to people, the animals are relatively easy to work with. They all show up for feeding. They know which stall or stanchion is theirs.
I grew up in the city. For eight summers in high school and college I worked on my uncle’s dairy farm helping with chores and stacking bales of hay in the loft. I wasn’t that much use in the beginning. At the end of my last year, my uncle offered that, if I ever wanted to, he might consider having me as a partner.
There have been days in the ministry when I have thought about that offer. Jeremiah experienced those kinds of days as a prophet. At times those days flowed together into years.
The message the Lord gave his prophet consisted mostly of law and judgment. He wasn’t being mean. Due to their rebellion and stubbornness, this is what the people needed to hear.
It comes as no surprise that Jeremiah’s listeners didn’t like what he was feeding them. They didn’t know which stall they belonged in. In their idolatry they had broken through God’s fence and scattered all over the place.
This made the prophet weary of his work. The constant opposition wore on him. He enjoyed little to no visible progress. Some of his rival “prophets” actually hatched plots against his life. Jeremiah began thinking about going on strike.
It probably takes less to get the modern pastor or church leader to the place where Jeremiah was. Ministry has given me sleepless nights. People have left the church in anger. I have had to wrestle with my own lack of visible progress at times. I can’t claim that anyone has ever hatched a plot on my life, thankfully.
Problems of ministry are real. The work and sweat can make it seem like a “dirty job.” But thoughts of giving up are often sinful self-pity. We serve no one, including ourselves, feeling sorry for ourselves.
Consider the good thing the Lord has given his gospel ministers. He has graciously called them to live and work, day in and day out, with the power of his word.
Jeremiah had the word working within him. Its message burned inside of him. He wasn’t able to hold it back. His experience was not merely moral outrage. He wasn’t overcome by such feelings of offense at the abusive or disgusting things others were doing that it compelled him to speak up. Even the world knows something of that kind passion flowing from a lack of self-control.
Jeremiah had another message to preach. At his call God told him: “See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” To build and to plant. Jeremiah preached good news, too. The Lord hadn’t given up on these people. Their best day, his best gift, was still coming. “The Lord our Righteousness” would soon arrive with God’s salvation. He would establish a new covenant in which the Lord would forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.
The Lord has given us the same gospel to preach and to hear, to share and to believe. We have the promise fulfilled, complete. Superlatives don’t exist so extreme that they can fully communicate the enormity of what God has done. This good news is amazing, astounding, awesome, unbelievable, but still the terms limp.
Our Lord gave his own life in place of ours to pay the debt we owed him. History knows of people dying to save others, even dying for those who don’t deserve it. But dying for the very person whose life was owed to you? Would Shylock cut a pound of flesh out of his own heart to pay Antonio’s debt to him? Can you see bloodthirsty revolutionary Madame DeFarge going to the guillotine for Charles Darnay instead of Sydney Carton in Tale of Two Cities?
Can you believe the gospel yourself and not have it burning within you? Can we understand what our Lord has done and hold it in? What a great message and great work we have been given!