TEXT: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”
Today we consider the story of Jeremiah, and his call to be a prophet. Did you notice how this plays out? The Lord comes to Jeremiah—who might have been about 14 years of age at the time—and he says to him: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Well, Jeremiah can see where this is going, and he immediately tries to deflect the Lord’s challenge. I like the way Eugene Peterson translates this. Jeremiah says: “Hold it, Master God! Look at me. I don’t know anything. I’m only a boy!” *
But his protest doesn’t do him any good, for the Lord replies: “Don’t say, ‘I’m only a boy.’ I’ll tell you where to go and you’ll go there. I’ll tell you what to say and you’ll say it. Don’t be afraid of a soul. I’ll be right there, looking after you.” *
In other words, there’s no room here for argument! So—in the beginning, at least—Jeremiah becomes a most reluctant prophet. And you might think that a person like that would not be a good choice for the task. Generally speaking, people who are pressured into doing things don’t make the best workers. But the Lord knew what he was about with young Jeremiah. The lad went on to become one of Israel’s greatest prophets.
And even if he remained somewhat reluctant, he eventually reached the point where he felt compelled to speak God’s Word—where he couldn’t not speak that Word, even if he had wanted to remain silent. Later in his career, Jeremiah would declare: “If I say, ‘I will not mention [the Lord], or speak any more in his name’, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” (Jer. 20:9)
God is good at picking his candidates! He always seems to know just exactly who is the right person for whatever job he needs to fill. Think about the “Noah’s Ark” story. Noah was just the right man to put in charge of conserving all the species in Creation. It’s not a job I would have wanted. The Book of Genesis says the flood lasted 150 days (Gen. 7:24). That’s five months! Almost half a year cooped up with all those smelly animals! Like I said, I wouldn’t have wanted to do that. And God probably wouldn’t have asked me, because he knows my temperament. If I had been Noah, today there would be no mosquitoes!
But I digress. Let’s get back to Jeremiah. When it comes to people whom God calls, Jeremiah wasn’t all that unusual. You may remember that Moses also tried to get out of the task the Lord set before him. The prophet Jonah was a most unwilling servant, as well. You know, the reason he ended up in the belly of that whale was that he didn’t want to go and preach to the Ninevites. So he got on a boat and tried to sail away … but we know where that got him! And in the end, he had to do what God had called him to do in the first place.
Some things don’t change, I guess. At least, it seems that way to me. The call of God is very seldom a call to do something we wanted to do anyway. The call of the Lord is not often a call to do what is convenient, or comfortable, or within what we perceive as our existing skill set. And sometimes—even if we think we know where the path of discipleship is leading us … well, it suddenly veers off in an unexpected direction.
How many of you, I wonder, have set out for one place, but—through something like divine intervention—have ended up at quite another destination?
How many of you, I wonder, have felt your God—or your faith, or your conscience, or your convictions—challenging you to do something that you did not want to do, or did not feel equipped to do? How did you react? Did you start spouting excuses? (I’ve done that—a lot.) Did you feel a sense of panic? Or terror? Did you want to bolt and run? (I’ve done that, too.)
More importantly: after all the excuses and panic and fear, did you do what you felt yourself called to do?
Whether your answer to that question is yes or no, if you’ve heard the call and considered the challenges—and the risks—then you have at least got an inkling of what the path of Christian discipleship is all about. Sometimes there is an element of glory or joy about it. But always—always—there is a burden to shoulder. There is a cross to carry. That is a frightening prospect, and before you dare pick it up, you have to ask yourself: “Do I trust the One who’s asking this of me?”
Do you really trust in God? Do you trust that he will give you the ability, and the power, and the courage, to do what he’s calling you to do? Scripture urges us—actually, the apostle Paul urges us, in Second Timothy, chapter one—to rely on the power of God, “who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace” (2 Tim. 1:9).
Do you get that? If you’re a believer—if you consider yourself a follower of Christ—you’ve not only been saved, you can also expect to be called—called “with a holy calling.” God has something he wants you to do—something which, very possibly, only you can do.
How do you feel about that? Is it exciting? Is it unsettling? Is it both? Or does it still just fill your heart with panic?
Well, if all you’re feeling is panic … I’m afraid I still have to tell you … You will be called. Unmute your phone. The Lord will be calling you. If not today, then maybe tomorrow, or the next day … But make no mistake about it: God will be asking you to do something for him. Maybe he wants you to carry a heavy burden. Maybe he wants you to bring an unwelcome message. I don’t know what it is. I just know that call is part of discipleship. You can’t avoid hearing a call, if you want to be a disciple of Jesus.
But I do have some good news, and it’s contained in the latter half of that verse from Second Timothy which I quoted a moment ago. It says God calls us “not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.” We are not called “according to our works”—that is, our own abilities or skills or wisdom—but according to the grace and purpose of God. When the Lord asks us to do something, he promises to give us whatever we need to have in order to carry it out.
It’s like the Lord said to Jeremiah: “you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you …”
So, to each and every one of you who wants to be a serious disciple, I say again: you will be called. God will call upon you. But don’t let yourself be crippled by fear—or by a sense of inadequacy, or unworthiness, or anything else. The One who calls you will also equip you, and he will lead you to the place where, at the last, you will have Jeremiah’s fire in your bones! Believe that this is true. The call of the Lord will come to define your life, and it will give you life. You won’t be able to bottle it up inside—and you won’t want to, either!
That is the message of Scripture—and it’s a promise you can trust.
*The Message Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson