But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. Jeremiah 20:9
Through the Bible: Jeremiah 18-22
Jeremiah had such a tough ministry assignment. Caught between a people who didn’t want to listen and a God who was so fed up with the people that He told Jeremiah not to even pray for them.
God, if you wanted a prophet who wouldn’t pray for the people, why didn’t you send Jonah?
But Jeremiah loves God’s people, so he prays for them even when God says not to (see 14:19-21). And he loves God’s Word so much that he speaks it even when the people don’t want him to (see 20:9).
Jeremiah 20:9 could be seen as an inspiring verse for a preacher who won’t quit. I actually quoted this verse when I was interviewed by the Pastor Search Committee for the church I serve now. When they asked me why I wanted to be a pastor, I told them, “I have to preach,” and quoted this verse.
I got the job.
But, as we talked about a few days ago (see Day 221: On Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth), we can’t just pick a verse that says what we are trying to say. God’s word isn’t a rack of greeting cards. Thus, when you read Jeremiah 20:9 in context, you realize that it isn’t the triumphant cry of a fearless preacher. It’s the discouraged admission of a burnout who hates his job:
7 O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. 8 For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. 9 If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. Jeremiah 20:7-9
(By the way, have you ever had the guts to begin a conversation with God by saying, “Lord, you deceived me.”? No? Me neither.)
Jeremiah is at his absolute lowest in chapter 20; cursing his birthday, even cursing the man who brought his dad a cigar and said “It’s a boy.”
“Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, “A son is born to you,” making him very glad.”
Jeremiah 20:14-15 ESV
What’s the lesson for me in Chapter 20?
- Maybe it’s that no matter how hard ministry gets, it will never be as tough for me as it was for Jeremiah.
- Maybe it is to be so burdened for people that I never stop praying for them, and so burdened for the Word that I never stop speaking to them.
- Or maybe it’s that I don’t have to be afraid to pour out my heart to God, even when it’s ugly, and even when I say things I don’t really mean.
I don’t think Jeremiah really thought God deceived him. I don’t think he really wished he had never been born. But he could pour that out to God because there was absolute security in that relationship. He trusted God even with the darkest corners of his heart. And we can too.