Another wee reflection on the start of a New Year prompted by Eugene Peterson’s thoughts on Jeremiah
I don’t know where the idea came from, for its certainly not in Scripture, but many of us, and I include myself on too many occasions in that group, seem to believe that God exists to make us comfortable. Subconsciously we imagine and treat God like Hudson, the butler from Upstairs, Downstairs. He is there at our beck and call and constantly working to make our lives comfortable and pleasant. The problem with that perspective is that God refuses to play the part of Hudson and will not make our comfort His priority. He is so much more interested in His mission and our character than our comfort and material prosperity. God’s agenda, from what I can understand, never involves allowing us to slip into a self satisfied and basically selfish stupor. All of that came back to me this morning as I read these words in Peterson’s book.
“There was a memorable passage concerning Jeremiah’s life when, worn down by the opposition and absorbed by self pity, he was about to capitulate to just such a premature death. He was ready to abandon his unique calling from God and settle for being a Jersualem statistic”
I think in that sentence Peterson nails the problem in so many churches, in so many church leaders, in so many church members and in my life. We seem to have an inbuilt tendency to “settle for being … ” We allow God to take us to a certain level and then we settle for that,
we settle for the familiar,
we settle for what we are comfortable with,
we settle for what we can achieve easily,
we settle for what we know,
we settle for what is safe.
The sad truth is that so many citizens of the Kingdom of God have completed something God has called them to do and then settled for mediocrity, for the life numbingly familiar.
The Special Air Service is said to be the toughest military force in the world. I remember watching a documentary about their training methods and hearing one officer saying what they were looking for went beyond physical strength. What the SAS really looks for is mental strength, the ability to embrace new challenges and to be willing to be constantly stretched, physically, emotionally and intellectually.
Apparently, one of the main tests is that prospective recruits are faced with ever more difficult challenges one after another, those who relish the next challenge make it and those who complain that they have just completed a difficult task, are RTUd (returned to unit). I have felt like an SAS recruit who should have been RTUd on several occasions. I have been confronted by a new challenge by God and then complained that I have just completed the last one which was difficult enough. I have wanted God to leave me alone, to give me space, to give me time to advertise and enjoy my success. I wonder if that is what happened to Jeremiah? he had kept going, kept rising to the challenges God had laid before him but then one day he just wanted to be left alone to be comfortable. It was at that point that, when Jeremiah was scunnered, that God issued this challenge …
5 “If racing against mere men makes you tired,
how will you race against horses?
If you stumble and fall on open ground,
what will you do in the thickets near the Jordan?
Jeremiah 12:5 (New Living Translation)
Jeremiah, the Lord says, if you think what I have just called on you to do has been hard, “racing against men,” how on earth will you cope with what I have in mind for your future, which is to “race against horses?”
I have spent a bit of time thinking about this verse, it seems to be so appropriate as we leave one year behind and face a new one ahead.
Here is where my musing has taken me.
LIFE WITH GOD IS A CHALLENGING ADVENTURE …. As I said God isn’t interested in allowing us to slip into comfortable mediocrity. I can come to no other conclusion than that to follow God is to embark on a life of challenge and adventure, even danger. God constantly stretches us, if we can run against men then he will call on us to race horses. I am wondering if God ever calls on us to do what is for us, easily achievable? He constantly forces us from our limpet like hold to our comfort zone, to the challenge zone where we face challenges of such enormity, “racing against horses” that we are forced back to Him in dependence. But doesn’t the life of “racing horses” mean a life of being so much more alive than the alternative which is the existence of the easily achievable, “racing against men?”
GOD SEES OUR POTENTIAL BETTER THAN WE DO … I am pretty sure that Jeremiah was happy metaphorically “racing against men” He knew what he was capable of and what he could achieve. But “racing horses“? I am equally sure he didn’t think he had the potential to rise to the kind of challenge that involved but God was sure he could. God saw much more clearly Jeremiah’s potential than Jeremiah did and so I suspect it is with all of us. God doesn’t call us to great and challenging tasks, to keep us humble through failure and frustration but because he sees in us the potential to do what he has called us to do. After all, he put the potential there in the first place! So right at the moment if you are feeling discouraged and overwhelmed by the enormity and difficulty of what God has called you to do, remember, He believes in you, He believes in your potential in 2012, he believes like Jeremiah, you have the potential to go by the easily achievable and “race against horses” and make your way through “the thickets near the Jordan.”