People often give me weird looks when I talk about being “called” by God. A pastor can be “called” to devote their working time to shepherding a church. A parent can be “called” to invest in the faith growth of their family. Anyone can be “called” to do their job in a way that honors how God made them (and treat their coworkers in a God-honoring manner as well). Jeremiah’s “call” story, which we have in our text today, is fascinating when compared with other “call” stories in the Bible.
For example, Isaiah’s call from Isaiah 6 features an overpowering vision of heaven, Isaiah’s lips being cleansed with burning coals, and his inspiring declaration, “Here I am. Send me.” Powerful stuff!
By contrast, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. That’s it. No burning coals. No booming voice. No vision of heaven. Just the word of the Lord. In fact, Jeremiah doesn’t even give us the real timeline of his word from the Lord. Perhaps it was a particular day where he audibly heard God’s voice and had a dialogue. That would be pretty special.
But based on the phrasing, it’s more likely that Jeremiah realized his calling over time. In that case, I think these few verses at the beginning of Jeremiah are a master class in discerning our own sense of calling from the Lord.
First off, notice that Jeremiah’s call was baked into him before he was born (v5). We are not all appointed as prophets to the nations, but we are all designed by God in particular ways and for particular times. Dr. Owen Weston said, “It is important for each Christian to discover, develop, and use his/her gift(s) to help fulfill the mission of building the Church. A spiritual gift is the ability that the Holy Spirit gives to Spirit-filled Christians so that they can do signs and wonders (Acts 1:8), and proclaim the words and insight (1 Peter 4:10-12) supernaturally obtainable from God. Spiritual gifts are not so divine that there is no human effort, and not so human that there is no divine intervention” [SG].
We are all designed by God with particular gifts, particular ways the Spirit will work through us, and particular talents. Perhaps Jeremiah realized it all at once with an audible voice. Maybe Jeremiah wrestled with God over time. But somehow, he realized that his abilities, his faith, and his sense of purpose intersected with the needs of his community.
Ray Comfort pointed out, “We, too, have been formed (created by God), known (known of God), sanctified (by the blood of the Savior) and ordained (given the Great Commission (see Mark 16:15; see also Galatians 1:15)” [EB].
We haven’t all received a heavenly vision like Isaiah. But the word of the Lord can come to us all like it did for Jeremiah. Irving Jensen wrote, “Jeremiah saw no dazzling vision, no throne or seraphim. Quietly the Lord spoke to his heart, setting before him his difficult task, and promising to be with him through every experience” [JEN].
So perhaps we should all reflect on our own sense of call and purpose from God. What do we know with assurance? What do we wish we knew about our purpose from God? How have we heard from the Lord? How have we tried to hear from the Lord?
It is also fascinating to note God’s response to Jeremiah’s hesitence. “Jeremiah shrank from the work because of his youth and inexperience (v6), [but] he was not excused from that service (v7)” [JEN]. The Britannica Dictionary defines bravery as “the quality that allows someone to do things that are dangerous or frightening.” In other words, bravery is the willingness to continue even though you’re afraid, not the absence of fear!
Have you ever done a trust fall at a ropes course or team building event? You are blindfolded while standing up. And your team stands behind you with their arms out, ready to catch you. The trust fall requires you to fall backwards to their (hopefully) waiting arms. You can’t see them. You just have to hope that they’ll really catch you. That is what God asked Jeremiah to do in this text. Even though he would be afraid, even though it would be difficult, God gave the promise, “I am with you to deliver you,declares the Lord” (v8).
The Lord wants us to put our “call” into action, even when we feel afraid or inadequate. Trust that he won’t let us fall all the way to the ground, but will catch us.
I once asked a missionary (jokingly) how many souls she had saved this year. And she replied, “Zero. I don’t save people. That’s not my job. I am a witness, but the Holy Spirit does the converting.” That missionary realized a key observation from this text from Jeremiah: God is the source of power to change people and the world, and we are the conduits [ESV]. If we feel inadequate to the task, that’s because we are. But God told Jeremiah that his youth and lack of training in speech weren’t problems, because all he had to do was speak what God told him to say. God is the source of power, and we are the extension cables getting it from the source to where it needs to be.
Finally, notice the very specific order of Jeremiah’s tasks in v10: “to pluck up and to break down,to destroy and to overthrow,to build and to plant.” This recipe from God’s historical cookbook contains four parts destruction, and two parts building. The exact proportion of ingredients might change from one era to the next, but God is in the business of tearing down the things that harm and building up the things that draw us closer to him.
I have been in church services where everything was good. Every person was good. Every thing was good. It’s all good! Let’s leave church today feeling even better!
And I have also been in churches where everything was bad. Heaven was going to be pretty sparsely-populated, because everyone was bad. Let’s leave church today feeling even worse!
Both of those themes are part of Jeremiah’s call from God. Every Spring, my yard needs weeding and overseeding. It needs some things to be torn out and other things to be planted. There are things in our lives and in our world that need to be weeded out, and other things that need to be cultivated and planted and grown.
Let’s try to connect all of these concepts. Jeremiah’s call is pretty ordinary – no grand visions. That shows us that we are all designed by God with particular spiritual gifts, particular abilities, particular passions, particular purposes for different phases of our lives. And when we understand that “call” for this phase of life, God wants us to do it. That “call” might include some things to weed out and some things to cultivate, just like Jeremiah.
- The word of the Lord comes to all of us if we put in the time and energy to hear
- God wants to see us put our “call” into action, even when we’re afraid or feel inadequate
- There are things in our lives and in our world that need to be broken down and planted
- [JEN] Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament
- [EB] The Evidence Bible, Commentary by Ray Comfort
- [SG] “Spiritual Gifts: Your Job Description from God” by Owen C. Weston
- [ESV] ESV Global Study Bible Notes
Cody Sandahl has been the Pastor/Head of Staff at the First Presbyterian Church of Littleton, Colorado since 2015. Prior to that he was the Executive Pastor and Associate Pastor for Discipleship at the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He is passionate about equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12).
Cody came to pastoral ministry after a lifetime of programming computers and building robots, and he is the founder of the nonprofit Code4Kids. You can still find him down in his basement tinkering with computers, making things on his 3D printers, and shooting laser beams into things.
Cody is married to Becca, and they have two playful boys and one spunky dog who collaborate to ensure life is never boring.
“It is important for each Christian to discover, develop, and use his/her gift(s) to help fulfill the mission of building the Church. A spiritual gift is the ability that the Holy Spirit gives to Spirit-filled Christians so that they can do signs and wonders (Acts 1:8), and proclaim the words and insight (1 Peter 4:10-12) supernaturally obtainable from God. Spiritual gifts are not so divine that there is no human effort, and not so human that there is no divine intervention.”
“Spiritual Gifts: Your Job Description from God” by Owen C. Weston
Key Sermon Illustration
It was Good Friday, so the sanctuary was dark. I sat with some friends in a pew far enough from the back to not look like I arrived late, but not close enough to the front that I could be noticed. And then a man came in from the street, limped up the center aisle, and collapsed in tears on the steps in front of the altar. I heard an almost-audible “Go!” I knew with every fiber of my being that the Lord was calling me to go to him and pray with him.
But I was too embarrassed. I felt inadequate. I didn’t know what I would say. “Go!” I heard it again. And though my body leaned out of the aisle, my fear glued me to that middle-of-the-road pew. Eventually, someone else heard the call from God and went to the man. I was too afraid, too inadequate to follow what God wanted me to do in that moment. I have never regretted following God’s direction – even when it seemed weird or difficult. But I have always regretted not following God’s “Go!”
From Cody Sandahl