Annual plants easily catch my eye; they are flashy, vibrant and stunning. Perennials, on the other hand, are often less eye-catching, though they offer stability and a constant presence.
When it comes to my walk with God, I find myself similarly more drawn to the sudden bursts of bright presence, the flashy flood of blooms that comes from short-bursts of His acute presence. I want to clearly see bright blossoms. Yet the greatest gift He has ever offered me, or any of His people, is His perennial presence, His steady company in season and out of season, in feast or famine, in floodplain or drought.
As I have been studying the life of the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord has brought to light two interwoven themes: the persistence of pain in his life coupled with the promise of God’s perennial presence.
No one really sought out the role of prophet in the Old Testament, for obvious reasons. Prophets spoke God’s words to God’s wayward people. In fact, the word for prophecy in Hebrew is translated burden. Thus, prophets were chosen by God to receive heavy burdens that He needed to communicate to His people. While the prophets were, indeed, given promises of hope to sow among the heavy news they often heralded, even the promises were in germinal, cryptic forms.
Prophecy was no easy assignment for any of God’s selected spokesmen; however, of all the prophets, Jeremiah seems to have had the worst gig. Burden by heavy burden, Jeremiah had to declare to a stubborn people the coming destruction that was a result of their consistent whoring (God and Jeremiah’s image, not mine; God uses the graphic language of prostitution to describe sin throughout Jeremiah’s tenure of service). In light of the fact that false prophets were promising lives of ease and coming prosperity, Jeremiah was a lone, melancholy character in a crowd of indifferent hedonism. He even had to act out some strange and painful circumstances, to show, rather than simply tell God’s people, the messages from God.
The book of Jeremiah, far from linear, shows wave after wave of the prophet’s own personal wrestlings with the Lord over the burdens he was called to unload. Conversations switch from God speaking to Jeremiah concerning His people to Jeremiah’s response to God’s words from section to section.
Jeremiah’s frank, fervent honesty before God is both scary and refreshing. From these dialogues, we see that Jeremiah was not a stoic, detached, stalwart mouthpiece, but rather a human, by turns, deeply burdened by the people’s disobedience and deeply bothered by the pain, isolation and disapproval he was enduring at their hands.
After the Lord tells him it is of no use to pray for His relenting concerning the impending capture by Babylon, Jeremiah loses it, and understandably so.
“O Lord, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance, take me not away; know that for yours sake, I bear reproach. Your words were found and I ate them and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O God of hosts. I did not sit in the company of revelers, not did I rejoice; I sat alone because your hand was upon me, for you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” Jeremiah 15:15-18.
Essentially, we hear Jeremiah saying the following: “God, I have obeyed you. I have listened to your word, and it has cost me deeply. I feel like you tricked me, like you have deceived me. Where are you? Why this persistent pain?”
What is shocking is not Jeremiah’s very human complaint, but God’s simple and direct answer.
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…for I am with you to save and deliver you, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 15:19 & 20.
Return? But how had Jeremiah turned away from the Lord? After all, here he was speaking honestly before Him, doing the job for which God had set him apart.
While Jeremiah was not openly rebelling or running, the persistent pain in his life had compounded into a wall of insulation between his heart and the Lord. With layer after layer of pain, distrust was sprouting and spreading in invisible ways.
God did not promise a reprieve from the heavy prophecies, nor a Sabbatical from the persistent pain that marked Jeremiah’s life; rather, He refreshened and renewed the same promise He had given Jeremiah from the beginning: His perennial presence.
God called Jeremiah, even in the midst of the same harsh circumstances with the same rebellious people, to approach him with a renewed trust and reliance upon His presence.
Jeremiah, like so many of us, probably came to God demanding and expecting a remitting of persistent pain; however, he left his time with God with the promise of perennial presence.