Our life is not found in our sufficiency, but in what we do with our deficiencies. Such is the opening thought in this week’s edition of my friend Kent Hansen’s inspirational newsletter, “A Word of Grace for your Monday.” Following is the rest of what he shares.
What do when we’ve done all the right things and it doesn’t work out? Consider with me the testimony of the ancient scribe Baruch found in chapters 36 and 45 of the Book of Jeremiah.
The prophet Jeremiah gave a message to Baruch son of Neriah in the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, after Baruch had written down everything Jeremiah had dictated to him. He said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to you Baruch: You have said, ‘I am overwhelmed with trouble! Haven’t I had enough pain already? And now the Lord has added more! I am worn out from sighing and can find no rest.’
“Baruch, this is what the Lord says: ‘I will destroy this nation that I built. I will uproot what I planted. Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don’t do it! I will bring great disaster upon all these people; but I will give you your life as a reward wherever you go. I, the Lord, have spoken!'” (Jer 45:1-5, NLT).
My service was a chariot wreck waiting to happen. I suppose that I always knew this, but I’d hoped otherwise.
I’m a scholar, learned in the law, literature and language. I felt God’s call on my life and skills when I first went to work for the young prophet with his flaming rhetoric and sense of the dramatic.
Those were the heady days of the boy king, Josiah. The scroll of the Deuteronomy was found when the Temple was cleaned up. The reading of Moses’ testament brought revival to Judah and I was putting the words of one of its fresh, new leaders into print.
Devotion was in vogue. The refurbished Temple was full on Sabbaths and feast days. All the best people were there.
But the goblet was always half-empty for Jeremiah. Where most of us saw piety, he saw lip-service. When reform was proclaimed, he heard hypocrisy. He ripped the mask off of the pervasive idolatry and wept over the faithlessness of the people.
Jeremiah showed up the aristocracy as monsters secretly sacrificing their children to the pagan god Molech. He called the prophets “liars” for preaching peace and prosperity when the poor were being oppressed and justice was for sale. He exposed the human trafficking and slavery that weakened the nation and prophesied its fall to Babylon because of these practices.
Needless to say, Jeremiah was vilified as a traitor and threatened with imprisonment and death. I, the very essence of the “establishment,” found myself an accomplice to a radical. The other scribes told me that I was insane for writing out the words of a mad man. I knew in my head and my heart that he was a faithful servant of the Lord and I stood by him.
Jeremiah was placed under house arrest as a threat to the public order. He called for me and asked me to write down a recap of all the messages that the Lord had given him from Josiah’s day up to the present time . He said the Lord had told him, “Get a scroll, and write down all my messages against Israel, Judah, and the other nations . . . Perhaps the people of Judah will repent when they hear all the terrible things I have planned for them. Then I will be able to forgive their sins and wrongdoings” (Jer 36:1-3).
Then Jeremiah told me to go to the Temple and read the messages aloud on the next day of fasting when all the people came to worship. He couldn’t go himself due to his arrest, but he had enormous confidence that God’s word spoken plainly would turn the hearts of the people.
Surely, it would be so. I had never met anyone with a passion for God like Jeremiah. This was going to be one of those epic moments like Elijah’s victory on Mount Carmel or Jehoshaphat’s singing victory over the invading armies. It was time for the glory of God to prevail and restore his people.
The people packed the services that day. I stood in the upper courtyard and read the scroll. It caused a stir and the administrative officials asked me to come to the palace and read it to them. I was getting in deeper, but what was I to do.
“How did you get these messages?” they asked me. I told them the truth. “Jeremiah dictated them and I wrote them down, word for word, on this scroll.”
They told me that King Jehoiakim had to hear these messages. “You and Jeremiah need to hide and tell no one else where you are.” I left the scroll with the officials and went to find Jeremiah. Any dreams I’d had of a mighty victory for the Lord were shattered like cheap clay pots. I wondered would I even survive?
It had only been my reputation on the line up to then. Jeremiah was the one in danger. Now, I was likely to die with him. Like I said, I am a scholar and no rabble-rouser. I certainly never expected to be a fugitive from the wrath of the king, separated from my family and my beloved books.
We heard that Jehoiakim sent for the scroll as soon as he heard about it. He was sitting in front of a fire keeping warm against the winter’s chill. As the scroll was read to him, the king took out his pocket knife and cut off that section of the scroll and threw it in the fire. He didn’t care what the Lord had in mind for him and his people. His attendants didn’t care either. No one in leadership stood for the Lord.
The messages that had been kindled in the fire of the Holy Spirit, hot with the possibilities of repentance and forgiveness, curled in the flames and vanished in smoke. That was it.
The king sent officers to take both Jeremiah and me into custody. Jerusalem is not that big a place and there are eyes everywhere. All I can say, is the Lord hid us from them because they looked everywhere, but they couldn’t find us.
Enough was enough, I thought, but the Lord had other plans. He told Jeremiah to write it all down again and for good measure add that Jehoiakim would be killed and his body thrown into the courtyard where it would lie unburied through the heat of the day and frost of the night.
Jeremiah dictated the whole thing to me, and I wrote it down, knowing that each word would mean my death and the enslavement of my family. Darkness was closing in.
I believed that committing my knowledge and skill to the service of the Lord and honoring his laws in all that I did would earn his protection and his peace. The word of the Lord faithfully recorded and distributed by me would lead the nation back to the greatness of his glory.
Yes, there would be problems and difficulty, but obedience to the Lord’s will would save me from painful consequences. Evil has proved to be relentless and I could not turn it away, though I did everything that I knew to be right in the sight of God.
More than what I had done, I could not do. More than what I had written down, I did not know.
So I prayed my devastation. “Why me, Lord? “I am overwhelmed with trouble. Haven’t I had enough pain already? And now you Lord have added more. I am worn out from grief and disappointment. Can’t you hear my sighs. This is your work and I am your servant. This is not fair!”
Jeremiah saw my distress and heard me pray. He said nothing then, but he must have interceded for me with the Lord.
Jeremiah was one of those men who seemed to love God a lot more than he loved people. I really never thought that he gave any consideration to me beyond what I could do for him. To tell the truth, that’s how I thought God considered me. That’s why I was devastated when my careful work failed to fulfill my expectations.
Imagine my surprise, when Jeremiah brought me a personal message from the Lord when we began our next session of dictation. “Baruch, this is what the Lord says: ‘I will destroy this nation that I built. I will uproot what I planted. Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don’t do it! I will bring great disaster upon all these people; but I will give you your life as a reward wherever you go. I, the Lord, have spoken!'”
I received the words with my trained ear and wrote them down with my practiced hand, but I dropped the quill when I’d finished. My ears rang as if Jeremiah had slapped me. My heart raced and my breath nearly stopped. The Lord speaks through my penmanship, How can it be that he speaks directly to me?
The Lord is willing to destroy everything that he has built and tear out what he has planted? That’s everything that I know and believe to be good. Who am I without it? Have I really attached myself to the wrong things?
Yahweh values my life above everything that I believe represents him to me? How am I to comprehend this? I am a scholar of the law of God and the traditions of my nation, but it’s my life that he preserves? I thought I knew, but now I realize that I am known and it brings me to my knees.
His mercy convicts me of my sin. I had turned my eyes from him to my own hurt in self-pity and frustration. My sacrifices were sacrifices for me, not for him. He asked me to look to him again to regain the joy that I had lost.
Jeremiah told me to leave the words on the scroll as a testimony to what really matters to God. I am to abandon everything to God, but God will not abandon me. My soul is staggered, humbled, and so very grateful.
The Lord knows me and cares for me. My life is his gift anywhere and everywhere that I go. This changes everything. My fear is gone. This is the hope that I will remember and cling to in the terrible days ahead.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are they who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,
(Note from Martin Weber: If you wish to receive Attorney Kent Hansen’s weekly meditation, just send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the word “subscribe.”)