Finding My Calling in the Book of Jeremiah

One of the coolest things about SBS is when God brings up an issue in my life and then confronts it with the truth that we study from the book(s) of the week.

Since I got here last September, I’ve been racking my brain with where I’d want to serve God after I graduated. I thought it would be nice to start a career again, maybe in an entirely different industry, or maybe get a job overseas, but then I thought about staffing a YWAM school or returning to Tahiti with the YWAM missionary team that is already there.

But then this past Monday, I felt as though God was showing me that I wasn’t trusting Him with this part of my life. I just recalled my life last year after I got home from Tahiti where I had a seven-month window until this bible school started here in LA. I only ended up working two of those seven months, which ended up being a really nice season of rest and immense spiritual growth, but deep down I didn’t want to be unemployed again or at least involved in full-time volunteer work of some kind. Basically, I wasn’t trusting that God would guide me or that He had awesome plans for me. So I decided to trust God and lay that part of my heart before Him.

As soon as I did that, an hour later the leader of my school confronted me about it because I had briefly written about this struggle in one of my assignments. She encouraged me that even though it may not seem like it, I am serving God right now. At first, I couldn’t see how I could be serving God by studying the Bible in this “Christian bubble.” In my head, my idea of service to God looked different.

And then we started studying the book of Jeremiah. I didn’t realize how amazing this book was!

Seeing the call of Jeremiah and how God gave him everything he needed to fulfill his destiny made me trust that God really does care about each one of our lives and is truly guiding us day by day. I’ve been able to get past this fear that I would ever get stagnant in life, even in the “slower” seasons of life.
 
God created Jeremiah for the very purpose of ministering to the people of Judah and the nations were going to be judged:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.
Jeremiah 1:4,5
Jeremiah - pic 4
George, my classmate, reenacting the ministry of Jeremiah with soiled underwear.

Even though Jeremiah felt inadequate, God promised to give him everything he needed to complete the task. God’s only requirement was that Jeremiah not back down in the fear of man. God would give him all the words to speak and the protection he needed to get through the persecution he would endure:

But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.

Jeremiah 1:7,8

Jeremiah’s calling wasn’t the easiest. Can you imagine a calling where you would see absolutely no fruit or reward for your work? I only studied this book once, so I may have missed it, but I don’t recall seeing one person respond to Jeremiah’s call to repentance.

Jeremiah often wondered where God was since the people he was ministering to were showing no signs of change:

My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
my heart is sick.
Hark, the cry of my poor people
from far and wide in the land:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
Is her King not in her?”
(“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
with their foreign idols?”)
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
and we are not saved.”
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

Jeremiah 8:18-21

But God felt the pain of His people’s rejection too, not because he needed

Reenacting the prophet Jeremiah from the time in Judah before their exile
Reenacting the prophet Jeremiah from the time in Judah before their exile

His people to feel complete, but because He just had to watch His people make bad choices and suffer the consequences when He had a much better way for them. Jeremiah’s service to God was to bear God’s heart for his people, which was mainly just grief:

My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out on the ground because of the destruction of my people, because infants and babes faint in the streets of the city.

Lamentations 2:11

Jeremiah (who also most likely wrote Lamentations) did not always think that his ministry was a blessing because of the grief he felt for his people, but God assured him that it was the best calling for his life:

The Lord said: Surely I have intervened in your life for good, surely I have imposed enemies on you in a time of trouble and in a time of distress…

Jeremiah 15:11

God even reassured Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch. Baruch wondered why his calling wasn’t as “great” as he imagined it to be. But God was showing Baruch that he truly was blessed! If he had chosen not to serve Jeremiah and God, he would have just perished away with all the other people:

And you, do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for I am going to bring disaster upon all flesh, says the Lord; but I will give you your life as a prize of war in every place to which you may go.

Jeremiah 45:5

I saw myself in Baruch, seeking great things in my life but totally missing out on the fact that wherever I am is the greatest place for me to be. This “calling” that I had been looking forward to is actually today. And since I’m submitted to God, I can trust that He’s guiding me, and I can live and serve in the moment. In sum, this book has helped me start trusting God with my life and have a renewed attitude into what true service looks like.

Another thing God confronted me about during this book was the issue of self-importance. No matter where I’m at, God is using me, and I can serve Him and His people to the best of my abilities without thinking it’s “up to

Poor Jason got thrown in the "cistern" like Jeremiah did.
Poor Jason got thrown in the “cistern.”

me” to get people to change. I can just live to love God and love others, and trust the “fruit” into God’s hands just like Jeremiah had to. What a relief that is! We actually don’t have to take ourselves so seriously because God alone is sovereign and in control. We can serve with excellence in complete joy in the freedom that Christ gives!

Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah

Studying Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah in conjunction with all the others has really helped me become comfortable and in fact happy about God’s anger, not fearful. I’m learning so much about God’s judgment, wrath, anger and justice, all topics I was pretty uncomfortable speaking about before simply because I had never studied the bible. I knew that God was just and did have righteous anger, but apart from that knowledge I had no other context to support any kind of conviction about God’s love in His wrath.

I can only share what I learned from the perspective of the Old Covenant since we haven’t studied the New Testament yet, but I do know that some of this is relevant to mankind today. 

Our teacher for Nahum conveyed the idea that God’s anger was discriminate. It was only for certain people. It was always controlled and for a purpose. His purpose was to either judge sin so that justice would be established (and thus the innocent would be protected), or to get people to repent (after waiting a long time in mercy and graciousness), or both. His anger wasn’t like human anger that rises out of pride or impatience. God is not temperamental. He was (and is) slow to anger.

In the Book of Nahum, God was promising that justice would be brought to Assyria for the sins they had committed. He waited many many years for the nation of Assyria to turn away from their sins. Jonah the prophet went to their capital, Nineveh, about a century before this book was written, to call them to repentance. Even though they seemed to have repented initially, it obviously didn’t stick because God was angry and would put up with it no longer. 

The Lord is slow to anger but great in power,
    and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.

Nahum 1:3

Image
This was taken just after studying Genesis. Now we’re already more than a third done which I’m sad about because I don’t want this school to end!

I like this Scripture because it communicates God’s mercy and justice in a single sentence. God had given Assyria time to turn from their ways (mercy), but at some point was forced to judge their sin in order to establish justice in the land. He could not clear the guilty, and they were guilty for as long as they remained unrepentant toward God. 

After studying Nahum I began to like God’s anger because without it this world would be in total chaos. His anger is meant to protect. And back then, there would be no reason for the Israelites to have put their trust in God. They had to trust God to protect them against those who practiced lawlessness. 

That is what the message of Habakkuk is. Habakkuk was upset that God wasn’t punishing the wickedness of the people of Judah. The ones who remained faithful to God were suffering for their disobedience, and it didn’t seem that God was doing anything about it. 

So the law becomes slack
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
    therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

Habakkuk 1:4

And God’s response is:

Look at the nations, and see!
    Be astonished! Be astounded!
For a work is being done in your days
    that you would not believe if you were told.

For I am rousing the Chaldeans,
    that fierce and impetuous nation…

Habakkuk 1:5,6

God promised Habakkuk that justice would come through Babylon (the Chaldeans).

But Habakkuk didn’t like this answer because Babylon was a godless nation, and God was going to use them to judge the sins of Judah. This is how God responds:

Alas for you who build a town by bloodshed,
    and found a city on iniquity!”
 Is it not from the Lord of hosts
    that peoples labor only to feed the flames,
    and nations weary themselves for nothing?
 But the earth will be filled
    with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
    as the waters cover the sea.

Habakkuk 2:12-14

God promised Habakkuk that He would judge Babylon, too, in their appointed time. And in the end, all nations will truly know God and submit to Him.

This message is relevant for us today. Though there seems to be so much injustice in the world and in everyday situations, God is a God of justice and won’t let evil prevail in the end. Believers don’t have to be afraid of injustice, but instead we can trust God to have it under control even if we can’t see from His perspective. He loves justice even more than we do. 

For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
    it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
    it will surely come, it will not delay.
 Look at the proud!
    Their spirit is not right in them,
    but the righteous live by their faith.

Habakkuk 2:3,4

Zephaniah was a pretty cool book, too. I liked seeing the contrast between the haughty and the humble. 

God was telling the people of Judah that He would spare the humble, or rather, those who trusted in Him for all their needs. The haughty, on the other hand, exalted themselves and thought they could do everything apart from God. The haughty would not be spared and therefore wouldn’t be able to heap any shame upon others to make themselves feel better (and thus exalt themselves). God was promising those who sought a refuge in Him protection from shame, just like He does today! 

On that day you shall not be put to shame
    because of all the deeds by which you have rebelled against me;
for then I will remove from your midst
    your proudly exultant ones,
and you shall no longer be haughty
    in my holy mountain.
 For I will leave in the midst of you
    a people humble and lowly.
They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord—
     the remnant of Israel;

Zephaniah 3:11-13

Not only did God promise to remove their shame that came from their judgment, but He also promised to pile on His love and make their praise known throughout the earth.

The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
    he has turned away your enemies…

he will rejoice over you with gladness,
    he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
     as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
    so that you will not bear reproach for it.
 I will deal with all your oppressors
    at that time.
And I will save the lame
    and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
    and renown in all the earth.
 At that time I will bring you home,
    at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
    among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
    before your eyes, says the Lord.

Zephaniah 3:15,18-20

His judgment and anger against them was always for them. Their exile was the only way to bring about their restoration because they had refused to listen to the prophets and other warning signals.  But He was going to turn it all around for their good because of His faithfulness to the covenant and because He was/is always determined to love and redeem mankind. 

Next week is Jeremiah and I’m PUMPED!

Isaiah: Awakened to Awe

This week our class studied the book of Isaiah and it blew me out of the water.

Isaiah_Drawing
My friend drew this after studying Isaiah. Isaiah is such a colorful book filled with so many details that are hard to fit together, but they do somehow, and it’s truly a beautiful book.

After getting the basic idea of the book and getting a historical background on what was going on in the world at the time, we had to observe the text of the first 39 chapters and then make interpretations.

Doing this over and over for 39 chapters was daunting, especially since we had to do it in such a short period of time. But I don’t think I would have been impacted the way I was had I taken my time over several months studying because literally your mind gets so absorbed and saturated in the Word, and the results are amazing.

So obviously God was going to judge His people living in the southern kingdom of Judah and bring low everything that mankind had taken pride in. He was also going to do this to the other nations, though He promised His people that a remnant would be spared since they were still His chosen people.

Zion shall be redeemed by justice,
and those in her who repent, by righteousness.
But rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together,
and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.

Isaiah 1:27,28

But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

Isaiah 41:8-10

The thing that struck me in a new way was God’s absolute sovereignty and worth. I don’t always show that I truly believe His worth since my mind can be occupied with all sorts of different things, usually about myself. But I know that this is exactly what God desires for all of the world. His judgment against His people and against the nations was always and only for that purpose, it wasn’t to punish for punishment’s sake. The people had rejected Him, that’s why their exile happened, but God was going to turn it for their good.

For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt. Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you

Isaiah 25:2,3

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

Isaiah 2:2-3

Pure worship has been and always is God’s will for all of us!

The night that I finished my assignment, I turned on my iPod to listen to worship songs and spend time with Him. Unexpectedly, I felt a fire in my heart I had never felt before and I couldn’t get enough of worshiping Him! I mean I’ve always loved worship but for the first time it was 100%-centered on Him upon having this fresh revelation of His sovereignty in my spirit. I have never felt that way before. It felt so amazing! I didn’t want to leave His presence!

And what happened next was incredible, too.  I realized that for the first time I could honestly say that I wanted to serve Him no matter where He asked me to. I was, for the first time, willing to lay down my own dreams and serve Him out of love. It has become my passion to serve Him, an honest desire! I remember thinking at some point in 2012 that this was not my true heart’s desire, to serve God no matter what, and I felt sorry for that even though I knew God still loved me the same. I was sad because I wanted a servant’s heart and was fearful I’d never have one. So this is an exciting breakthrough for me.

This encounter with God made me realize  why God wants us to worship Him and make Him our center –  it doesn’t compare to anything else! And, being freed of the belief that you are the center of the universe is quite amazing. I can actually trust God with all of my needs like for love, encouragement, wisdom, and finances, and just fixate my eyes on Him. It makes me more free to love the way I always wanted to but never could without God’s help! It’s something that’s hard to express in words, but I’ve begun to finally relate to God as my lover who shows me His love for me every day in a new way, and my desire is to show Him my love for Him, too.

I’m not all the way there yet, but I believe studying Isaiah set me free in a new and unexpected way. I understand more deeply that God is sovereign, I’m not the center of the universe, and pure, spiritual worship is truly the best prize in the world.

Admittedly, studying Isaiah in such a short and concentrated period of time proved to be very very challenging because of the seemingly repetitiveness of the book’s theme, and I had to be okay with not understanding every single detail, but the reward was SO worth it. The book was beautiful and so satisfying to my soul despite the challenges.

I’m such a believer in bible study after this school, and I’m so thankful, because I don’t think I would have ever made time for bible study in my life if I hadn’t experienced the rewards I’m experiencing now. There’s nothing like the taste of freedom and peace that comes from knowing the truth!