Whenever there is talk in the church about evangelism, outreach, mission, or simply the need to share our faith, there is invariably a great deal of discomfort—and much opposition. Oh yes, many may agree, in theory, that they are all part of the church’s function. But, the responses in most churches, is usually a variety of excuses or delaying tactics to avoid doing any of those things. “That’s for other churches.” “Let’s set up a committee to look at what we can do.” “Let’s concentrate on other (more important) things.” Or, even, “Let’s pay someone else to do it.” Indeed, the one message that is most common in our churches is, “Don’t involve me.”
In regard to evangelism, outreach, mission, and the need to share our faith, many Christians find all sorts of reasons why they should not get personally involved. And even that others would be far more suited for that kind of ministry. And it’s amazing how many people claim that they would not know what to say; that they do not have the right skills; that they do not have any experience in that sort of thing; or, simply, that they just don’t want to get involved.
And that’s surprising, in many ways. Because one of the major reasons that the church exists, is that it is supposed to be a group of people—with all different gifts and abilities—who have the specific task of telling other people about God.
Now if I’ve hit on a raw nerve today, please don’t feel you are being personally got at. Because you are not alone. And it’s not even a phenomenon that is unique to our own times, as our example from the Old Testament—with Jeremiah—spells out.
1. Background (4)
Now the background to the prophet Jeremiah, was that he was a very young man, probably someone in his teenage years. He came from a family of priests, whose duties would have included: interpreting God’s laws to help the people in their day to day lives; passing on the religious traditions; and presiding over certain sacrifices. In other words fairly comfortable, non-threatening, sort of religious duties.
However, Jeremiah’s life was turned completely upside down, when suddenly God came to him and told him he had other plans for his life.
2. Jeremiah’s Call (5)
And what those plans entailed, involved Jeremiah getting out of his comfort zone and speaking out as a prophet of God. Indeed, God told Jeremiah, that this had been his purpose for Jeremiah since before he was born. Jeremiah had been set apart from all others for this particular task. And his specific assignment was to be a prophet, not just to his own people, but to all the surrounding nations as well.
Now that would have been a formidable task for any young man, and particularly for Jeremiah. After all, firstly, he was young and he was inexperienced. Secondly, his own people were not noted for their faithfulness to God. And thirdly, the larger surrounding nations of Assyria, Babylon and Egypt were constantly threatening his people’s existence. And even the smaller countries, including the Philistines, had a history of violent activity against his people.
3. Jeremiah’s Response (6)
Is it any wonder, then, that Jeremiah’s response was a highly predictable one, and one that many of us can identify with, “Alas, Lord God! I don’t know how to speak. I am only a boy.”
Now that isn’t quite a straight “no!” But it is as close to a “No!” to God as he could possibly get.
4. God’s Reply to Jeremiah (7-9)
But, yet, despite Jeremiah’s young age, despite his inexperience, and despite the horrendous nature of the job, God rejected all of Jeremiah’s excuses. And his reply? “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy.’ You are to go wherever I send you. You are to say whatever I command you.”
There was no choice. Despite any inadequacies he might have felt, Jeremiah was required to go to anyone and everyone that God sent him. And, what is more, he was to deliver any message that God gave him as well.
However, God assured him he would not be on his own. Indeed, God committed himself to be with him at all times—wherever he was sent. He would give him the right words to say, and he would keep an eye on him. The job wouldn’t be easy, but God assured him that he would never leave him alone.
In other words, God wasn’t interested in Jeremiah’s excuses. Indeed, in many ways, it was Jeremiah’s inadequacies that were the very thing that he wanted. And he wanted them, in order to reveal himself to the people and the surrounding nations. For they needed to know that the words that Jeremiah spoke, were really from God himself.
5. Jeremiah’s Specific Task (10)
And that was important, because what was Jeremiah’s specific task? But to be a prophet of doom and gloom. To tell all people (including his own) that there was a price to pay for ignoring and disobeying God. And the price that they had to pay, was to lose everything that they held near and dear, including the land they lived on.
Having said that, there was a positive side too. There was also hope. Because should the people commit themselves to a relationship with God, then God would restore his people to their land again.
Now to me, that was a lot to ask a teenage boy—a boy who was young and inexperienced. And his task of giving a mainly negative message to some very hostile people (including his own), would not have been easy.
However, as history tells, God used that young, inexperienced and unconfident man, to not only get his message across, but to make him into one of the greatest prophets ever known.
And that may say something to us, when we hear God’s call, and when we start to find all the excuses under the sun to why he shouldn’t pick us either.
So, let’s put Jeremiah’s call into our own perspective.
1. Our Call
Because the first thing is that Jeremiah is not the only person who has been called to ministry. Indeed, God calls each and every one of us, who can stand up and honestly proclaim to have a faith in Jesus, to ministry too.
Now God told Jeremiah, that he had known him before his birth; that he had been set apart for a purpose; and that he had been appointed to go to all nations and proclaim God’s message. All very well and good. Except for the fact that the bible also teaches, that as far as any Christian is concerned, that he knew each and everyone one of us before we were born too (Ephesians 1:5). And as the Apostle Paul told the Romans: For those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son … And those whom he predestined, he also called…” (Romans 8:29a, 30a).
God may have picked out Jeremiah for a specific task. But regarding the call to service, none of us can claim that we do not have a role to play.
2. Our Response and God’s Reply
The second thing is, if we are to be a people of faith, then we cannot back out of God’s claim on our lives. Indeed, it should be expected that we would fulfil the roles that we have been given to play.
Now in response to God’s call, Jeremiah came up with at least two excuses: his youth, and his inexperience. And he may well have argued his case with other excuses not recorded in the bible as well. So, when it comes to our turn, then, we might come up with a number of excuses, including our inability, our inadequacy, and our lack of knowledge. But we need to remember that just as Jeremiah’s excuses weren’t acceptable to God, then our excuses will probably not be acceptable either.
What we need to remember, however, is that Jeremiah wasn’t asked to make up something of his own to tell the people. He wasn’t asked to be inventive, or creative, or to persuade people using his own strengths and abilities. What Jeremiah was asked to do, was to simply do the things and to repeat the words that God gave him to say and do.
So, we do not have to wait until we fully understand (and can verbalise) just what it is that we believe. We don’t have to even learn some sort of magical formula off by heart. And we don’t even, necessarily, have to be responsible for creating situations in which mission can take place in the first place.
What Jeremiah was asked to do, was to simply do the things, and repeat the words God gave him to say. Nothing more, nothing less. And he was to leave all the rest to God. Nothing very complicated at all. In fact, nothing could be simpler.
And the same is true for us today too. We’re not, necessarily, called to go off and study the scriptures for years on end before we are able to minister. (Although taking an active interest in learning and the scriptures can do one’s understanding no end of good). Because whether we feel adequate to do the job or not, is not the issue as far as God is concerned. All he requires is the simple act of obedience. We need to be willing to allow God to use us, in whichever role that we have to play. And we need to have the ability to leave it up to God to do the rest.
And just as Jeremiah was reassured that God would always be by his side—no matter what—so God has promised to be by our side as well. The words of Jesus, after his resurrection: “Look, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b).
3. Our Specific Task
And, the third thing is, we have already been given the task of mission. Now our tasks may vary from person to person, but the central focus for all of us should be the same.
Jeremiah’s call was principally one of proclamation of negative and positive messages. All based on the repercussions of faithfulness (or otherwise) of the people and the nations. As a consequence, we shouldn’t be surprised that God calls us to go out into our own nation, and all other nations too. But, if we are Jesus’s disciples, we have also been given the tasks of: making disciples, baptising them, and teaching them everything that we can about God and his church.
Now that doesn’t mean that we all have to be great orators. After all, actions speak louder than words—or so the old saying goes. And it may sound like a huge task for any of us to be involved in. But I must say that I can’t find one reference in the bible that excludes any Christian from that task—no matter what lack of talents, lack of knowledge or lack of abilities that they may claim.
One could easily sum up Jeremiah’s call, and say, “What’s the difference between Jeremiah’s call and his reluctance to go, and our call today, with all the excuses that you often hear?” But the answer is “absolutely nothing,” except for the difference of 2,600 years. The call is the same, the excuses are no different. But the refusal of God to accept those excuses still stands.
The expectation of God, however, is that whatever excuses, reasons or barriers that we put up regarding specific events geared to evangelism or mission, or, the more normal every day witnessing of our Christian faith, is that regardless of any reluctance, there is a requirement by God that we, like Jeremiah, should go and do it anyway.
So, when there’s talk in the church about evangelism, outreach, mission, or simply the need to share one’s faith, yes, we may come up with a number of reasons why it’s not for us. But the reality is, that excuses don’t really count. Because God doesn’t take “No” for an answer. Indeed, it’s our weaknesses he wants. And he uses them to demonstrate his strength.
The answer to God’s call, then, is for each of us to get beyond the list of reasons why we are not suitable; to get beyond the, “Please don’t send me.” And rather, acknowledge the importance of God in our lives, and to show a willingness to play our part.
Posted: 13th August 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis