Control and Correction

Another short meditation on Jeremiah.

Last week I was continuing my reading in Jeremiah when I came to Jeremiah’s prayer in chapter 10, where he says:

“I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps. Correct me, Lord, but only with justice–not in your anger, lest you reduce me to nothing.” (Jeremiah 10:23-24 NIV)

If in the previous passage in Jeremiah that I considered (Jeremiah 1:4-11) the prophet demonstrated the wrong attitude in his response to the Lord, here he expresses the right relationship.

These words of Jeremiah express a deep humility and recognition of his own state before the Lord. He begins

a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps

Those words give voice to the very opposite of what the sinful flesh says. Sin and rebellion is setting up oneself in opposition to God. The fleshly fallen nature screams against the thought that our lives are not our own to do with as we wish. We in our self-will desire the right and the power to chose our course and make it happen. But here Jeremiah speaks as we all ought to speak–on his knees, with his face pressed to the ground, confessing that his life is not his own.

That is the start, but I find what Jeremiah says next even more striking. You might expect him to say, “My life is not my own, Lord. You direct my steps . . . so give me wealth and success, Lord. Give me a good car, a nice job, a big house. I can’t get them for myself, Lord, so get them for me.”

Isn’t that so often how we pray? We’ll admit our weakness–that the things we want we can’t get for ourselves. So we ask (maybe even demand) of God those things which we want.

But what does Jeremiah say?

Correct me, Lord, but only with justice–not in your anger

Who admits the Lord’s control over his life and then prays for the Lord’s discipline? Wouldn’t he pray for prosperity instead? But Jeremiah, with a heart and eyes enlightened by faith and knowledge through the Holy Spirit, sees and understands and expresses the truth that ought to be manifest in our lives.

I wrestle a great deal with acknowledging the truth of “a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps” in my own life. I struggle with, again and again, almost daily. By my nature I make plans. I make goals, and then plans for how I will reach those goals. I make contingency plans in case things go wrong, I explore possibilities and possible problems. I weigh the risks and costs . . . I exert my effort to make sure I’m in control and on top of things.

Except, of course, it never works. A man’s life is not his own, and should I forget that I am reminded of it quickly. On the one hand it is a lesson I learned years ago, but on the other hand I must be reminded of it constantly as every day I find myself making my plans. I must remember to get down on my knees and say (in attitude and spirit), “A man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps.” A passage of Scripture I always try to keep in mind is James 4:13-16:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.

And what shall we say of Jeremiah’s request for correction? Is it madness? No, rather Jeremiah knows what is spoken of in Hebrews chapter 12:

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 10:4-11 NIV)

And as it is said again in Revelations:

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelations 3:17-20 NIV)

The words of Jeremiah crying out for the Lord’s just correction on himself is a reminder for us on how we ought to live our lives, and our prayers. The natural (fleshly) way of living is to live with our concerns focused on what we want. Our goals are our desires, and we pray for our desires. What of discipline? People might admit, if questioned, that sometimes they err and God must discipline them, but it certainly isn’t something you pray about, and most certainly something you don’t pray for.

But I believe that is wrong. For the fleshly man it is natural for him to pray centered on his desires. After all, he isn’t serving God, but rather his own flesh. But for one who has been renewed in the likeness of Christ–such a man is to live and pray as Christ did. The person in Christ ought to see and desire that which will glorify Christ and, in that, glorify the Father. That is what should rightly form the center of the prayers of the righteous man.

In the likeness of Christ we should say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” (Matt. 6:10) and as Christ said, looking forward to the Cross:

“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27-28)

The Lord disciplines his children and rebukes those he loves . . . for their good, and for his glory, in the harvest of righteousness that will result as we become ever more conformed to the likeness of Christ. A person with true humility and spiritual understanding recognizes the depths of his sin, and a righteous man recognizes the true nature of sonship. From this position we recognize that we ought to pray for our own discipline. Recognizing the depth of our sin, and our great and continual need to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, we pray with Jeremiah and the Psalmist:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Psalm 139:23-24 NIV)

Understanding the truth of our sonship, we pray for the Lord’s discipline that a harvest of righteousness might be produced in us, and the Lord glorified. To recognize our sinfulness and not pray for the Lord’s discipline is to deny (or attempt to avoid) the truth of our sonship. Do we seek to deny the truth of God’s love for us, or perhaps pervert the biblical teaching on love so the discipline is taken out of it leaving only some kindly old man who gives us what we want? In simply asking for what we desire we fail to acknowledge how sinful we are and in need of the loving discipline and correction of our heavenly father. Those the Lord does not discipline as sons he has reserved for the outpouring of his wrath (see Jeremiah 10:25). When we pray with such a self-centered focus on what we want and desire we justly deserve the rebuke given by James:

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:3-10 NIV)

So, pray for the Lord’s discipline–not because it is pleasant, not because it satisfies the cravings of your flesh, but because you know your sinfulness, you know your need, you know the love of God, and you know what will glorify Him.

Present day professing Christianity at large in America has, unfortunately, fallen far from what Jeremiah exemplifies. What I see are people everywhere caught up in the self–caught up in their plans and their desires. What I see are people who give as little thought as possible to the idea of their own discipline . . . the thought that they need it, or the idea that they should pray for it. It takes a humble and contrite man to truly pray for his own discipline, but Christianity in America is so caught up in its own ideas of wealth, but the words in Revelation are so very apt:

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelations 3:17-20 NIV)

Be earnest, repent. Hear his voice, open the door.

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Wrote that all, quickly, today. The writing is probably lacking, but perhaps I will find time to go back and improve the quality some other time. For the present, make of it what you will.
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Later addition:

More scripture which is pertinent, but failed to include in the initial writing. Perhaps on a later rewrite I will work it into the body of text. For the present, very relevant to our consideration here are the word of Paul in 1 Corinthians, “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:31-32). That is the very thing Jeremiah is praying about/for.

And then later in Jeremiah the Lord echoes this prayer of Jeremiah when He says (speaking about the people of God), “‘I am with you and will save you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished’” (Jeremiah 30:11). The thought of being disciplined with justice is again here tied with God’s promise to save those his is disciplining . . . the discipline is part and parcel of the salvation promised, contrast the assured destruction of the wicked nations.

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