When we consider ministry as a volunteer or a full-time occupation, we are taught to examine whether or not we have been called by God. If the answer is affirmative and people ask about our call, we often talk about God’s transformation of our heart and mind to align them with those of Jesus. We reflect on Christ’s compassion for the lost and our burning desire to bring a message of salvation to the broken world. Yet, what do you do when God calls you to confront, to expose, and to denounce the leaders of your country instead and to preach submission to the enemy as a way to restore God’s rule over your nation?
In Jeremiah 1:5 the Lord calls Jeremiah, at a very young age, to a prophetic ministry to the nations. Jeremiah tried to use his age and inexperience to avoid the call (Jer. 1:6). So many young people today (and even not so young—Moses was unwilling to face the Pharaoh [Ex 4:1–16]) do the same thing. It is understandable; people only know of God what they have personally experienced. Young people, due to the lack of their own personal experiences, have to rely on what they have witnessed in their parents’ lives. Young children, whose parents talk about God’s faithfulness and recount stories of his mighty acts on their behalf, usually grow up trusting in God’s goodness, power, and loving care for them. When parents do not practice the presence of God daily, their children will only imitate what they see.
Now, if we look at Jeremiah’s family, we can see why it is hard for the young boy to accept God’s call. He comes from a priestly family in Anathoth (Jer. 1:1), a small village not far from Jerusalem, which is an ancestral home of Abiathar. Abiathar was a descendant of Aaron and a priest during David’s reign but he chose to support an enemy of Solomon later on, which resulted in his banishment to his home village. Thus, Jeremiah is known to have a big “loser” in his family. As if it was not enough, Jeremiah’s family is quite possibly descended from Eli, the priest at Shiloh whose sons were wicked. It means that Jeremiah has grown up with the words of the prophecy condemning the house of Eli and his descendants to die young and “the only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep out his eyes and grieve his heart”(1 Sam. 2:33). Jeremiah’s ministry definitely fits these words. In addition, having grown up as a member of an exiled priestly family, he is predisposed against the corruption and wicked compromises between the priestly elite and the monarchy.
My guess is that Jeremiah’s unwillingness to accept God’s call is based on the family history and the understanding that the Lord’s service is never easy. How often do we use our past to walk away from ministry or consider others unfit for God’s service because of their familial relations? Perhaps people can avoid a call to church because of familial failure or a heritage of fear. Yet, God seems to draw just on that very basis to call Jeremiah, “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” (Jer. 1:5).
Let us look at the call itself. Jeremiah, most likely not even twenty yet, is called to go where God will send him and to speak what God will tell him (Jer. 1:8). In a culture that gives respect to age and experience, a youth with a word from the Lord will not fare well. As a parent, I am often amazed at the wisdom of my pre-teen children and, yet, how often do I choose to listen to them? To calm Jeremiah’s mounting fears the Lord promises his deliverance. As we continue to look at the call, we understand why such protection will be necessary. Jeremiah is tasked by God “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” The only comfort and support for this ministry promises is God’s presence with the prophet and his physical touch upon his lips (Jer. 1:8–9).
Plucking, destroying, pulling down, and overthrowing is not our everyday picture of Christian ministry—especially of church planting. But what if before anything can be built or planted the existing order has to be destroyed? Jeremiah is called to prophesy to the people who have lived through a significant political and economic transition with some hope for Judah’s future. The reign of Josiah brought about religious reforms, but they were abandoned with the king’s untimely death. With the fall of Assyria, Judah was overrun by the Egyptians who gave way to the Babylonians. From that day on, the Israelites have been faced with the question: submission or rebellion? The king and the priests desire independence and former glory at all cost and, thus, they choose rebellion in hope of a promising future. And in this world Jeremiah is called to speak the message of submission to the enemy!
I wonder if we live in a world similar to that of Jeremiah. Politicians promise anything to get elected, but do they truly care about the welfare of the people? How often do our financial concerns drive our choices in life? Do we remember that our allegiance is to God first and not to political parties? In the midst of shifting culture and changing times, is it wise to plant churches? To hope that stony land will yield fruitful communities? These are uncomfortable questions because when we ponder them, we realize that our call to Christian ministry is akin to Jeremiah’s call.
Naturally, Jeremiah’s cries won’t be heeded by his people. Naturally, they will be unwelcomed. Naturally, the prophet will be despised and mistreated. His world is a disaster and only God’s drastic measures can change it. Jeremiah is called to lay bare God’s weeping heart for his nation, and in the midst of destruction, collapse, and judgment the prophet will bring the good news of all-surpassing grace and love that God will use to create a very different future for his people. If we will be courageous enough to speak to our people as God would have us, in the midst of chaos and confusion, God will also grant and empower us to share the good news of his salvation and impending deliverance to his people. What will it take for us to embody and embrace Jeremiah’s call?