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1 Kings 19:9-18
9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 11He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
This is the third week in our Younique series. We are trying to equip you to discover and live your divine design. Last week we tried to uncover the true you by having unflinching honesty with ourselves. So in week one we tried to discover our destination – where we’re going in this phase of life. In week two we tried to admit our starting point – where we are today…really. For week three, we’re trying to learn and grow even when things go…poorly.
And this leads me to a big misconception. Many people believe that smooth success is indicative of God’s presence. That is hogwash, baloney, and false all wrapped into one. In our first text, we heard from the greatest prophet of the Old Testament, Elijah. He had just won a HUGE victory, and yet his life was threatened and he ran away despondently. It wasn’t all smooth success.
We’ll hear in our text today that Jeremiah’s faithfulness to his calling from God did not win him admiration and support and riches and fame. It earned him infamy. It earned him derision. In our text today, his faithfulness is rewarded by getting beaten and thrown into stocks for people to mock. That’s not all smooth success.
Paul was imprisoned for his faith. John was trapped on Patmos when he wrote Revelation. That’s not all smooth success.
You really can’t measure your faithfulness by how smooth or successful your path is. There are way too many Biblical examples of faithful people experiencing bumpy and downtrodden paths. So if you’re experiencing smooth success right now, be careful about assuming that means God is on your side. And if you’re experiencing a bumpy and downtrodden path right now, know that it doesn’t mean God is against you. Maybe Jeremiah’s experience in our text today will shed some light.
For a little context, Jeremiah was prophesying up a storm! He had delivered countless powerful messages from God. But the most recent one had really raised the ire of the leaders. Let me give you the choicest little tidbit from Jeremiah’s most recent message from God: “I will make this city a horror, a thing to be hissed at; everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its disasters. And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and all shall eat the flesh of their neighbors in the siege.”
So, I gotta admit. I kinda understand the extreme negative reaction this message inspired within people. Telling people things are going to be so bad they’ll eat their sons and daughters and neighbors, that’s not even extreme. That leaves extreme in the dust on the far horizon. That’s gross and downright offensive, right?!? But it was God’s message to the people. And Jeremiah’s purpose was to speak the words God gave him. And so he did it. Listen to his reward for his faithfulness.
Jeremiah 20:1-14, 18
20Now the priest Pashhur son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. 2Then Pashhur struck the prophet Jeremiah, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord. 3The next morning when Pashhur released Jeremiah from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, The Lord has named you not Pashhur but “Terror-all-around.”
4For thus says the Lord: I am making you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; and they shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on. And I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon; he shall carry them captive to Babylon, and shall kill them with the sword. 5I will give all the wealth of this city, all its gains, all its prized belongings, and all the treasures of the kings of Judah into the hand of their enemies, who shall plunder them, and seize them, and carry them to Babylon. 6And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house, shall go into captivity, and to Babylon you shall go; there you shall die, and there you shall be buried, you and all your friends, to whom you have prophesied falsely.
7O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. 8For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. 9If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. 10For I hear many whispering: “Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. “Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him.” 11But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. 12O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. 13Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers. 14Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed!
18Why did I come forth from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?
Alexander was a school-age boy, and his day started off a little rough. He forgot to spit out his bubble gum before going to sleep, and now it was tangled in his hair. At breakfast, his brothers found prizes in their cereal boxes, but poor Alexander just had cereal with no prize at all. At school, his teacher didn’t appreciate his drawing and disqualified him from the drawing contest. Alexander said it was an invisible castle! The teacher said it was a blank piece of paper. At lunchtime, all of his friends had yummy desserts in their lunches. But Alexander’s mom forgot to pack a dessert in his. In light of his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, Alexander figured the only way to fix things would be to move to Australia where everything is obviously better.
Those are some of the highlights of the classic children’s book, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” In our text today, Jeremiah could identify with Alexander, because he was having his own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Jeremiah was arrested. He was beaten. He was placed in stocks where everyone passing by could mock him. He was ostracized from his community. He spoke the truth but no one believed him. He followed his calling from the Almighty God, but this was his reward. Jeremiah was truly experiencing a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
In fact, Jeremiah wanted to just give up. In our first text today, Elijah also wanted to give up. Both of them cursed the day they were born. Jeremiah said in our text today, “Why did I come forth from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?” That’s about as direct and succinct as you can get. Maybe some of you can relate to that sentiment.
Nowhere Else to Go
Obviously, since we’re reading this prayer, Jeremiah didn’t give up. Why? Well he tells us in our text today. He says he tried to stop telling people God’s messages. He says he tried to stop caring about the injustice around him. He says he tried to stop caring about the religious hypocrisy around him. He says he tried to just fit in. But he couldn’t do it. He says when he tried to stop being who God made him to be, “then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”
In other words, he had nowhere else to go. No one else to turn to. Where else could he find such certainty of purpose? What else could fill the hole within his soul? Who else could address the issues around him and within him other than God? He had nowhere else to go. He had no one else to turn to. He was weary from the consequences of following God, but he knew that God was the only one who could restore him.
There’s a song on Christian radio right now that says this to God: “You turn mourning to dancing. You give beauty for ashes. You turn shame into glory. You’re the only one who can. You turn graves into gardens. You turns bones into armies. You turn seas into highways. You’re the only one who can.”
When we’re having our own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, nothing else and no one else can actually meet us where we are and keep us afloat other than God. One more TV show won’t do it. One more video game won’t do it. One more website won’t do it. One more bowl of ice cream won’t do it. One more glass of wine won’t do it. Our Creator is the only one who can refill our empty souls. Maybe you’re trying to fill the hole in your soul with something else. Is it working? Or are you just as empty today as you were yesterday?
Our God is the only one who can turn mourning to dancing. Our God is the only one who can take our ashes and create beauty. Our God is the only one who can turn graves into gardens. He’s the only one who can. Jeremiah knows this. He’s not happy about it. But he knows it.
In fact, at the bottom of this dark well, Jeremiah rediscovered his calling. The handful of things he had left when he was this low reminded him of his purpose and calling. Those things he couldn’t stop doing – they were his true calling. He couldn’t stop sharing the truth that God gave him. He couldn’t stop caring about his society. He couldn’t stop caring about the faith or lack thereof of the people around him. He couldn’t stop speaking with God in prayer. Your true calling is something you can’t stop doing even if you try – and Jeremiah tried to stop. He just couldn’t stop. Jeremiah’s crisis of faith revealed timeless truths about himself.
And in fact, that’s our first tool for discovering and living the life that God dreamed for us in this phase of life. What are the things you can’t stop doing? If they are God-honoring instead of just pet peeves, they’re probably part of your calling.
For me, I can’t stop learning new things. I feel dead when I’m not learning a new idea, a new perspective, or a new skill. Learning is part of my divine design. Some people find their calling in having the courage to take risks for God. Others can’t stop being a blessing to those who are less fortunate. Others can’t stop providing encouragement to those around them. Some people can’t stop praying for people or praying for this world. Those things you can’t stop? If they are God-honoring instead of pet peeves they’re probably part of your divine design.
Michelangelo said, “The sculpture is already complete within the marble rock, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” What’s left in your sculpture when everything superfluous has been chiseled away? What’s endemic to your being? What can you not stop doing? What must you do even if you don’t feel like it today? Or maybe what’s something you miss? Who were you earlier in your life, and why do you miss that aspect of who you were? Thinking about those things we must do, or can’t stop doing, or miss when we do stop them – that’s our first tool this week.
Next Right Thing
In the movie Frozen 2, Anna had just lost her sister and her best friend. She was alone, tired, hopeless. She was also having one of those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. But this was part of her song in that moment.
“I’ve seen dark before, but not like this. This is cold, this is empty, this is numb. The life I knew is over; the lights are out. Hello darkness: I’m ready to succumb…How to rise from the floor, When it’s not you I’m rising for. Just do the next right thing. Take a step, step again. It is all that I can to do. The next right thing. I won’t look too far ahead. It’s too much for me to take. But break it down to this next breath, this next step. This next choice is one that I can make.” I don’t have the vocal talent to attempt to sing that for you. Be grateful that I know my limitations.
But I think there’s great wisdom in that song. Just do the next right thing. Don’t look too far ahead. Don’t get caught up in step two, three, four, and fifty. Just do the next right thing.
That’s eventually what Jeremiah decided to do. Once he realized that he couldn’t stop sharing God’s messages, that he couldn’t stop caring about certain things, he just decided to share the next message God gave him. And that’s what he did to get back in the game after his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. He just did the next right thing. He had to know what was at his core. He had to know how to define “the next right thing” by understanding his divine design. But the clarity he received in his darkness gave him just enough light to confidently take that single next step. That’s all.
An archer focuses their eyes on the very center of bull’s eye, because when you aim small you miss small. They don’t focus on the target – that’s too big. They don’t even focus on the bull’s eye – that’s still too big. They focus on a particular spot within the bull’s eye. One spot. Focus on just one spot. Focus on the next right thing. Aim at that small target, because if you aim small, you’ll miss small.
Our second tool this week is thinking about that one next right thing. If you have gained any clarity around your divine design during this series, what’s the next right thing God dreams for you during this phase of life? Just one thing!
As the great American cowboy philosopher Curly said in the movie City Slickers, “One thing, just one thing. You stick to that, and everything else don’t mean squat.” When he was asked, “But what’s the one thing?” Curly replied, “That’s what you’ve gotta figure out.”
Maybe for you that’s something in your faith – a spiritual practice to renew or add. Maybe for you that’s a God-honoring conviction to follow – finishing well or demonstrating kindness or speaking the truth in love. Maybe for you that’s an activity to commit to – learning and applying something God-honoring or investing in a particular relationship. What’s that one thing for you? What’s the next right thing? That’s our second tool this week.
Sisters and brothers, sometimes it is when we have nowhere else to go and no one else to turn to that we gain greater clarity around our divine design. Jeremiah discovered he couldn’t stop sharing God’s messages, and he couldn’t stop caring about justice and faithfulness in his society. And he couldn’t stop communicating with God.
What are some of your core convictions like that? What can’t you stop doing or caring about, even if you tried? Is that God-honoring, or just a pet peeve? And with that greater clarity around your divine design and your God-honoring convictions, what’s the next right thing? Just one thing! What’s the next right thing? I’d love to hear what your next right thing is so I can be praying for you. If everyone hearing this did one right thing, a lot of right things will have happened this week. I hope you’re one of them. Amen.