Running With Horses
Like me sometimes, the prophet Jeremiah wasn’t sure that he was up to doing what God asked him to do. Granted, God’s plan for Jeremiah was much more demanding than what He’s called me to, but still, it’s all relative.
Now, God had some tough messages he wanted Jeremiah to give to the people around him who were fellow followers of God. These people prayed to God, they pleaded with God, they worshiped Him, but they also figured there were other ways to have their needs met, too. In fact, the more ways the better. You might say they were fluent in many languages – they knew “God-speak” really well and could pray and plead but they reached out to other idols to meet their needs, too, like materialism and going along with who and what their spouses were worshiping. Does any of this sound like it could be happening today among Christians?
Jeremiah’s job was to tell these people who followed God, including – especially – pastors (priests back then) – that God knew just how much sin was really going on in their lives. He had to tell them that if they didn’t stop sinning, they were going to lose everything good in their lives including their families, their homes, and their country.
In return for telling the people clearly judgmental and condemning truths, he didn’t have to face rebuttal or deletion on Facebook or other media, no, the angry God-followers made his life absolutely miserable, as in placing him in chains, beating him badly, and putting him in prison.
As time went on and the consequences he was promising the sinning God-followers didn’t yet happen, his fellow God-followers grew angrier and angrier with his constant condemnation of their life choices and predictions of doom. They were so angry that the head pastor (priest) asked the king for permission to have him thrown him into a muddy cistern and left there to starve to death. That would shut him up and rid the country of his discouraging, hurtful harangues.
Fortunately for those of us who have lamented now and then about what we’ve gone through as Christians, Jeremiah was quite verbal about what it felt like to have God call him to this painful life. “He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is, so I say, ‘My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped for from the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:16-18) Still, he also goes on to say, “Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.’ (Lamentations 3:21-24) It was hard, it was from God, it felt like rejection and yet he could say that God’s mercies are still new every morning – and great is His faithfulness. Yes, the call is hard, and yes, God is faithful.
He goes further and talks with God about it, very respectfully,
“You are always righteous, Lord,
when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the faithless live at ease?
You have planted them, and they have taken root;
they grow and bear fruit.
You are always on their lips
but far from their hearts.
Yet you know me, Lord;
you see me and test my thoughts about you.
Drag them off like sheep to be butchered!
Set them apart for the day of slaughter!
How long will the land lie parched
and the grass in every field be withered?
Because those who live in it are wicked,
the animals and birds have perished.
Moreover, the people are saying,
“He will not see what happens to us.”
God’s reply to him gets me – it hits me hard because it’s so wise, so intentional, so full of love. Like a coach talking lovingly but firmly, urging on his winning athlete, preparing him for the tough stretch yet to come, reminding him to trust Him and Him alone, God replies:
“If you have raced with men on foot
and they have worn you out,
how can you compete with horses?
If you stumble in safe country,
how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?
Your relatives, members of your own family—
even they have betrayed you;
they have raised a loud cry against you.
Do not trust them,
though they speak well of you.”
God goes on with more prophecy about the consequences that did eventually come. It’s all important, but let’s just focus on the first two verses that stop me in my tracks. “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?”
This puts a whole new spin on my trials. I try to look at them as opportunities to grow and serve God. I’ve had lots of them, as have many of you, so I’ve been running pretty hard to stay in the race. Have you ever run and you weren’t breathing properly, so you got that painful stitch in your side where you have to slow way down and breathe carefully and pray that pain goes away quickly? That’s a good picture of what I’m feeling at the moment. I’m a little bewildered at the amount of running I’ve been doing and I can’t shake the thought that my endurance really has increased, and God has amazingly supplied the strength, but that stitch is coming on and I need to stop and get my breathing right and maybe I could take a rest…
But what if I’m just in training? What if He’s warning me, and you, that we need to be ready because as in Jeremiah’s case, the worst is yet to come. Am I ready for this? Are you? Are we ready to run with the horses: betrayal of our loved ones, starvation, physical decay, our own worst fears, discouragement, injustices and certain death? (I’ll stop with these, because in reality, we don’t know what our biggest challenges will be; God has a way of allowing painful circumstances into our lives that we can’t imagine beforehand.)
It’s sobering. But God was in it, He had a plan for Jeremiah and He has a plan for you and me. And this is the key to the encouragement in this story – something God said to him at the very beginning of the original telling of this story in Jeremiah 1:11. The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
Can you imagine? God comes up to a man (through the Holy Spirit?) and says, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” How intimate to ask him, to include his name. How purposeful. How loving. The Teacher, the Father, He had chosen Jeremiah before he was born, waited for the day when He would approach him and engage him, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” And the relationship commenced. The purpose for Jeremiah’s life was put before him. The race against men began, with God, God, at his side urging him on, training him for increasingly difficult challenges also known as greater opportunities to proclaim God and speak of His justice and righteousness and His passionate love for His people. To bring God glory – this was the purpose of this man’s life and he was not alone in the race, he had God at his side, urging him on when the race grew even tougher, preparing him for the days when he would be racing against mighty horses, hooves pounding the ground by his feet, manes flying in the wind as they sent fear into his blood through forceful intimidation, closing in on him, surrounding him, threatening to trample him at every moment. And Jeremiah, weak with depression and past wounds, would be running with them.
You see, Jeremiah didn’t die in that cistern, though it looked like his fate was sealed. God was working behind the scenes to rescue him, He had it all in control. Jeremiah was pulled out. He went on to witness the destruction of those wicked people and to bear messages of hope and truth to those in captivity and the remnant left behind and to us – messages that still ring out and point us to God and His Son, Jesus Christ, today, including this promise of God’s eternal provision for His chosen people, “I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.” Catch that, “with all my heart and soul.” (See Jeremiah 32:41) That’s why He wants us to love him with all our heart and soul – because He loves us that much – with all His heart and soul!
I don’t know what your challenges are today, but I do know mine, and I know that God is calling you and me to live without sin, to walk away from the sins in our lives. He wants us to love Him and Him alone, with everything we’ve got in us. He urges us not to be discouraged as men (people) come against us and hurt us, they’re only men and like grass will wither away. Instead, may we keep steady in our training, listening to God urging us on, building our endurance and faith, ready to compete with horses – and win the crown waiting for us, a glorious crown that we know is a gift we do not deserve on our own. We will cast it at the feet of our loving Teacher and Father, as we bow before Him and honor Him! Run well, my fellow runners, run well!
by Jill Cristao, Director of Connections and Communications