TODAY’S READING: Jeremiah 1–3
Missionary work is unpopular. Jeremiah was from a small town near Jerusalem and he did not get along well with the established leaders in big city Jerusalem. Jeremiah constantly preached an unpopular message and paid for it through persecution, banishment, and death. What clouds the book of Jeremiah is its chronological confusion; the chapters of Jeremiah as laid out do not reflect an orderly timeline. What clarifies Jeremiah is its missionary message: “I formed you…I knew you…I sanctified you, I ordained you a prophet to the nations…you shall go to all whom I send you, all the nations” (1:5, 7; 3:17) shall be gathered to the throne of the Lord.
Jeremiah begins with the reminder that missionary obedience requires us to overcome three primal fears.
Don’t Fear Unpopularity. Jeremiah’s unpopular message was that Jerusalem had “sinned so long and grievously that God was about to destroy the temple, the city, and the land.” Jeremiah’s prophecy began in 627 BC, right in the middle of King Josiah’s reforms. Josiah began to seek the Lord back in 632 BC, so ironically Jeremiah started wailing just when the revival was gaining ground—curious timing for a message of woe. If we will be God’s prophets to the nations, then we must reconcile ourselves to unpopularity and to truth speaking that seems out of step with our times. The sober reality is that God sees past external reform, revivalism, and show into hearts, motives, and trajectories. Spiritually, there is no safety in numbers, and full churches do not automatically equate to fullness of the Spirit.
Don’t Fear Youth. In Hebraic thought, youth was not someone underage but someone without experience. Truth be told, there is hardly anyone with experience in leading unreached peoples to Jesus. Our inexperience in penetrating hostile lands, learning difficult languages, wooing resistant cultures, and thriving in inhospitable climates does not disqualify us from missions service. Truth be told, if the Scripture is true, then the “I know” spirit is counterproductive to world missions. In missions God uses those who do not know, who have not, who cannot—for we are all inexperienced “youth.” Too often in ministry in the West, we use God. We know things, have confidence, and present our knowledge to others. We ask God to bless. It’s nice when He shows up, but not critical for whether or not He anoints our ministry; it can happen in our wisdom and strength. That’s what we should fear—not our youth, but our “ability” to do ministry without God, our tendency to use Him rather than be used by Him.
Don’t Fear Their Faces. God sends His missionaries to peoples who frown on the outside, no matter how they cry within. Missionaries remember that God is with us to deliver, and if we are dismayed before them, God will strike fear in us. Missionaries must have room in their hearts for only one fear. The fear of the Lord refuses any lesser fears a place in our hearts. Fear of the missionary call or the missionary task is a direct insult to God.