“Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?” (Jeremiah 20:18)
These are not exactly the words we expect to read from someone living for the glory of God. Sure, being on mission for Jesus can be hard and difficult, but it is not that difficult. Perhaps Jeremiah is just overreacting in this verse. Surely, he doesn’t really feel like this? Yet, what about these words:
“Woe is me, my mother, that you bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me.” (15:10)
And going on in that chapter, Jeremiah speaks to the Lord:
“Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurrable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” (15:18)
Verses like these are why Jeremiah is often called ‘The Weeping Prophet.’ His mission to pronounce judgement over God’s people was neither easy nor painless. His message was repeatedly rejected, his enemies were repeatedly persecuting him, and his tears were repeatedly falling. Who wouldn’t want that job right?
Although there are instances of prophets doing far less suffering than Jeremiah, it seems that his experience was more the norm than the exception. Jesus teaches: “Blessed are you when others revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). According to Jesus, persecution was normal for the prophets and we are blessed when we join with them.
Now on paper, that doesn’t sound too bad. ‘I want to be like the faithful prophets who have gone before us! I want to be persecuted like them.’ Trouble is, we have a tendency to romanticize the actual experience of suffering. We remember a prophet like Jeremiah fondly (and rightly so), but we don’t always taste his salty tears. We want the blessing that Jesus speaks about in the Sermon on the Mount, but we are not ready for the painful blows (physical or otherwise). We want to sing songs in our suffering (like Paul and Silas in that Philippian jail), but we forget the minor chords. Jeremiah is called ‘The Weeping Prophet’ not because it is a cool nickname or just a badge of honor. He is called it because he wept. He shed real tears of real pain. And even though he stayed true and the Lord blessed him, that does not mean that the tears were easy. They never are. The emotional toll that such persecution will have on a person can leave them reeling. It can leave them full of doubts and questions. It can leave them wondering why they were ever born. There is no promise that those suffeirng for the Lord will avoid such despair. The great promise is that they will never face it alone.
Through every moment of heartache, the Lord was with Jeremiah. Not to keep him from the tears, but to remind him that one day He will wipe them all away. In the moment, all suffering is hard. But the Lord is with us. Not to make it easy but to remind us that it is worth it. He comforted Jeremiah with these words:
“And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you.” (15:20)
The moments will still be hard. The pain will still be crushing. And the tears will still flow. But the presence of the Lord will be our rock and our fortress, His promise of future blessing our strength. No matter how much we weep in the night, joy will still come in the morning.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/28995632@N00/3782402717″>Isaiah</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>