COURAGEOUS THOUGH NOT IN CONTROL
God has chosen all of us to live a crazy calling
Do you ever get tired of living in the ambiguity of your faith? Sometimes I just wish someone would answer my question, did I win or did I lose? You ask yourself this question, you ask others, you ask God. You then pause in silence to hear the answer. And what do you hear?
And what do you conclude?
It is hard to know if you are winning or losing when it comes to a life of faith.
We all want to know, “If I live well and courageous in my faith, will I be ‘successful?’” Or, we would like for someone to tell us, “Living a life of faith and integrity is not going to pay off in the end.”
I have had this thought, “What is the opposite of courage?” At least for me. What is it that wars against my desire to want to be courageous? Is it fear, hopelessness, discouragement, depression, lust, fatigue? What is it that wars the most against my desire to live courageously for God?
You know what it is?
I want someone to guarantee to me that if I live courageous for God, I will get the outcome I want.
That’s as honest as I know how to be.
However, if you and I are going to live a life of faith, we have to learn how to live courageous even though we are not in control.”
Look at what Jeremiah 40:1 says, “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord after Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him (Jeremiah) go from Ramah, when he took him bound in chains along with all the captives of Jerusalem and Judah who were being exiled to Babylon. 2 The captain of the guard took Jeremiah and said to him, “The Lord your God pronounced this disaster against this place. 3 The Lord has brought it about, and has done as he said. Because you sinned against the Lord and did not obey his voice, this thing has come upon you.
Now look at what happens to Jeremiah in verse, “4 Now, behold, I release you (Jeremiah) today from the chains on your hands. If it seems good to you to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will look after you well, but if it seems wrong to you to come with me to Babylon, do not come. See, the whole land is before you; go wherever you think it good and right to go.”
After 40 plus years, Jeremiah has something he has had. He has options. He has his freedom.
He has CONTROL.
I am learning over and over again, that much of what I do is to feel a sense of control over my life.
If you were Jeremiah and you had spent 40 plus years trying to get people to repent, but they refused. And now here is your chance to go to Babylon and be pampered for the rest of your life, what would you choose? I know what I would choose, sadly.
But look at what Jeremiah does. Jeremiah 40:6 says, “Then Jeremiah went to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, at Mizpah, and lived with him among the people who were left in the land.”
If you and I are going to live our lives courageously not in control, we have to decide God’s calling dictates our setting not our circumstances.
I don’t do what I do because I am successful.
I don’t stop doing what I do because I am unsuccessful.
I don’t take “a promotion” to get out of circumstances I don’t like.
My calling dictates my setting not my circumstances.
But you might say, “But if I stay in the setting I am in because I am called, will it get better?”
It may or it might get worse. Jeremiah was living with Gedaliah in Israel in very difficult circumstances. He could have gone to Babylon and been pampered but he chose not to because of his calling.
Look what happens in Jeremiah 41:2, “Ishmael the son of Nethaniah and the ten men with him rose up and struck down Gedaliah… 10 Then Ishamael took captive all the rest of the people who were in Mizpah, the king’s daugthers and all the people who were left at Mizpah…Ishmael…took them captive. 11 But when Johanan…heard of all the evil that Ishmael…had done, 12 they took all their men and went to fight against Ishmael 16 Then Johanan…took from Mizpah all the rest of the people whom he had recovered from Ishmael…
If we are going to live courageously not in control, we have to still expect God to deliver us even if it gets worse, and it may.
You may be thinking, “But what if God doesn’t?”
Look at what Jeremiah 42:1 says, “Then all the commanders of the forces, and Johanan…,and all the people from the least to the greatest, came near 2 and said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Let our plea for mercy come before you, and pray to the Lord your God for us, for all this remnant—because we are left with but a few, as your eyes see us—3 that the Lord your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do.” 4 Jeremiah the prophet said to them, “I have heard you. Behold, I will pray to the Lord your God according to your request, and whatever the Lord answers you I will tell you. I will keep nothing back from you.” 5
Then they said to Jeremiah…
6 Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the Lord…”
That is music to Jeremiah’s ears. Finally!
Then look what happens in Jeremiah 42:7, “At the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. 8 Then he summoned Johanan…and all the people…10 If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you. 11 Do not fear the king of Babylon…for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. 12 I will grant you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land. 13 But if you say, ‘We will not remain in this land,’…15 then hear the word of the Lord…If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, 16 then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt.
18 “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: As my anger and my wrath were poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so my wrath will be poured out on you when you go to Egypt. 19 The Lord has said to you, O remnant of Judah, ‘Do not go to Egypt.’ Know for a certainty that I have warned you this day 20 that you have gone astray at the cost of your lives. For you sent me (Jeremiah) to the Lord your God, saying, ‘Pray for us to the Lord our God, and whatever the Lord our God says, declare to us and we will do it.’ 21 And I have this day declared it to you, but you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord your God in anything that he sent me to tell you. 22 Now therefore know for a certainty that you shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in the place where you desire to go to live.
One way that you and I remain courageously not in control is to remain faithful to speak God’s truth to God’s people regardless of what it cost us.
It doesn’t matter what they have done with it in the past.
It doesn’t matter what they will do with it in the future.
Remain faithful to speak God’s truth to God’s people.
Jeremiah demonstrates this faithfulness to speak God’s truth to God’s people in a way that few have ever. Jeremiah 43:1 records it, “When Jeremiah finished speaking to all the people all these words of the Lord their God, with which the Lord their God had sent him to them, 2 Azariah…and Johanan…and all the insolent men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there,’ 4 So Johanan…did not obey the voice of the Lord…5 But Johanan took…Judah—6 the men, the women, the children…and every person…also Jeremiah the prophet…7 And they came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the Lord.”
I don’t get the sense that Jeremiah wanted to go to Egypt. I think he was taken there against his will at the leaders of his day’s discretion and God continued to use Jeremiah in Egypt…look at verse 8
8 Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah
Here is the interchange between Jeremiah and Israel in Egypt…
10…Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon…11…shall come and strike the land of Egypt. 12 I will take the remnant of Judah who have set their faces to come to the land of Egypt to live, and they shall all be consumed.
The people respond to Jeremiah…
15 Then all the men who knew that their wives had made offerings to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, all the people…answered Jeremiah: 16 “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you. 17 But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster. 18 But since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine. “
20 Then Jeremiah said to all the people, men and women, all the people who had given him this answer: 23 It is because you made offerings and because you sinned against the Lord and did not obey the voice of the Lord or walk in his law and in his statutes and in his testimonies that this disaster has happened to you, as at this day.”
27 Behold, I (God) am watching over them for disaster and not for good. All the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, until there is an end of them. 28 And those who escape the sword shall return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah, few in number; and all the remnant of Judah, who came to the land of Egypt to live, shall know whose word will stand, mine or theirs.
29 This shall be the sign to you, declares the Lord, that I will punish you in this place, in order that you may know that my words will surely stand against you for harm: 30 Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will give Pharaoh…into the hand of his enemies and into the hand of those who seek his life, as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who was his enemy and sought his life.”
In 609 BC THIS ALL CAME TRUE. IT IS A FACT IN HISTORY.
GOD WORD PROVES TRUE, AGAIN!
If you and are going to remain courageous for God when we are not in con troll we have to trust God’s words to eventually always prove true.
And I have lived long enough to tell you, they will, they ALWAYS do.
If you are speaking God’s words, they will stand when all others fail.
God gives Jeremiah and Baruch a word of hope in Jeremiah 45:1, “The word that Jeremiah the prophet spoke to Baruch the son of Neriah, when he wrote these words in a book at the dictation of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: 2 “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: 3 You said, ‘Woe is me! For the Lord has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.’ 4 Thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land. 5 And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all felsh, declares the Lord. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go.”
Baruch was weary of the sorrow other’s sin had caused him. He was weary of disappointment in the ministry because he hadn’t seen the success he had hoped to see when the journey began. He wanted MORE success for he and Jeremiah than they had been given by God. But Jeremiah encouraged him and reminded him, in the end God will give us our lives as a prize of war in all places to which we may go.
Jeremiah once struggled with this tension like Baruch was struggling now. Jeremiah was able to encourage him with the encouragement he had learned through his struggle with the unrepentant.
If you and I are going to live courageously not in control, we must continue to encourage the discouraged faithful to trust God to reward them.
How people respond to your ministry will not determine God’s reward to you. God will reserve a reward for your faithfulness, it is a promise.
I want to close with an exerpt from Eugene Peterson’s book, RUN WITH THE HORSES
Flannery O’Connor once remarked that she had an aunt who thought that nothing happened in a story unless somebody got married or shot at the end of it. But life seldom provides such definitive endings. As a consequence, the best stories, the stories that show us our true condition by immersing us in reality, don’t provide them either. Life is ambiguous. There are loose ends. It takes maturity to live with the ambiguity and the chaos, the absurdity and the untidiness. If we refuse to live with it, we exclude something, and what we exclude may very well be the essential and dear—the hazards of faith, the mysteries of God.
Jeremiah ends inconclusively. We want to know the end, but there is no end. The last scene of Jeremiah’s life shows him, as he had spent so much of his life, preaching God’s word to a contemptuous people. (Jeremiah 44) We want to know that he was finally successful. Or we want to know that he was finally unsuccessful but we don’t know the outcome of his life. He doesn’t get married and he doesn’t get shot. In Egypt, the place he doesn’t want to be, with people who treat him badly, he continues determinedly faithful, magnificently courageous, heartlessly rejected-a towering life terrifically lived.
That my friend, is what it means to live your faith courageously not in control. You die with a inconclusive ending trusting God will reward your faithfulness. May God give us the grace to live by faith for Him courageously not in control of our ending.