When You Feel You Stand Alone
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.
Do you ever feel like you stand alone, misunderstood and out of step with your colleagues? When people say, “Come on, everybody does it; why can’t you, as well?” You aren’t sure what to answer. The fact that you won’t pad your expense account, or be unfaithful to your mate, convicts those who know it’s wrong but haven’t the moral courage to do what is right.
If you even faintly understand what’s it is like to feel out of step with your contemporaries, then you must know, in a small way, how Jeremiah felt long ago. Called by God to be a voice crying against the wrongdoing of his day, it seemed that Jeremiah was always paying the price for faithfulness to God in the currency of loneliness and persecution. His wasn’t imaginary–it was real.
When Jehoiakim, the King, took a penknife and systematically cut and burned the scroll containing Jeremiah’s writings, he was public enemy number one (Jeremiah 36). Accused of treason because he prophesied Judah’s defeat at the hands of the Babylonians, he was thrown in a dungeon. Not wanting to be directly responsible for his death, the henchmen of the king took Jeremiah and threw him into a slime pit, certain that he would die of exposure. But he didn’t. An Ethiopian–not even one of his own race or culture–rescued him.
He became famous in a different sort of way. Take a dictionary and look up the word Jeremiad and you will find it defined as a lament or a wail over something–having been taken from Jeremiah’s negative diatribes over the failure of God’s people.
Old Jeremiah was an individualist, a strong-willed person, whose character was as forceful as the men of his day were weak and cowardly. He outlived five kings who generally fell as victims of their own pride and excess. Though he was hated with a passion, people knew that Jeremiah was right. He thundered forth the truth which they didn’t want to hear but came with a ring like a hammer smiting the anvil.
In spite of his cry of doom and gloom, Jeremiah’s message was laced with hope which comes through turning back to God. He faithfully records the words of the Almighty, saying, “There is hope for your future…” (Jeremiah 31:17), and “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind: Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27), and “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart’” (Jeremiah 29:11-13).
Someone once said that advice is what you ask for when you already know the answer but wish you didn’t, and that’s the way many of us are today, when it comes to the knowledge of right and wrong. Individuals who tell us what’s wrong with us aren’t nearly as welcomed as those who pat you on the back and tell you what a great person you are, yet the words of truth coming from the lips of someone who loves you can never, never be ignored.
That’s the way it was with Jeremiah long ago. Tradition has it that five years after Judah was overthrown by Babylon, Jeremiah was stoned by his own people, yet he lives on as a man who dared to stand by his own convictions.
“In the world,” said Jesus, “you will have trouble or tribulation. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33), and so can you, by God’s grace and strength.