Flaming Fire Within Our Bones
Jeremiah was certainly one of the most distinguished notables of the Old Testament. To read his messages and experiences is to become acquainted with a great servant of God. I believe he revealed more of his inner feelings and personal reactions toward God and man, than did any other prophet or prophetess in Old Testament times. He was a young man of approximately 21 years of age when he accepted his divine calling to minister to the nations.
But Jeremiah lived in very bad times, times not too unlike our own. On the political front there was a great power struggle going on between the super structures. Assyria had occupied the leadership for some three centuries but now, she was weakening. Babylon was ascending in power and Egypt too, was striving for the position of world master.
Socially and religiously, conditions were rapidly declining. God's chosen nation had forsaken Him. They ignored the instructions as given to them by Moses and had turned instead to idolatry and harlotry. They abused the temple and yet, they mistakenly assumed that God's presence was still with them. But at some moment in that strange transformative time of history, Jeremiah (and others) had heard God's call and responded.
For Jeremiah, this meant that he had to leave the comfortable life he had made for himself. He had to relinquish all that had been safe and secure and respectable to become a spokesman and representative of God.
Well, Jeremiah performed his job. He had worked a long time and suffered much to discourage him. He had been beaten, imprisoned, ridiculed, mocked, publicly humiliated, betrayed by close friends, plotted against and made the target of revenge. Surely we can understand his eventual collapse under the pressure.
Jeremiah sunk into a state of despair when the world into which he was sent persecuted him. He permitted his zeal in the service of the Lord to be eclipsed by the magnitude of his troubles. He was strife worn, struggle weary, and tired out from trying to fix a sinning, degenerating society. His vision was out of focus; his view wasn't clear for him anymore. And so he slips into a state of depression and like Job, cursed the day he was born.
That is what discouragement does to us. It obscures faith and prostitutes strength. It brings despair and depression so that it is difficult even to relate to God.
But in passing, I have noticed something peculiar under the sun. I have noticed that most of us are inclined to live in terms of our feelings. We have ego problems. I suggest this because it seems as long as things progress the way we wish them to, we have a zest for living and doing. As long as life runs smoothly and our work is appreciated, then we are satisfied and pacified and gratified. As long as life is a bowl of roses, even God gets to stand in our good graces. But when circumstances are adverse we are ready to quickly point a righteous finger of blame at God or wave the white banner of surrender. When the black clouds of troubles hover over our home and all is well turns to all is hell, too many of us are ready to throw the towel in before the battle has even begun.
Jeremiah was indeed human like the rest of us. And even though he shared our tendency to allow our darkened world to discourage us and distort our perspective he was yet keenly sensitive to the fact that God had called him to a service. He said, "God's word was in my heart as a burning fire, shut up in my bones and I cannot hold my peace."
I can understand Jeremiah because I am Jeremiah. I understand what happens to you when the Word gets in you; you forget yourself. You find the patience to run this race. You cannot sit back and feel sorry for your pitiful self. You must "work the works of Him that sent you while it is day, the night cometh when no man can work," You cannot hold your peace because God's word cannot be contained. When God's word gets in you, you have got to tell somebody what He has done for you. You must speak it, write it, sing it, hand-sign it, preach it through musical instruments. It is like a flaming fire within our bones that eternally burns and will not let us rest.
It was God's burning word that drew those long ago people out of their secure places. And God's compelling word is calling us today out of our easy places to heal the sin-sick work.
When I would give up and run and hide someplace, the fire within burns: You are the light of the world, a city set on a hill cannot be hid. When I would keep silent and retreat into my secure world, the fire within burns: You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its savor how can it be restored? When I would throw the towel in and go off to myself somewhere, the fire within burns: rescue the perishing, care for the dying, lift up the fallen, encourage the young.
When I would resign from my calling, I feel a fire burning within me. It is the same fire that made Abraham and Sarah leave their family and friends and home to go forth without maps or guides. It is the same fire that made Ruth break with her corporate history to dwell among a foreign people. It is the same fire that made Mother Theresa leave all and go into foreign missionary work. It is the same fire that made Mary Bethune devote her life to wiping out illiteracy among Blacks. It is the same fire that motivated Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. to preach peace in the midst of violent and hostile environments. It is the same fire?..
Be encouraged today my friends. Lay aside every weight that so easily beset us and let us join together and run on. Let us run this race with perseverance, determination, with God's word burning in our bones. Let us run until like King, we can say, "I have been to the mountain top and I have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." Let us run on until like Paul we can say, "I have fought a good fight, I stayed on the battlefield, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."
Be encouraged today to keep running. Let us run together until we cannot run anymore yet, with God's burning word burning in our hearts.
Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D.D., is an ordained clergywoman, veteran social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach which can be reviewed on her site. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: My Grief Management Workbook, is expected to be available in July.
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Blessings to all!