When Life Gets Hard (James MacDonald)
The book of Jeremiah is tough. The book of common worship, which contain the Presbyterian scriptures that I committed to at the beginning of Lent, has a large portion of Jeremiah for readings throughout the season.
If you study the entire book, you will find that it’s more than God’s fiery anger, punishments and judgments. We serve a God who feels the same anger we should also feel at unjustness. When we frame it in terms of a parent/child relationship (God, as a parent, Israel as the child), Jeremiah as spokesperson explains repeatedly what behavior God expects and Israel refuses to listen. Would you as a parent continue to allow misbehavior from your children after warning them of consequences? I hope not! God follows through on exactly what he says he’s going to do.
Also an interesting perspective from James MacDonald, founding and senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Illinois is this: “God never disciplines his children in anger . . . . with surgical precision, God orchestrates the details of our lives and perfectly measures good and difficulty, blessing and discipline.” (When Life is Hard, 2010; Moody Publishers). In other words, God isn’t overdoing it with the Israelites and he’s not overdoing discipline and punishment in our lives either. It’s also another snapshot into who God is. If nothing else, we can admire God for his consistency. He always warns of punishment – and then gives it. He also promises blessings – and then delivers them. What a great parent!
But it’s still difficult to digest. We live in a “me” centered culture where we are encouraged to follow our own whims without any regard of consequences to those around us. This is one way to define sin. As we frantically pursue our own agendas – by achieving success by this world’s standards, – it may seem like God is being harsh and unreasonable in Jeremiah 25.
It’s our paradigm that needs refocusing, not God’s.
One of our primary responsibilities, as followers of Christ Jesus, is sharing the Gospel message and encouraging others in their walk with God, according to Paul’s teaching in Romans 10:14-21. While Jesus had yet to walk the earth during Jeremiah’s lifetime, Jeremiah spent 40 years doing God’s bidding. Even though the people didn’t listen, at least at that point in history. In fact, he got beaten up, made fun of and jail time because he persisted in telling the people what they didn’t want to hear: “Clean up your act and repent. If you don’t, punishment is coming.” But by God’s standards and expectations, Jeremiah is a total success story. That’s mind-blowing for me. Success, from God’s perspective, is involves obedience and faithfulness.
Perhaps another important lesson we can glean from Jeremiah’s life is the power of persistence and perseverance, which is also a rarely demonstrated in today’s culture. When things get tough we give up too easily and I will be the first to admit that I tend to be among that majority. Jeremiah is a reminder to me about the importance of soldiering through challenging times rather than crawling under the covers in what feels like defeat. I must also remember that from Genesis to Revelation, all of God’s servants suffered. They all underwent persecution and challenges as they shared the Gospel. Especially Jesus. But my guess is that the one thing they all had in common was a personal encounter with God and knowing who he is. That was why they persisted.
Thank you for your faithfulness when I am not faithful to you. Thank you for your love when I am not walking in love. Thank you for remaining unchanged, and sovereign throughout the centuries. Please forgive my tendency to want to quit the journey in my walk with you when life gets hard. Please help me strengthen my resolve to cross the finish line. Soften and focus my wayward, distracted heart and help me look for your presence among the ordinary and routine today. Amen.