If you have raced with foot-runners and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you fall down, how will you fare in the thickets of the Jordan?
During these difficult days of pandemic and upheaval my wife and I have been drawn to British movies and television. We delight in the likes of “Foyle’s War,” “Home Fires,” “Creatures Great and Small” (1978), and “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.” Our attraction to the British genre is about more than manor houses, costuming, and accents. We like that so many of the stories are about the daily grit and determination of people amidst a world at war. We are inspired by the heroism of people living with threat of invasion, blitz bombings, food shortages, and children evacuated to the country.
Watching these programs stirs me with admiration, reminding me that history is filled with stories of perseverance and courage in the face of failed harvests, dry wells, small pox, and invasion. It dares me to believe that you and I are ready for whatever God has for us.
So I am drawn to today’s scripture taken from a difficult time in the life of a young Jeremiah, ready to turn in his prophet’s badge. He is beginning ministry at a time Israel’s rebellion against the Lord is growing and his sermons fall on deaf ears. Hometown people are threatening the young man’s life (Jeremiah 11:21), and Jeremiah’s own family turns on him (Jeremiah 12:6).
At this point Jeremiah has had more than enough of being a prophet. He complains to God about how difficult life has become for him, and “lays charges” against the Lord (Jeremiah 12:1). Jeremiah’s name has even entered our vocabulary as a “jeremiad”, a long and mournful complaint, or list of woes.
But God answers Jeremiah’s complaint with a question in the form of two proverbs. “Jeremiah, if you have raced with men and become weary, what are you going to do when you have to compete with horses!” And, “If you fall down in a safe field, what are you going to do when you have to run in the thickets!” In other words, Jeremiah: “If you can’t take a little bit of trouble in your little hometown, what will you do when I send you to Jerusalem!”
Wonderfully, Jeremiah answers the Lord’s question not verbally, but autobiographically. In the face of trouble Jeremiah sends his roots deep and grows into one of Israel’s greatest prophets. In Jeremiah’s trouble, he will learn what it means to pray: “Call to me and I will answer you” (Jeremiah 33:3). And he will also learn more and more of the boundless power of God: “See, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)
Towards the end of Jeremiah’s demanding life, in a book he titles, “Lamentations”, he testifies to the Lord’s never-ending faithfulness: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Jeremiah ran with the horses and found the Lord always faithful.
I like how Eugene Peterson puts the Lord’s question to a young and ready-to-quit Jeremiah:
Life is difficult, Jeremiah. Are you going to quit at the first wave of opposition? Are you going to retreat when you find that there is more to life than finding three meals a day and a dry place to sleep at night? Are you going to run home the minute you find that the mass of men and women are more interested in keeping their feet warm than in living at risk to the glory of God? Are you going to live cautiously or courageously?…What is it you really want, Jeremiah? Do you want to shuffle along with this crowd, or run with the horses?(Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses)
Let’s run with the horses! Our country needs us. Our churches and communities need us!
A fellow traveler,