Something other than stories about Grandma and Grandpa today . . .
This morning I was reading the beginning of the book of Jeremiah and this passage reached out to me:
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.
Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:4-11 NIV)
The first thing that struck me was, those words don’t apply only to Jeremiah.
Then I began to think some more.
There is a very real sense where we are all prophets. Just as in Christ we can be called a kingdom of priests to serve our God (Rev. 1:6), so in Christ we are all prophets–prophets of the revelation of Jesus Christ, called to declare the gospel and the judgment to come.
We can so easily regulate the prophet roll (as the declarer of God’s word) to the dusty past or the gifted other and in that way the uncomfortable facts about the prophetic life are removed from consideration. But we all are called to be prophets of the revelation of Christ–all of us whom Christ as been revealed to in our hearts. We are declaring the fullness of the message of repentance and the judgment to come. The prophets of the past declared only the shadow and type of these things but we now in this present age have been called to declare the fullness of this message revealed in Christ.
And so the admonitions to the prophets of the past (and the examples of their lives) apply to us.
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.
Powerful words stating so boldly the complete sovereignty of God. He didn’t say “Once I formed you I knew you.” Or, “After you were born I decided what I wanted you to do in life.” No, it is, “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.” Before we have even begun the most minute speck of our earthly existence God already knows those who are his and has set their tasks for them. And as Christ has said for our great comfort, “All that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” (John 6:29 NASB)
We are the little prophet children of God, called and chosen to declare the message of salvation in Christ to the world. This call of God is our confidence and our hope, but it is also the foundation of God’s command for us; “I knew you, I formed you, I set you apart, I appointed you.” God, as the God who has done all this, has absolute right to our lives.
And how do we so often respond to this?
“Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”
Those very personal words of Jeremiah strike so close to home. The I is me, and I have said it . . . if not those very words, then at least that sentiment. Lord, I don’t know how to speak. I don’t know how to do it. I’m not wise enough. I’m not strong enough. Moses said it. Jeremiah said it. It seems to be the common affliction of those called by God. Everyone one of us hears God’s voice calling us in our lives and we say, “Lord, I can’t!”
And the just rebuke of the Lord:
“Do not say, ‘I am only a child.'”
We all want to snivel (in some form another) about our various inabilities. We’re not smart enough, or we’re not bold enough, or we can speak well enough, or write well enough. And, in fact, we are correct. How so? Well, we aren’t smart enough, strong enough, good enough–or anything else enough. But God hasn’t called us to get up and go by our strength. He has called us to a life of faith. He has called us to believe what he has said. It is by faith we lay hold of it.
And what is that which we lay hold of? It is the promise:
I am with you
God has formed us, God has called us. God has plans for our lives. And rightly we must recognize that we aren’t good enough for the plans. We aren’t strong enough for those commands. But God hasn’t called us to fulfill His appointing and plans for our lives by our own strength. Trying to do that is not walking by faith. The walk of faith is not only recognizing the call of “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you” but also believing the promise of “I am with you” and so we are not afraid . . . not of our own failures and weakness, but also not afraid of what persecutions or sufferings we might face. Because He is with us we are not afraid, and know that he will rescue us . . . not only through the daily struggles, but when in the end our prophetic mission is over and we die, that we will be raised up on the last day (John 6:39).
How could we think to have the confidence, the downright presumption, to declare the gospel of God? Anyone who stops to consider his own frailty and weakness would be driven to say, “God, I’m not able! God, I’m not worthy of such a great task and such a responsibility!”
But the source of our confidence, the source of our authority is this:
the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.
The gospel uproots and tears down. It destroys and overthrows every stronghold and pretension of men (2 Cor. 10:4-5), and it builds and plants, seeds of salvation for a harvest of righteousness (2 Cor. 9:10). And God has called us, He has touched us and filled us with His Spirit so that we will speak His words and do His work. In this great calling that God has given we are to have no confidence in the flesh (Philippians ch. 3) but rather by faith to walk in the Spirit.
Now when I first thought about this passage this morning I thought, “I know how Jeremiah feels. I have the same problem. I have such a hard time being bold in speaking for the Lord.” And I thought about the idea of us being prophets from that perspective of speaking. But then I thought about it more later and realized I was being too narrow in my thinking and missing a much broader picture.
The prophets weren’t called to simply speak the words of God. By their very lives they were to declare the word of God–His message to the world. Whether it be Isaiah and the naming of his children, Jeremiah being forbidden from marrying at all(Jer. 16:1-4), or the many other activities he was called to physically do (such as the yoke of iron see Jeremiah ch. 27, but also many others), or even the many activities Ezekiel was called to preform or suffer (such as the death of his wife), the prophets were as much called to live the word of God as simply speak it.
And that has implications for us as well. God didn’t chose us, he didn’t appoint us, just to simply say a few words for him here and there and live the rest of our lives as we please. No, he has laid the divine call on us so that we will live His message to the world. As the Spirit of Christ lives in us, and as we reflect Christ in our lives (even our daily lives) so the gospel is declared to a dying world. The world may blind itself to the message revealed in us, but God is testifying to them through our lives of righteousness. We cannot only think of great acts as being service to God. No, we have been called to no less than reflecting Christ in our every act, and in reflecting Christ in our holy living we are declaring the gospel and the judgment to come.
A proper recognition of this truth brings a different perspective to life. No longer are you preforming acts of no account, or meaningless deeds. As you live by faith in obedience to Christ you are living as a “prophet” to the dying world, declaring the life and salvation in Christ. Some God has called to declare his word by their deeds in this obscure workplace, or that unimportant job down at the store . . . or whatever, but in each case we ought to live with the recognition that God has called us to this place because he has appointed us to declare here, where we are, the gospel–not only be word, but also by deed.
Sometimes those deeds will be acting in ways considered folly by men–so it often was for the prophets in the past. We can be called to suffer ridicule, hardships, and even things we don’t fully understand. In each case we remember that we are only walking in the same path of faith as the prophets of the past–not understood, rejected, and even ourselves confused. It extends to every aspect of our life. Called to marriage? Then live it as God has called you. Called to a life alone? Live it as God has called you, just like Jeremiah. Called to suffer the death of a loved one? Remember Ezekiel.
So, while it was a true observation for me to recognize I have great difficulty being as bold as I ought in word, it would be wrong for me to neglect to consider the deeds of my life in view of the truth of Scripture. And so it came around to the recognition that at present I am declaring the gospel as much in deed as by word. The deeds of service to Grandma and Grandpa are as of much import as any other declaration of the gospel and it is just as real as any other declaration. . . because we all, by word or deed, are declaring the same gospel and we must not forget that the deeds are as much a declaration as the words we speak, whether our audience understands or not.
None of us has the strength for this calling in ourselves (no matter how easy we might deceive ourselves into thinking our lot might be), and yet all of us have the strength in Christ (no matter how hard we might think our lot is).
At its heart we are declaring the same words as the prophets of old, except only now the words are made more clear with the revelation of Jesus Christ. There is great encouragement, but there is also great motivation in seeing and recognizing what we have been called to in Christ, right along side Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the people of faith through the ages past.
We have been called just as surely as the prophets of old.
I wrote all of that very quickly this evening. No doubt it could be better, but it will have to do for the present. I hope it stirs some worthwhile thoughts.