Did you know that Prophet Jeremiah had a secretary? And that at one time, a time of distress, the Lord sent a rather odd encouragement to him? Read on to find out..
Reflection based on Jeremiah. 45 : A message to Baruch
1 When Baruch son of Neriah wrote on a scroll the words Jeremiah the prophet dictated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, Jeremiah said this to Baruch: 2 “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to you, Baruch: 3 You said, ‘Woe to me! The Lord has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest.’ 4 But the Lord has told me to say to you, ‘This is what the Lord says: I will overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the earth. 5 Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’”
Baruch was prophet Jeremiah’s faithful secretary. This is a brief passage directed to him for encouragement. You would imagine that being a scribe of the divinely inspired word, spoken through God’s servant the prophet, would be in the very least a fulfilling assignment. But just like it happens to us today, we see Baruch in distress, discouraged and perhaps despairing.’ Woe to me! The Lord has added sorrow to my pain..I am worn out… I find no rest.’ And the Lord sees and attends.
I believe that even the most privileged of us including those who are presently in dream destinations (careers, homes, businesses etc), experience such low moments. We get stressed, even disappointed with God.
I attribute it, partly, to this thing we call ‘ambition / aspiration’. The higher you go the clearer you see where else you could get to; the more you have, the drive for greater possessions heightens; the more you conquer, the greater the confidence, vision and awareness of even more that remains to be conquered. No wonder, human needs are said to be insatiable.
When we find ourselves in such moments, the Lord’s message to Baruch in verse 4 and 5 applies to us too. I would summarize it as follows:
- Jer. 45:4 .……I will overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the earth.
This reminds us that our current fallen human state is temporary. There is life after here and for believers in Christ, we are sojourners (temporary residents). Thus we are not here to stay, and the present earth too will pass away. I often remind myself not to hold anything too tightly – except for the word of God. Mt 24: 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
- Jer 45:5 Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them.
I take notice of two things:
A. Do not seek great things – seek means to go in search for / in quest for; to pursue. We are perpetually in pursuit of goals, targets, dreams, wealth, promotion, education, awards etc. None of these things are bad; in fact we are encouraged to go after these good /great things and we do applaud and term those who obtain them as ‘achievers’.
I have learnt that the most difficult choices to make are where we have only good options to choose from. Most believers who are working out their faith may not struggle with choosing between good and bad. But to know the right choice when presented with many good options is challenging for most of us. This portion of scripture directs our focus away from great things. On the surface, there’s really nothing wrong with such pursuit; in fact if you are not seeking great things you risk appearing complacent, timid, maybe even lazy and fatalistic. Interestingly, David too did not concern himself with great things. Consider his words in Psalm 131 below:
1My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
Yet, we know David as a great man of God; in fact as the greatest king who did exploits, and the father of Solomon – the wisest man who ever lived. So, David did not pursue greatness but he ended up great… huh? How does this work? What strategy did he apply? The answer is found in the scripture below:
Acts 13 22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’
There, you have it – David pursued God’s heart. God’s top selection criteria of King Saul’s successor considered what David was concerned about; the focus was heart first because that’s what determines/ precedes the doing. God follows the statement on heart with, ‘he will do…..everything I want…’. We also have to remember where David was chosen from. Not from a roll of honor, not from a top institution or ‘A’ students, not from King Saul’s army generals, not from a reputable, renown family, not from the finest young men… but from the the sheep pens. You will recall that even his father Jesse had to be prodded to remember that he had another son (David) who was not present when prophet Nathan came for the anointing ceremony. See Psalm 78 below on God’s choice.
He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheep pens;
71 from tending the sheep he brought him
to be the shepherd of his people Jacob,
of Israel his inheritance.
72 And David shepherded them with integrity of heart;
with skillful hands he led them.
This reminds us that if the heart is at the right place, it really doesn’t matter where or who you are. In the final analysis it will not matter what great heights you attained or not, what great acquisitions you got or missed. What will count is, did you serve the purposes of God; did you do what he wanted you to do? When David was chosen to be king, he was found contented, humbly and faithfully serving in his assignment at the time – tending his father’s sheep. He was not pursuing kingship; he would not have qualified by any man’s terms. I am certain that even if his status was not elevated he would be totally fine with it. It’s worth noting that after David became king, his heart attitude did not change. Verse 72 above sums up his leadership characteristics: integrity of heart; skillful hands.
From David’s example, i see that pursuit should really be after God; after his kingdom and his righteousness. There is a place for skills, and other things that contribute to success but these are secondary. If God chooses to work with you or through you to accomplish his purposes, it will be first because your heart is set on him. Then he will avail opportunities to access and to gain all the other things necessary. Hence the encouragement in Mt 6: 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
It’s on this basis that I say to myself and to all under my influence: do not seek great things for yourself; set your heart on God – seek to hear him, to learn from him, to please him, to honor him, to obey him, to be in his will, to glorify him; seek his kingdom and his righteousness. I (we) can gain many other things in the process but my (our) primary pursuit should remain.
B. for yourself. This part of God’s answer to Baruch suggests that the motivation to acquire great things was for his benefit. Nothing out rightly wrong with this as we have a right to benefit from our pursuits. However, what could be wrong is if we have mainly or only considered our interests. We are part of a much bigger kingdom, a much bigger mission, a much bigger purpose than our minds can possibly conceive. Hence, the more reason to trust God even when our present status and occupation appears stagnant, thankless, unrewarding. The kingdom agenda does not revolve around our individual interests and aspirations. We must trust that God has our back, knows our potential, knows where we ought to be and is able to effect his will concerning us at any given time, even against all odds. Not to say that we shouldn’t try to get out of places we feel ‘out of place’ or not right for us; but that we can trustingly, patiently, with thanksgiving, seek God’s will and way out in his time. As David confessed in Ps. 131:2 ‘But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content’, I pray that this would be our attitude. As an infant has no cares when with its mother, so should we when we are in the Lord. The scriptures assure us that even though a mother may forget her child, the Lord will not forget us. Is 49:15
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
Our discontentment, grief and distress may come from comparing ourselves to others around us, or from external pressures by those around us. Baruch’s brother Seraiah would occupy an important position under King Zedekiah but Baruch was not to be ambitious or self-seeking. His brother’s promotion could have added to Baruch’s discouragement. Let’s realize that each one has their race to run, on their lane; while keeping focus on the Master rather than on each other’s progress or lack of it.
- Jer 45:5 ……For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.
After the Lord reveals to Baruch that everything is temporary, and that he should not seek great things for himself, he finally assures him of protection for his life when disaster strikes. This brings to mind the popular scripture in Matthew 6. Verse 25 is a reminder that life and the body are of greater value than other things we often get concerned about.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?
Think about it – many temporary pursuits are all about gaining more pleasure and ‘guarding’ or improving our lives. Without life in the first place, there would be no point in these pursuits. Life is precious and it really is in the hands of God. He can preserve and guard our lives better than we can in our own wisdom and strength. He cares about our lives more than we do. So, let’s trust Him. Let’s tame our ambitions. With the help of the blessed Holy Spirit let’s keep in step with God’s plan for our lives.
I do not wish to get ahead of him; I do not want to lag behind or play catch up with him. May I (we) always be in step with him. AMEN.
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