READ: Matthew 2:17-18 with Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 16:13-16 with Jeremiah 27:3-10
Christians can have (and suffer from) hard times, doubts, difficulties, despair, and spiritual darkness. It is not easy being a saved believer. The same ‘feelings’ were true about Jeremiah too, and also John the Baptist.
READ: Mat. 11:2-3; Luke 7:18-23.
They had times of confusion, personal pain, and despair, but they were very aware of their great tasks from God too.
READ: Matthew 16:14.
People saw Jesus as another lonely prophet, but a man ready to suffer for his faith too.
- Do YOU suffer for your faith?
- Are you READY to suffer for Christ?
- Are you willing to take RISKS for Him?
They only saw part of the truth. Jesus is God’ only begotten Son, and through His mercy and grace He had stepped into time to help His creation with their great needs. He came to die on the cross. He came to save us all from the results our sins.
At that time, they could not know or understand the full purpose of Christ’s task on earth, but they did recognise that He was a prophet. And although He had always had the relationship with the Father in Heaven, Jesus knew moments of ‘darkness’ in his life.
READ: Psalms 69 – for a glimpse of the childhood of Jesus.
Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:41-46) – Jesus knew the awful type of death that he would have to endure, and the physical pain that would come with it. But even worse would be that He would have to become sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21 – for the whole world past, present, and future).
- Why would YOU have never been able to endure this?
On the cross (Mark 15:34) – Jesus cried out in terrible pain, and more so because God the Father could not look upon Him when He became sin for us.
- How do YOU feel when you fear that God was no longer near you?
The Old Testament saints had doubts
Jeremiah was just one of many. His messages had special value in two ways.
- He understood how great God is, and his messages to the people showed this.
- His personal life of prayer – the ‘Confessions of Jeremiah’.
READ: Jeremiah 11:18-23; 12:1-6; 15:10-21; 17:9-10, 14-18; 18:18-23 and 20:7-18.
Jeremiah was not in front of the people; he was on his knees in front of God, crying out in pain and despair. He could not understand his suffering, and thought his messages were a failure. Then, he thought that God himself did not care about him.
In these verses, Jeremiah seems very real. They show a loyal man of God in a powerful struggle with his enemies, both inside and outside himself. When he had talked with God, he could speak to the people, and give strong messages from God, without fear.
God called him to a very difficult task. He had a hard message to give to the people, and he had to declare it very clearly. He must tell his people that punishment would come soon (Jeremiah 1:14-17). Because of his type of character, and that he allowed things to affect him with his strong imagination, he realised just how awful that punishment would be (Jeremiah 4:19-31).
- What similarities do YOU see today with regards to the Christian message to the lost world?
‘Jeremiah’s’ message was not popular. The society that he gave it to was content, and were happy with things as they were. They felt that their religion made them safe, and that was what made his task much harder.
There were many false prophets at that time, and the people liked them. Why? Because false prophets say that there is nothing wrong, and there is no reason to be anxious for anything; everything is all fine!
READ: Jeremiah 5:11-14, 30-31 and 6:13-14.
God’s people tried to make themselves feel better too. Ceremonies of their religion made them feel safe, but if there is no true love for God and truth, then ceremonies have no meaning (Jeremiah 7:5-6).
- What similarities do YOU see today with regards to so-called ‘Christian’ worship and ceremonies?
So, Jeremiah had a very hard task, and he did not want to do it (Jeremiah 1:6-8; 20:7-10). And Jeremiah suffered at times with the problem of doubt.
Jeremiah suffered pain and despair
He never doubted that God was real, but at times he seemed to doubt the sovereignty of God.
Meaning: ‘sovereignty’ is God’s absolute right to rule everything in the way that he chooses. He always does things that fit with who He is, and He will never act in any other way; so, we can trust his sovereignty completely.
Jeremiah was called into His service, and at times, he seemed to feel that God was unfair in calling him into service (Jeremiah 20:7-8). A few times, Jeremiah wished that he had never come into the world (Jeremiah 15:10; 20:14-18). This showed that he did not understand how God rules over people.
God’s rule involves practical things, an it also has spiritual importance. At times, Jeremiah had a glimpse of these great truths – one was in Jeremiah 17:12 when he speaks about God’s throne (king’s special chair).
Someone may doubt that God exists, because they may have doubts about what God is like or how He acts. The person may have asked, ‘Why does this trouble happen to me?’, which is a natural question, but it can lead him to doubt God’s sovereignty.
We must turn to the Bible for immediate help, as it will stop doubt when it begins. If we fail to do this, the devil will use our lack of certainty, to take away ALL our certainties. We will doubt God’s sovereignty, and perhaps may even doubt that God exists – “Perhaps God does not really care. Perhaps God is not really there”.
So, we must put our confidence in God’s word. Our God rules and is All-Powerful (Revelation 19:6). This is a wonderful fact, which never changes. It remains true whatever happens, and whatever feelings we may have.
- What happened the last time you allowed YOUR ‘feelings’ to control your life?
Doubt is often not the only problem
We must be honest about this. Doubt often comes when we have let other matters control our lives. This means that we have lost our trust in God’s sovereignty. So, the difficulties in life seem to be very great, and then we begin to doubt God’s love.
This happened in Jeremiah’s life. At the beginning of his work for God, he was very brave. He accused the people of turning away from God, then he was feeling full of despair. He cried to God in Jeremiah 15:18. Maybe there were some serious weaknesses in the prophet’s spiritual life. These things would allow doubts to enter his mind, which would lead to a lack of certainty.
He felt disappointed
His work for God seemed to be a complete failure (Jeremiah 7:25-28 and 13:15-17). He would have been so happy if people had returned to the Lord, but this did not happen.
There is an important lesson for us here. God may give us some work to do for Him, and we must be loyal and continue the work whatever happens (like the preachers on the streets who no one listens to). This is more important than success – when results are more important to us, we are in danger, as we can stop wanting to bring honour to God, and start trying to prove our own worth instead.
He felt bitter
This often follows on from disappointment. God has not worked in the way that we hoped or planned. Jeremiah felt like this in Jeremiah 20:7-8.
He felt pity for himself
This was the next wrong thing. Jeremiah felt very miserable, and nobody seemed to know or care about his feelings. He was very, very lonely (Jeremiah 15:17-18; 16:2-9), and he suffered more stress than most of us will ever have. Perhaps this stress caused his character to become weaker.
It was a terrible time for Jeremiah, but he went back to have true faith in God. He realised that God could supply all his needs, and his experience can help us. We may have doubts too, and we might have a similar difficulty, but there are things that we can do.
Allow God to examine and show us all parts of our lives
READ: Jeremiah 12:3; 15:19 and 17:9-10 are important here.
All Jeremiah’s thoughts were about the nation. He was concentrating on the people’s ‘return’ to God, but God said to him that if he returned, then he could serve him. Jeremiah was full of pain and despair, and God came to him and reminded him about his job. He had to help people to change, and NOT change himself and become like the people (Jeremiah 15:19).
Remember God’s great promises in the past
READ: Jeremiah 15:20 with 1:18, 19.
God had spoken some great words to Jeremiah at the beginning of his work. Jeremiah’s job was going to be very hard, but God encouraged him. Later, Jeremiah had doubts, and he was suffering very much. Then God spoke the same words to him again.
You may have forgotten a great promise of God, which helped you in the past. So, listen to the same Bible words again, and trust His great promises. He will give you strength and protection, and best of all, God himself will always be with you.
Trust God completely, whatever our feelings
We may feel that God has gone away from us. At first, this is a matter of discipline (Jeremiah 17:5-13). Jeremiah realises and sees that it is foolish to go to anyone else for help.
Do not let your heart go away from the Lord. This is how Jeremiah would say it. You might feel that God has left you, but He has not. Let your hope be in the Lord (Jeremiah 17:7). Your life may be hard, but look to Him (Jeremiah 17:8), and trust in His promises as they do not change.
READ: 1 Peter 1:4; Joshua 21:45; 23:14; 1 Kings 8:56 and Numbers 23:19.
Recognise again the sovereignty of God
READ: Jeremiah 17:12.
Perhaps your life is not what you wanted it to be, but what God wants is always best – remember Romans 8:28. Something happens when we recognise His sovereignty; we are sure about God again (Jeremiah 17:13). Jeremiah had stopped believing and trusting God, and then he started to trust God again. The Lord really is like ‘a supply of fresh water’ (Jeremiah 15:18 and 2:13).
Continue to pray
You must do this even when you do not feel like it. You may not be sure that prayer is worthwhile, but you must still pray.
This was the great thing about Jeremiah. Even at his worst times, he continued to pray. Sometimes it seemed that he only complained to God, but he continued to pray. Nothing stopped him.
READ: Jeremiah 12:1-3; 15:15; 17:14 and 20:7-12.
Jeremiah prayed clearly and in an honest way. Often, we are sad about our difficulties, problems and doubts; do not keep your feelings out of your prayers. Someone well said, “To deal with doubt you must let it get out!”
BELIEVE that a better time will come! And until that time, prove the worth of the faith that you once had. We can all know that God will never leave us.
For Group/Family Discussion
Believers might be having hard times, and are not sure that they can rely on God now, or trust Him. How would you begin to encourage and to support a believer who is like that?
Jeremiah did not want to be a prophet. He obeyed God, but he was not successful. A believer might feel sad like Jeremiah felt sad, and it might seem that he or she had failed. How would you explain a similar result today?
Jeremiah was a very sensitive man. God could have chosen someone who was tougher, stronger, and healthier – Amos was one example of someone like that (Amos 7:10-17.) Why do you think that God gave such a difficult mission to Jeremiah?
The Bible records many of Jeremiah’s personal and private prayers.
READ: Jeremiah 10:23-25; 12:1-6; 15:10-21; 17:12-18; 20:7-18 and 32:16-25).
Why do you think that these prayers are in the Bible for us? Do they give a message to a believer who is having hard times? If yes, what is it?
You might meet a Christian worker who is feeling sad. Perhaps there is not much encouragement or success in their work. How might you use Jeremiah’s story to remind them about the things that matter most?
God said that he would be Jeremiah’s strong protection (Jeremiah 1:18-19; 15:20), but this sensitive man knew that there were plots to kill him (Jeremiah 11:18-1), and many other bad things happened to him:His enemies opposed him in a fierce way (Jeremiah 18:18).
– They beat him and they locked his hands and his feet in large blocks of wood (Jeremiah 20:1-2).
– They laughed at him (Jeremiah 20:7-10).
– They threatened to kill him (Jeremiah 26:1-24).
– They put him in prison (Jeremiah 37:16).
– They threw him into a deep, muddy pit (Jeremiah 38: 1-13). God had given him a wonderful promise (Jeremiah 15:20). So why did he have such terrible experiences?
The people trusted in visible signs of their faith (Jeremiah 3:16; 7:1-6, 21-23; 8:8-9 and 9:25-26). The signs should point to the meaning of certain things, so why do people rely on the signs instead of on their meaning?For example, in some societies people turn to religion on special occasions – births, marriages, death. But they do not think about religion or about God for the rest of life. How can we explain that? There is a desire for the things of God at these special times, but we want people to have something that is more significant, and something that will last. So how can we use these desires in the best way?
Jeremiah expressed his anger in some of his prayers (Jeremiah 18:19-23 for example). Perhaps it was only on rare occasions, and we can understand it completely. People treated him very badly. They rejected him, and he was very lonely for many years. But why is the story of such terrible pain still there for us to read? What can we learn from prayers that are like this, and how might Jesus want us to think and to pray in a different way?
READ: Luke 6:27-28; 23:34; Acts 7:60; Romans 12:14 and 1 Peter 2:23).