The Fear of Losing Focus.


O Lord, you have deceived me,
    and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
    and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
    everyone mocks me.
For whenever I speak, I cry out,
    I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me
    a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, “I will not mention him,
    or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
    shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
    and I cannot.
For I hear many whispering.
    Terror is on every side!
“Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”
    say all my close friends,
    watching for my fall.
“Perhaps he will be deceived;
    then we can overcome him
    and take our revenge on him.”
But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior;
    therefore my persecutors will stumble;
    they will not overcome me.
They will be greatly shamed,
    for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonor
    will never be forgotten.
O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous,
    who sees the heart and the mind,
let me see your vengeance upon them,
    for to you have I committed my cause.

Sing to the Lord;
    praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
    from the hand of evildoers.

Cursed be the day
    on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
    let it not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father,
“A son is born to you,”
    making him very glad.
Let that man be like the cities
    that the Lord overthrew without pity;
let him hear a cry in the morning
    and an alarm at noon,
because he did not kill me in the womb;
    so my mother would have been my grave,
    and her womb forever great.
Why did I come out from the womb
    to see toil and sorrow,
    and spend my days in shame? Jeremiah 20:7-18 ESV

This particular section of chapter 20 reflects a kind of spiritual schizophrenia that Jeremiah was undergoing. In just a few short verses he goes from accusing God of deceiving him to praising God for delivering him. Then he goes back to the emotional low point of wishing he had never been born. This reflects a man under extreme pressure. He is stressed out. His emotional battery is running is dangerously low and the daily responsibilities of his life as a prophet of God are catching up with him. He faces constant mocking from the people. They view him as a laughing stock and nobody takes him seriously. So, part of Jeremiah wants to just keep his mouth shut and give up his duties as a prophet. He feels a strong desire to never mention the name of the Lord again. But that feeling gets overwhelmed by an even greater, more pressing sense of responsibility and accountability. He describes it as “a fire in my bones” (Jeremiah 20:9 NLT). His God-given job is too much to bear, but it’s also impossible to walk away from. And when Jeremiah attempts to ignore the role God has given him, he finds it impossible and states, “I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it” (Jeremiah 20:9 NLT).

One part of him wants to give up. But another part of him can’t help but continue to speak up, despite the fact that he is losing friends left and right. Everyone wants him to fail. Nobody wants him to be right. Because if he is right, then they are all in trouble. His accusations of sin and pending judgment are not anything anybody wants to hear. But he knows in his heart that this is the word of God and it must be shared. It is the truth and it cannot be ignored, even if it is costly. Stuck on this emotional roller coaster, Jeremiah does the only thing he can do: Call out to God. He expresses his feelings to God. He shares his frustrations, but he also conveys his trust in God. He refers to God as his dread warrior.

But the Lord stands beside me like a great warrior.
    Before him my persecutors will stumble.
    They cannot defeat me.
They will fail and be thoroughly humiliated.
    Their dishonor will never be forgotten. – Jeremiah 20:11 NLT

Even though Jeremiah is despondent and frustrated with his lot in life, he knows he can turn to God. In a way, Jeremiah is simply reminding himself that his God can be relied upon. In spite of the circumstances of his life and his feelings of abandonment and failure, he keeps rehearsing his long-held beliefs about God.

O Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
you test those who are righteous,
    and you examine the deepest thoughts and secrets.
Let me see your vengeance against them,
    for I have committed my cause to you. – Jeremiah 20:12 NLT

Jeremiah was practicing a bit of self-motivation, but based on the character of God. His God was the warrior, the Lord of Hosts. His God was all-knowing and all-seeing. His God was fully capable of seeing into the hearts of men, including Jeremiah’s, and determining who was right and who was wrong. Based on that knowledge, God would do the right thing. Of that, Jeremiah was confident. Well, as confident as any human being can be. Jeremiah was just a man and susceptible to the doubts and fears we all face. But he knew the key to overcoming his despair and despondency was concentrating his thoughts on the character and nature of God. So he reminds himself:

Sing to the Lord!
    Praise the Lord!
For though I was poor and needy,
    he rescued me from my oppressors. – Jeremiah 20:13 NLT

He speaks in the future tense, as if God’s deliverance of him has already taken place. He is still in the same spot he was in before. Nothing has really changed about his circumstances. But he is attempting to change his perspective, by focusing on what he knows and believes about God. The key to overcoming our times of despair is not always immediate deliverance by God, but increasing reliance and trust in God. The reality of Jeremiah’s less-than-pleasant situation was going to have to be replaced by what he knew to be true about God. The apostle Paul had a similar expectation regarding God and His Son.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. – Romans 8:35-37 NLT

Earlier in the same chapter, Paul asks the rhetorical question: “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” And the answer is an obvious, “No one.” Oh, don’t misunderstand, there will always be those who are against us. Jeremiah had plenty of opposition, including people like Pashtur. But they were no match for God. They can hate us and even attack us, but in the end, God is for us and we will experience His will for us – despite them. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. That doesn’t guarantee us a trouble-free life. It simply means that we have someone on our side who will never leave us or forsake us. And Paul reminds us:

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 NLT

But how easy it is to forget all that. How quickly we can find ourselves taking our eyes off of God and putting them back on our circumstances. In a way, that is exactly what we see Jeremiah doing in this passage. Right after praising God for His coming deliverance, Jeremiah resorts to wishing he had never been born.

Yet I curse the day I was born!
    May no one celebrate the day of my birth. – Jeremiah 20:14 NLT

Why was I ever born?
    My entire life has been filled
    with trouble, sorrow, and shame. – Jeremiah 20:18 NLT

Like Peter, when he stepped out of the boat in the midst of the storm and began walking on the water toward the outstretched arms of Jesus, Jeremiah took his eyes off of God. And when he did, he began to sink under the waves of despair. The gospel of Matthew records what happened to Peter when he took his eyes off of Jesus.

But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. – Matthew 14:30 NLT

When he stopped trusting Jesus and started believing his circumstances were greater and more powerful than his God, he sank. And it was only when he cried out to Jesus that he was saved. Jeremiah was going to continue to experiencing rough days. His job was far from finished. There were going to be more threats and increasing resistance to his message. And to survive, he was going to have to keep his eyes on God. He was going to have to constantly remind himself of the power and presence of God, even in the midst of the storms of life.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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