Ministry “Failure” and Knowing God

The One Year® Chronological Bible, NKJV (Tyndale, 2013), August 27

imagesJeremiah wouldn’t have made it behind the “celebrity” pulpits of today’s churches. Nor would he have been invited on anyone’s talk show. His was not a message for itching ears; no publisher would have been interested in publishing his writings. Nope. Jeremiah was God’s man during the darkest period of Israel’s history. It wasn’t popular. And it wasn’t easy!

Jeremiah is incarcerated for his messages of judgment and thrown into a pit because of his refusal to back down from proclaiming truth. Jeremiah’s ministry takes its toll on him physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Jeremiah cries, “He has aged my flesh and my skin, and broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and woe. He has set me in dark places like the dead of long ago. He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out; He has made my chain heavy. Even when I cry and shout, He shuts out my prayer” (Lam. 3:4-8).

People write songs ridiculing Jeremiah, “I have become the ridicule of all my people—their taunting song all the day . . . . Look at their sitting down and their rising up; I am their taunting song” (3:14, 63).

He battles depression with a disciplined mind and sound theology, “My soul still remembers and sinks within me. This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope. Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him’” (3:20-24).
Mental discipline and sound theology push back the darkness of depression as Jeremiah declares, “The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (3:25-26). Both enable Jeremiah to sit “alone and keep silent” (3:28), to “give his cheek to the one who strikes him” (3:30), and to receive from the LORD’s hand “grief” and “compassion” (3:32).

Jeremiah waits on the LORD, and he is not disappointed, “I called on your name, O LORD, from the lowest pit. You have heard my voice: ‘Do not hide Your ear from my sighing, from my cry for help.’ You drew near on the day I called on You, and said, ‘Do not fear!’” (3:55-57).

Jeremiah records one of the saddest days in Israel’s history, “Thus Judah was carried away captive from its own land” (Jer. 52:27). This sad scene in Judah’s history reveals a number of truths about God and man:

  • God demonstrates tough love by using harsh enemies and circumstances to discipline His people and to get their attention.
  • The wickedness of Judah would have provoked their total destruction, had not God promised beforehand that the Messiah would come through Judah’s descendants (Gen. 49:10) and that David’s descendants would never cease sitting on Israel’s throne (2 Sam. 7:12-17). Instead of total destruction, Judah goes into captivity—for her preservation.
  • Man’s rejection of God precedes His rejection of man. He simply responds to the continued hardness of a man’s heart.

Jeremiah’s walk with the LORD sustains him during 40-plus years of unpopular ministry. Jeremiah thus teaches us that successful ministry isn’t a celebrity pulpit or the endorsement of a well-known publisher, but knowing God in the midst of ministry “failure.” Jeremiah’s greatest accolade does not come in his day; generations later, when Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” one of their answers is, “Some say . . . Jeremiah” (Mt. 16:13-14).

Questions from today’s chronological Bible reading (Lam. 2:1-4:22):
How does Jeremiah describe Jerusalem in the funeral dirge that he writes to mourn the death of this great city?
What does the lament reveal about God?