I will say, “Yes, life is hard, but God never promised otherwise (despite Joel Osteen). I can do this.”
Then suddenly something happens I did not expect, something that seems the opposite of everything I have prayed for, and I wilt. That’s when it is all too easy to fall into the “Why me?” trap. The “I’ve done all this for you and look what I get in return,” con. Jeremiah fell too.
The prophets never had easy lives. Hosea, Ezekiel, Amos, and Jeremiah are prime examples, and maybe Jeremiah more than any of them. Check out 15:10-21. Because of the poetic and figurative language it can be difficult to get the full impact, so if you will allow, I am going to paraphrase for you.
In many versions this is labeled “Jeremiah’s Complaint.” That ought to give you a clue about what’s going on.
Jeremiah says, “Everyone hates me [because of what I’ve preached on your behalf, which is implied not spoken] v 10.
God says, “Haven’t I delivered you?” v 11.
Jeremiah says, “I did just what you told me to and YOU have deceived me” vv15-18.
Uh-oh, Jeremiah has gone a step too far. God will always hear His children’s cries. Elsewhere on this blog we studied the Psalms and discovered that there are far more lament psalms than any other kind (including praise psalms)! But Jeremiah has accused God of sin against him.
How do I know? Because God tells him, “If you repent, I will restore you. Do not become like the very people I have sent you to” v 19.
There are two lessons in this conversation that we need to hear. First, other people’s bad behavior never justifies bad behavior in us. Somehow we think that we can get away with anything as long as we can say, “But look how he treated me.” No, we can’t, and if we claim to be Jesus’ disciples, the one who When…reviled…did not revile in return; when he suffered…did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1Pet 2:23), then we should know that.
And that last phrase, “entrusting himself” to God segues nicely into the second lesson.
“I delivered you,” God told Jeremiah. Somehow, Jeremiah missed it. Maybe it’s because he kept winding up imprisoned or thrown into a muddy cistern and left to die, and threatened with death almost constantly. But God did deliver him. Someone always came to the rescue providentially, people who just happened to be there with memory and logic, or on one occasion a foreigner who somehow had influence over the king.
Jeremiah’s problem was that God’s idea of deliverance didn’t match his. Here I am up to my armpits in a filthy, dank well and this is deliverance? Yes, it was. Instead of being killed instantly, he was left to die, which gave his rescuer an opportunity to save him. Eventually he was pulled out of that hole to relative safety so he could preach even more. Do you see that? He was delivered so he could continue a hard and dangerous mission, not so he could live in luxury.
And for us, deliverance may not look like our version of deliverance. It may not match what we have prayed for, but that’s because God’s version often involves things we haven’t even been spiritual enough to think of.
Do you want an example? If you know my eye story, you know it has been going on a long, long time. Longer than any doctor thought possible. No, my vision is not what it used to be, but I still have some! And what has that done for me? It has taken away a lot things that used to take up my time, and suddenly, I am able to write, to teach, and to speak. I have done more of that in the past fifteen years than in the thirty years before combined.
And even now, it appears that my remaining vision is dimming. But with the aid of lenses and large print, I can still manage the close things. I can still study. I can still type. I may not be able to see the individual features of the crowd of faces in front of me, but I can still see my notes and my mouth works just fine.
God’s idea of deliverance cost me a few things, like a music studio and some independence. But it also delivered me to do so much more.
Don’t whine when your deliverance is not what you hoped. Don’t mope when your plans don’t work out, when you feel used and abused, when you think all is lost. You may be shoulder deep in the mire right now, but that will make the deliverance even more amazing when it comes. Just stop expecting your version and look for God’s. In the words of the old joke, “I sent a boat and I sent a helicopter. It’s not my fault you didn’t take me up on it.”
Therefore thus says the LORD: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them. And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the LORD. I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.” (Jer 15:19-21)