Making Sense of the Ups and Downs

At first read, you give your head a shake and then go back for a second read. And then you realize this guy is flip-flopping like a fish outta water. Or, as my friend used to say, emotionally he’s up and down like a toilet seat. But that’s Jeremiah’s reality.

In Jeremiah 20, the prophet suddenly goes from giving a “thus says the Lord” to a corrupt priest who has been persecuting him (1:6), to giving the Lord a piece of His mind for the lame ministry that’s been placed on him (7-18).

O LORD, You have deceived me, and I was deceived; You are stronger than I, and You have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me.

(Jeremiah 20:7 ESV)

“You pushed me into this, GOD!” That’s how Peterson puts it in The Message. You set me up for this no-win ministry and I let You. But then again, who can resist You? And the result? “I’m a public joke. They all poke fun at me.” (MSG)

And so Jeremiah goes off. He rails on the personal impact of his offensive ministry. So offensive, in fact, even his close friends plot against him, having had enough of his endless doom and gloom, supposedly prophetic word (v.10). He wants to stop delivering the unpopular message of Babylonian captivity, but he can’t. And that because the word of the LORD burns in him like a fire “and I’m weary of holding it in, and I cannot” (v.9).

But then there’s a but.

But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. . . . O LORD of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see Your vengeance upon them, for to You have I committed my cause.

(Jeremiah 20:11a, 12 ESV)

All of sudden, Jeremiah flips from focusing on his lot in life and looks up to the LORD of life. He remembers that the awesome One (NKJV)–He who is a mighty and dreaded warrior, He who knows all things, the One to whom Jeremiah has committed all things–that the LORD of hosts is with him. He refocuses, turning his gaze from himself and his circumstances, and sets his mind on things above where He sees afresh the LORD of hosts reigning. And it’s enough of a redirect that Jeremiah breaks forth in spontaneous praise.

Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For He has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.

(Jeremiah 20:13 ESV)

But then, just as suddenly, He flops again.

Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! . . .Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?

(Jeremiah 20:14, 18 ESV)

One moment he’s confident of victory, next he wishes he’d never been born. He knows he’s walking in the path God has set for him, but he feels as if he’s gonna explode if he stays on that path. When he fixes his eyes on the Lord, praise can’t help but come from his lips. But when his heart again weighs the burden of his life circumstance, he’s not sure he even wants breath any longer coming from those lips.

Like my friend used to say, up and down like a toilet seat!

And I sit back and say to myself, “Self, what am I to make of this?” How do you make sense of the ups and downs? To which comes to mind,

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

(2Corinthians 4:7 ESV)

Fragile, cracked pots called into service by the Potter. Weak and weary soldiers enlisted by the Commander of the Army of the Lord. Feeble servants told to occupy until His return by the Master. And there’s gonna be times when we’re feeling, “Enough’s enough!” And those are the times to look up . . . to look waaaayyy up . . . and see Jesus (Heb. 12:2-3). Those are the times to remember the Word of God, to recount the promises of God, to reaffirm the presence of God, and to reenlist by the grace of God.

Jeremiah, was not some super-hero called to some super-human task but, like Elijah, “was a man with a nature like ours” (James 5:17). And that nature has a tendency to flip flop like a fish out of water. And that too, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

So we do not lose heart. Instead we keep on keepin’ on. Looking up when we’re down. Getting up, knowing that we may very well stumble again. Confident that these things are transient and are preparing us for an eternal weight of glory (2Cor. 4:16-18).

And that, by His grace. And only for His glory.

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