“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you,
how will you compete with horses?
And if in a safe land you are so trusting,
what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan? Jeremiah 12:5
Church leadership, especially the pastorate, can feel a little like the plight of Sisyphus…forever pushing that boulder up the hill with little or no results to show for it. They won’t pray…they won’t listen…they won’t volunteer or help…they won’t commit. But, oh, how they will complain! Sometimes you just feel like giving up.
I think every pastor who feels oppressed and burdened and stressed to the point of giving up should take a break and study Jeremiah’s ministry…really try to crawl around in Jeremiah’s skin. I promise, you will feel much better about your own circumstances!
Jeremiah spent 40 years obediently delivering a message nobody wanted to hear. Nobody. At all. He pushed and he pressed. He obediently spoke, again and again. He was ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned, and his own family scoffed at him. And through it all, to the very end, he was so very, very alone. And at the end of 40 years of these tireless efforts, he had not a single conversion to show for it. None. Jeremiah prayed and he begged God to change his assignment. He cried and he pled. He wished he had never even been born. And at one particularly low point of his depression, God’s response to him was something along the lines of “You think this is bad? The hard part hasn’t even started yet!”
But Jeremiah’s plight teaches us something important about how we measure our “success” in answering God’s call (and, just as importantly, how we should NOT measure our success). Maybe there will be amazing results to our ministry…and maybe there will not. Maybe my flock will be shaped and molded by my every word, and maybe they won’t hear a word I say. But Jeremiah’s story illustrates one inescapable truth: at the end of the day, the only real measure of my success is whether I have correctly understood God’s message, and whether I have obediently conveyed it.
That was Jeremiah’s success…his obedience. Without it, all the results are in vain. Think about it. If you do NOT correctly understand God’s will, and you are “successful” in getting the congregation to mobilize and follow your misguided misunderstanding, what have you gained? Or if you do understand what God has given you to say or to do, but you lack the courage to say it or do it, how can you ever celebrate that? No, Jeremiah’s story focuses like a laser on that one question of obedience. Have you correctly understood? Will you be obedient to that understanding? Answer those questions the right way, and leave the results up to the Lord. And rest well tonight. And get up tomorrow and do it all again.