Many people aspire to teach or preach or stand on a platform of importance. "Be careful," Paul warned. "If you have a position, God holds you accountable in added measure."
Jeremiah's call was more awful than that. About to embark on a lifetime of telling people God's thoughts and judgments, God buttressed him up with words we use to pacify people who are feeling troubled. Our salve for the weary began as God's iron backbone for difficult ministry. Unlike many of us, Jeremiah had no confidence in his ability or maturity for the task ahead:
The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
“Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”
But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 1:4-8 NIV)
When Jeremiah agreed to go in God's name, he did not know the risks, the life-threatening obstacles, and the sheer meanness of his people. We would say he followed his call in faith, trusting God to take care of him.
Reading Jeremiah a few times the past year, I want to shout a caution to him as he embarks: "It's a worse ministry than you know. Are you sure you want to do this? No one will believe you. You will suffer! You'll doubt yourself and God. Are you very, very sure about your call?"
We quote many verses from Jeremiah as platitudes. For example, the prophet said, "When you pass through the waters, you will not drown." But he didn't say it to people about to undergo surgery or looking for a new house. His nation wasn't merely experiencing financial set-backs or a bad year of harvest. No - they were about to be dragged into captivity by a vicious conqueror. Many would die, starve, and be raped or tortured. Yet God said he would keep a remnant for himself.
It's probably correct to apply those verses to our difficulties. However, we must recognize that the greater context of most promises is God's ability to do as he pleases. He carries out his purposes and does what he intends, no matter how devastating the circumstances to humanity. He will be in control when our country loses its identity to war, when famine claims the few survivors, and families are torn apart in death and displacement.
The promises seem greatest when the hardships are overwhelming. When saying yes to God's call, we need to remember that the prophet is rarely welcomed with a message of bad news. It doesn't matter how many reassurances he or she offers alongside the truth.