The foundation for a well-functioning society was established by God in Genesis 1. In the beginning of our Bibles, we find answers to important questions such as: What is life? What is the origin of life? What is gender? What is marriage? What is work? Clearly, the devil is intensifying his attack on these foundational truths in order to cause social chaos and moral declension. As we observe the rapid, largely irrational, ethical decline of our western culture, we, like David, might be prompted to ask, “What can the righteous do when the foundations crumble?” (Ps. 11:4-5).
In response to his own question, David suggests that we concentrate on two infallible conclusions: First, God resides on His throne in heaven and second, that He uses arduous situations to test and refine the righteous. God is always in control of His creation and is never surprised by anything. Hence, as Jeremiah concludes, there will be times that God expects His people to labor and to sorrow while He is bringing about His sovereign plan.
Not only did Jeremiah have to endure Judah’s moral and spiritual deterioration, but he also was tasked with warning his countrymen of what would happen if they departed from Jehovah. This was a difficult calling and one that caused him much suffering; even those in his hometown and own family turned against him. The young prophet speaks to the Lord on this matter (Jer. 20), and in so doing better equips us to properly prepare for times of labor and sorrow also. Five points of application are suggested from this text:
Remember to Talk to the Lord
The message of the broken vessel, delivered in the courtyard of the temple, was not received well by Jeremiah’s audience (Jer. 19). Pashur, the chief governor of the temple, struck Jeremiah and had him placed in stocks overnight. The next day, Pashur released Jeremiah, but the prophet had a message for his oppressor: Jerusalem would be despoiled and destroyed and Pashur and his entire house would be carried away to Babylon as captives. Jeremiah was publicly mocked and derided daily for declaring God’s Word to those who did not want to hear it (Jer. 20:8). It is understandable that he felt deceived by the Lord; he had been promised to be protected and, yet, he had been afflicted for his faithfulness.
Like the prophet Habakkuk, Jeremiah suffered from tunnel vision. These prophets were viewing reality from their narrow slice of time and therefore could not imagine what God was doing. Thankfully, both prophets audibly express their feelings to the Lord. Clearly, “Why?” and “How long?” are fair questions if we have an openness to be corrected by the Lord (Hab. 1:2-3; 2:1). Ultimately, resting in God’s attributes, holy character, and promises causes us to appreciate what only God can accomplish in the big picture. God enjoys hearing from us; so, when things do not make sense, let us humbly cast all of our cares on Him who cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7).
Remember Your Calling
Jeremiah had a solution to his problem: when I speak for God, I suffer, so I will just keep my mouth closed. But when he tried to hold back from preaching God’s word, he found that he could not: “But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not” (Jer. 20:9). The guilt of not doing what he knew God wanted him to do was more burdensome than just doing his assigned work. Jeremiah’s oppressors were also constantly watching him, hoping he would stumble and discredit himself as God’s prophet, thus voiding his message. Many of the Lord’s people find themselves in a similar situation today.
Although Paul had been imprisoned for serving Christ, he remembered God’s calling for him (Phil. 1:17-18) and had resolved to fulfill his assignment despite the consequences. He valued the abiding joy of communing with Christ more than the supposed ease of disobedience. Each believer has been given a spiritual gift (or gifts) to accomplish a work of ministry in the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:13). We will never be more joyfully content in our earthly sojourn than doing exactly what God has called us to do.
Remember God’s Promises
Despite his hardship, Jeremiah proclaims, “But the Lord is with me as a mighty, awesome One. Therefore, my persecutors will stumble, and will not prevail” (Jer. 20:11). How is it that the prophet could encourage himself in this way? Jeremiah recalled what the Lord had promised him previously: “I am with you to deliver you” (Jer. 1:8). “They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you. For I am with you” (Jer. 1:19). Likewise, we can remember Christ’s promises: “The gates of Hell shall now prevail against it (the Church)” (Matt. 16:18). “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). Recalling to mind the promises of God during arduous times safeguards us from discouragement and depression.
Remember that God must Test and Refine Us
Jeremiah understood that God was testing the quality of his faith through this trial (Jer. 20:12); still, he longed for his time of “labor and sorrow” to be over (Jer. 20:18). Jeremiah bemoaned his life and wished he had not been born or that he had died shortly after birth (Jer. 20:14-17). He preferred to die rather than to endure these dreadful trials. Have you ever felt like that? Indeed, I have. But praise God, when we look back over the situation later, we can thank the Lord for the peaceable fruit that resulted from it. We find we are the better for the experience, we are more reliant on the Lord, and best of all, God is pleased. Understanding this benefit, may we follow David’s example and invite the Lord to examine and refine our hearts and minds (Ps. 26:2). Job knew that ultimately, the outcome of his severe trial would benefit him: “When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
Remember to Praise God
Though suffering harsh consequences for obeying His calling, Jeremiah’s faith and confidence in the Lord was demonstrated by singing and praise. Likewise, an incarcerated Paul proclaims that rejoicing in the Lord is a choice (Phil. 1:18). True, he was a prisoner, but he had found that His contentment was not in His circumstances, but in resting in God’s sovereignty and enjoying the peace which comes from God’s presence. He had consequently “learned,” literally, “to be initiated into the mysteries” of God by what he had experienced (Phil. 4:12). Paul was enjoying “the secret place of the Most High” (Ps. 91:1). True faith is having a deliberate confidence in God’s character, attributes, and promises even when our circumstances tempt us to do otherwise. Accordingly, when God’s people can praise and rejoice in Him and give Him thanks during difficult times, it demonstrates that we really trust Him.
When Daniel found out that the decree had been signed that would commit him to the lion’s den if he prayed to His God, Daniel chose to give God thanks. Our heavenly Father is delighted when His suffering children choose to rejoice in Him (1 Thess. 5:10) and give Him thanks in all things (1 Thess. 1:18). Our praise and thanksgiving are most appreciated by God, when our circumstances are most pitiful and sorrowful. It is easier to praise God while being blessed, than when suffering for righteousness’s sake, but the latter proves our confidence in the Lord.
As the Lord’s coming for His Church approaches, believers must expect increasing hardship to live for Christ during Churchianity’s final apostasy (2 Thess. 2:3). At such times, let us remember to: (1) audibly lift up our burdens to the Lord, (2) recall our divine calling, (3) remember God’s promises, (4) remember that we must be tested and refined, and (5) remember to praise and to thank God. By rejoicing in God during dire situations, we demonstrate to others that we really know Who is in control. Rejoicing demonstrates faith without constraining God to act according to our preconceived solutions. So let us rejoice in the here and now while God accomplishes what only He can.