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Christ Lutheran Church of the Deaf
Silver Spring, Maryland
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Jeremiah, the reluctant prophet

#11
Jeremiah's Outrageous Prayers
Rev. Ron Friedrich
September 17, 2006

Jeremiah 12:1-4 + 5-6
Jeremiah 15:10-18 + 19-21
Jeremiah 20:7-10 + 11-13, then 14-18
Lamentations 3:1-20 + 22-33

Jeremiah's nickname is "the weeping prophet."  Why do people call him that?

Jeremiah had a hard life. 
When he was young, God told him, "Don't get married."  Why?  Because Jeremiah would suffer a lot, and he would not be able to fulfill his with responsibilities for a wife and family. 

In our last few lessons we saw a little bit how Jeremiah suffered.  We read one story about the time some government officials put Jeremiah in a deep hole and left him to die stuck in mud.

Through his suffering, Jeremiah learned to pray a very strange way:

LORD, you tricked me, and I was fooled.
    You are stronger than I am, so you won.
I have become a joke;
    everyone makes fun of me all day long.
Every time I speak, I shout.
    I am always shouting about violence and destruction.
I tell the people about the message I received from the LORD,
    but this only brings me insults.
The people make fun of me all day long.
Sometimes I say to myself,
    "I will forget about the LORD.
    I will not speak anymore in his name."
But then his message becomes like a burning fire inside me,
    deep within my bones.
I get tired of trying to hold it inside of me,
    and finally, I cannot hold it in.  (Jeremiah 20:7-9 NCV)

I am a man who has seen the suffering
    that comes from the rod of the LORD’s anger.
He led me into darkness, not light.
He turned his hand against me
    again and again, all day long.
He wore out my flesh and skin
    and broke my bones.
He surrounded me with sadness
    and attacked me with grief.
He made me sit in the dark,
    like those who have been dead a long time.
He shut me in so I could not get out;
    he put heavy chains on me.
I cry out and beg for help,
    but he ignores my prayer.
He blocked my way with a stone wall
    and led me in the wrong direction.
He is like a bear ready to attack me,
    like a lion in hiding.
He led me the wrong way and let me stray
    and left me without help.
He prepared to shoot his bow
    and made me the target for his arrows.
He shot me in the kidneys
    with the arrows from his bag.
I was a joke to all my people,
    who make fun of me with songs all day long.
The LORD filled me with misery;
    he made me drunk with suffering.
He broke my teeth with gravel
    and trampled me into the dirt.
I have no more peace.
    I have forgotten what happiness is.
I said, "My strength is gone,
    and I have no hope in the LORD."
   
(Lamenations 3:1-33, written by Jeremiah)

Did you ever feel like that?

One time a person in a psychiatric hospital told me his painful story.  When I showed him this bitter confession of Jeremiah, he was shocked and said, "I didn't know you can pray this way!" 

This is an honest prayer.  Contrast this kind of prayer with the "nice" worship that the prophet Isaiah described:

The Lord says:
"These people say they love me;
they show honor to me with words,
but their hearts are far from me."  (Isaiah 29:13)

The people prayed with all the right words.  They used a good liturgy.  But their hearts did not believe it.  Their lives did not show it.

So which kind of prayer does the Lord accept:
    Angry, bitter prayer like Jeremiah's?
    Or fake praise and worship?

Yes, God accepts the honest prayer.


When Jeremiah prayed that way, how did God answer?
Sometimes God did not say anything back to Jeremiah. 
Sometimes God answered with a mild rebuke (warning):

"If you get tired while racing against people,
    how can you race against horses?
If you stumble in a country that is safe,
    what will you do in the thick thornbushes along the Jordan River?" (Jeremiah 12: 5)

That was God's way of telling Jeremiah, "Cheer up, Jeremiah!  Things will get worse."

Another time when Jeremiah prayed:

I don’t understand why my pain has no end.
I don’t understand why my injury is not cured or healed.
Will you be like a brook that goes dry?
Will you be like a spring that stops flowing?

God answered, "Are you finished complaining, Jeremiah?  Good.  Because I have more work for you to do."   That is my paraphrase.  Here is what God really said:

"If you change your heart and return to me, I will take you back.
    Then you may serve me.
And if you speak things that have worth, not useless words,
    then you may speak for me."  (Jeremiah 15:19)

This is
    a great invitation,
    a great responsibility, and
    a great promise.

The invitation:
"...change your heart [repent]
     and return to me,
I will take you back.
    Then you may serve me."

This means that we admit we are sinners, that we need God's forgiveness.
God promises to forgive us.  And not only that, God promises to use us in His work.

The great responsibility:
"speak things that have worth, not useless words,"

That means we tell The Truth, which God has told us in His Word, the Bible.  And when we do that...

God's great promise is that He will speak to people through us.

"then you may speak for me."

The Hebrew text of that last line says:  "...you will be as my mouth."

Wow!

Notice that God gives this great invitation, great responsibility, and great promise, in answer to Jeremiah's angry prayer.   Jeremiah's prayer did not hurt God's feelings.  God did not punish Jeremiah.  God did not sent a zap of lightning to strike Jeremiah dead.  No, God still loved Jeremiah and God still had His plans for Jeremiah's life.  And always, after Jeremiah finished praying his angry, bitter prayers, he knew that God was still there, and God was still good.

That prayer that started: "Lord, you tricked me!  You fool me!"
After Jeremiah dumped out all is grief, finally he said:

But the LORD is with me like a strong warrior,
    so those who are chasing me will trip and fall;
they will not defeat me...
Sing to the LORD!
    Praise the LORD!
He saves the life of the poor
    from the power of the wicked. (Jeremiah 20:11-13)

And Jeremiah's bitter complaint in Lamentations 3 ends this way:

I have no more peace.
    I have forgotten what happiness is.
I said, “My strength is gone,
    and I have no hope in the LORD.”
LORD, remember my suffering and my misery, my sorrow and trouble.
    Please remember me and think about me.
But I have hope when I think of this:
The LORD’s love never ends;
    his mercies never stop.
They are new every morning;
    LORD, your loyalty is great.
I say to myself, “The LORDis mine,
    so I hope in him.”
The LORD is good to those who hope in him,  to those who seek him.
    It is good to wait quietly
    for the LORD to save.
It is good for someone to work hard
    while he is young.
He should sit alone and be quiet;
    the LORD has given him hard work to do.
He should bow down to the ground;
    maybe there is still hope.
He should let anyone slap his cheek;
    he should be filled with shame.
The Lord will not reject
    his people forever.
Although he brings sorrow,
    he also has mercy and great love.
He does not like to punish people
    or make them sad.  (Lamentations 3:17-33)

Jeremiah's prayers remind me of the prayers of two other people in the Bible, one in the Old Testament, and the other in the New Testament.

In the Old Testament, Job poured out his grief to God.  "Lord, why are You punishing me?  Give me your reason?  You and I need to go to court.  Show your evidence against me."   But after Job dumped out all his grief, he said, "Even if He kills me, still I will trust Him... I know that my Redeemer lives."
(Job 13:15; 19:25)

And in the New Testament, Jesus, the Redeemer, prayed from the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"
(Matthew 27:46) There He felt that horrible separation from God that happens because we sin.  Jesus experienced that separation in a way that we will never need to experience it in hell, because He did took it for us.

And then the next thing Jesus prayed was this:  "Father, into You hands I give my spirit."
(Luke 23:46)  ...a child's bed time prayer.

Does God understand our suffering?  He understands more than we know.

Go ahead.  Tell God how you feel.
And then listen....
    to how He feels
    about you.

It's called, "Love."