“Oh, that my head where a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.” – Jeremiah 9.1
I wonder if you remember the old Hee Haw satire that featured a bunch of heart-sick men agonizing over their daily life situations. They would carry on, “Gloom, despair and agony on me. Deep, dark depression and excessive misery. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all! Gloom, despair, and agony on me.” I daresay that this was indeed the situation that Jeremiah has found himself – a deep pit of despair.
What broke Jeremiah’s heart?
Answer: The negative, apathetic response of his people.
Jeremiah has spent about 50 years speaking change into the very fabric of people’s lives in his community. Jeremiah was soft-hearted, and he grieved over the condition of his community even when the people did not grieve. He longed for his people to become disciples of God in the fullest sense of the word. The condition of his community made him weep even when the community could not weep. He was a gentle soul (8.18) who was fearlessly faithful (16.1-9) in a community that never received God’s message. He was courageous (1.18-19) in the face of continual rejection by the people.
When was the last time that you cried over your own sinfulness? Another’s sins? The nations sins? Jeremiah 8.11 instructs, “They treat the wound of my people as if it were nothing: ‘All is well, all is well,’ they insist, when in fact nothing is well.”
But is there no exception as to the wickedness of man’s heart? Yes, in those that are born of God. “He that is born of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.” God has “purified his heart by faith,” so that his wickedness is departed from him. “Old things are passed away, and all things” in him “are become new.” So that his heart is no longer desperately wicked, but “renewed in righteousness and true holiness.” Only let it be remembered, that the heart, even of a believer, is not wholly purified when he is justified. Sin is then overcome, but it is not rooted out; it is conquered, but not destroyed. Experience shows him, First, that the roots of sin, self-will, pride, and idolatry, remain still in his heart. But as long as he continues to watch and pray, none of them can prevail against him. Experience teaches him, Secondly, that sin (generally pride or self-will) cleaves to his best actions: So that, even with regard to these, he finds an absolute necessity for the blood of atonement. – John Wesley, The Deceitfulness of the Human Heart, Sermon 123
Jeremiah wept buckets of tears. He was leading on empty. To be sure the folks in Jeremiah’s day were living their lives to the fullest. They were make choices for themselves that they thought were right-on the money. Even when Jeremiah points out that God desires s deeper relationship with his people, they refuse to “stop, drop, and roll.” The first step when someone is on fire is to stop. If you are dying inside, the same concept applies: just stop! The second step is to drop to the ground. When we repent, our response needs to be humility. The Old Testament is full of people laying face down prostrate on the ground before God. The third step is what I call roll. You’ve got to take some kind of action that properly puts out the problem that’s depleting your soul.
There are warning signs that you’ve gone too many miles without maintenance of your soul. Fatigue, irritability, apathy, melancholy, overwhelmed, ambivalence, uncertainty, sleeplessness, aloneness, isolation, depletion, disinterest, aches/pains, and eating disorder liter the daily pathway of someone who is emotionally struggling. If you are having these symptoms, then you might be in the early stages of burnout.
If you find yourself in burnout, it’s important to “stop, drop, and roll.” Find activities that put out the problems that deplete and replenish your body, soul, and spirit. Laughter can be the best medicine. Bill Cosby once said, “Through humor, you can soften some of the worse blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.” When you find yourself depleted, it’s important to return to the basics: What has God called you to become? What will hold you accountable for at the end of your life? To be sure Jeremiah held to these two key principles to keep him strong over 50 years of unfruitful ministry.
Would you consider Jeremiah successful? On the surface Jeremiah appears to be a solo heroic act. Our culture is full of solo heroic acts that want to make space for themselves to become all they can become. The difference between Jeremiah and a heroic leader is the motive behind the actions. What’s the end purpose of Jeremiah’s actions – to glorify God or to satisfy self? I’m not sure how much personal peace Jeremiah actually lived in with all his crying, but I am certain he had peace with his God.
The Jeremiah model of success is different from the cultural model of success, and lines up with Jesus’ words, “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul’” (Mt. 16.24-26)?
What broke Jeremiah’s neighbor’s heart?
Answer: Jeremiah’s nagging.
In Jeremiah we witness five kinds responses to Jeremiah’s message. Denial. Some folks responded to the message with denial that anything was wrong in their lives. Entitlement. Some responded with an attitude of entitlement putting Jeremiah under the feet so to speak. Blame. Some folks responded to the message by blaming Jeremiah for their problems. Criticism. Some folks become critical of the message by picking it apart and disqualifying its meaning. Confusion. Some folks responded to the message with a sense of confusion, Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?
What broke God’s heart in Jeremiah’s story?
Answer: They were not listening to God, and they were not building an authentic relationship with God. They disregarded Jeremiah’s warnings.
God loves his people so much that he is willing to bring punish when they cannot choose to do the right thing. In Jeremiah’s story God is about to introduce “change” in the culture in the way of punishment. The question is not will God bring change to the culture; it’s how will God bring change to the culture. God’s vision is one that calls people into a holy relationship even if it means that people have to become displaced and suffer emotional grief from having been displaced.
Our Kentucky Annual Conference mission statement continues to stress the importance of evangelism. We are called to go and make new disciples for Jesus Christ. One way we reach new disciples is to see the children in our communities. John Wesley required evangelism from all of his clergy people, especially evangelism of children. Christopher Miles Ritter offers insightful strategies for reaching the heart of children in his book Seven Things John Wesley Expected Us to Do for Kids. Specifically, he notes that clergy are still asked, “Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?” (Ritter, 9). John Wesley was so passionate about reaching children that he once stated, “If you (referring to clergy) do not do this, you are not called to be a Methodist Preacher (Ritter, 13).” Wesley goes on to instruct his pastors, “Where there are ten children in a society, we (clergy) must meet them at least an hour every week, talk with them whenever we see them at home, pray in earnest for them, diligently instruct and vehemently exhort all parents in their own houses…” (Ritter, 15). John Wesley instructs his preachers to, “Take care of the rising generation” (Ritter, 79). These instructions handed down to us clearly invite us to know children personally, pray for them intentionally, mentor families meaningfully, develop the gift of reaching children continually, care for them practically, and shape ministries appropriately to reach the children of our community.
Ritter’s book concludes with these questions I will ask you: What child in your sphere of influence is ready on tiptoes to be instructed about God? What child is hearing God’s voice? What child can you encourage? What child has God placed on your heart in prayer? What child may be difficult to reach? What child needs an advocate? What child does not have their basic needs met?