Broken for God's Glory
Dr. Ng Kam Weng
None of the prophets of old have bared their inner soul as much as Jeremiah did in the course of carrying out his prophetic ministry. Jeremiah laid bare the emotional conflicts of a man who was chosen to bear the Word of God to a stubborn and rebellious generation even though he was reluctant to do so. His mission was marked by immense suffering. He was physically abused, put in the stocks and even left to die in a cistern. Though he loved his people dearly, he was denied friendships and even marital companionship. He was painfully ostracised by his close-knit community and his kinsfolk plotted against his life. So deep was his anguish that he cried: "Why is my pain unending, and my wounds grievous and incurable?" (Jeremiah 15:18) He came to the point where he cursed the day he was born and by implication, his prophetic calling (Jeremiah 15:10, 20:14-18). Once, in the depths of depression, he even accused Yahweh of having deceived him (Jeremiah 20:7). However, he remained faithful to his task and continued to prophesy until his death.
Divine Calling and Compulsion
By human reckoning, Jeremiah's ministry was a failure. What kept him from quitting when things got tough? I believe the answer lies in his unshakeable sense of divine calling. It was not that he was never tempted to quit but that he found it impossible to restrain himself from proclaiming the word of God entrusted to him. "But if I say, 'I will not mention Him or speak anymore in His name,' His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed I cannot" (Jeremiah 20:9). Surely this sense of divine compulsion is the secret to his perseverance.
How can we maintain a conviction that will sustain our ministry through the roughest of times? Jeremiah shows us that our ministry should be a result of a divine compulsion implanted in our hearts. If we were to ever entertain the thought at the back of our minds that we might be happier doing something else, we would be doomed to fail miserably in ministry. In the final analysis, it is not a minister's skill so much as his conviction that imparts itself to others. It takes a burning flame to kindle other flames. May the Lord lay on our hearts that sense of necessity, which will drive us forward in faithful service, even as He did with Paul who declared, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!" (1 Corinthians 9:16).
God's Grace and Sovereignty
However, we should not underestimate the immense problems and trials that come with ministry. We are painfully aware of many casualties in spiritual battles. There are fellow workers like Demas (2 Timothy 4:10) who have betrayed their calling and deserted the flock, having fallen in love with the world. Some plod on only because they lack the courage to quit but what a deplorable rut to be in for those resigned to a miserable existence in a ministry that has long lost its lustre.
We thank God for His grace that is sufficient for us to overcome an attitude of resignation or cynicism. When Jeremiah was in despair, God assured him that He is the perfect Potter shaping nations and men in the way that He wants. This glorious truth of God's sovereignty must be grasped as an experiential reality if we are to be assured of enduring hope and joy in service.
It is imperative for us to recover confidence in the sovereignty of God. He is the one who ultimately decides the fate of nations and governments (Jeremiah 18:15-10) and He is on our side. What is even more amazing is that He has chosen us to act as His spokesmen. "Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant" (Jeremiah 1:9, 10). We dare not quit from sharing God's Word of judgment and reconciliation to a nation divided by racial tension but we are challenged and comforted by the assurance that when the Lord looks upon Malaysia, His primary concern is the welfare of His people.
The Potter and the Clay
But can we ever be equal to the task? Jeremiah had his moments of self-doubt as evidenced by him asking: "Who am I, for I am only a young man?" We are not to feel selfsufficient in our talents, training or experience for at our best, we can still fail the Lord. We are engaged in a spiritual battle against a tempter who has great powers and resources and is cunning, waiting to entice us with a bait perfectly fitted to the niche in our armour or character. This realisation should put fear in our hearts.
But to be paralysed by terror would mean a denial of the Lord's sovereignty and of the sufficiency of His grace. Though we are but clay, His hands can and will shape us for the task He has entrusted to us. God will not thrust His children into battle without adequate preparation or equipment. We may be mere earthen vessels but if we allow Him to cleanse us for His holy purposes, he will make us "useful to the Master and prepared for any good work" (2 Tim 2:21). Our confidence must be based not on our professional expertise but in a daily experience of God's grace working in our lives. If we are going into the business of changing men's lives by God's power we must first experience its reality ourselves.
Ironically, it is possible to offer God's grace to others and yet be strangers to the effectual workings of the gospel, which we preach. We can starve while we prepare food for others. As Richard Baxter writes in The Reformed Pastor, "For it was necessary to consider what we must be, and what we must do for our souls before we consider what must be done for others, lest one, while healing the souls of others, should catch the disease himself through a neglect of his own safety. Or, while helping his neighbours, he should neglect himself, or fall while raising others."
Immersed in the cares of this world, non-believers often regard the efforts of the minister of Christ to press home the claims of God upon their lives as impertinent and interfering. Arguments, however profound, men can ignore. Our preaching may be rejected as phoney shrieks coming from some moral legalist. But a life bearing evidence of rest and trust will not fail to attract and even overcome the indifference and hardness of men's hearts. Only as we bear the fruit of a restored life can we persuade others to yield their lives to God.