Now the word of the Lord came to [Jeremiah], saying,
“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.”
Then [Jeremiah] said,
“Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak,
for I am only a youth.”
But the Lord said to [him],
“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.”
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched [Jeremiah’s] mouth.
And the Lord said to [him],
“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
(Jeremiah 1:4-10 ESV, brackets mine)
You need to share your story.
It’s a suggestion I’ve heard since childhood and avoided from Day One. Forget the 10 plagues (see Exodus 7:14-11:10). Had I been Pharaoh, sharing my story would’ve been the only threat it took. I would’ve let God’s people go in a heartbeat.
Over and done. No questions asked.
So why do I avoid this suggestion like a plague? I’ve had a tentative list of plausible, spiritually-motivated reasons tucked away in my mind. But it wasn’t until I saw the cover for this month’s issue of Journey Christian Magazine – the first edition printed since I joined its production team – that the bottom-line of it all finally made its way to the top of that list.
What I’ve been asked so often to share isn’t actually my story. It’s God’s story. Pardon the pun, but I’m just – well – journey-ing along the path that He marked for me within His story.
Think about it. Adam and Eve – though their GPS system went awry – were marked for a journey (see Genesis 1:26-3:24). Jeremiah was marked for a journey, as God outlined in our opening passage this week.Even you and I have been marked for a journey (Colossians 1:16).
Make no mistake, though: our journeys all are a part of God’s story, crafted with precision and planning and purpose by Him and for Him.
For followers of Christ, the fact that it’s all God’s storyseems a common-sense statement. The weight of my place in that story, however, has struck a different chord with me recently. It was just over a month ago that a good friend made that suggestion I avoid like the plague. I sighed before I finished reading her text because I knew what was coming.
I think this is what’s missing from your website; you might add a bit about your background, maybe let people know who’s writing what they read.
Yep, there it was. And then I sighed a second, deeper sigh – well ok, a borderline moan – because I knew God was about to get down to some serious business with me. Maureen doesn’t just spit out advice willy-nilly. She reminds me of my mother in that respect. Both have amazing spiritual gifts of discernment.
So as I wrestled with Maureen’s words and grieved my governor’s choice to veto the “born-alive” bill that would have protected the lives of infants who survive an abortion procedure – we North Carolina residents are better than that, by the way – I felt a spiritual nudge that perhaps my journey along God’s story should be shared now – for such a time as this (Esther 4:14).
Before you look with me at this journey, though, I need to make absolutely sure that you know four foundational pieces of information.
- I need you to know that what you’re about to read has nothing to do with me apart from God. This is His story; whatever He’s done with me in that story is due solely to the mercy, grace, and blood-shed sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.
- By His grace and through His gift of well-chosen parents, I was never a candidate for abortion or euthanasia– pre-birth or otherwise.
- While it’s true that through my own personal beliefs and scriptural convictions I am pro-life, this post is in no way a bashing ground for political views. Are we good so far? Great.
- Finally – and please don’t miss this – this post in no way is meant to insinuate that my journey through or purpose in God’s story is remotely comparable to those of servants like Jeremiah.
Today’s passage of focus simply emerged as a framework of sorts during preparation for this week’s writing. The framework boils down to the three brief facts listed below, with a caveat to each fact. Think of these caveats as good fine print in a contract, giving us a better idea of of how the intrinsic value of mankind – Jeremiah’s, yours, even mine – factors into God’s story.
- Fact: God has a purpose for every individual’s journey in His story.
- Caveat: In order to fulfill the purpose tailored specifically for a person by God Himself, the person must acknowledge the appointment. God had an appointed plan for Jeremiah, as we’ll see shortly. But the thing is that Jeremiah had to be willing to acton his appointment; otherwise his divinely-planned purpose would lie dormant in his life, left for another willing person to fulfill.
- Fact: God remains with every individual as that individual determines to journey through His story.
- Caveat: Jeremiah was appointed over the nations – and while Scripture doesn’t say so outright – I think we can rest assured that Jeremiah faced fear with a good many of those steps he took along his journey as God’s prophet. Hey, I’ve faced plenty of fear myself, and I’m not even a prophet. You too? The key that Jeremiah came to realize – the same key you and I have to realize as well – is that God’s children are always and without a doubt commissioned to their posts by the Lord Himself. The same Lord who holds all authority in heaven, on earth and under the earth. And the same Lord Who has never, for one moment, backed away and said see you Sunday at church when one of His own is in the heat of battle and scared to death. He just doesn’t do that. When we determine to live out His purpose, He’s with us for the long haul.
- Fact: God equips every individual for his or her journey into His story.
- Caveat: Facts don’t lie. God absolutely equips us to carry out His purpose, but Jeremiah was expected – as you and I are – to deliberately develop and maintain a working, obedient relationship with God in order to effectively use those tools. We achieve this relationship and sharpen these tools as we spend time with God in His Word, in prayer, and in service to Him. David’s son, King Solomon, realized that there is a time to uproot and tear down and a time to build and plant (Ecclesiastes 3:1-3). This kind of discernment from the Lord is tantamount to our knowledge of whom, of what, of when and where to tear down and to build up as we act in the Name of Jesus.
So if the three facts above are true – and they are – it stands to reason that you and I as children of God – brothers and sisters of Christ – must consider the caveats necessary elements of serving our own divinely-appointed purposes. Otherwise, I honestly believe we’ll one day stand before God as He introduces the person who actually fulfilled the purpose He originally intended for us.
I’m not sure where you stand on the issue – maybe you enjoy awkward moments – but I don’t want to end up anywhere near that one.
And the truth is, I don’t you to end up anywhere near that awkward situation either.
Which is why I’m writing the most difficult post I’ve ever had to write. It’s almost as difficult as my annual check-ups used to be at the children’s hospital. The final step in the routine involved being dressed in just my little-girl panties while my doctor evaluated my walking, speech and other physical abilities affected by Cerebral Palsy.
In front of the 25-or-so interns shadowing the doctor.
Fun times, I’m telling you.
Seriously, it’s easy enough to write about someone else’s journey. But writing about your own is…well, you’ll see momentarily what I mean.
But back to Jeremiah for a moment. In keeping with our first fact, God indeed had a purpose for the prophet’s life (Jeremiah 1:4-5). Selected him. Knew him before he was formed. And get this: not only did God know Jeremiah; He chose Jeremiah for a trailblazer of a journey. God makes it clear in the text that His choice of Jeremiah for this journey was far from a random one. Verses 4 and 5 say that He shaped Jeremiah within his mother’s womb.
Fashioned him for a specific purpose. Set the prophet aside before birth to urge a nation toward a change of heart, a return to the one true God. Sanctioned him to journey through that purpose. Gave him authoritative permission to act and confirmed that permission through – of all things – a rod in an almond tree (Jeremiah 29:11-14).
And God’s done the very same thing for each of His children before and since. In the words of David, each of us – you – are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Let it sink into your very core that God fashioned you by hand– cell by cell, hair by hair, bone by bone – while you developed in your mother’s womb. You – like Jeremiah – are a one-of-a-kind creation of God, a God Who has special plans and a unique journey for you. Know here and now that you were chosen to do things and say things that will impact God’s Kingdom today and always.
That’s one powerful bit of knowledge right there, isn’t it? The thought God chose me – knowing my strengths and weaknesses, my tendencies to obey and disobey Him, and everything else about me before I was even conceived – then formed it all in nine months’ time -drives me to my knees in humbled awe of Him and His mighty ways.
In order for that statement to make more sense, would you consider with me for a moment details surrounding the start of my journey?
For 10 minutes after my birth, I didn’t breathe. At all. We’re talking code-blue, call-in-the-emergency-pediatrics-team, wake-me-up-from-this-nightmare not breathing. Ten full minutes. Doctors grew increasingly pessimistic about my future in the days that followed when little-to-no progression showed and I, at one point, suffered an hours-long event of convulsions attributed to trauma sustained in delivery. Most of the team openly shared their pessimism with my parents: “Even if it lives, it’ll never progress beyond a vegetative state … What are you going to do with it?”
Two bits of friendly advice before we return to our friend Jeremiah:
- Never underestimate or try to second-guess the amazing grace of God through Jesus Christ. Don’t even go there; and
- Never – ever – stand over the hospital bed of a mom who’s:
- labored for 24 hours at home;
- traveled through substantial snowfall to labor for another 12 hours in hospital;
- pulled off her second natural breech delivery like a boss (C-sections aren’t yet routine procedures);
and then refer to her baby as an it. Don’t go there, either.
Neither scenario ends well in God’s story.
Jeremiah was a man of God, but this man of God – like most men and women of God at one time or another – had his doubts about this journey he was being asked to take. We know he had his doubts because he told God so. For starters, he feared being rejected by his target audience because of his young age (Jeremiah 1:6-8). God responded by infusing the prophet with a healthy dose of self-confidence. With absolute and affirmative speech, God declared that Jeremiah would go to everywhere God sent him, speak everything God told him, and do so without fearing anyone because he would never be without the protection, the deliverance, the very presence of God Himself.
All indications from the remainder of the book are that Jeremiah made responding to God in faith priority over his human fears as he journeyed through God’s story. He did, in fact, go everywhere God sent him, speaking everything God told him to speak.
And God, indeed, journeyed with Jeremiah through His story.
Just as He journeys with you and me.
Have you ever felt the kind of healthy self-confidence Jeremiah must have felt? The kind that comes from knowing God is with you on whatever journey you’re on for His story, I mean? Remember those well-chosen parents I mentioned earlier? God used them to instill a dose of it in me, and I’m so thankful He did.
Because let’s be real here. The main alternative to healthy self-confidence – healthy being the operative word there – is self-pity. And self-pity’s just not my thing.
So after being released from the hospital nursery and taken home at two weeks of age by my parents, I navigated from childhood into the late teen, college and young adult years with a strongly-rooted sense of my spiritual and physical identity. The majority of this self-confidence – for lack of a better word – emanated from the wisdom that God gave my parents in making decisions about my life.
Despite physical problems with balance, motor skills, speech and other issues related to Cerebral Palsy, I was mainstreamed from infancy onto the Sunday school cradle role and into the family pew for regular worship services. Enrolled in public school at age five. And as I grew, there were always just enough friends – two or three at a given time – hand-picked, no doubt, by God to let me feel an extra dose of His Presence.
The concerns that Jeremiah brought before God resonate with me because, looking back, the human skepticism I encountered from some people beyond the walls of my home was the worst tool Satan could find to use against me as I grew. Skepticism is a part of human nature – especially in Western culture. It’s everywhere. We tend to evaluate each other by outward appearances. Here’s a glimpse of how misuse of it backfired on Satan and turned out beautifully for God’s story, though:
Skepticism: It’ll never survive.
God: Yes, she will.
Skepticism: Fine, but she’ll never walk or talk.
God: Yes, she will.
Skepticism: Fine, she’s walking and talking…and talking. She’ll never go to Kindergarten, though. Did I mention she’s talking?
God: Don’t blink. And yes, you did mention that.
And on and on the skepticisms came at us through the years. And over and over God shut them down cold: high-school graduation, college entrance, college graduation, employment. You should’ve seen the look on Skepticism’s face a few years ago when word got out that God was sending me to seminary. Priceless.
The point is, God was and is there to orchestrate everything down to the letter in this journey I’m on. And through each thing God has orchestrated thus far in my life, a paradox took shape: my level of healthy self-confidence and God-given abilities ebb and flow in direct proportion to my level of genuine reliance on Him and obedience to Him.
Finally – and importantly – everyone needs an equipping touch from God, especially those who dig in with determination to journey with Him through His story. And since God knows this, He gives that touch willingly at just the right time, as our prophet learned in Jeremiah 1:9-10.
As Christ-followers, we must come to terms with the fact that, apart from Jesus, we can do nothing that matters, nothing that’s worthwhile for His Kingdom (John 15:5). That’s why we absolutely have to let go and let Him equip us with His unique and fulfilling touch, the one that enables and empowers us to carry out His ministry along our journey in His story.
Jeremiah was equipped with God’s truth for his journey; you and I are called to pursue that same equipping truth for ours through constant relationship with and abounding faith in God through His Son. This equipping, however, varies from person to person as much as our individual journeys vary. For some, the journey is as simple as sharing with family or friends a new insight gained during quiet time. For others, it may involve teaching a Sunday school class, hosting a small group Bible study, or working in an area of Christian outreach.
But regardless of the journey we find ourselves on in God’s story, His Word is truth and a non-negotiable tool of equipping us (John 17:17). Our hearts, souls and minds need to be filled with it. What’s more, God promises that when my mouth is His mouth, and His words my words, they accomplish the purpose of our journey in His story (Isaiah 55:11).
This promise is the one that drives me to share God’s truth as candidly as I can in this weekly blog as well as through involvement in curriculum and teaching with BibleJourney, Inc. And now as an editor/contributor to Journey Christian Magazine.
In God’s story, though, these really are the little things (see the magazine graphic above) – the details of my journey, even the detail of Cerebral Palsy.
The bigger thing about this journey through God’s story – the grandest detail I pray it will be remembered for within His story – is that the sovereignty of God and the providence of God are what define and accomplish it.
Are what define and accomplish His purpose through me.
To Him be all glory.
– Copyright 2019 Carole Anne Hallyburton. All rights reserved.