Let’s be very honest. Sometimes serving Christ and His church is downright hard. It can become a grind, a burden and a drain. There are days when I really do not want to get up and go to my office. I have had stretches of time when I was reluctant to open my e-mail, because of what I was afraid would be there. There always seems to be another crisis to handle, another conflict to manage, another assignment to be fulfilled. There are days when it feels like it would just be easier to walk away. But, when God has called you into a place of ministry, walking away is not an option.
Our small group is wrapping up a study in the book of Jeremiah this week. If anyone ever understood the challenges of ministry, it was Jeremiah. In the first place, he did not ask to be God’s spokesman to a rebellious people. In the opening chapter of the book of Jeremiah, God calls him to be his spokesman.
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
Jeremiah felt completely inadequate to take up role to which God called him. I fully understand that feeling. I had a feeling that God was calling me into His service early in my life, but I spent many years running away from that call. I tried various ways to reshape the call to be more comfortable for me. God would not relent. Instead, He used my personal insecurities to move me to the very place He wanted me to be.
God assured Jeremiah that he would not be going into battle alone. God himself would go with Jeremiah and direct him. I had to come to the place where I accepted, not only God’s call, but God’s empowerment. I was not going to do this alone. God was going to work through me.
Throughout Jeremiah’s ministry, he was faced with many challenges and obstacles. The message that God gave to Jeremiah was not a feel-good message. The people did not want to hear it. He faced ridicule and abuse from those to whom God sent him. At one point, Jeremiah had had enough. He took his complaint to God.
You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts.
"If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan? Jeremiah 12:1-2, 5
Most of us have been in the place Jeremiah was in. We have worked hard to follow Christ and serve Him to the best of our ability. Our efforts do not seem to bear much fruit. We look at those who disregard Christ, and they seem to have it made. We get discouraged and begin to complain to God.
God did not let Jeremiah off of the hook. Instead, He told Jeremiah that what he had been experiencing was only the beginning. There would be harder tests ahead. But God renewed His commitment to be with Jeremiah and strengthen him. God is not in the business of making our lives easier. He is in the business of refining us and equipping us for His service. We will face hard challenges, but we will prevail, if we keep trusting Him.
Fast forward to the end of Jeremiah’s story. All that Jeremiah predicted came true. Jerusalem was besieged and fell to the Babylonians. The city was destroyed and the people were taken away to exile in Babylon. When the city fell, the king of Babylon singled out Jeremiah. He honored Jeremiah for following God’s commands and let Jeremiah go free. Jeremiah was vindicated! Or so it seemed. As soon as the Babylonians left, there was trouble. Jeremiah was forcibly carried off to Egypt with another rebellious group of Israelites, who refused to listen to the word of the Lord.
The truth is that the spiritual battle that we are engaged in will not end for us until God takes us home to be with Him. As long as we are on this earth, the enemy will find ways to disrupt, discourage and disillusion God’s servants. The Apostle Paul fully understood this, but he was able to rise above it. He saw each battle as one more opportunity to serve Christ and advance His kingdom. Paul was able to look beyond the current situation to the ultimate victory that is ours in Christ Jesus.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:7-18
Life never got easier for Jeremiah, or Paul, or for those of us who seek to serve Christ with all of our hearts. But we know that one day we will stand in Christ’s presence and we will hear those ultimate words of commendation. “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your salvation.”