I've recently begun to dig into the book of Jeremiah and realized once again how God really does have things in control. For example, in my last post we discovered that God had a plan for Jeremiah's life before Jeremiah had even been conceived. Does this mean He also has our lives planned out in advance? If so, how much free will do we really have?
It is clear when you read the complete first chapter of Jeremiah that we have quite a bit of free will. True, Jeremiah was born into a family of priests, so his future was somewhat marked out for him. He also would have been trained on how to approach God as well as the laws of the Torah and the respect that comes with that. So, his upbringing likely prepared him for the role God had in store for him. But was he ever in the position to say no?
Then I said, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.”
Clearly, Jeremiah felt comfortable voicing his concerns to God that he had the wrong man for the job. However, God convinced him that everything would be fine, because He would be with him (Jeremiah 1:7-8; 1:18:19). So we can see from Scripture that it is okay to relate our fears to God about what He wants us to do. But can we say no?
"Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you. Do not be dismayed before them, or I will dismay you before them."
The word "dismayed" in Hebrew is chathath and means to be shattered, dismayed, broken, abolished or to be afraid. God basically tells Jeremiah that if you are too afraid to do my will, I will keep you in that state. In other words, Jeremiah's actions would either be a victory for God or a harsh lesson for Jeremiah to learn to trust in God more. One leads to victory, the other would lead to a spirit of fear. God doesn't force us to do things we don't want to. He does however give us the power to do them and prepares our path to do them well. It comes down to your faith. How willing are you to trust God? It also means you must be absolutely sure God has called you to do His work. Not everyone receives visions and dreams like Jeremiah. So how can we know for sure what God's will is in any given situation?
For Christians we have the assurance of Ephesians 1:3-6. In particular, we have received the Holy Spirit as a pledge from God as to our inheritance in Him.
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:13-14).
This promise of the Holy Spirit is crucial for Christians when trying to understand what it is God has called us to do in relation to our service to Him. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that we were created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. In my own life, I always equated "good works" (caring for the sick, feeding the poor, helping your neighbour, etc. ) with helping others, but I have come to realize it is more than that. Because of my illness I cannot get out and "help" anyone. In fact, it is quite the reverse. I need help on a daily basis. However, my "service" to God my "good works" if you will, is sharing with you from His Word. Oh, yes I can give money to help a needy cause, but my mission, my calling from God is to discern His Word and share it. He prepared this in advance for me to do, by giving me a spirit that hungered after His Word. Yes, I questioned God on my ability to teach, but He confirmed His choice for me through people, circumstances and His Word.
For example, a good friend of mine (without telling me) paid for a course for me to take on teaching Scripture. Why? God told her do it. She put her faith into action at a conference we were both attending and paid for me to attend a training course. The result was that at the end of the conference I was feeling convicted to take a training course on teaching Scripture. The same course she had already signed me up for. When you step out in faith amazing things can happen!
You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.
It all comes down to how much you trust God. Scripture tells us that we did not choose God, but He chose us! Isn't that amazing? He does have a plan for your life and He will reveal it to you in time. Right now, you may not know what God wants you to do with your life, but know this - where you are right now will prepare you for what He wants you to do. And you have a choice. To say no to the God of heaven and forever be unsatisfied and unfulfilled with your life, (because you aren't fulfilling your God-ordained purpose) or live a life in accordance with God's will and reap the benefits.
So yes, we do have free-will and we can say no, but why would you want to?
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations."
Have you ever wondered if God has a plan or purpose for your life? Lately, I have been asking myself that same question. You see, for years I thought His plan was made perfectly clear to me when, at the age of 17, He revealed that I would sing for Him. I was in church on New Year's Eve. During prayer I heard the Lord say to me, "This year you will begin to serve me with your voice." I thought, "Cool! I love to sing and I would be willing to do that." But my immediate thought after that was, "How?" Well, God had it all figured out beforehand and I never had to worry about the "how". The day after New Year's Day I received a phone call from a Christian organization asking me to come sing for a weekend at their camp. I said I would but that I had never done anything like that before. They said, "Then come practice on us." They would provide meals, a room to sleep and a way to get there. Well you didn't have to tell me twice that God was up to something. Especially, when to this day, I still don't know how these people heard of me or got my number! I suspect one of my friends wanted to jump-start my ministry and recommended me but no one owned up to it, which has always made me feel God's hand was at work. So I accepted, despite my inexperience at performing. You see up until then I had been vocally trained and knew how to play a guitar. I had even written twenty or more songs. But I had never performed them in front of anybody. I was nervous, but God had a plan.
For thirty years I stepped out and sang for God until it all came to a crashing halt, after an emergency surgery resulted in doctors ruining my vocal chords. The devastation I felt is hard to express. It wouldn't be wrong to say that my meaning in life (my purpose) vanished and I would wander aimlessly for many months. But God had a plan.
God had a plan for the prophet Jeremiah as well. He had that plan before Jeremiah was even formed in his mother's womb. Think about that. Before Jeremiah was born God knew him. Before he was born, God sanctified him to do a specific work - to be a prophet to the nations. Did Jeremiah question God on His designs for his life? You bet! Jeremiah's number one concern was that he was too young for such a mission.
Then said I:“Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.”
In other words, Jeremiah was worried that no one would listen to him because he was too young. This verse doesn't mean he couldn't speak eloquently or that he wasn't intelligent enough to tackle matters pertaining to God. It means he was too young to speak on matters concerning God to his elders. You see Jeremiah came from a family of priests (Jeremiah 1:1) and being a teenager, he would never presume to speak for God to them. He was worried God had got the wrong guy.
When I discovered that I would never get my singing voice back, I struggled with my identity. I still do sometimes, because in my mind I was created to sing for God. I do not feel qualified to teach His Word, I only know that I'm supposed to. How? It was the way He prepared me. Long before the surgery I had taken an interest in writing as a hobby. So much so I took a writing course. In addition, I had discovered a whole new world of Bible Study through Precept Ministries and I was "digging deeper" with each study. I also took training on how to teach these studies. God used all those experiences to fulfill the next stage in His plan for me - to write and teach Bible studies (and occasionally pen a novel or two). When I finally said yes to God I will never forget the moment. I was at my computer and said, "Okay Lord, not my will but yours be done. Use my hands the same way you used my voice." The next thing I knew, a novel was pouring out through my fingertips about the life of Christ through the eyes of his mother. That book, Come to Me, would go on to win a Reader's Favorite Award and be the jumping start for future Bible Studies I would write. By writing the book I had to dig into history, research the culture and dig deeper into Scripture. The more I did that, the more I realized how much I loved digging into God's Word and sharing it with others.
So, do I still wonder what my purpose is? Sometimes. You see I now have another battle to deal with. I have been told I will be in a wheelchair before I'm sixty because of the disease I'm battling. Currently, I'm fifty-seven and can no longer walk without assistance or stand for long periods (I have to use a scooter outside and a walker inside my house). I also need help getting my socks and shoes on and off. So trying to stay positive while my future looks bleak has been a challenge. But, this one thing I know and cling to - God has a plan.
God has a plan for your life too and like Jeremiah, He knew you before you were born. He has created you for a specific purpose. To have fellowship with you. And He gave you talents and passions (maybe even a disability or a hardship) that He wants you to use to bring others to Him. You may think God cannot use you in your current state. You would be wrong. He wants fellowship with everyone He has created. He does not wish for anyone to die in their sins. To that end, He had a plan. His name was Jesus. His purpose was to bring sinners into fellowship with God, through his atoning sacrifice on the cross. His plan is that no one should perish in their sins (John 3:16). His life was freely given to save yours. If you know him as your Saviour then you already know God's plan for your life. You have been commissioned by Him to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:16-20). So go! Be a Jeremiah and trust that God's plan for you will be fulfilled.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
I don’t know about you, but for many years after I found out about Jesus and believed in Him as my Saviour, I thought I needed to do things for God in order to merit His salvation. In other words, I tried very hard to be good so God would not be disappointed in me, change His mind, and revoke my salvation. Quite simply, I was terrified that if I made a mistake, it would be the end of my relationship with the Lord.
I believed that because I did not receive proper instruction in the Word after I was saved. And so for years I kept trying to earn my salvation. I believed my sin was so great, that I needed to make amends first and be a better person before God could really work in my life. So I tried to "improve" myself in order for Jesus to accept me. I tried everything from good deeds, to not swearing, drinking or doing anything that would make God angry. Unfortunately, I became so tightly wound by all my own self-imposed do’s and don’ts I started to resent my relationship with this angry God who demanded so much. What I didn’t see was that I was the one who was doing the demanding. I was the one imposing the rules and standards. I was the one trying to make myself good and perfect, instead of letting the Holy Spirit work within me. In addition to that I tried to live up to the rules and standards my church had in place. Before I realized what was happening I started sliding into a deep depression. For many years my faith was lifeless, fake, and dull because I didn’t let God do His work. Instead of allowing His Holy Spirit to work a change within me, I was trying to do it all. And because I didn’t allow Him to have full access to smooth out my rough spots, I would become incredibly nervous when talking to people about Him. Why? I didn’t want to say something that was wrong about Him or offend Him. Again, my own self-imposed rules.
Today I want to look at those rough spots in our lives that need smoothing out by looking at Isaiah 40:3-5.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low. The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth. The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3-5, NKJV).
Have you ever noticed that when we read the above verses we tend to run the words together? For example, when reading the highlighted verse above, any pauses we make are in direct relation to the punctuation. And that is a shame because we miss the deeper meaning of this verse. This is how the verse is punctuated in the Jewish Publication Society's translation:
Hark! One calleth: "Clear ye in the wilderness the way of HaShem, make plain in the desert a highway for our G-d. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the rugged shall be made level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of HaShem shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of HaShem hath spoken it (Isaiah 40:3-5, JPS)."
Did you spot the difference? One reads as if a voice is crying in the wilderness. The other tells us what the voice is actually demanding. In other words it should read, "The voice of one crying, in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord. . ."
Quite a difference don't you think?
Granted, this verse was talking about the coming Messiah and John the Baptist himself quoted it in John 1:23, announcing that he was that voice preparing the way for the Lord Jesus Christ. John called for the people to repent and turn to the Lord. To signify that they were indeed repenting, he also called for them to be baptized as a sign of that repentance.
When Jesus came he preached the same message but baptized the people with water and the Holy Spirit. Those who repented received water baptism as a sign of their commitment to God and of their repentance, and at the moment of their conversion they are filled with God's Holy Spirit. In essence they prepare the wilderness of their souls (through repentance) in order to make a way for God to enter into relationship with them through His Holy Spirit.
And when God sees a lost soul laying down His life in order to follow Him, He takes over from there if we are willing to let His Holy Spirit work in our lives.
Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Raising valleys and lowering mountains is no easy task. Making a straight path to the Lord is not easy either, if we try to do it on our own. But according to Romans 5:8, God accepts us as we are in our sinful state and we don't have to make ourselves perfect in order to come before Him. Without God we are in the wilderness. Our lives are a barren desert full of valleys of despair and mountains of sin and God in His mercy offers us a way to make those rugged areas level. He has prepared a way out for all who are in the wilderness, through the gift of Jesus Christ and all we have to do is make ourselves available to receiving that gift.
It takes a bulldozer to level valleys, with mountains of dirt to fill in the empty spaces. And it takes dynamite to lower a mountain. Both very difficult and long processes to go through before the way is clear and flat. On our own there is no way we can cover up our sins or get rid of them to make ourselves "perfect enough" to invite God into our lives. It can't be done and He doesn't expect it to be done. He wants you as you are, right where you are now. The only thing you need to do is repent of your sin (don't do it anymore) and confess your need of salvation. Leave the rest up to God.
If you have been a Christian for a while and your faith feels dead, maybe you've been trying to fill those valleys and move those mountains in your own power, forgetting (like I did) that the Holy Spirit is sent to dwell within us at the moment of salvation, in order to begin a good work in us (Philippians 1:6). That "work" is God moving those mountains and filling those valleys so that on the day we stand before Him, we will be ready to enter into His kingdom. The only thing we need to do is trust God to complete His work within us. It may take years because let's face it, we were in the devil's camp for a long time and even though we've been saved by grace, we still live in a fallen world where Satan is actively trying to win us back into his camp (1 Peter 5:8). Sadly, with many Christians today, He has been succeeding by appealing to worldly desires. Satan knows our faults, weaknesses, doubts and desires and will use them to his advantage. He will make us think we aren't good enough to come to God, or that we have failed God so much that He couldn't possibly still love us (even if we've been Christians for years). He will make us doubt our faith and the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. That's Satan's job - to make us doubt God's Word and if he succeeds, those valleys get lower and those mountains get higher and we struggle to find our way again. When all along God has prepared the way for us through Jesus Christ, and all we really need to do is allow His Holy Spirit to work within us to make us into the people He wants us to be. People who are able to stand firm in the face of adversity, persecution and ridicule by the world at large.
Are you a Christian who has been wandering in the wilderness? Or someone who has never known the Lord? Then open your heart to Him. Admit your sins and confess your need of God's intervention in your life. Accept the gift of salvation He offers, then repent and trust Him to take your sinful life and make it whole, clean and new again through His Holy Spirit. He can do it if you let Him.